Many readers of this blog contact me directly with questions and comments. While often the responses are very specific to a particular circumstance, occasionally the subject matter is general enough that it might be of interest to others as well. Accordingly, I will occasionally post a new "MailBag" article, presenting the question or comment (on a strictly anonymous basis!) and my response, in the hopes that the discussion may be useful food for thought.
In this week's MailBag, we look at a question about how to get started using LinkedIn to get new clients. Just searching through your connections for people who might fit your profile and then ask for an introduction probably isn't going to work. This is where a content-based marketing strategy can be effective.
Question/Comment: Is there some sort of blueprint to go about using LinkedIn? For example, I want to work with professors and ER docs. Do I simply search my connections networks for people that fit my profile and ask for a connection?
This is a great question, especially given that you've taken the key first step of identifying a target niche of clientele! With a growing base of industry statistics suggesting LinkedIn is the "most popular" social media platform for financial advisors getting new clients, there's remarkably little written about how to proactively "do" marketing and prospective via LinkedIn!
From a practical perspective, just reaching out to random professors and ER docs with no context won’t work out very well. They wouldn't have much reason to accept an invitation from a stranger. Getting an introduction via a mutual acquaintance through LinkedIn's "Introduction" feature might carry a little more weight, but still isn't likely to be well received if there's not some higher purpose to the outreach beyond soliciting the person to become a client.
Ultimately, the need to have a reason for people to connect with you is one of the primary reasons why strategies tied to blogging and content creation come in: it's something you can do in a virtual and social media context to demonstrate that you’re a specialist and expert for those people, such that they would want to have a connection to you.
In practice, the basic approach that I hear from most advisors who are succeeding on LinkedIn is something to the effect of:
- Meet with a few people in the target audience, with a goal to just to learn about their issues. Ask to take them out to lunch because you want to work more with people like them and just want to get to understand them better. If you have some clients in the niche already, start there. If you don’t, use some of your connections to ask for an introduction to a FEW people to begin this process. At this point, it’s just information gathering.
- Build some targeted/relevant content for that target audience, now that you’ve gotten to know their issues better. What problem do they have that you can help solve?
- Search for some (LinkedIn) groups that are used by the people in your target audience (or even consider starting your own if you have a few initial connections to invite). Participate and engage in some of the discussions there where you can add something productive.
- As your presence is established that you're a credible source of information for the group, share some of your content and expertise that’s relevant for the group. This might be supplemented with more ‘traditional’ channels to establish your presence in your niche community as well (e.g., can you contribute to a magazine for your target demographic, can you speak at one of their conferences, etc.)
- Reach out to connect with those who are leaders and influential in the group/community (i.e., the centers of influence). Maybe you’re asking for their advice, maybe you’re asking them to contribute a guest post to your blog, etc., but the idea is to reach out with something that’s positive for them (since they're the center of influence, and you're the one who wants to get to know them!). The goal, as with any traditional marketing to a community, is to have relationships with centers of influence (whether in-person or virtual).
- As your presence and contributions grow, and people find you as a resource, THEY should be contacting YOU to be connections because you add value and they want to understand more about what you do!
Along with that, it’s also important that your LinkedIn profile be “optimized” as well – which is basically a nice way of saying “your LinkedIn profile should look appealing enough that if someone checks it out, they would perceive you as a credible expert and professional and want to contact you!” And ideally, if they search for you using LinkedIn, they should be able to find you as well! There are a few good checklists out there of things to do to spiffy up your LinkedIn profile. For further ideas, you may also want to check out this prior guest post on Nerd's Eye View about LinkedIn strategy from social media and marketing consultant Stephanie Sammons.
It's certainly true that LinkedIn has some pretty amazing tools and capabilities for searching and finding people on LinkedIn, but until you've established yourself as an expert in that community that people would WANT to be connected with, just reaching out to people in your target audience without a reason or purpose or “something in it for them” will likely just be perceived as pushy and negative sales efforts and rejected accordingly.
This is why content based "Inbound Marketing" strategies are popular for financial advisors (and many other industries as well); it's a way to make yourself noticed so that ultimately, you don't contact people, they contact you because you provide information that is valuable. If you're interested in the concept but struggling to figure out "what kind of content could I produce" (a lot of financial advisors are afraid they won't know what to write/blog/talk/video/podcast about), I recommend checking out the book "Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business" for some great ideas of all the different things you can share (discuss questions that arise with clients [anonymously], interview guest luminaries in your target market, comment on industry news, share your experiences at an industry event, invite guest posts from influencers, etc., etc.).
I hope that helps a little? This may be a bit of a "slow play" - you're not going to get a bunch of clients and inquiries the first time you join a group and say something interesting - but that's the reality of any marketing strategy based on networking and referrals. Using social media platforms like LinkedIn isn't an alternative to those approaches, it's just another way to do it (albeit with a lot more efficiency and potential scale!).
If you're a financial advisor who's had some success in getting new clients through LinkedIn, I hope you'll share some of your successes and ideas in the comments below!