In the summer of 2014 I inadvertently did something that few people have been able to do, but that I know many people would like to do.
I turned my LinkedIn profile into more than just a way to get a job. I turned it into the foundation of my business, and in doing so created an opportunity to become something I never thought I would become:
Here's what I did.
1. I started creating content using the LinkedIn Pulse platform.
Originally I went to college to become a writer. I dreamt of a life writing odd-sized, award winning books - the kind that no one reads. Before that could happen I switched my major and ended up in a far more corporate career.
Still, the ache to write was there, and after my mom (who always encouraged me to write) passed away in late spring of 2014, I decided to give writing a try. And, like any frustrated artist, I turned to LinkedIn.
My initial post had around 900 views. My second post exceeded 20,000 views.
I kept writing, and to this date I have over 20,000 followers, with nearly 2 million combined article views, and in December of 2015 I was named to LinkedIn's "Top 10 Voices on Management and Corporate Culture".
2. I started building relationships with followers.
One of the best parts about writing on LinkedIn has been the people I've gotten to know, some of whom have gone on to grow platforms of their own, and even a couple who have written for Inc. People like Glenn Leibowitz, Neil Hughes, and John White.
About three months into my publishing career I wrote a post called "If You Lose Your Job, Remember This". It was about my dad and his struggle with long-term unemployment. What it was really about though was the need to maintain your sense of self-worth in the face of a job loss.
It went viral, with more than 400,000 views. One of those readers reached out to me and shared a similar story of his father. We began exchanging emails, and then this individual saw that I had experience as a marketing consultant. Ultimately he gave me a contract to advise a nonprofit organization he helped found on marketing their first conference and trade show.
My article had nothing to do with marketing, but my first consulting client came from a genuine human connection forged through content.
3. I took that model and used it to turn "likes" and "comments" into clients.
Based on my interaction with the individual above, I decided to become proactive and build potential business relationships using my writing.
Because, here's what I believe about social media:
If your business model requires selling a massive number of products to a massive number of people, it is unlikely that you will see a return on investment from social media marketing.
However, if your business model is based on one-to-one sales with a high level of personal interaction, you can see a return on social media marketing.
That might seem counterintuitive, but "likes" and "comments" are, at their core, opportunities to start conversations. I've found that the best way to start those conversations is by looking at an individual's profile and seeing if there is some way to help them--some piece of insight or expertise you can offer, completely free, no strings attached.
No email address required.
Using that approach I've been able to create clients for my consulting business out of market leaders, startups, and a wide variety of organizations.
I stumbled on how to monetize LinkedIn, but I learned that by creating authentic content and being a decent human being you can turn your profile into a powerful business generator.