Licensing is an alternative to starting your own business to bring your invention to life. For product developers, the most important step of the licensing process is reaching out and getting in touch with potential licensees. Until you've begun doing this, you're not in the game. This is when the real work of product development starts to take place -- not before, like most people assume.

So, how do you get your foot in the door? Your goal is to establish a relationship with the companies you want to invent for, because that's how you win long-term. You might not license the first idea you pitch, but by engaging like a professional and continuing to follow up, you will eventually obtain a clearer and clearer picture of what the company is looking for. Meet their needs, and you've got a winner on your hands.

Getting in touch with potential licensees need not be daunting. You don't even have to make cold calls anymore -- you can use LinkedIn.

LinkedIn has made identifying the right employees to contact about your invention easy. But just because it takes mere seconds to fire off a message doesn't mean you'll get a response.

Let's be real. No one wants to have their time wasted. So, help yourself out by polishing your profile first. After all, that's what everyone is going to check out before deciding whether to reply back. The impression you need to make is that you're a potential asset. Which is true!

Benjamin Harrison is an expert at using LinkedIn to get in touch with potential licensees to pitch his product ideas. These are his insights. Full disclosure -- I got to know him when he was a student of my coaching program inventRight.

How important is your LinkedIn profile?

The importance of making a good first impression in business has been well-documented.

Growing up, I remember hearing about how important the first few seconds of meeting someone is, and how crucial it is to do things right, like having a firm handshake (but not too firm) and maintaining eye contact.

Times have changed. These days, we form an opinion of people in our industries long before we've had an opportunity to shake their hand.

Your LinkedIn profile is like a digital handshake in that it's a sales and marketing tool. Nowadays, your profile is where most first impressions are being formed. A properly crafted profile is like a perfect handshake with just the right amount of squeeze, duration, and eye contact. Your profile is either doing all of the right things for you over and over again -- or consistently failing you by extending a cold, limp shake.

When using LinkedIn to contact potential licensees about your invention idea, your profile matters. This is the only information people have you to quality you with. And since you don't actually know these people, how you craft your profile completely shapes how they perceive you. It can be the difference between a willing and helpful response versus never hearing back.

Neglecting your profile greatly affects your chances of getting into companies using LinkedIn.

What are some tips and advice that can help product developers project the right image when making contact with potential licensees?

Projecting the right image requires nailing the three main aspects of a LinkedIn profile, at a minimum.

Your profile pic and headline are the most important aspects of your profile because they're out in front and always visible. The area beneath is where you can further stand out by implementing some personal branding.

Your Profile Pic

Having a good headshot is a must in the digital age, and having a professional-looking picture as your LinkedIn profile pic goes a long way. If you're a DIY'er and the thought of hiring a headshot photographer or having a photography student at a local university cut you a deal doesn't suit you, make sure the photo you use is well-lit, in focus, and cropped so that it depicts your smiling face up close with your eyes directed at the camera. 

If you must take it yourself, don't use a selfie taken close up, because it distorts the shape of your head.

Make sure to center your smiling face in the image. On LinkedIn, profile pics are tiny -- don't waste precious space.

How you're dressed is also a determining factor in how you are perceived. It's advantageous to dress in business attire that is similar to professionals in the industries that you want to network with. Being under or overdressed can be a deterrent, whereas triggering similarity cues can be beneficial. 

How You Describe Yourself

On my LinkedIn page, I describe myself as an "Open Innovation Product Developer" or "Product Developer @ Company Name." When sending a message that pertains to open innovation, it's consistent to have the title "Open Innovation Product Developer" beneath your photo. I believe consistency builds trust.

I also prefer this title over using "Inventor of Product Name" because product developer feels more professional. I don't want to give off the impression that I'm a one trick pony.

Beneath Your Profile Pic

This area is where you can insert a little narrative about yourself and speak directly to potential clients -- in this case, potential licensees. It's best practice to understand the industry that you're pitching in as intimately as possible and pad your profile accordingly. 

Don't lie, or try to be someone you're not, but do take the opportunity to show like-mindedness by using industry-specific keywords. How can you identify these keywords? By seeking out and reading how respected professionals in the industry describe themselves.

A fourth aspect of your profile that can be important is who and how many people you're connected with. It's not required that you have 30,000 connections before you can get a response but it is smart to try to connect with at least 1,000 people. (The 500+ benchmark has been an important one for a while, but I see 1,000 as the new 500+.)   

This is not difficult. When you start having shared key connections within companies or industries, that provides strong additional social proof. When qualifying a profile, I always take a quick peek at the individual's number of connections, and I seriously doubt I'm the only one who does.

What are some of the common mistakes people are making?

The main way people mess up their profiles is by not completing them. Take the time to fill out each section. If you don't, that can come across as a little lazy. There are a bunch of do's and don'ts, but having a complete profile is a must. It doesn't have to be perfect, especially starting out. Finish it, and go back and add to it later. 

Most people neglect to take advantage of the opportunity to incorporate media, including photos, videos, and links to past projects, awards, and other achievements. Media links help your profile stand out during quick qualifications. 

Users also forego acquiring recommendations, which are a strong form of social proof. Unlike many online reviews which are fake or paid for, a LinkedIn recommendation is inherently tied to another account and therefore can be verified, carrying more clout.

I also recommend engaging regularly on LinkedIn. This is an underappreciated way to develop your profile, in my opinion. You don't need to create amazing viral content or become an influencer in the process of reaching out to potential licensees. Liking, commenting, and sharing other people's content is enough to show them that you're an active participant in the industry. These activities are displayed near the very top of your profile page, occupying prime real estate.

What do people get wrong about LinkedIn?

Your LinkedIn profile is more than just an online resume that you should update between jobs. It's actually a tool you can use to establish your personal brand and affect how you are perceived by anyone who is qualifying you as a professional online.

This misunderstanding results in profiles that are stiff and flat because they're void of character. Similar to resumes, they lack narrative. Up your game. Rather than thinking of your profile as a straightforward recitation of the jobs you've worked, build your intentions into your profile.

Published on: Apr 4, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.