LinkedIn: A Powerful Business Tool at Your Fingertips

linkedin tipsLinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network, with over 300 million registered users in over 200 countries and territories, so it should come as no surprise that LinkedIn is one of the most powerful business development tools available today. Business owners and key sale leaders can leverage the power of LinkedIn for forging strong connections and finding new business.

LinkedIn has become the new “Rolodex”, the go-to place for finding colleagues, current clients, potential clients and vendors. With a professional profile, image and regular participation in groups, your network will increase, which in turn increases your reach and exposure and potential business opportunities. Many business owners would agree that LinkedIn has great potential, but are either concerned about the time commitment or are unsure how to go about getting started.

Here are a few simple steps to get you started in engaging in business development activities on LinkedIn:

  • Step 1 – Look Professional: Just like a face-to-face introduction, your profile page is your first chance to make a good impression. Users with complete profiles are 40 times more likely to receive opportunities through LinkedIn. This means:
    • Invest some time in writing a professional summary
    • Add your skills
    • Have a professional picture taken (do not take a selfie)
    • Add volunteer experience and any awards you have won

They have recently added a recommendation feature on LinkedIn, which is like having an endorsement for your services. Try to have at least 4 recommendations on your profile page.

  • Step 2 – Make Connections: Having a long list of connections is essential for increasing exposure and the likelihood of others finding you, but make sure they are the “right” type of connections.
    • Decide if there is an industry you want to target or a type of job title e.g. accountant – simply search for exactly what you are looking for
    • Once you have a few potential connections, find out more about them by visiting their profiles, seeing if you have connections in common, where they are located, etc.
    • Send them a connection request by introducing who you are and the reason for contacting them
    • If they accept your invitation, be active and take the initiative by arranging a phone call or a face-to-face meeting
  • Step 3 – Join Groups: Think of these as a local Chamber of Commerce. There are groups for every industry, and they function as a place to ask questions, perform research, make new connections, and get noticed.
    • Search groups that you think your target audience will visit
    • Join ONLY as many groups as you can manage. Groups tend to send notifications, which is good if you plan to keep up with them, but annoying if you don’t
    • Participate in the groups on a regular basis if you can. Your audience needs to hear from you and see you being active and offering expert advice
    • Comment on other people’s posts, “like” them, and most importantly see who the regular contributors are and see if there is opportunity to work together or connect in some way
    • To connect with them, follow Step 2

In addition to using LinkedIn as a business development and marketing tool, the platform can also be used for recruitment. Whether it’s sharing a job posting on your company profile, or paying for a job posting or sponsored job ad, LI allows you to see in a click of a button a more complete look at your candidates.

As you can see, LinkedIn has a lot to offer but the biggest step is making the decision to give it the time it deserves to foster and manage potential leads. From personal experience, investing time in LI as a business development tool will yield results that far outweigh that time investment.

Do you use LI for business development now? How much time do you dedicate to it and are there other features of LI that you have found helpful for business development?


How Well Do You Work with People?

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You would be surprised to learn how many business owners update me about their business by saying, “Business would be great – except for the people.” While some may be joking, there is some truth in some business owners’ struggles to relate, understand and manage the people they hired into their company. Every business has a mosaic of personalities, and as business owner or manager, it falls on you to facilitate the highest performance possible from each person to keep your business profitable. What do you do when you find it difficult to work with certain people or you identify conflicts between employees? Some employees may be more social or introverted; aloof or friendly; self-directed or needs direction; linear thinker or big-picture; detail-oriented or conceptual. Here’s how you keep business great while leveraging the talent of your employees.

Set expectations for the company: Implementing clear company expectations is important for you as a business-owner because it sets a standard of performance that you expect to see from everyone that has been clearly communicated and understood. Whether it is punctuality, deadlines or the completion of admin tasks, you can always refer to these expectations with employees to determine if there are any discrepancies between what you expect and their current performance.

Use assessment tools: Set aside time for your employees to utilize workplace personality or interpersonal assessment tools so that they have a chance to learn more about their traits and tendencies and how they fit into the larger business team. As a business-owner, you will have a clearer image of how your employees fit together as a team, complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. If you’re unsure of which assessments are available to you, there are many free resources online, such as the Myer’s Briggs Personality Assessment (link) or True Colours (link) that can help guide your conversation.

Have regular performance meetings: Once you have an understanding of the different strengths and weaknesses within your team, you can initiate ongoing conversations surrounding self-awareness and professional development with your employees. For example, if you have an employee who is now conscious of her tendency to dismiss others’ ideas during meetings, your coaching conversations should involve improving her open-mindedness.

Delegate with differences in mind: Having a better understanding of your employees will help you understand what tasks are best suited to which employees, which can improve motivation and job satisfaction, as people are more likely to perform better at tasks they enjoy doing. When possible, identify tasks that highlight the strengths of your employees, such as delegating a business development task to an employee who is sociable and shines in a networking setting.

Support weaknesses: It’s important not to ignore weaknesses as they surface during this process. Encourage your employees to embrace areas where they can build and learn from you and your colleagues.

Encourage team building: While understanding is a big step to managing differences on a team, making an effort to build team and encouraging relationship-building is equally important. Encourage your employees to get to know each other, either informally or through team-building activities, so that they can get a clearer picture of WHO their colleagues really are. This builds mutual empathy and an appreciation between colleagues, so that even if some elements of a person are frustrating or difficult to deal with, your employees are able to see positive elements of their colleagues as well.

Do you see a variety of differences among the people in your business? How have you leveraged strengths and weaknesses on your team? I look forward to your thoughts below!


Spring Cleaning for your Business

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It seems as though the warmer weather is here to stay, and while you may feel compelled to give your home and yard a spring-cleaning, your business could also benefit from some freshening up as well!

I’ve found that this time of year is perfect for taking an inventory of how your business is doing and how you can channel the springtime motivation into making improvements in all parts of the company. Spring-cleaning can cover a wide range of ways to freshen up, most of them supported by the improved mood around the office.

Goals for 2014: Depending on your annual cycle, you could have just completed your first quarter of the year. This is a good time to remember the goals you set for yourself and your business, such as the ones I suggested back in January, and track your progress thus far. Perhaps you’ve found that you’ve developed some great habits and solid consistency in your work life, and this motivates you to challenge yourself further. If you’ve veered off the goals you set, perhaps your spring cleaning involves updating your goals or re-committing to them.

Administrative Items: As the year gets busier, you might not notice that certain processes or administrative systems are not working for your business anymore. Take inventory of your business processes and see if you notice any inefficiencies or gaps in the way you do things – for example, managing your client email list, invoicing system or your tactics for acquiring new customers. Some minor tweaks or changes now will help your business run more efficiently for the remainder of the year.

General Clutter: The state of your office and workplace definitely has an effect on your productivity. If your workspace (whether that be your home office, work office, car, etc) is not organized in a way that you understand and can work within, you are less able to find items you need but this can also make you feel more stressed and less in control of your work life. Taking time to file things away, recycle loose papers and shred old files can give your office, your desk and your mind a sense of freshness.

Team-building: We have just made it through a long, difficult winter. Your employees may be in need of some reconnection with the business values and each other. Whether formally or not, schedule some time for your employees to spend time with each other. Team-building workshops and spring revival training are valuable tools that can reignite belongingness and motivation within your team. Look for their input and feedback on the year so far and set goals to continue through the summer with high levels of productivity.

Spring cleaning covers a variety of areas of your business, so feel free to undertake any activities that offer you a chance to de-clutter, either literally, administratively or mentally. Take advantage of the lifted spirits that accompany this beautiful weather and channel this motivation into making your business a more efficient and happy place to be.

What other spring-cleaning activities come to mind during this time of year? Where have you noticed things “cluttering” in your business? I look forward to your thoughts below.


The CASL Countdown is On – Are you Ready?

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If you are a business-owner and have not yet heard of CASL, you have just over a month left to prepare yourself and your business.

What is CASL?

CASL stands for Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation, and it’s purpose is to promote the efficiency and adaptability of the Canadian economy by regulating commercial conduct that discourages the use of electric means to carry out commercial activities.

In short, the legislation attempts to ensure that all contact you initiate for your business electronically is information that your recipients want (i.e have consented) to receive.  Electronic communication, in this case, applies to email, SCS and Social Media direct messaging (LinkedIn In-mail, Twitter and Facebook messaging).

The legislation refers to messages whose purpose is to encourage participation in a commercial activity within the content of the message – offers to purchase, sell, lease a product, goods or services or the promotion of a public person as well as any advertising of these things.

According to the legislation, after July 1st, 2014 you could be penalized as an individual up to $1-million dollars, and as an organization, up to $10-million dollars!

Now, that you know what CASL is, how do you prepare yourself and your communications plan so that you are compliant with the legislation?

How Do You Comply?

  1. Proof of Consent for each email or other types of electronic communication
    1. Divide your emails into three groups: Expressed (“Yes, I want to receive this information”) Implied (those you have done prior business with, or collected business cards, but have not received Expressed Consent) and Unknown
    2. Review and change wording wherever you collect emails, ensuring that you make it clear that submitting an email address is proof of Consent to receive further information
  2.  An unsubscribe process in every digital communication
    1. Should be immediate and automated, but the legislation gives you 10 business days to remove the unsubscribed recipients from you lists
  1. Documented date and type of each consent
  1. Sending out electronic communications after July 1, 2014 should include:
    1. The name of the person sending the email or the name of the person is being sent of behalf of
    2. Contact information for the subscriber to access the organization sending the email

CASL does not have to be a frightening change in the way that you do business after July 1st, 2014. But it will take your diligent preparation to ensure that your business is ready for the change. This is a good and necessary reason to spend time with your email lists, to organize and understand them. You will need to ensure that whenever you are collecting an email to add to your list, that you have a process for your recipient to Opt-In to receive your information, in hard copy, on your website, etc.

Most importantly, use your networks and fellow business-owners to share ideas and learn new ways to tackle the roadblocks that the legislation presents.

For more information visit: http://fightspam.gc.ca/

Had you heard of CASL before reading this blog? How are you preparing for July 1st? What are you most concerned about? I look forward to your thoughts below.


So you have a Business Mentor…Now What?

one on oneAfter careful consideration and research, you have decided to enlist the support of a business mentor to help you and your business. You have found a coach with plenty of experience, who is easy to talk to and interested in embarking on this journey with you.

So what now?

How do you ensure that you reap the value of your business mentor, and see improvements and growth in your business? Unsurprisingly, this is where the work begins. Before you meet with your mentor, you must be prepared to take a good, hard look at your business and be ready to make objective observations about how it is performing. Take some time to decide where you want your business to be in a year, five years or ten years, because thorough reflection will ensure that your business mentor knows how to challenge and push you to reach your goals. Take inventory of the strengths and weaknesses of your business so that you are prepared to discuss and tackle issues that need improvement as well as ways to further strengthen your attributes.

In short, you must do your homework before every meeting with your mentor in order to make the most of the time you spend with him or her. This ensures that this time is spent instead on learning from their experience, asking thoughtful questions and developing tactical steps to reach your goals. I’ve compiled some questions that could be helpful for provoking conversation with your mentor:

1. What advice can you give me in developing or improving my business plan?

2. From your experience, what lesson did you learn that would be most valuable to me?

3. What are the ways that will help me determine the risks and benefits of an important business decision?

4. From your observations thus far, what do you identify as my areas of weakness?

5. What does my business do well?

6. This is where I am, and this is where I want to be. What needs to change for me to get there?

7. With my goals in mind, how should I be spending my time?

8. How can I help you?

The last question, while different from the rest, becomes just as important because it signals the strength of the relationship between mentor and mentee. Mentorship is never a one-way street and by investing in this relationship and looking to contribute to it, you are communicating your commitment to the mentorship process and ensuring your mentor sees value in playing the role of your mentor.

What other questions would add value to a meeting with your mentor? Do you think that taking time to reflect on your business beforehand enriches the mentorship process? I look forward to your comments below!


“Mentorship is not for me” and other mentorship myths

mentorshipBusiness mentorship can be a source of support, enlightenment and perspective for all parties associated in the relationship. Mentees will often commend their mentor for helping to both ground them and challenge them to take the calculated risks that will push their business to the next level. As a TAB Facilitator, I meet business-owners who have not yet incorporated mentorship into their business strategy and who hesitate to enlist the support of a business coach, which has led me to explore some misconceptions about business mentorship to share with you.

Mentorship is for junior people: Many people assume that mentorship is solely reserved for those just beginning their careers, where a seasoned person mentors a young, fresh individual. These days, people can change jobs and even career paths multiple times, meaning that mentorship can occur in every phase of your career or business ownership.

Your mentor needs to be within your industry: While it can be helpful to receive advice from someone who understands the intricacies of your industry, the benefits of a completely different perspective cannot be overstated. With a set of fresh eyes on your business, you can stand to gain insight into strategies you would have never considered for yourself.

As an expert in your field, you don’t require a mentor: Business owners undoubtedly have long and successful careers behind them, but as the business world changes and evolves, you may find you need to keep educating yourself on trends and best practices to keep your business on the cutting edge.

Mentorship is a formal, long-term relationship: Mentorship need not be a rigid, inflexible process! You can have many mentors, drawing on strengths you admire in each of them and learning from their diverse backgrounds. As well, you may decide to have an ongoing mentorship relationship or choose to have a short session over coffee. Mentorship can come in whatever format works well for you as long as you understand what you are looking to gain from the experience.

Mentorship is a one-way transaction: As a mentee, don’t discredit what you can offer your mentor. Mentors may be at another point in their career, but you can offer perspective, feedback and support to your mentor based on your skill set and experience. This can keep a mentorship relationship fresh and evolving so that both parties gain something valuable.

Are there any other reasons for being hesitant to engage with a mentor? If you have a mentor, what have you gained from the experience? I look forward to your comments below.


Part 3 of 3: Women Business-Owners [Watch]

The goal of the Women Business Owners 3-part blog series for my blog was to bring a female perspective to the unique challenges faced by business owners. In Part 1, I researched the potential obstacles for women when undertaking business ownership that may contribute to the gradually narrowing disparity between the number of male vs. female entrepreneurs. The aim of Part 2 was to delve into the journey of successful business ownership in an interview with the owners of Bayview Sheppard RMT, who openly shared the ups and downs of their story with us. In a fitting conclusion, Part 3 of this series explores the value of mentorship in business and who better to give voice to this topic than the successful business owners themselves.