LinkedIn has quickly become one of the most powerful business tools available for entrepreneurs. It’s a fantastic platform for business growth, offering the opportunity to generate leads, network, and build brand awareness. But, have you ever thought to utilise LinkedIn to go beyond these common uses? Getting creative with the site can introduce a completely new set of possibilities for your business.

With tips from the American Express Blog, here are ten unique ways small businesses can use LinkedIn:

1) Acquire new customers through online recommendations and word of mouth

Satisfied customers are the best source of new customers. Increase your word of mouth referrals by asking your happy clients to write you a recommendation, which will be published on your LinkedIn profile and will be broadcast to their entire LinkedIn network.

2) Keep in touch with people who care most about your business

Sites like LinkedIn help keep your business alive in the minds of the people who care most about your business. LinkedIn is effective for two reasons: the business intent of LinkedIn users and fewer status updates, which mean you stay on top of mind. Tip: You can also increase the impact of your status updates by syncing your LinkedIn and Twitter accounts.

3) Find the right vendors to outsource services you’re not an expert on

Think of the number of times you’ve asked your colleagues if they knew of a great web designer or photographer. LinkedIn makes it easy for you to find and vet vendors through the network of your peers. Additionally, you can also trade services with your vendor connections on LinkedIn; sort of a mutual referral system.

4) Build your industry network—online and in person

Search LinkedIn’s Groups directory to find industry associations and networks to take part in. For example, if you’re in the event planning or wedding industry, there are over 530 groups. In addition, LinkedIn also surfaces popular events in your industry calling out local events that your connections are attending. Imagine being able to find only industry events that your prospective clients are attending.

5) Get answers to tough business questions with a little help from your real friends

Small business owners deal with challenging questions on a slew of topics each day. LinkedIn Answers and Groups let you find answers to those vexing questions quickly by tapping into the wisdom of your network (LinkedIn tells me there are over 200 different categories on Answers including one dedicated just to small business and over 2000 groups on small business related topics). Wondering whether your recent office purchase is tax deductible? Check out hundreds of questions on related topics here.

6) Win new business by answering questions in your area of expertise

Use the many forums on LinkedIn to share the knowledge you’ve gained in your area of expertise. This is a great opportunity to win new business or at least find prospective clients to pitch your business to. Prospective customers will find your answers when they use LinkedIn’s advanced Answers search. And don’t forget, what goes around comes around. Don’t forget, this is a great way to soft pitch your skills and expertise.

7) Raise funding

You can use LinkedIn to find mentors or potential investors for your startup because there are over three million startup professionals and over 12M small business professionals on LinkedIn and it’s always good to stay in touch with folks who’ve been there, done that and willing to mentor you. Once you’re connected, your participation on LinkedIn (answers, status updates or group conversations) may even cause them to consider investing in your small business.

8) Network with peers in your industry for repeat business referrals

LinkedIn Groups is a powerful medium to find peers in your respective industries to network with and to find complimentary businesses to share referrals with. For example, mortgage brokers can find real estate agents to partner with on relevant groups and as most small businesses know, these partners are your best source of referrals that can turn into repeat business. With over 2000 groups dedicated to small business topics, you’re sure to find a relevant group to network.

9) Convince potential customers of your expertise by sharing unique blog content

Small businesses smart enough to create unique content on their expertise (either with a blog or twitter account) should link to it from their LinkedIn profiles. Or take it one step further by promoting featured blog content to LinkedIn members on the site (for e.g. with small text ads). You can specify exactly who will see your ads—Executives or VPs—and include a link to your profile so they know who’s behind this content.

10) Keep your friends close and your competition closer

Over 150,000 companies have a company profile on LinkedIn, the “public profile” for companies. These pages surface key stats on companies; recent hires as well movers and shakers. Not only do company profiles give you unique insight into your competition, they also give you an opportunity to stumble upon potential hires by browsing through company pages.

What strategies are you using on LinkedIn? Has it helped your business grow in any unexpected ways? Let me know in the comments!

For more business advice, head to the American Express blog.

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