I was an early adopter of LinkedIn, using it to manage my business network, and I've attended LinkedIn seminars for my business school alumni. I thought I was making great use of the social network until I really started using it to grow my business.

Here are the lessons I learned that are universally applicable to anyone doing business development and looking to improve their ROI:

1. Get a new profile picture.

I regularly get contacted by people through LinkedIn and the first thing you take in is the picture. If the picture you have is a selfie, a holiday snap, or your security badge picture, kindly delete it. The only thing scarier than these are those people with no profile picture. You are selling yourself first, then your company. If a person's profile photo was taken in an airport lounge, my first thought is that I'm not buying.

I had an ex-colleague of mine write me and tell me to remove a grim selfie from my laptop's camera. He told me I looked unconfident and it was doing me no favors. I'd used it to replace a former security badge photo I couldn't stand. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

I recommend getting a professional photo taken in a semi-formal setting. Get a few and use them on your website and your blog, and you will justify the cost. One company I met recently whose employees all have fantastic pictures is Santa Monica's Peloton Docs. That's how you nail it.

2. Document how you met people.

There is a great feature on LinkedIn called "How you met" that is located under your connections' profile details. If like me you are regularly meeting people at networking events or in meetings, this is a great tool to store the story.

What did you talk about? What are their interests? Trying to keep that level of information in your head for a lot of people is just too much for me. I also find it is personal to my relationship and doesn't really have a place in my CRM system.

Once your connections start to increase, finding ways to retain the personal touch of a smaller network is vital.

3. Make sure you have your contact details listed.

We all struggle to keep our contacts up to date. One of the easiest ways to share your details is through LinkedIn, as you only need to share with your connections.

While many people get communication forwarded from LinkedIn to their regular email accounts, it seems many do not. So make it easier for people to find you and connect. I discovered I'd left an old dead phone number in there for a year or so. That was not the smartest move.

4. Don't contact your competitors with your sales pitch.

One of the biggest supports to me psychologically over the past year setting up my firm is the number of unsolicited InMails I get from competitors. They clearly have a volume-based approach to selling that I'd never consider for our firm. That being said, there have been a couple of tactics people used that I liked and adopted. (No, I'm not telling you what they are.)

It helps me in positioning my business to understand how others are pitching and the types of objections I know I'm going to need to handle to win over new business.

5. If you are contacting someone, make sure you've done your research first.

It's quite easy to churn out InMails (see #4 above) at volume. I am pretty certain that they deliver terrible returns without you doing your research first. I prefer to only contact people I am certain I can help. This means saying no to a lot whom we may be able to help.

I define help as either information I have that's of value to them, or a service I know that will help them. Most of the time I lead with the first, as I intend to give it free regardless of any future commercial relationship. The discipline of this work has helped me refine and refine my LinkedIn searches and tactics to improve my ROI.

6. Publish and consume interesting and relevant content.

This seems so straightforward, but so many people miss it. You will stand out more if you publish content that has some value to your audience. This increases the likelihood of a warm inbound lead in the future.

You also need to keep reading too. I enjoy posts from a range of my contacts. This keeps me as connected with my markets and industries as when I was surrounded by hundreds of co-workers.

Published on: Oct 14, 2014