People spend a lot of money on business development when a key tool, LinkedIn, is available for free.
I'm no spokesman for the site and have no financial connections to it, but have been struck by how little use some people make of it. Perhaps this is through fear of social media, or a belief that you have to see the whites of someone's eyes to get a true sense of their value.
They should think again. Research suggests that fully one-third of decision makers in UK organisations use the site for business, with two-thirds of professionals actually members. Only a mug would ignore it, regardless of any general suspicions about social network sites taking time and effort with no immediate return.
There is plenty of technical advice about how to make the best of LinkedIn, but sometimes even that can be intimidating and tedious to read. Here are my non-technical top ten tips based on what I look for and my own experience of networking successfully.
Photo: Essential. And not the ghoulish one you had for your passport or the crazy-on-holiday-with-a-rum-punch one either. It should look crisp and professional. A smile always helps and a corporate background is no bad thing either.
Job title: Make sure it's relevant to the sort of work you want, not just the eccentric or vague one you happen to have where you work. So, 'Partner at Beeches' is useless. 'Corporate partner working with media and technology start-ups' says it all. If you have a second language, mention it.
Summary: Make it clear where you and your team have experience and can assist prospective clients. Summarise your professional qualifications and any positions held externally which add to your professional credibility. Include your contact details in the summary to make it easy for people to find you.
Recommendations: These are prominently displayed on your profile, enhance credibility and are particularly valuable when they come from clients and intermediaries, less so from your mum. Be brave, ask for recommendations and be prepared to return the compliment.
Skills and expertise: Add at least six key skills and areas of sector expertise. Examples might be: Contract law, media law, intellectual property, start-ups. Endorse others to encourage them to endorse you, because that is the way the world turns.
Publications and articles: Add relevant links, articles and newsletters to your profile to show off your expertise. This is now easy to do using either the 'publications' tool or the 'add file' facility against your summary or a particular role.
Be creative: Social media means just that. Professionals sell themselves as experts, but also as people who clients will actually enjoy working with. This means opening up a little and talking about outside interests and causes you actively support.
Database: LinkedIn is a great database because your contacts will inevitably update their details on a timely basis. Use it for tracking lost contacts, getting back in touch, finding new contacts and sending invitations, newsletters and so on.
Invest time regularly: Get into the habit of using LinkedIn daily to track contacts, stay in touch by posting updates, to find new contacts and add them. The key is making it a regular habit, and take advantage of the apps for mobiles.
Finally, keep thinking about how it can help: LinkedIn does not have global take-up, but it is getting into all sorts of places where you might want to be.
The message? Be professionally social, it works. I know.