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Using LinkedIn

Gabe Heilig

Founder, Action Resumes—Pentagon

Niches and riches
LinkedIn has become a shiny new tool that many job-seekers now are relying on. Perhaps you’re one of them. If you are, you’ll need to know what you’re doing.

With nearly 500 million LinkedIn user members in 200 countries, it's easy to get lost in the crowd. Just because it’s called LinkedIn doesn’t mean that anyone actually is feeling linked to you . If you’re using LinkedIn, you need to use it. Like most tools, it doesn’t work by itself. So it’s going to be your job to get other people interested enough to link up with you. LinkedIn isn’t going to do that for you. You’re going to have to figure out how to use it to your advantage.

To be effective in using almost any new tool, a learning-curve process is involved that usually takes practice. The key to being noticed, standing out and winning links to new opportunities on the LinkedIn platform is to remember one of the golden rules of sales and marketing: riches are in the niches!

One of the central challenges in using LinkedIn involves how to narrow the field of potential colleagues, customers or employers you can attract. You can’t attract them all, and frankly, you won’t want to. Who has time to answer 500 million responses?

No—you need to define the niche in which you want to identify your potential links and future riches.

In trying to learn how to use LinkedIn to generate new leads, add customers or job opportunities is that you'll immediately fail if you try to become all things to all people. No one has done it yet, and you’re not about to become the first one who does. Instead, you probably will be smart to focus on targeting employers or industries for your strengths and skills, so you can become a big, noticeable fish in these smaller, more manageable ponds. Then you won't get lost inside the ocean of potential competition on the LinkedIn platform.

For example, when someone I read about wanted to start growing a new business as a marketing consultant a few years ago, he decided to sell his marketing services to a tiny, niche group who were already assembled on the LinkedIn platform. He happened to select the debt collection industry as the niche he wanted to get known in. And to his own astonishment, he soon had a thriving consulting business—just to companies in this niche industry he had identified.

How do you identify this kind of niche?

One way to do this is to think about which core audiences you want serve, and to make that very clear on your profile, so that these target audiences can find you and get interested about working together.

In the case of the LinkedIn user who chose the debt collection industry as his niche, he knew that he had worked for a trade association in that industry, so he was familiar with many of the problems and challenges debt collection firms face on a daily basis—especially when it came to marketing what is usually considered to be a nasty and unpleasant line of work.

Thus, one way to identify a niche you want to mine is to think about the kinds of professional problems and issues you’ve seen repeatedly in your line of work. Sales problems. Group leadership problems. Recruiting or retention problems in finding good staff members, and keeping them. Employers have all kinds of problems.

If you have a track record of dealing effectively with some of these problems—and if you know which kinds of organizations have these problems—you’ve got a niche. You don’t have to look much farther than the problems you know how to solve! Inside almost every problem is work, waiting for someone to come along and say, “Hey, I know something about this issue. Let’s compare notes about how we’ve each tried to solve it.” This kind of approach creates a conversation in which you and someone else can benefit from each other’s experience. That’s usually an effective way to get a conversation going that’s open-ended enough to lead somewhere.

And as someone with a track record in addressing these issues and problems, you’ve probably got a network of people who know you and have seen you working on some of these problems, and they can vouch for you. Then you can niche your product or service to target audiences using those industry-specific work samples and testimonials to appeal to additional prospects in the same professional arena.

Another approach
There’s also another way to create a niche for yourself on LinkedIn. That’s to make yourself known as the de facto expert on a certain type of service or product that appeals to employers in specific industries. For example, because I know a great deal about preparing people’s resumes and coaching them through career transitions and related decisions, I have many industries available to me, and employees at all levels in those industries.

When you provide a service and help people with what they need versus what you may think they need, doors start opening and all kinds of people start getting interested. I’ve worked with people who have built careers in just about every skill set imaginable, including a former drug dealer who wanted to return to Lorton Prison in Virginia as a lay chaplain. He’d served his time, he’d had a religious conversion experience, and he wanted to share it with other inmates whose situations he understood, inside and out.

Whatever niche or approach you take (industry-specific vs. topic-specific) may depend on how refined your experience is. Either way, the key is to make your LinkedIn profile appealing to a specific group of people with reasons to get interested in your products and services. But you’re going to have to get them interested.

The best way to do this is by getting clear and niche-focused, especially if you’ve generated solid results in a specific industry and can leverage testimonials and work samples to appeal to more prospects in that industry or arena of activity.

Alternatively, you can also try to dominate a topic or skill set, but you'll need a large group of testimonials and case studies to win over audiences. But it all begins with a clearly identified niche. And most niches are built on problems. Inside someone else’s problems are jobs and work.

LinkedIn can help you find them—and help them find you .

Gabe Heilig has assisted over 5,300 people in advancing their careers. If you have a question, feel free to ask. Other people may have the same question you do and he may answer your question in print in a future column. You can reach him at gabe@ideadesign-dc.com