Everyone said I had to use LinkedIn when I was working to launch Zillidy. While no one was specific as to how exactly I should use it to my advantage, my experience has, as they say, made me a believer.
There are three ways I was able to use LinkedIn to realize a significant positive impact on my business that I think other entrepreneurs could benefit from as well.
And no, I do not have any financial stake in LinkedIn and they don't even know I am attributing some of my success to their site.
1. Recruiting specialty employees
Zillidy is a personal asset lender. We make loans based on the value of assets, like jewelry, diamonds, gold or watches. I'm a finance guy. So I knew how to value cash flows and build financial models. What I didn't know was which way to hold a loupe, or even what a loupe was (in case you're wondering, it's that nifty little magnifying glass that jewellers stick on one of their eyes to look at jewels).
I also had no idea how to find someone who knew how to value the assets that I was going to lend against. So I went the routes that seemed most obvious: I reached out to every association and trade organization I could find on Google (who knew that the jewelry industry had so many!). I tried reaching out to gemmological colleges as well. I even posted ads on Craigslist and Kijiji for certified gemmologists and expert appraisers. Nothing worked. I couldn't find the right person for the job.
Then I turned to LinkedIn. Within a couple of hours of refined searches on the site, using terms like gemmologist, jeweller, and appraiser, I connected with several interesting, highly qualified candidates and met with a few until I found the right people for the job. Had I started with a refined search for an appraiser on LinkedIn, I could have saved myself the hassle of all the spam emails I got as a result of my Craigslist and Kijiji ads and expedited the building of my team, and with it the launch of my business.
2. Finding media opportunities that feed more awareness
Good press is fuel that keeps a start-up company propelling forward. In creating a new category in the alternative finance space, building awareness of Zillidy has been especially critical and would be very expensive if I attempted to do it exclusively through conventional marketing. Recently I got some amazing media coverage for Zillidy that originated through LinkedIn:
Last year I got a request to connect from someone with whom I shared connections, but who I did not know personally. He wrote a note explaining what we had in common and why it could be beneficial for us to be in each other's network. I accepted his request. A few weeks ago, this same guy shared an article on LinkedIn that directly related to the type of financing that my company does. The headline hooked me, so I read the article.
I then decided to reach out to the journalist who wrote the article to provide my perspective on what he had written and to offer some additional insight. Within an hour of me sending the email, I got a response and a request to set up a time to speak. After about 45 minutes on the phone, he said that he wanted to write an article about finding alternative sources of capital for small business owners and that he wanted to use Zillidy as his subject.
A few weeks later, the article was published and the traffic to Zillidy's website in the days that followed increased by 5x the daily average -- all as a result of people clicking through the article to the site. I then shared the link to the article on LinkedIn and got even more traffic to the site and several requests for meetings from potential investors, referral sources and partners to learn about the business.
If I hadn't diligently built my network, actively engaged with that network on LinkedIn, and kept up my reading of the interesting articles my contacts post, then Zillidy would never have received coverage in that high profile article.
3. A targeted way to find new clients
I currently have over 600 LinkedIn connections, which according to the website links me to over 10.5 million professionals. My network was built over several years and there's a specific reason each one of the 600 people is included in my network. When I started my new company, I updated my LinkedIn profile and posted a link to the Zillidy website.
I also started to share relevant, interesting articles and thoughts about current events. Several people, some merely acquaintances and business associates with similar backgrounds, reached out through LinkedIn to ask me questions about Zillidy. This led directly to some of Zillidy's first clients -- referred to us by those people who heard about what I was doing through LinkedIn and had gotten to know me through our engagement. By creating awareness, a consistent voice and becoming a known entity to them, it was easier for others to comfortably refer business to Zillidy.
So why is LinkedIn such a powerful tool for small business? I believe it's because of the following reasons:
Self-selecting group of professionals
It appears to me that people are on LinkedIn for only two reasons: to advance their career and/or to make more money. There really is no other reason to create a LinkedIn profile. The sole goal of people on LinkedIn is to connect with other people who can help them achieve their goals of career advancement and profit potential. Since everyone knows that everyone else has these same goals, people are receptive to connecting with each other and responding to inquiries.
Accepted (and respected) social norms
From my experience, people don't tend to lie or exaggerate their profiles. There really wouldn't be any purpose in doing so. LinkedIn is like a self-governed body in which each member's profile contains accurate and useful information. Most have a standard, business-like headshot. This ensures that you always know who the other is and how you can be helpful or helped.
Targeted, relevant content
People seem to separate their LinkedIn usage from that of other social networks, like Facebook or Twitter. I have not seen any pictures posted. I never see posts about the weather, milestones in their kids' lives, photos of what they're eating or funny videos. Granted that might speak more to the make up of my network, but in creating a very deliberate network of contacts, the people I'm linked to tend to post articles or blog posts about information that is relevant to what they do (of course there is also some self promotion that occurs, and that's to be expected). I know that when I log into LinkedIn I will get a daily dose of interesting, business related content that, because I selected my network based on the business I am in, will be highly relevant. I'll also see who my connections have connected with so that I can decide if I want to send an invitation to those people to join my network.
I can unequivocally say that using LinkedIn has generated revenue for my business already and I expect that the connections I have made in my network will continue to help with the success of Zillidy.
I haven't paid LinkedIn a cent for this benefit. And they haven't paid me to talk about it. But as an entrepreneur I believe every free tool that can lead to generating real profits needs to be taken seriously, and the ways to take advantage of it should be something that is shared with other entrepreneurs.
Steven Uster is the Founder of Zillidy, a Canadian private lender that provides personal asset loans secured using jewelry, luxury watches, gold, diamonds and precious metals as collateral. Zillidy's loans provide a line of credit without impacting credit scores or requiring the sale of valuable or sentimental assets. You can connect with Steven on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/stevenuster/ or follow Steven on Twitter at Twitter.com/Zillidy.