By now, most successful independent consultants realize that in order to expand their client base, social media networking has to be incorporated into marketing efforts. If you're already leveraging social media, particularly LinkedIn, to connect with others in your industry and potential clients, then you're likely already familiar with the basics of how to leverage these tools to grow your business. You probably already know that each social media vehicle has its own personality, culture and means of communicating which requires you to communicate your message in different ways. You're likely already listening to and joining in conversations relevant to your field, and you may have even made connections with many of the people you'd like to add to your client roster.
If so, you're not alone. According to the LA Times, “Manta, an online forum dedicated to small businesses, surveyed 600 small-business owners nationwide and found that 78% say that using social-networking platforms is just as important as networking in person — if not more so.”
And although those connections are important, you still have to figure out how to convert those online conversations into actual clients. Here are a few ways to do it:
Be a resource for smart, insightful industry information
Now that you've joined the online conversations relevant to your work, the best way to gain status within your networks is to consistently share smart, insightful original content with the people to which you're connected. You don't have to aspire to be an industry thought leader, but demonstrating thought leadership in the content you provide will build credibility with your connections. Engage your connections thoughtfully. Listen to their business challenges and share insights and lessons from your experience. By doing this, you'll be able to establish rapport and credibility that will help when you're ready to take the conversation offline.
"Ask" and "Give"
Once you decide you're ready to reach out to one of your connections, a good place to start is email. The best approach is to simply be straightforward about your intentions. The people you need to connect with are likely busy and don't have time to beat around the bush. A concise email asking for a phone call or an in-person meeting to discuss your services will get you much further than a rambling email about how great your services are. Also, be prepared to give something in exchange for their time. Perhaps you have a good business contact that your connection would appreciate, or insight into a business deal that might be beneficial to them. The important point here is to define clear objectives for the outreach and make the time you're asking for mutually beneficial.
Lastly, a near slam dunk in converting online connections into actual clients is to be introduced by someone to whom you are both connected. A referral establishes instant credibility and your prospect is more likely to respond to someone he or she knows and respects. LinkedIn is a good resource for getting introduced, as it shows you exactly who in your network is connected to those you want to reach.