Using LinkedIn Effectively

I have been asked by several people, and been recommended to several people, as a resource on how to use LinkedIn effectively. The reason for the questions is that people who are in my network see a flurry of activity coming from my account on a daily basis. While I would not claim to be an expert on all aspects of using LinkedIn, I am, however, familiar enough to give others some direction to getting their professional networking off to a good start.

Before I describe what I have done, and continue to do, to keep my account looked at, I feel obliged to provide a small warning. Networking at this level requires a fair amount of work, and the payoff can take many months to appear. It is hard to keep focused and to put in the work as time goes on. However, persistance does pay off after time.

When I signed up for my account, it took me several weeks to fill out my account information. Schools I went to, places I worked, building up my network to connect to people I know who also have accounts. I sent out masses of e-mails to people I know who were not on LinkedIn, and soon many of them created accounts as well.

The next step for me was to join a few groups with whom I share a common interest. I belong to a group relating to IT jobs, another group for my local community, and another for my local Chamber of Commerce. I read the discussions that are being discussed in the group and provide answers or responses on occassion.

Finally, I entered the world of answering questions. As of the writing of this article, I have answered 124 questions, including referrals to other people in my network. I have had 6 answers selected as the Best Answer, and 24 selected as Good Answers (the selection is done by the person who posted the question). By doing this, other people on LinkedIn with whom I am not directly connected can see what areas my expertise covers, and get a feel for my credibility. Answering questions takes a lot of time. On any given day, there are 100’s of questions asked, and reading through all of them can take over an hour a day, plus time spent providing answers where possible.

On any given day, I tend to spend in excess of 2 hours on LinkedIn, most of it answering questions. However, I also spend some time looking at updates from people in my network. That way, if someone in my network is looking for something which I can help with, I know right away.

LinkedIn is a way for you to publicly establish your credibility using your existing network. The more active you are on the site, the more other people outside your network will see you. That, in turn, will make them pay attention to you, by visiting your profile, visiting your personal site if you have linked to it, and getting in touch with you when they think they have an opportunity that you may be interested in. (I have been contacted by 4 people in the last month who found me through my activity on LinkedIn.)

Consistency and Competence

It’s been a little while since I’ve written. Today’s article is on two more quotes from Despair Inc.

Consistency: It’s only a virtue if you’re not a screwup. (link here)

Incompetence: When you earnestly believe you can compensate for a lack of skill by doubling your efforts, there’s no end to what you can’t do. (link here)

Unfortunately, in many businesses, these two concepts go hand-in-hand. The basic problem that causes a vicious cycle of incompetence followed by consistency, followed by yet more incompetence, is the inability to acknowledge a problem. If a company cannot recognize where their strengths and weaknesses are, then they will inevitably fall into this trap.

The solution is simple to describe, although it can be quite difficult to implement. Businesses must face the sometimes hardh reality of their successes and failures, and look to improve. The only way this can happen is to recognize what the cause of the failure was, regardless of how contrary it may seem to the fundamental aspects of the business. Only when it has been determined that the true cause of failure was a lack of effort, but not a lack of quality or skill, should a company resort to doubling their efforts.

If you, as the owner of a business, can evaluate your successes and failures objectively, and change what needs to be changed regardless of the nature of that change, then you can avoid falling into the trap of incompetence and consistency.

Tradition and Change

There are two quotations courtesy of Despair Inc. which are the topic of this article:

Tradition: Just because you’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly stupid.

Change: When the winds of change blow hard enough, the most trivial of things can turn into deadly projectiles.

Both quotations are part of a series of posters I tend to call de-motivational posters. However, there is some truth in these statements, cynical though they may be. While my perspective is likely skewed on account of my cynical sense of humour, I would like to explain why I would seriously consider hanging both of these posters in a meeting room.

The two statements seemingly contradict one another. The first, regarding tradition, promotes progressive thinking and a willingness to embrace change. It encourages the reader to reflect on why things are done a certain way, and to think if it is possibly a stupid thing to be doing, or if it can be done better.

The second, regarding change, is quite the opposite. Change can bring disaster, destroy stability. According to this saying, it can be dangerous to change, and the risk is high.

In truth, the two statements temper one another. A person must reflect on what they do to determine if tradition, which is the status quo, is really the best way to do something, but at the same time, be wary of the potential scope of change and the destruction it can bring. Finding that balance between sticking to the tried-and-true methods and putting forward some risk in accepting change is what will make the difference between surviving and realizing your true potential.

Meetings… A Necessary Evil?

I came across two statements in the last day about meetings. The first was from ThinkGeek and was on a poster showing many hands reaching into the center. The caption said: “Meetings: Because none of us is as dumb as all of us.” The second statement I heard on the radio this morning about a recent study done on meetings. Apparently, a significant number of managers said that meetings were a waste of time, and employees would be more productive if meetings were banned one day a week.

These two ideas are linked, but they say two different things.

Meetings have the potential to bring out ideas, but without background research, meetings can also entrench bad ideas. When entering a meeting, if the people have not prepared properly, the meeting will result in uneducated bad ideas that sound nice at the time. On the other hand, meetings in which everyone is fully prepared can provide a medium for a healthy sharing of ideas and getting input from multiple people. However, meetings where the decision has already been made, especially if only some of the people in the room are aware of that fact, are a complete waste of time and effort.

The other type of meeting is the status meeting, in which everyone in the room shares their progress. While it is important that people on a team be aware of what their team members are doing, this rarely can justify a 30 or 60 minute meeting. A more effective way of delivering the same information would be to have everyone on the team submit a short email with their status to one person, have that person join all the individual e-mails together, and e-mail that back out to the group. It might take the one person an hour to get all the e-mails together, but it will only take 10 minutes for each person to read it, saving up to 50 minutes per person who would have had to go to the team status meeting!

When done right, meetings don’t have to be evil. If they have a specific agenda, people are prepared in advance, and they are kept short, no more than 60 minutes, they have the potential to benefit everyone. Once that structure begins to break down, people begin to dread the meetings, and the benefit of getting the team together declines rapidly.

Business Research in Canada

I was reading an article today in the Metro (a free daily in Toronto) that made the following statement:

Canadian businesses aren’t doing enough research and development, and that’s putting the country at a distinct global disadvantage…. despite substantial federal tax breaks and funding.

This article, while fairly short, was of particular interest to me, as this is what my business does. Optimal Upgrade Consulting is all about R&D for small and medium-sized businesses with a focus on technology. Other businesses exist with a focus on other issues.

My belief is that the problem with the lack of Research and Development in Canada is not the lack of companies doing R&D. While the industry itself is not large, it does exist. The problem is that clients are not abundant. While every small business looking to grow will eventually require the use of technology, that does not mean that every business will perform the research into that technology. Nor will they pay for professional advising, but will use their own understanding of the technology (or lack thereof) to make a decision.

Businesses which specialize in doing research, whether into technology, printing, advertising, or any customizable work, can contribute to the solution. Their marketing needs to target the small and medium-sized businesses, explaining why their expertise is needed. They need to educate their potential clients on the benefits of getting custom advise. Rather than focus on landing the few big contracts that are available, they should devote a significant percentage of their efforts to teaching small business owners about the benefits of professional advise.

Landing a small contract today to advise a small business on a common problem may not pay the bills. But if that client sees the benefit of your advise, they will return with a larger contract once the business has grown, and that is what will increase the volume of R&D business in Canada.

Networking Meeting Topics

I am trying to come up with a topic, and from there, an expert, for an upcoming networking meeting. I have a fair amount of time before the event (over 3 weeks to go), and am looking for ideas.

If you were to attend a networking event who’s goal is to help people find jobs, what would you like to hear spoken about?

Developing a Personal Brand

I have had a few discussions recently regarding the definition of a personal brand, and how you might go about developing one. This topic is of particular interest to small business owners, as having a recognized personal brand is usually associated with increased sales.

A personal brand is a fairly vague term, since it can consist of a variety of components. It can be a photograph or image. It can be a phrase or expression. It can be an idea or concept. In most cases, a personal brand is built from multiple such items, some deliberate, others incidental. Some can be generated quickly, while others will take a long time.

As a person, your personal brand includes your image (see my article What is Your Image Worth for more information) as well as ideas – honest, creative, resourceful. As a company, you may have a slogan, or perhaps a distinctive image. For example, the swish is an easily identified image that makes you think Nike. “You’re fired” is an expression that makes you think of Donald Trump. These are personal brands.

As a small business owner, your personal brand is important. It lets potential customers and clients think of you more easily than the thought of your competitor. It evokes feelings of trust, and that can lead to more business. When putting together a personal brand, run it (whether image, saying, or idea) by a sample group to get feedback on what thoughts your image evokes. Once you’ve established a personal brand, it becomes much harder to change it than if you don’t yet have one.

The Customer is Always Right… Sometimes

There is an old saying “The customer is always right” which is questioned on occasion. In the world of service providers, the vendor usually knows significantly more than the client about what the service can and can’t do. The client has approached you, as the provider, for precisely that expertise. Yet, countless times, the client will disagree with your recommendations and insist on their own path. As a vendor, what do you do?

There are, of course, several issues to be aware of.

  1. Making the client happy – if you want this client to refer you to others, they need to feel that the service you provided was more than satisfactory
  2. Your reputation – the solution you ultimately provide will reflect on your professional image
  3. Solving the client’s true need – in conjunction with the first point, if you don’t resolve the true need, the client may eventually discover this (even though you did point this out several times during your negotiations) and this will reflect on your reputation

There are three stages of working with a client, and the truth of the saying depends on which stage you are holding at:

  1. Before the contract is signed, when you are still working out the details of what needs to be done
  2. While you are doing the work
  3. After the work has been concluded

At the first stage, the customer is not necessarily correct. This is your opportunity to inform the client about what you feel the best solution is. While tact is required, you can disagree with the client openly. The client has approached you for your expertise, and that includes your opinions. The objective at this stage is to come to a common understanding of the need and the solution.

At the second stage, the customer is always right, as long as they are within the bounds of the contract. You have reached your common agreement already, and now your objective is to have a satisfied customer. Fundamental changes to what you have already agreed on will put you back into the first stage. Other changes, while you are entitled to an opinion, and should inform the client, will ultimately go the way of the client. Otherwise, you risk creating the impression that you are stubborn and difficult to deal with (which may or may not be the truth).

At the third stage, you are no longer doing work for the client. You are, however, trying to maintain a relationship with the client in order to generate leads to more business. At this stage, there is not much the client can ask for that was not covered during the first two stages. However, if the client does ask for something, you need to weigh the potential benefit of having an extremely satisfied client who may refer more business to you against the real cost of doing the work now. I’m not recommending that you give your work away for nothing, but it may be worthwhile to use your discretion to determine how to go about dealing with this request.

In summary, when the client asks you to do something, they are not necessarily correct, and you should feel free to discuss, respectfully, the issues involved in the request. However, once you have accepted to do some work, your power to disagree has diminished. If you don’t feel that the client is asking for something reasonable, perhaps you should not accept them as a client.