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Link Up on LinkedIn

BodyShop Business contributing editor Mark Claypool explains why LinkedIn is more than just a social networking platform.

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BSB Contributing Editor Mark Claypool has more than 30 years of experience in the fields of workforce development, apprenticeships, marketing and Web presence management with SkillsUSA, the I-CAR Education Foundation, Mentors at Work, VeriFacts Automotive and the NABC. He is the CEO of Optima Automotive (www.optimaautomotive.com), which provides website design, SEO services and social media management services.

Confused by LinkedIn? Don’t know what it is? Do you believe it has a place in our industry? Do you feel it’s just too complicated for you to even hope to achieve anything by using it?

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You’re not alone. Jumping into anything unknown is hard and usually keeps us from even trying at all. But let’s get familiar with LinkedIn and how it can benefit your business.

Who, What and Why
What is LinkedIn? Simply put, it’s your online resume, but it’s so much more than that. While your profile is a resume, it’s also an interactive one.

LinkedIn is the premier social networking platform of business professionals with more than 160 million users, mostly from North America (unlike Facebook). Companies and professionals see LinkedIn as a valuable place to promote their products and services.

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Who’s on LinkedIn? Just about anyone who wants to network with others. There are full- and part-time employees, contractors, freelancers, insurance agents, key decision makers from any given industry and many companies. Insurance agents in your area are obviously important for you to link with for referral connections.

Why LinkedIn for networking? “Because companies don’t give you business, people do,” says Tyler Claypool, director of social media management for Optima Automotive. “When building a resume, the whole purpose is to sell you. If you’re a business owner, are you not the business? You’re promoting yourself and promoting your business all at the same time. I often hear someone asking where they can get their car repaired, and the response is usually, ‘Take it to Joe over at ABC Collision. He does a great job!’ Joe’s the owner and usually gets named in the referral. This is exactly what LinkedIn can do for a business, but on a larger scale.”

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It’s All About You
If you’re now convinced that you need to set up a LinkedIn account, let’s get your profile set up.

Start by going here: http://www.linkedin.com. Enter your name, email address and desired password, then click on “Join Now.” Then follow the instructions from there. Across the top, there will be a progress bar. Strive for 100 percent. Write a summary of your work background and experience. Add current and past positions. “Education” is pretty easy to figure out; make sure you add the clubs/organizations you were involved in.

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List your skills/expertise in your profile. As you start typing your skills, a list will pop up with common skills predicting what skill you’re most likely entering. These skills are there so other LinkedIn members can endorse you. Keep these focused on work-related skills (see above for example).

Finally, it’s time for the profile picture. On Facebook, you can have a picture of yourself on the beach, at a party or any other fun picture. Keep those on Facebook. Your LinkedIn profile picture should be a professional picture of you from the shoulders up. Carefully consider the background and lighting. You’re limited to the space visible, so you’ll want to make the most of that space so people can recognize you. Smile!

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Building Your Network
The first step to building your LinkedIn network is to mirror your offline network to your online network. Have LinkedIn send out emails to your email list for you. This will tell people that you’re on LinkedIn and you’re interested in “linking” with them. The people who have LinkedIn will usually accept your invitation. The people who don’t may eventually join and link up with you later, so it’s a good thing to get those invites out there. By doing this, you can grow your network quickly. Then, start searching your area for other people to link to, such as insurance agents, dealerships, local politicians, etc.

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Be engaging! Post about new construction, new equipment or a vehicle you just finished. Share some of your connection’s posts; people love to be heard! When you share anything, that person gets a notification that you shared it. Chances are they’ll start paying attention to you because of it.

Join “Groups.” LinkedIn is full of groups for any industry, including ours. Find a few groups to join and keep up to date with what’s going on around the country. This is a great way to follow what others are doing or check in with key influencers to see the direction they may be heading in.

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While you’re at it, you can also create a LinkedIn company page. Expose your brand, promote job openings, inform visitors and network with customers.

LinkedIn should be another part of your outreach, brand promotion and networking efforts if it isn’t already. Fit it into your schedule. Don’t let these times pass you by – you can’t afford not to participate in this and other social media.

Optima Automotive will be conducting free web- inars on LinkedIn and social media throughout the months of May and June. To request more information, visit www.optimaautomotive.com.

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BSB Contributing Editor Mark Claypool has more than 30 years of experience in the fields of workforce development, business/education partnerships, apprenticeships and Web presence management. He is the CEO of Optima Automotive (www.optimaautomotive.com), which provides website design, development, search engine optimization (SEO) services and social media management services. Claypool’s work history includes stints at Metro Paint Supplies, VeriFacts Automotive, the National Auto Body Council (NABC), the I-CAR Education Foundation and SkillsUSA. He is the founder of Mentors At Work and co-founder of the Collision Industry Foundation. He served, on a volunteer basis, as the SkillsUSA World Team Leader for the WorldSkills Championships from 2003 to 2011.

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