I am over the moon to have been named by LinkedIn UK as the best connected woman in the not-for-profit sector, and the third most connected overall, to celebrate International Women's Day 2015.
Massive honour and surprise, and I suppose my whole career has been built around connecting people, when I think about it. As a headhunter; as a business consultant and social media trainer; and latterly using those skills to connect the third sector with the world of business through my start-up non profit, Talentpledge.
Despite networking on LinkedIn being a key part of 'what I do', I'll let you into a secret: It's not that hard. ( I'd love to say otherwise and pretend I have specially honed skills and talents that took years to master, but...ssshh! I actually don't.)
Follow a few key steps, and you too can knock on doors to explore any business or career opportunity you put on your wish list.
1) Ensure you are properly dressed online before you start
Make sure your profile is fully 'dressed' before you start reaching out on LinkedIn. Check you have a smiling photo of you in business attire (not a pouty one or you on a beach with a Mojito). Ensure your summary section explains clearly what you do and how you help. Be succinct. Also add web links, videos and articles if available. Be human, whilst still maintaining professionalism, by adding personal interests. Keep changing your profile when you change focus at work - it's never the 'finished' article. Post interesting content regularly too - blogs, updates, links. Position yourself as an expert through your profile and the updates you post.
2) Connect, connect and connect some more
Invite to connect on LinkedIn people in your past and present, and people from your professional and personal life. People from school, university, old jobs, neighbours, parents at your kid's school, people you meet on trains. I got a fantastic business deal from the boss of someone I chatted to on the 7pm back up north from Kings Cross once - simply because I'd added them on LinkedIn and the business owner had noticed. The more you connect, the more people you can find and vice versa. It opens a world of new networks and therefore more opportunities.
3) Decide which doors you want to open
You know when people ask you who might be on your dream dinner party table? Mine keeps changing, but off the top of my head: Emmeline Pankhurst, Cleopatra, Gandhi, David Attenborough, Prof Brain Cox, Tim Minchin, Meryl Streep. Apply the same 'think big' mentality to LinkedIn networking. You'll struggle with Cleopatra but if you want to have a coffee with the MD of a FTSE 100 company, put them on your list. What have you got to lose?
4) Use advanced search and groups to knock on those important doors
Next: Use LinkedIn's fantastic search facility to narrow down your dream 'doors to knock' list. Search by job title, company, geographic radius, key words, industry - to name but a few. Join varied groups and chat and contribute - treat them like mini networking clubs and rooms for finding individuals with a shared business interest or geographic location. Using both these tools in parallel makes for very powerful networking on LinkedIn.
5) Be bold and reach out to to start building that relationship
Now you have your dream list and you've found them on advanced search and groups - what next? Be bold. Introduce yourself. Send them a connection request, comment on their group discussion. Don't 'sell' yourself at this point (your profile can do that for you if displayed well). It's all about shaking hands and establishing a relationship. Then start to build on that if they respond. Invite them to a group, event or coffee. Ask their opinion or advice,
What if they say no? I suppose. But what if they say yes?
I'm not a huge fan of cheesy quotes, but this one has always resonated with me:
"Doors will be opened to those bold enough to knock."
In my experience, most people open the door.