After you’ve finished building out your LinkedIn profile, then next step is to grow your 1st degree Connections. Ideally, you do not want to build your network until you’ve fully built out your profile. Inviting someone to connect is the one time that you can almost guarantee they will read through your entire profile, so you want to have everything in place so you don’t lose that messaging opportunity.
The real money level of your network is the 2nd degree; not the 1st – because that’s the direct referral relationship. You’re going to vet all new people you meet as client material anyway, but the gold is in the people they are connected to who you don’t know yet. However, you’re not going to find good prospects in the 2nd degree if you don’t have a sizable and continuously growing 1st degree network.
It’s important to be smart about who you invite to connect. LinkedIn’s philosophy is that you should only invite people to connect who you know. The definition of “know” can vary. For me, if it’s someone I’ve engaged with outside of LinkedIn or inside LinkedIn, then that means that I “know” them. For others, “know” means that you’ve actually met them and had at least one in depth conversation. I’ve even met some people with very elaborate criteria. So, what should you do?
Ultimately, you have to decide for yourself what your “networking philosophy” is going to be and it should line up with what you’re trying to accomplish by using LinkedIn. If you only connect with people you believe to be prospects already, then you’re limiting your prospect pool to your 1st degree and not focusing on the 2nd degree which I called the money level above. If you connect with anyone and everyone, then you don’t have a true relationship with most of your 1st degree meaning that they aren’t going to introduce you to their connections (your 2nd degree) or that introduction is not going to be very convincing and you’ll have a lower success rate.
I recommend inviting people to connect who you’ve met or engaged with online AND who would be willing and open to introducing you to their connections. The #1 criteria is, “Are they willing to help you?” This means that you need to temper any assumptions on how helpful they may be. You never know who someone is connected to and how strong their relationship is. So, if you meet someone who is less than your ideal target market – say a coffee shop barista – don’t assume that they can’t and won’t help you. People who buy $6 lattes on a daily basis have some money! If the barista will introduce you, then she’s a valuable connection.
Whenever you invite someone to connect, you should ALWAYS customize the message inviting them to connect. It doesn’t have to be very elaborate and LinkedIn only gives you 300 characters, so you can’t be very verbose anyway. Simply remind them of where you met or how you’re connected outside of LinkedIn. If it’s someone who may not recall you, I would also add a sentence about your intention or motivation behind wanting to connect – and it shouldn’t be because you want them as a client! Build a relationship first.
YES, you should connect to your clients. It will make asking for referrals much easier because you can tell them who you’d like to be referred to.
NEVER drop a connection’s name as a reason to connect without that person’s permission. Ideally, you want that person to introduce you via LinkedIn first before you invite a mutual connection to connect anyway.
ALWAYS invite the new people you’ve met or encountered to connect on a weekly basis. Block it into your calendar or add it into one of your processes – such as adding someone to your CRM. This will ensure that you continually have new prospects just an introduction away.