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Toronto Star – LinkedIn Is One of the Most Important Tools Jody Steinhauer Uses in her Business

The owner of Bargains Group — a Toronto-based discount wholesaler of promotional products — uses the network to promote her company, find suppliers, make hires, and stay current on business trends. She spends at least an hour a day on the site, and encourages her 30 staff to use it as well.

“It’s such a powerful tool. It doesn’t just lead to more sales, it shortens the sales cycle, because deals happen faster,” says Steinhauer, adding that, thanks to inbound interest created through LinkedIn, she no longer pays for advertising.

Traditionally used by companies as a talent resource, LinkedIn has evolved in a popular word-of-mouth marketing and business development site with several tools entrepreneurs can use to manage and advance their enterprises. With more than 175 million individual members worldwide, including more than five million in Canada, it has become a critical online space for small business owners.

One of the key ways Steinhauer uses the site is by participating in Groups, which is for people with a similar interest, e.g. the same sector, business or geographic location. Steinhauer belongs to ones that focus on retail sales, social media, human resources and marketing. She uses them to participate in discussions, get answers to business problems and offer advice.

Entrepreneurs can find suitable groups by through keyword searches, or by browsing relevant categories in the site’s Skills and Expertise section.

Businesses and organizations can also be followed on LinkedIn—Steinhauer followscurrent and prospective clients, as well as companies that inspire her.

Tracking the activities of these organizations allows her to not only stay current on retail and branding trends, and get new ideas — it also helps her find talent.

“If I know a company is not doing too well, I check out their employees — maybe I can poach them,” says Steinhauer, adding that she also gets great traction out of promoting new job opportunities at her company through groups and status updates.

The Company Page is another important LinkedIn tool. It allows businesses to promote their products and services, embed YouTube videos, solicit customer recommendations, run targeted ad campaigns and track hits from visitors. Currently, more than two million businesses have such a page on the site.

“It’s a great branding tool, and it lets you separate your business from your personal LinkedIn profile and include very specific information about your company,” says Boris Mahovac, a Burlington-based LinkedIn expert who runs workshops on leveraging the site for entrepreneurs.

Mahovac also recommends polling people through LinkedIn for market research purposes — to test potential products and services, or gain insights on business strategies.

Entrepreneurs can also get useful business advice from other LinkedIn members by posting their questions in the Answers forum. On the flip side, they can build expert status in their field by regularly responding to these questions.

These tools are just the start. Small business owners can use LinkedIn to perform advanced searches for service providers or experts, create job postings, promote events, share presentations, and even blog. Some LinkedIn tools are available for free, but others require a paid membership.

To learn more about the site’s useful small business features, check out its other applications, and its Learning Centre and information and resource hub for entrepreneurs.