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Small Business

Managing a Small Business

A 7-Day LinkedIn Workout to Strengthen Your Networking Muscles

Harvey B. Mackay, businessman and best-selling author of Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, once said, “My golden rule of networking is simple. Don't keep score."

Networking is a critical skill that far too many of us lack. Yes, getting the word out to your contacts about your career aspirations requires nerve and moxie. But it calls for subtlety, too. For tips on how to strengthen those networking muscles, Catherine Fisher, a LinkedIn spokesperson who focuses on member education, offers tips to help get your career into shape.

Day 1: Boost your profile with your most recent accomplishments, awards or honors. According to LinkedIn, members with complete profiles are 40 times more likely to receive opportunities. Check out the profiles of people you admire for ideas on how to make yours better. Update your photo, publish a thoughtful post on a topic of professional interest and comment on the posts of others. Putting yourself out there in style is critical to effective networking.

Day 2Connect with quality contacts in your industry each week, but don't pick every Tom, Dick and Harriet. LinkedIn is not for your social life; it's a resource for professionals. So be selective. Seek out people you know and trust, with whom you can share contacts and ideas. "Your professional network should be about the quality, not quantity, of your connections," says Fisher. "It's all about having relationships that matter, so establish and cultivate a network of meaningful connections that will be part of your professional network for years to come."

Day 3: Reach out to each person who accepts your invitation with a personal touch. Once you've built up a robust – but carefully cultivated – list of potential contacts, prepare to connect. And avoid the all-too-easy boilerplate email. Craft an individualized note for each person you approach, reminding them, if need be, about where you met, how you worked together or the groups and interests you share. Capitalizing on what you have in common is an effective way to open doors.

Day 4: Ask your well-chosen connections for advice or suggestions. "If you're interested in uncovering new job opportunities or new business leads, tap your network for introductions to other professionals who might help you achieve those goals," says Fisher, who adds that you shouldn't be shy about doing so. "It's a great way to connect with others you may not know personally, because an introduction from a shared connection validates you as a professional."

Day 5: Research people in related industries. "There's a huge advantage to networking outside of your specific field," says Fisher. “Switching industries today no longer means starting over. Having relationships with those in other areas of endeavor is a really important asset." Why? "The specific skills and knowledge needed for any industry aren't as clear-cut as they used to be," she says. "What you've learned is transferable. A marketing professional can gain a tremendous amount of professional insight from someone in finance, and vice versa, to help both grow their companies' bottom lines or their own careers."

Day 6: Give a healthy dose of endorsements and recommendations. Comb through your contacts and take the time to give them praise when they deserve it. "Giving recommendations and endorsements can be a terrific way to break the ice, too," says Fisher. "They can help you reconnect with past business contacts and also provide a good entrée if you want to ask them for a recommendation or endorsement in return."

Day 7: Join the right industry-specific groups. Check out the groups LinkedIn recommends for you and seek out others that seem appropriate, because that's where you'll find many of the decision-makers who can truly make a difference in your professional life. Avoid the temptation to over-promote, however. Instead, share industry information or add value to other members' comments with insights or links you've come across. Keep in mind: Conversation is an essential part of networking.

The seven-day workout is a good start, but just like any exercise regimen, you have to maintain it to stay fit. So check in on your LinkedIn account regularly, adding to your profile when necessary, and seek out new contacts.

"In today's fast-paced work environment," says Fisher, "it's all about working smarter, not harder, and utilizing LinkedIn as a powerful professional resource can help you do just that."

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