LinkedIn now has 100 million members worldwide, and as one of those 100 million, I've experienced first-hand how a small business can benefit from online networking.
When you start a new company and you aim for global exposure, traditional methods cannot make it happen. Social media has untold potential to make even the smallest business mighty.
When I started Red Scarf Equestrian nearly three years ago, I was attempting to market luxury goods for horse lovers in a down economy. As my business is incredibly niche, I knew I needed to network beyond Canada and to find the right audience for my product. I had been on LinkedIn for several years but I had never really leveraged the site to make business contacts.
I quickly joined groups related to luxury, lifestyle and horse lovers, and I began gaining traction by connecting with professionals in those groups.
Within a short time I was being invited to showcase my products at a luxury goods conference in China and at events such as the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix. Making these key connections has allowed me to build my business from a small Canadian company to an internationally recognized brand.
Here are some tips for leveraging LinkedIn:
Join ' groups.' Signing up for ones that are relevant to your business is crucial. I like to review the discussions in the group first, as they indicate whether or not it will be beneficial in accelerating a business. Searching for groups by topic and industry give professionals the opportunity to specifically target and make the necessary connections. They can often introduce you to new connections that you might not have found.
Ask questions. As a small-business owner you can use groups and LinkedIn Answers to ask and answer questions. Be sure to offer up information that is of value to your connections and to ask specific questions that relate to your business and you will get better responses from your network.
Get online to go offline. Relationships online are no different than traditional face-to-face relationships. They take time and effort to cultivate but they are invaluable. Once you've made a business connection on LinkedIn, follow up with a phone call. Hearing someone's voice and getting to know them offline is key – this is the traditional part of the sales and marketing process that still works for me. Ask key questions and filter quickly to understand how you can better work with people.
Update your status. Post your business accomplishments, product launches, logo changes and events. Let your connections know what you're doing. Status updates are also a great place to post blog posts you've authored or content you wish to share.
Keep informed. Take the time to read, research and keep up to date with news and updates of your connections on LinkedIn. Doing this daily will allow you to mine for new business opportunities.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Joanna Wiseberg is president and founder of Red Scarf Equestrian and Promotions , based in Toronto. She is a serial entrepreneur.