11bc4b8Today’s guest post is by : Brendan Cruickshank, Vice President at Juju.com.  We have never met in person, but connected through social media and he agreed to share a post with my readers.   His specialty is recruiting, and as we begin to emerge from the recession, he is someone you should get to know!

All the small business owners I talk to lately are thinking about marketing – finding ways to somehow get the word out to more people about their business and building an online presence that will provide them with a foundation as the business (hopefully) begins to grow and expand. What I tell them, though, is that marketing doesn’t begin with advertising. It begins with branding – building a recognizable presence both physically, in the community, and online.

Websites and social media networks must be the most inexpensive tools available to the small business owner. In my opinion, your branding timeline should look like this:

  1. Build a strong website with content that you update regularly – content that, if possible, makes it clear that you fall into a special niche that has been missed by others. Include a blog if you are so inclined and if you like to write.
  2. Build a LinkedIn profile and use LinkedIn’s tools to make your presence in your personal network stronger and more recognizable.
  3. Support your website and LinkedIn profile by using Twitter, Facebook, and any other social networking tools that are appropriate to your particular industry and/or profession.

Your implementation of points 1 and 3 on my timeline are highly dependent on the kind of business that you are running, as well as your personality and your business culture. Most entrepreneurs are able to jump into website administration and the use of Twitter and Facebook fairly readily, and naturally end up customizing them to their businesses. Somehow LinkedIn, though, is more counterintuitive – it takes a little more time and effort to make full use of it and to find all the options that it has to offer. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Think carefully about what image you want to upload to use for your profile picture. LinkedIn encourages professionals to post pictures of themselves, preferably head shots, but some business owners are uncomfortable putting pictures of themselves up on the Internet – where those photos may remain until time immemorial. If you prefer not to use a photo of yourself, choose a representative image with care. It’s best not to use your business logo as your profile picture – connect yourself strongly with your business in other ways, such as by linking to your website and publishing your blog entries to LinkedIn. Bear in mind that your profile picture is something that you may end up changing at some point – perhaps even in response to future LinkedIn changes to the profile picture rules, as some social networking sites are starting to require professionals to use head shots, for example. Maybe you can think of some symbol that you’d like to include in your profile image – and then if you later must change the image, you can integrate that same symbol in some other way, to keep the consistency of your brand.
  • Fill out your profile as completely as you can. If your profile is very complete, including every educational institution you’ve attended and every business you’ve ever worked with, then you leave yourself open to being contacted by all the other people on LinkedIn who are connected with those organizations. Anything you can do to potentially increase the size of your network is a good thing, when you are trying to get the word out about your business.
  • Ask for recommendations. Many people feel that recommendations are a personal matter, that they are needed only if someone is considering hiring you, and that if someone is considering hiring you, they should ask for references at that point. Not so. Recommendations fill out your profile, they make your profile seem more personal, and they are short and easy for other people in your network to provide. Make sure that you reciprocate by writing recommendations for other people in your network.
  • Update your status regularly. Every time you update your status, you bring your profile back into the view of all the people in your network. An easy way to update your status is to write regular blog entries (if you like to write) and then publish the blog entries to your social networks. You can use a free program like HootSuite to publish your blog entries to LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter all at the same time, in one click.
  • Use LinkedIn’s other applications to further personalize your brand. If you took all of the above steps except for this one, you’d be off to a good start. But if you want to do even more, take advantage of LinkedIn’s other applications, the ones listed under the “More” tab. You’ll need to check this tab from time to time, as LinkedIn continually adds more applications – for example, the site recently added a News application that allows you to share and comment on the news. The News application will allow you to search by industry to see what news items people in your industry are commenting on – potentially a useful feature. You should also considering joining professional groups on LinkedIn, answering questions, and possibly using the Amazon Reading List application to share books that you are reading. If you are a lawyer, you’ll find two LinkedIn applications directed especially at you: Lawyer Ratings and Legal Updates (where lawyers can upload articles they have written, making it easier for potential clients interested in certain practice areas to find them).
  • Use LinkedIn to find job candidates for openings in your business, or to find out more about the candidates you already have. Recruiters are using LinkedIn to search for job candidates, so there’s no reason business owners shouldn’t do the same. You can use LinkedIn early in the process, to solicit applications, or later, when you want to find out more about your candidates – or both. You don’t need to confine yourself to reading your candidate’s current LinkedIn recommendations – you can always contact the recommenders to ask for more details, since LinkedIn recommendations are fairly brief. Or reach out to other former supervisors or former coworkers in your candidate’s network, explain that you are considering hiring him or her, and ask for a recommendation.

For now, I see LinkedIn as one of the best options out there for small business owners who are just getting started with the branding process.

During the 8 years he has been in the job search and recruiting industry, Brendan has had senior client services roles with major sites like Juju.com and JobsInTheMoney.com. He is often quoted on employment topics as well as those related to jobs. His insights have been published in the Wall Street Journal and US News & World Report as well as other major publications.

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