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How to make LinkedIn your business’s best friend

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The story of how Wayne Breitbarth went from dismissive LinkedIn skeptic to one of the professional networking site’s most ardent supporters may not be as dramatic as the famous tale of St. Paul’s conversion, but it’s compelling enough in its own right. And it’s safe to say that when the scales finally fell from Breitbarth’s eyes, they were swiftly replaced by dollar signs.

Back in the darkest days of the Great Recession, Breitbarth was a partner in a Milwaukee office furniture store that had been hammered by the downturn in business activity. Desperate to boost sales, he began to reconsider a business tool that he’d roundly rejected just a few years before.

“The mistake most people are making is that because those profiles look like résumés they treat them as such. Instead, you should think strategically about why you’re on LinkedIn.” — Wayne Breitbarth

“It probably had everything to do with my being 50 years old, and I was pretty sure that this was silly and it would go away,” said Breitbarth of his early LinkedIn skepticism. “It was a fad. It didn’t feel right for me to have all this public stuff out there. I thought it was a social media site, so I really thought it was for my kids. … And I didn’t want to learn anything new. When you get to be 50 or so, you hope you can just coast right into retirement.”

Unfortunately, the recession put any fantasies about coasting into a blissful retirement on hold, and Breitbarth simply could not pull his store’s sales out of their tailspin. Meanwhile, one of his friends continued to badger him about getting on LinkedIn.

Eventually, Breitbarth relented. He read some books about the networking site and decided he’d give it a whirl.

“So I started to approach it with that strategy in mind, that I could use it to sell some furniture,” said Breitbarth. “And it was the feature where I got to see who knew who — you know, if I connected with somebody then I could see who their friends were. To me, that was the aha moment, when I saw you could do that.

“I thought, you know, I know a lot of people here in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, because I’ve been here my whole career, but I don’t know who they know, and if I can start figuring out who they know, then when I hear about a building that’s going to be built or a move, which is usually a triggering event for some furniture, I’m going to be able to leverage relationships with the people I know to call and say, ‘Hey, I see your friend’s company is moving, do you think you could introduce him to me?’ And I started doing that.”

The strategy worked, and Breitbarth soon landed his first quarter-million-dollar account through a connection he made on LinkedIn. Needless to say, he was sold.

From businessman to business advisor

Breitbarth has since moved on from furniture dealer to full-time LinkedIn evangelizer, and he’ll share some of the lessons he’s learned along the way during his IB Seminar “The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success” on Aug. 19 at the Alliant Energy Center.

During the workshop, Breitbarth, who has written his own book on LinkedIn strategy (also titled The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success), will give attendees tips on using LinkedIn to:

  • Promote and grow their businesses
  • Find their ideal prospects
  • Connect with decision makers
  • Gain competitive intelligence

While many professionals probably think they’ve got their LinkedIn strategy down pat, according to Breitbarth, many businesspeople are still making a lot of mistakes. Among these is a tendency to treat the site as just another platform for displaying your résumé.

“The mistake most people are making is that because those profiles look like résumés they treat them as such,” said Breitbarth. “Instead, you should think strategically about why you’re on LinkedIn — what am I trying to accomplish here? — and then write your profile in such a way that your audience would be engaged and would want to reach out to you. It’s a totally different approach. So the first step is making sure you have a profile that serves your objectives.”

Another mistake people make, says Breitbarth, is failing to use some of LinkedIn’s most powerful tools to their full potential. Breitbarth does a survey each year, and in the most recent poll, he asked 896 participants what their favorite LinkedIn feature was. The last two years, the winner was LinkedIn’s “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” feature.

“I can tell you, when they see that, most people do click it, because they think it’s interesting,” said Breitbarth. “Rarely do people do anything after that, and it’s like this. It’s like somebody walks into your store, looks around, and nobody puts out a hand and introduces themselves, and they walk out and go to the next store. So that’s a tip I give people. They know this feature exists because they’ve always thought it was intriguing who’s looking at them, and then they just stop.”

The next step beyond just identifying your LinkedIn “stalkers,” says Breitbarth, is using that knowledge to your advantage.


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