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Playing with LinkedIn's Answers feature - A brief analysis, plus community advice on starting consulting (part 2/2)

Last week I wrote about my initial foray into LinkedIn's new Answers feature, and shared some of mine. Below I've included the answers I got to my (so far only) question How did you get clients when you started your consulting practice? Before that, let's briefly consider Answers' strengths and weaknesses.

  • Opportunity to share knowledge and help others,
  • Exposure to possible peers (increase connections) and clients,
  • Increased repute
  • Many answerers are writing pretty blatantly to self-promote,
  • Ditto for questioners,
  • "Quantity connectors" contact you. (Those who connect for the sake of getting many contacts, vs. only connecting with those you know - which is how I do it.)
So how is this different from newsgroups or other on-line forums? I think this system has potential, primarily due to the unique community - serious business users who trust the system (at least a bit more than other venues). Also, many users seem very motivated to share helpful answers - a privilege I've taken advantage of. (A fellow user agreed, commenting "This is great! I'm going to ask a question every week.") However, the system runs the risk of being "spammed" by the above self-promotions.

Is it useful? So far I've received one client inquiry, and made one solid connection, so there's definitely potential. Plus I just plain enjoy writing answers, so I'll keep with it for a while. And, I got some terrific answers to my question (shown below).

What about you? Are you a LinkedIn user? How've you used it - either Answers, or more generally?

Selected answers to my question How did you get clients when you started your consulting practice?

Kristian Walker

When I began freelancing (graphic design) all of my projects came via referral from someone else. This was also before LinkedIn. I had established a solid reputation prior to my "jumping ship" and used that to find work. I would aggressively work your network for leads. As your reputation grows, so will your project load.

Spencer Hill

Get a book called Book Yourself Solid by Micheal Port its about building a network or pipeline for future business.

Laura Young

I started with word of mouth like you and also got listed on professional referral sites (I'm a life and business coach). After that came website and a monthly newsletter. I'm an old gal so this was before blogging. Now I would say get a blog. It's a great traffic builder, gives value to your clients, is an excellent branding tool and it works as a prequalifier for clients as well. The clients who come to me now, after seeing my blog particularly, tend to already have made the hiring decision and are typically very well matched to me. I don't do any live networking or speaking any more as the web is so effective for me. I'll link my site below so you can see how my sites work together. And from a personal point of view, I find I enjoy my business much more because blogging gives me a freedom to be funny and off topic on occassion in a way that I would not do on my website. I even had someone hire me once because I was brave enough to put my highschool picture (I was a Greg Brady look alike) on the web. They figured if I was brave enough to do that, I could help them gain confidence as well! It's funny the things that are meaningful to people and make the difference in them making that initial contact.


Tim Warneka

Write a book!

My book "Leading the Black Belt Way: Conquering the Five Core Problems Facing Leaders Today" has generated a significant amount of business for me.

There's something atavistically fascinating to people about talking to an author, and writing a book gives you a leg up on the competition.

Don't bother going the traditional publishing routes--they take far too long for a business start-up. Pick up a copy of Dan Poynter's book (see his website below)... and do it yourself!

I see that Laura Young (her answer's above) also has written chapters for inclusion into books written collaboratively. I imagine that her writing in this way supports her business as well (Laura?).

Good luck!


Michael MacKenna

The best way is to make yourself known as a person specializing in the area you plan to practice. The best way to do that is to make sure people know you by newsletters, web, blogs, books, articles, speaking at organizations, etc.

Jason Harrison

I wrote this answer on another post (Lead Generation) and it appeared to be helpful:

I have been considering this question from the perspective of establishing an independent consulting company so some of my ideas may be relevant:

1. Interim management opportunities: (+) useful to get stable income over a defined time period; (-) lower fee rates, pay commission.

2. Cold calling / direct mail shot: (+) makes you feel you are working; (-) poor way of generating new work - people rarely buy from a cold call.

3. Website: (+) often helpful to have a website covering who you are, what services you provide, who you have worked for and what you charge once you are gaining interest from people, the site is of most use to direct people to if they require more information about you; (-) site design, set up and maintenance can be expensive in time and money - best designs evolve over time.

4. Contacts network: (+) good source of connections and potential work; (-) network needs to be both deep and broad and a successful entrepreneur separates out friends/colleagues from potential clients.

5. Project extensions: (+) best way of generating business - low or zero cost sale with upside of knowing the client and their organisation; (-) only downside is if you want to say no to an existing client.

6. Current client referrals: (+) excellent method; (-) only downside is that you can become typecast by clients.

7. Partnering: (+) good way of gaining capacity, additional expertise or increasing presence; (-) need to agree how to split revenues,

8. Conferencing: (+) a good way of getting your message across to lots of people; (-) public speaking is a 'game' of sharing just enough information and requires excellent presentation skills.

9. Writing: (+) good way of getting known - check the magazine is distributed to your client base; (-) takes time and gives little quick return.

10. Writing a book: (+) ultimate way of getting a message across; (-) ultimate investment in time and money.

11. Affiliation to other firms: (+) benefuit from other firm's reputation & access to clients ; (-) discounted revenues & loss of control over work.

12. Memberships: (+) building a network to identify client opportunities and emerging trends in the marketplace; (-) time and effort to cultivate a good network.

13. Google promotion: (+) getting your website on to the top listings of a Google search can be productive if your website is valuable and if you are experienced at getting all the various search phrases listed; (-) only useful if you are already working and if you have the time to invest in web advertising.

14. Training courses: (+) good way of generating clients who have seen you operate - low cost sales vehicle; (-) requires an investment of time and energy to develop and update the course.

15. Editorial board: (+) generates contacts/credibility; (-) time for no financial reward.

16. Industry Committee: (+) make contacts & share expertise; (-) many committees can become time sinks.

Curtis Hughes

Most good ideas have been covered here, but I too would suggest simply "getting the word out." Let everyone you are in contact with know exactly what you are doing. Create an image and a brand for yourself early on.

Also, once you define your target market, look for business lists from your local Chamber. Do a direct mail campaign to businesses that fall into this target market.

Lastly, look for partnership opportunities with firms that will compliment your services; or, where you may compliment theirs. This can lead to great referrals.

I was told during my first year to expect to .chase revenue.. This means, be open to any and all possible business opportunities, even if it is not perfect for you now. You never know who you will meet. I have found this to be true, and have met some great contacts from not-so-perfect opportunities.

I answered another LinkedIn question regarding advertising online and getting a website/name noticed. You can find the answer to that here.

Hops this helps,

Bonny Albo

I'm impressed by some of the answers here, and will look into some of them further for my own business growth opportunities.

I won't rehash what others have already stated, but I will add to the list my most successful methods of attracting clients:

- Write a press release. Send it to your local media, any relevant journals/magazines in your field, and online PR sites. PR Wire really does work, provided you get an extremely well-written release sent out.

- Join online forums that are indirectly related to your business. For instance, I belong to several small business groups online where I answer writing related questions. I receive numerous leads (all without trying to sell a thing) through this option.

- Take the forums one step further and offer a free needs analysis to a select number of respondents. You could advertise this as well in your local paper (or even use it as your press release intro).

- Contact local business groups and ask them if you can speak at their next meeting. Don't bring along business cards however (since many now have rules about directly marketing to your listeners). Rather, provide a ti sheet at the end of the presentation with a list of the points you discussed. Your contact information will of course be listed at the bottom.

- Write a tip sheet (or use the same one as above) and offer it for free to the forums you subscribe to, newspaper readers, and so forth.

- Blog, but only if you have the time and want to position yourself as an expert. For more info on this topic, look at my other answers for a long how-to.

- Write filler for your local newspaper or magazines on your topic. They are always looking for short shorts about business or personal productivity pieces. If you can link it into some sort of academic research or personal experience, even better. If nothing else, you'll get a bit of cash coming in while you wait for the longer-term ideas to pull through.

- Talk to your local Welcome Wagon. Perhaps a bit strange, but they do offer packages (in some locations) for new business to the area. I received a LOT of calls from one of these promotions.

- Work with a writer to get an article published about your business in local business magazines. This is an excellent way of getting your name out there using the soft sell approach. Depending on the magazine's lead time (most are 4-6 months) you could have an awful lot of attention soon.

- Barter.

Best of luck in your new business,


Reader Comments (4)

I've found LinkedIn generally useful, once you have a reasonable network (as you say, people linked to you that are meaningful contacts). I haven't tried answers yet, it is great to be able to follow your progress!

February 3, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterjamin

Jamin - I'd love to hear some examples of how you've used it. Also, what size do you consider reasonable? I was told that more than 75 contacts and you have to pay. I'm currently at [ 55 contacts | http://www.linkedin.com/in/matthewcornell ].

February 3, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

No matter how many contacts you have, you don't have to pay. You only have to pay if you would like to use advanced features such as InMail.

I haven't posted any question yet, but did answer some questions of my contacts.

At this moment I mainly use LinkedIn to stay in contact with old colleagues, old customers and visitors of my site.

I have [ 48 contacts | http://www.linkedin.com/in/sangers ] at the moment, and find that the more contacts I have, the more I use LinkedIn.

February 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJeroen Sangers

Thanks for the correction, Jeroen. I'd love to hear specifically how you use LinkedIn.

February 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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