Networking has been unusually difficult over the past year, and most professionals have leaned on virtual platforms to form and maintain professional relationships. Many of the best practices for navigating LinkedIn have remained unchanged by the pandemic, but experts contend that accountants should approach the platform in a more mindful and deliberate way because of the shifting attitudes and behaviors of a beleaguered nation.
“Virtual networking has really never been more important, so I don't know if I think the way LinkedIn is being used has changed, but people are beginning to realize its value, and I think it will continue to be valuable even beyond this pandemic,” said Karen Yankovich, founder of Uplevel Media LLC, a LinkedIn marketing and consulting company based in New York.
Once in-person meetings and events return, Yankovich predicts accountants are going to continue virtual networking and meetings to eliminate commutes and travel, while still developing the specific relationships that will help them achieve their professional goals.
If you’re hoping to get the most out of LinkedIn during and after the pandemic, aim to follow these new do’s and don’ts recommended by experts.
Don’t spam your network. Spammy messages have always been bad practice for professional networking, but during the pandemic, LinkedIn inboxes have been filling up with more junk than ever, and many people have lost their patience.
“There is almost never a reason to reach out to cold leads on LinkedIn,” Yankovich said. “There are tons of things you can use as a connector, and while it takes a little bit more work upfront, you're going to have a higher success rate.”
Instead of sending out 100 cold messages to strangers, Yankovich recommends doing some research and sending out about five warm messages a day to people with whom you have the potential to create genuine professional relationships. Warm messages are much more likely to get a response, she said, and avoiding a sales tone can help bolster your authenticity and credibility.
Expertise and credibility are among the biggest reasons people do business with accountants, according to Ty Hendrickson, CPA, founder of The Sales Seed, a consulting and training company for accountants, based in Lexington, Ky. “Being on LinkedIn is a great place to build that credibility and expertise, but it was never meant to be a social selling platform; it was built to connect professionals,” she said.
Hendrickson said that it’s fine to send out cold connection requests to people you don’t know, but in those cases, she recommends not including a message at all and letting your profile speak for itself.
“Update your profile and make sure it speaks directly to your ideal client because that's what people are going to look at to decide whether to accept your connection request,” she said.
Over the past year, cold messages have been overused and people are tuning out before they ever read them, Hendrickson said. “Those that are open to connecting with someone new will accept your connection request with or without a message,” she said. The relationship building with cold prospects begins after they accept your connection request when you follow up with a simple thank-you message, Hendrickson added. From there, you can start to build rapport if they are open to a conversation.
Do create a profile for the person you strive to be. If you’re hoping to advance, evolve, or make a shift in your career, your profile should project the version of yourself you’re working toward becoming.
“Many people think of LinkedIn as their digital résumé, but your résumé is all about who you used to be,” Yankovich said. “Your LinkedIn profile should really be projecting your brand into the future.”
Of course you should include information about your past in the experience section of your profile, but Yankovich argued that if you really want to show up as an influencer and leader, you should write a profile for the position you want and the person you're striving to become.
She added that you should be sure to focus on what you can do for others. For example, instead of saying, “I’m a financial consultant,” you might say, “I'm a financial consultant, and I help women over 50 create enough wealth to retire at 60.”
“Now you're telling me about you, but you're making it about me, and that's what leaders do,” she said.
Hendrickson pointed out that a great profile is more important than ever in a world where people are throwing your name into a Google search and gathering their first impression of you through your LinkedIn profile.
“You want to take the time to really create a profile that positions you as an expert, as someone who is worthy of a client’s time and money, so it's always been important, but it's more important now than ever,” she said.
Do dive into your existing network. It’s very possible that you’re already connected with people who can help you achieve your goals, so before you send out hundreds of new connection requests, Yankovich recommends combing through your existing network.
She suggests looking through your current connections and reaching out to those you haven’t spoken to in a while and saying something along the lines of, “Hey, we've been connected here for two years, I think we first met at [insert conference]. We're not meeting for coffee anytime soon, so I thought I would dig into my LinkedIn network and see who I haven't talked to in a while, and you stood out — I would love to hear about what you're up to.”
“Whatever it is you're looking to build relationships for, whether it's getting a new job, creating a new business, getting more clients, or generating publicity, you probably have people already in your network who could help you with that,” she said.
For example, if you belong to the chamber of commerce in your city, Yankovich recommends looking through the membership directory, finding about 10 people you really want to build relationships with, and reaching out to them on LinkedIn, saying something like, “It doesn't look like we're going to a luncheon at the chamber anytime soon, but we're both members and it looks like you're doing some really interesting things. I would love to know more about you and what you joined the chamber to do.”
Yankovich pointed out that cherry-picking the people you want to virtually connect with can actually be more time-effective than networking at an in-person conference or luncheon where you might talk to dozens of people before making a fruitful connection.
Don’t forget to engage with others. Having a great profile and posting interesting, relevant content on LinkedIn are both important, but perhaps not as crucial as regularly engaging with others.
“When people post, but don't comment and share, that's like going to a networking event, and walking up to someone and saying, ‘Did you see this article on how to get five new clients in a week?’ And then turning and walking away,” Hendrickson said. “You would never do that. So even though you're on the internet, if you're trying to network, the conversation goes both ways.”
Yankovich recommends engaging anytime LinkedIn asks you to engage, whether that’s congratulating someone on a new job or work anniversary, and then spending around 15 minutes a day liking and commenting on posts and sharing a few articles. She also suggests keeping a list of the 10 people you want to build relationships with, seeing what they're talking about on LinkedIn, and jumping into those conversations every couple of days.
“Your goal is to be on the wall, and you don't have to create content to make that happen,” she said. “It is just as valuable, if not more valuable, for you to be engaging with other people's conversations as it is to start your own.”
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— Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, a JofA senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.