Archive for the ‘General Business Philosophy’ Category

Being Expert: Bringing Personal Value to Those Around You

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

I’ve written recently about how our economy is fundamentally changing. Everything seems to be disrupted and in a state of chaos. Normally routine business and established practices no longer function as they used to. Entire industries are being transformed along with the people in them. This brings me to the subject of today’s post, being an expert in your space and how you bring value to those around you.

In the past, our value was defined by how much we knew combined with the experience we accumulated over time. If you are truly an expert, every hour of everyday brings new experience and personal growth.

Those that find themselves in trouble today are the ones who learned their primary skill set a long time ago and have resisted learning more. They simply took what they were trained in and used it over and over, in a static kind of way. They would become more proficient at their daily performance and execution, much in the same way a golfer gets better at their swing if they practice the same swing over and over a thousand times. This is call “grooving.” Once you’re in a groove it is very difficult to get out of it. Grooving works very well when the skill does not require change to remain valuable.

In the knowledge or professional arena, our value was defined by how much knowledge we had and how specialized that knowledge was. If it was difficult material that took a long time to master, all the better. This meant we could charge more for our understanding of this knowledge. Think doctors, lawyers, and CPA’s. You could also think of master craftsmen as well.

This is the way we used to position ourselves and bring value, have knowledge that is hard to find, access, duplicate, and master.

Things are different now. With the rate at which technology, markets, and economies are changing, simply having the knowledge or experience is no longer enough. To remain an “expert” you must remain relevant to those you serve. To maintain your position of authority and value requires another skill set few truly master. It begins with the ability to be observational and recognize which elements of change are at work.

Simply observing isn’t the answer. The true answer is the ability to draw upon your knowledge and experience to synthesize new opportunities and solutions. This is an amazing time to be alive. There is so much disruptive change and technology around us.

The current recession and underlying permanent unemployment are perfect examples. The economies that are recovering quickly are the ones with low cost labor that can do many of the things our own skilled blue collar labor used to do. Now even our white collar workers are being outsourced by low cost offshore labor.

With rapid, pervasive change everywhere, we all have the opportunity to re-invent and redefine our value and skills. Our individual expertise comes from the ability to respond to these disruptive changes with innovative solutions that bring value to our customers and clients. As uncomfortable as change is, this is an amazing time of opportunity for those that can recognized and innovate new solutions.

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What Your Customers Really Want

Friday, November 5th, 2010

If you’ve been in business for any period of time, you may think you know what your customers really want. We draw our conclusions from past experience of what our customers have purchased. We tend to look at the the most popular colors, styles, and sizes. On the surface this is a logical, but not necessarily accurate conclusion.

This type of purchase analysis is mostly based on simple observation. While there’s nothing wrong with this approach, we can go much deeper. Doing so helps us to gain a broader understanding of the true motivations of our customer base.

As an example. The guy that goes to the hardware store to buy a 1/4″ drill bit, doesn’t really want the drill bit. He really wants the 1/4″ hole that results from the use of the drill bit. Further, he really wants the result the 1/4″ hole will enable for him. And so it is when people buy printed t-shirts. They really don’t want the shirt with the message on it, they want what the results that come from wearing the shirt with the message.

While this may seem obvious, the implications go much deeper. Let’s ask ourselves what are the benefits of a message on a shirt? It’s a form of media and the message is seen by many people when the shirt is worn. At least that’s what the customer hopes for. In reality, the message is mostly lost because the graphic design element is so weak that the image is nothing more than visual noise, resulting in it blending in with everything around it.

The lesson for us is to make sure the graphics, colors, and body style are sufficiently powerful enough to garner viewer attention. The graphics don’t have to be complex or multi-color, but they do have to be striking enough so as to stand out. But this simply isn’t enough.

The second element of the garment graphic is that it has to tell a story. The old Chinese saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” is absolutely right on. Yet, most apparel graphics don’t tell a story. Their message is shallow and often unclear. Remember the person wearing the shirt is presenting a message to the viewer. How is that message going to connect with the viewer? Is there an emotional bond? Is it working on a deeper level than the obvious advertising and basic facts it presents?

When you dig deeper into the end motivation of your customers, you put yourself into the position of selling more, selling more effectiveness, and selling results. The garment and the graphics are a means to an end. When you get clarity as to what that end is, you end up selling much more to the customer to satisfy their desired end result.

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Why The Economy Isn’t Working Like It Used To

Monday, November 1st, 2010

We’ve all been through a very rough ride over the last two years. Some are surviving, holding on by their fingernails, others have failed, and still others have show some degree of growth. How is this possible? Being a student of life and an active observer, several things have become apparent and i’d like to share my observations.

First, there has been a fundamental change in the way we do things. It’s been developing for a number of years, but most of us aren’t fully aware of the significance. This has to do with change. In the old economy, our goal was to find a better way, prove it, refine it, apply it, and then make a gazillion widgets using these new methods or tools over and over until we made the next innovative extension of the idea. We’ve been doing just this for thousands of years, and it’s worked well because we’ve built our economies on the principle that knowledge is potential economic power. If guarded, and applied carefully, we can use this knowledge for our economic advantage.

Our patent system, professional trades, and even our higher education system are based on the controlled delivery of scarce knowledge. When knowledge was hard to find, and difficult to master, it was very easy to design an economy where knowledge could be exploited in this manner. We established an education system where the pure knowledge was hypothesized, fabricated, and proven. Later, often years later, this raw knowledge was commercialized and protected by the patent system so that technology originators could recover the development costs and profit in a protected environment for a certain number of years.

Today, all of that has changed. Along with the geometric growth of computer processor speed follows the same geometric growth of knowledge. Couple this blinding expansion of information with instant accessibility via search engines and we upset the economic model we’ve been using for thousands of years.

Things are moving too fast to achieve any real long term profit. In the printing industries it used to be that a company would buy a huge printing press (which we affectionately call “big iron.”) Their market would only be marginally established. Over a period of time, their huge investment in this big iron would pay off because of the opportunity it presented not only to the company, but to the marketplace. Simply having the capability was enough to attract new business. Often business would develop organically, independent of the actual marketing effort. Pricing was based on quality, service, and price. You could have any two of the three. Now, we need all three AND we’ve added smaller runs and faster turn times besides.

Today, that scenario is gone. Digital technologies are in continuous change. Products are obsolete as soon as they hit the market. Worse, the next generation digital is twice as fast at half the cost. It’s therefore an economic disadvantage to be the first one in. The only exception to this is if you have a fully developed marketing plan, with customers, and a backlog of orders in place. In this case you have a chance of success, but it is only fleeting at best.

The key to success in today’s information driven, expanding digital economy is to have a market that is expanding as fast as the technology. This has become an exceedingly illusive and difficult thing to find. In fact, it’s almost impossible to attain given the general state of the global economy today.

What will allow for success under these conditions requires a shift in our thinking. It’s clear we’ll need to do things differently. There are two things needed to enable this kind of growth. The first is to greatly develop and hone your skill of using Search to find and reach new customers. This is typically done through the use of keyword searches. Our ability to position our goods and services so that a big enough pool of potential customers can find you and buy your offerings will be essential.

In the old economy we did this by broadcasting who we were and how great we are. We would blast our messages out to the world in massive numbers, hoping enough potential customers would find us to sustain our business. That too has changed. Today, our customers are searching for solutions. To succeed, we must be seen as a relevant solution.

To accomplish this.

The second, and far more difficult challenge is to overcome what I call “legacy baggage.” These are the holdover thoughts, ideas, and practices of the old economy. This is tremendously difficult to achieve because our employees have been taught to learn once, use over and over. It is exactly what the old economy was built on. It no longer works. Today, employees must be retrained to be open minded and actively embrace change. It almost never happens that way. The reason is simple.

Most blue collar workers, and many white collar workers have abandoned continuous learning. School and learning threaten them. They don’t want to risk being exposed as less than competent. They don’t want t make a mistake or appear to be weak or dumb. In the process, there is a built-in resistance to anything new. The culture and environment of change is critical to your success. Yet, management rarely knows what they want to do, or how they’re actually going to accomplish it. They’re used to mandating by directive. That approach no longer works.

The resistance to change, or rather the resistance to the acceptance of new knowledge, is at the core of our ability to survive. This is why new start-ups and even offshore competition often get the new business. They don’t have the entrenched resistance to change. The one-two punch of “not invented here” and “we’ve never done it this way before” are the killers of innovation. The legacy baggage of the old economy are pulling us under. Look at your own organization and ask yourself honestly, it this isn’t the case for you. Recognizing the situation is the first step toward finding a solution.

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T Shirts as a Commodity

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

It never ceases to amaze me what the general public thinks of printed t shirts. Actually, it’s quite instructional and there’s a lot to be learned from their reactions. There are some very stereotypical perceptions that don’t seem to change over time.

The first is that anybody can print t shirts and it just isn’t that hard. I think this comes from exposure to “silkscreen” in a high school or college art class. It can be a very basic process and, in fact, many people do print t shirts in this kind of environment. However, there’s a big step from the art class to the commercial space.

Second is the perception that t shirts are ink on cotton or ink on underwear. They’re cheap and you can get them cheap just about anywhere you look. This is an obvious observation and it’s supported by the fact that many starving t shirt printers will indeed discount their orders to very, very low prices.

Third, t shirts are a commodity. A commodity is a product or service that’s easily interchangeable with the competition and there’s no difference. Commodities are sold based on price. The only differentiator is the price. The winner is the vendor with the lowest price and availability of the commodity.

All of these perceptions are true on the surface, but they breakdown on close examination. Too many companies who produced printed apparel think of themselves as “t shirt printers.” If you’re one of them, you’re relegating yourself to the world of commoditization and sentencing yourself to a world of price based competition.

My point is, printed t shirts are anything BUT a commodity. When your customers come to you and ask “What’s your lowest price on. . . ” you set yourself up to become a victim of the commodity game. Rather, your position should be to find out more about what the customer actually wants. Their motivation is to get the best possible deal, NOT the lowest price.

Think about this for a minute. Study after study have shown when consumers are faced with buying decisions, they will most frequently pick the middle alternative, and not the highest or the lowest offering. Even if they come to you asking for the lowest price, they’re really seeking the lowest price for what their needs really are.

Here’s the catch. The average consumer rarely knows what they really want. The path out of the commoditization game is education. Knowing what questions to ask the customer to help them clarify their real needs starts the ball rolling in your direction. When you combine this with a wide range of options, the customer now has a vastly increased range of possible solutions. You move away from the single color imprint on a white t shirt and enter into an entirely different competitive landscape.

When you sit down and really think about what you deliver, it isn’t ink on cotton or ink on underwear. You’re delivering wearable media where the message connects your client to their community or customers. That connection is achieved through the graphics and the message. The ink on cotton aspect is only the vehicle to delivery that message. How you choose to deliver it, the printing options and the garment options are what allow you to move beyond the commodity aspect of the common perception.

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On Being an Entrepreneur

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Over the years I’ve done several entrepreneurship programs for universities and colleges. I find it very interesting the academic perspective on entrepreneurship. Often they are missing key elements. It’s one thing to read case studies and talk about serial entrepreneurs, but it is quite another to actually go out and do it. Here are my top ten things I’ve noticed and experienced being a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years (my first gig was selling donuts door-to-door in my neighborhood when I was 7.)

1) Entrepreneurs are more concerned with how the business works than working in the business. They understand the processes and find employees to carry them out.

2) There’s a big difference between being a business owner and being self empolyeed. Those who have worked for others and start a business based on what they love to do often get trapped in a well paying “job” they’ve created for themselves. Over the years I’ve even found myself trapped this way. The test of a business vs self employement is if you went away for a week or a month, would your business be bigger and still healthy when you came back. The second test is whether you have a driving need to get a paycheck every other week. The security of a paycheck isn’t what drives entrepreneurs.

3) Entrepreneurs aren’t concerned with what other people think about their plans. They may get 70% of the planning done according to textbook lessons, but the remaining 30% is sheer gut reaction that this is going to work.

4) They are ACTION oriented versus being overly concerned with defining every possible contingency. It’s very common for those with corporate, academic, or government experience to become trapped in paralysis by analysis. They lose the opportunity because they took too long to launch and someone else beat them to it.

5) Entrepeneurs aren’t afraid to fail. In fact, failing fast is one of the main objectives. They get most of it right and then fix what isn’t working as quickly as possible. They recognize that you can’t wait around to get everything right. Get it mostly right and pull the trigger. They know what the KPI (Key Performance Indicators) are for their business and what’s necessary for them to be successful. They have defined success in advance and what the indicators are for success.

6) They know that success isn’t an overnight, flash-in-the-pan. Sure it’s possible to hit one out of the park occasionally, but most businesses require steady improvement. They know what the milestones are and the time associated to get there is.

7) There are no 8-5 hours. Entrepreneurs are focused and all in. There is an adrenaline rush with working 16 - 18 hr days during start-up and growth. It becomes much more manageable when the initial rollout has taken place. This is alot like a Product Launch, but on a much grander scale. This is what drives the serial entrepreneur, the excitement and rush of the rollout. Hard work and long hours define the entrepreneur.

8) They recognize that the success of the venture depends on having people smarter than themselves running the key elements of the team. They concentrate on orchestration and coaching while they keep an eye on meeting the key objectives.

9) They recognize there are going to be set-backs and disappointments along the way, but it doesn’t matter. It’s part of the process. They also know what will be the deal killers and avoid those at all costs.

10) Most of all, they are persistent and tenacious. Perseverance and tenacity combined with gut instinct will win out almost every time. Even well funded, more experienced competitors will lose out when dealing with pit bull determination.

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On Managing Internal Change

Friday, May 28th, 2010

I was having coffee with a couple of friends this morning and one of them said, “you know, you introduced me to a term a couple of years ago and I find myself using it all the time.” That term was “legacy baggage.” It was specifically meant to describe all the internal issues and excuses used by employees and people within an organization to resist change. Here are several examples”

    Not Invented Here
    We’ve Never Done it That Way Before
    We Tried That Once
    It Will Never Work
    That May Work in Other Places, But Not Here
    Our Business is Different

This is only the beginning of the the hundreds of excuses and obstacles thrown up to keep from implementing change. Our post today is about the root resistance to change.

In my experience with dozens of companies around the world, resistance to chance has it’s root in the learning culture of the individual or company. The old school industrial model taught the use of skills that would be used over and over again for decades. It did not recognize nor reward the continued improvement or continuing education of the employee. For professional practices, this is not the case. May certifications or license professions require ongoing education to keep the license current. The trades generally do not.

Most factory workers have a limited education. The dominant attitude is that they’ve done their time in school and they’re finished with that part of their lives. This is such a huge mistake and in direct conflict with what drives our world of commerce today.

We live in a world of constant change. If you aren’t positioning yourself or your company to face this head on, you are doomed. We cannot resist technological evolution. Resistance is futile. I cannot find a single example of an industry that has resisted change that is experiencing any kind of growth.

As a manager or owner, look at yourself first. How resistant to change are you? Do you read? Do you enjoy learning? If the answer is no, it will be very difficult to expect change within your control. You lead by example, and if you aren’t being progressive and forward looking, neither will your empolyees

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Launching Your Clothing Line

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Lately we’ve been doing a lot of shirts for boutique clothing lines. These are usually designers who’ve come up with a few clever t-shirt designs and want to market them. The questions are almost all the same and I’m surprised no one has really set out to provide meaningful answers. So this month I thought I would share some observations and answers to a couple of the more common questions.

The most basic one is: Where should I market my shirts?

I don’t mean to be obvious here, but the root of the answer is, to outlets that are thinking like you. Where do you shop? Where would you go to buy the designs you’ve just done? Start locally and work your way up. This is important for two really good reasons.

The first is that almost all the businesses or individuals that come in wanting to get shirts printed lack seed capital. This is the money you need to actually print the shirts to fill orders. Start with a sample run first. Get something physical in your hands. Buyers want to see, touch, and feel the merchandise. Your first objective is to get some market reaction. If you can’t afford to get shirts screen printed, have the samples done digitally (direct to garment.) This is a good idea anyway so you can see what DTG looks like compared to screen print.

If you find there’s a positive reception to your work, expand within your region. This would be a 50 mile radius of where you’re located, or the nearest larger city. I’m always careful about recommending rapid expansion. With too little capital, I’ve seen too many promising companies literally burn up trying to fund their growth. Take it a step at a time. Make sure you get paid right away for your product. Running out of cash is the single biggest reason new companies don’t make it.

2. Should I exhibit in tradeshows to get bigger exposure?

Beware of large tradeshows. I’ve seen this happen over and over. Young, inexperienced, innovative companies bring fresh ideas to the market. They have no way to capitalize on potential success if it really hits. Calculate in advance how much business you can handle. It’s one thing to get orders for 1,000 shirts. What would happen if you got orders for 10,000? How much business can you afford to book? If you can’t answer that, you need accounting help to get the answer.

The most common situation I see at tradeshows is getting ripped off by much bigger companies that already have deep distribution and lots of financing. Make no mistake, you are being watched. If there’s lots of buzz about your graphics and you’re actually writing orders, you run the risk of a very quick knockoff of your concepts.

While they may not copy your work exactly, the imitations will capture the look and flavor of your offerings.

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Using the SMART System for Setting Realistic Goals

Monday, March 15th, 2010

I recently came across an excellent discussion on goal setting. The process is to set SMART goals —

Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.

Specific means each goal is precise in its definition. An example would be be increase monthly revenue by $10,000 and gross margins by 3%. A general goal like “improve cash flow” is not specific enough. When you are precise, it is much easier to determine exactly what steps are necessary to achieve the outcome.

Measurable - I call this “As evidenced by.” I want to know exactly how I will be measuring the improvements I’m shooting for. If you can’t define how to measure your progress, you won’t be able to achieve the goal.

Attainable is exactly what it means, you can reasonably achieve what you set out to do. One of the biggest problems I see with goal setting is putting objectives out that can’t reasonably be met. Here is an example. You best month in business was a big stretch for everyone. There was a bunch of overtime and some mistakes, but not too bad. You monthly sales were roughly twice what an average month is.

Now. using this information, you set a goal where the monthly volume is 10%- 15% higher than your very best month. This could very well be an unrealistic goal for many different reasons. The biggest of which is personnel. Your trained employees were stretched to the max and were beginning to make mistakes due to the shear volume and from being tired. This is an example of unsustainable business volume. In order to keep it going, and grow it, you would need more new people.

The introduction of new people will actually slow your production down before you can get it to ramp up. Then there is the impact on your cash flow. Increasing business too quickly is one of the main ways you can crash a company. You’ll run out of working capital before you run out of work. In other words, you’ll burn up before you collect the receivables you’re due.

A more realistic goal and attainable goal would be to use the trailing 13 month average as the basis for improvement. To get this number, you add up 13 months and divide by 13. This approach takes seasonality out of the equation as well as any really good or really bad months. Set a goal of increasing this number by 15% - 25% over the next year. To track your progress, add each new month’s sales to the previous 12 months sales and divide by 13. That will show you how your average is tracking on a volume adjusted basis.

Relevant - This is harder to dial in on. I see companies setting goals all the time that are not relevant. This means, attaining the goal won’t necessarily improve the business. A good example of a suspect relevant goal would be to purchase a specific piece of new equipment, like an auto press. This goal in and of itself is not relevant until you determine all the other changes that will take place when you have this new capacity. You will need more screens, more people, bigger orders, perhaps more space, and certainly more working capital when you invest in automation. Young companies don’t recognized this and are often shocked at the impact of achieving their goal. Often this shocking revelation is not a good thing.

An example of a relevant goal would be to focus on increasing gross margin and cash flow before increasing production capacity. If you do set a goal for purchasing new equipment, be sure to look at all the things that will change when you have this new capability.

Time-Based Give it a hard completion date. Without a deadline, it simply won’t happen. Here is how I set time based goals. I set my goal objective. I then break it down into specific steps, stages, or events to get there. I put the time I needed to accomplish each step next to the step. I add up all the times and that will give me the absolute bare bones minimum to achieve it.

I look at that time, and then I double it. So if the total process is going to take 4.5 months, I double it to 9 months. I then look at the time I have assigned for each step and I double those times as well. Each step now becomes a milestone I can chart on my calendar. I determine my start day and then add each milestone deadline to the calendar based on the amount of time it takes to accomplish it.

I use an electronic calendar that allows me to filter events so I can have a tone of things going on, but each view is unique to the kinds of activities I’m working on. I find I get a lot more done this way and my colleagues and associates are always commenting on how much I can achieve in the time I have.

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Beginning the Planning Process - FOCUS

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Planning and goal setting begins with focus. Unless you have a laser guided vision of where you want to end up, you’ll never get there. It’s not all that important to know the details of how you’re going to get there. It is important to know where you’re going.

When I talk about focus, I’m concerned with the areas that are most important to us. This includes our customers, markets, distribution channels, technology, and people. If you try and plan without considering all these related areas, you’re bound to end up frustrated with a set of poor results. This leads me to one of the biggest goalsetting mistakes common to all most all of us.

It’s common to over estimate our goals. Be bold, but be realistic. You need some kind of reference point and a basis for making your assumptions. You can’t just say, “we’re gong to be a $20 million company by the end of 2010 when last year’s sales were only $500,000 and you have 2 employees. There are exceptions to this, but in general, being realistic is a big part.

Where I see the big focus challenge (myself included) is in being spread too thin over too many different areas. A good friend and mentor of mine recently told me, in his “down home” style, “Remember who brung ya to the dance.” By this he was telling me to focus on the customers, markets, etc that have made our success in the past possible. It’s far easier to expand business with someone you’re already doing business with than to abandon them and go running for the next biggest and greatest thing.

While we’re on the subject of focus, my wise friend also counseled me to stop “swinging for the fences all the time.” He was advising me to spend more of my time on work we would be certain of attaining and not spend too much time on speculative monster accounts. It’s ok to have some of that in your mix, but the stability of your company and your sales lies in diversification and with a customer base that appreciates what you do for them on a daily basis.

It’s much easier to please small to medium accounts than it is to cater to the whims of that big elephant. If you displease them or fail to deliver, you’re in big trouble when they leave. You aren’t nearly as exposed with more smaller accounts.

Look closely at all the key areas necessary to grow your business. Really drill down and look at how much capacity for growth you really have. This means knowing exactly who is going to be doing the work or how you’re going to pay for it. All of us are working thin after the last year. If you really want to grow, but can’t support that growth, there’s no point in driving forward.

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Great Ideas on Using LinkedIn

Monday, January 4th, 2010

I’m a huge believer in LinkedIn and other social media sites. They are, without a doubt, the next generation way to build our businesses. Today, I wanted to offer a guest blog post by Jim Gibson, publisher of Online Media Today. Jim’s blog post has created a great discussion in the Inbound Marketing Group on LinkedIn and I wanted to share it with you today. If you’re new to LinkedIn or want to get more out of using it, here are some great ideas. Enjoy.

By Jim Gibson - Publishing Partner, Online Media Today

Ten Tips When Using LinkedIn!

LinkedIn Tip #1: Have a Plan

Decide what you want to accomplish before you start. LinkedIn, like other business oriented social networking sites, offer a number of ways to generate the results you are after. Want to present your company? Looking for a job? Network with like-minded professionals? Need an answer? Want to establish yourself as a thought leader in your space? Each of these approaches present excellent opportunities to leverage professional online networks but make sure your plan is solid before you start.

LinkedIn Tip #2: Make Your Profile Easy to Digest

Tell your story but keep it brief. Short, pithy, sentences are more likely to be read than lengthy paragraphs. It’s like an elevator pitch (explained in less than 1 minute). Use bullet points. Readers often scan content and bullets help to highlight your successes. Provide details of your work history and make sure to highlight your special skills. Above all, make sure to check for proper grammar. Make sure to use important keywords when describing your professional experiences as these can help others find you more easily. And before you post your profile, read it aloud to yourself to hear how it sounds or better yet, ask a colleague to read it and tell you what they think.

LinkedIn Tip #3 – Your Profile Photo

You must have a picture! But make sure it’s a good one and shows you in a professional light. This is not the time to be too cutesy. Don’t upload the picture you took at your last toga party. For women, this is not the time to strike that sexy pose. Choose a professional and friendly picture that demonstrates your real personality yet shows you are here for business.

LinkedIn Tip #4: Give (and ask for) Recommendations
If you want recommendations on your profile, be prepared to ask for them. Look at those you are connected to and offer recommendations to those who deserve them. Make them short and to the point and be sure to include specific accomplishments – don’t be too general. The more genuine the recommendation you give, the more likely it is to be returned. Rule of thumb: if someone gives you a recommendation, thank them first then return the favor!

LinkedIn Tip #5: Join Groups

Be a contributor. Generate posts and respond to discussions. Group interactions provide you and your company great exposure. Check out other member profiles and follow their discussions. This is a great way to identify valuable contacts and network in meaningful ways.

LinkedIn Tip #6: Be the first to comment!

Clearly, it’s important to engage and interact with your audience. This helps to establish you as a valued contributor and can lead to more meaningful connections. But what most people do is look for posts that already have lots of comments and, only then, do they add theirs to the mix. The common thought, naturally being, posting where there are lots of people = lots more visibility.

Don’t get me wrong - that’s cool. But the important thing here is to support the post originator and there’s nothing cooler than to give that first (note: quality) acknowledgement. People post on social sites in order to get feedback and hate it when a post goes virtually unnoticed. The first one to post is a welcome sight (Ahhh.. someone noticed!) and helps to foster a new relationship with the person who started the discussion in the first place! This is the true meaning of social networking - one on one. But, by building relationships intelligently, one on ones ultimately lead to one on many.

Don’t be afraid to be the first to post a comment. A good post originator will thank you, appreciate you and most of all notice you. It’s done this way in real world social settings so why not acknowledge its effectiveness in the virtual world as well.

LinkedIn Tip #7: Connect with Thought LeadersFind those considered leaders in your industry. Search by company to find the people who are true influencers and follow what they are doing. Research who your industry leaders are through existing trade publications and find them on LinkedIn. If they are and we share a contact I know well, reach out through the contact for an introduction.

LinkedIn Tip #8 – Selecting Groups

Search groups using industry keywords and related topics
Look at the groups of industry leaders, subject matter experts and top executives
Look at groups your connections are members of
Use pertinent Q&A category and ask what groups people belong to
Pose the question in your current groups: “What other groups do you find useful?”

LinkedIn Tip #9 – Use the Search Feature

Using the “Search function on your LinkedIn home page (upper right), you can “search” on People, Jobs, Companies, Answers, Inbox and Groups.

If you move to the right of the search box and click on “Advanced,” you can search on keywords, name, company (current and past), geographic location, industry, job title (current and past), school, groups, by language, by the interest of those being searched, when they joined LinkedIn, those in or out of your network, and by relevance – and any combination of the above.

Find the companies you want to do business with and the people you need to meet at those companies. With over 50,000,000 business professionals registered, your search results can pay big dividends

LinkedIn Tip #10: Use Applications

LinkedIn has teamed up with some of the Internet’s premier companies to offer registered users access to new applications that enable you to collaborate on projects, get key insights, and present your work to your audience in interactive ways. Have a Power Point presentation you want to share? Install the free SlideShare app and instantly share your presentation to a wider audience. Need to brainstorm with your team on a new idea? Load Huddle Workspaces on your profile and instantly collaborate with your colleagues. There are many apps to choose from and several are showcased at: http://learn.linkedin.com/apps/.