With over 300 million professionals on LinkedIn, you may feel like a kid in a candy store—so many amazing experts you can access any time! In fact, you start fantasizing about how great it would be to line up Richard Branson for a coffee date.
Then you come back to reality and realize that while you may be anxious to immediately gather as many connections as possible and start asking them all to coffee, you’ll be much better served if you establish a strategy and execute accordingly. With the right strategy, you can leverage LinkedIn to connect with people who can help you pursue your career goals. Without a strategy, you are simply setting yourself up to drink a lot of coffee—without any clear takeaways.
To get you started on the path to meaningful connections, here are some specific steps you can take to build relationships with people in your LinkedIn network and get to that all-important coffee meeting.
Pick Your Coffee Connections Strategically
LinkedIn is a great place to network with all sorts of connections in all kinds of industries. But when you’re selecting the people you want to target for eventual coffee meetings, it’s important to go in with a specific (and realistic) plan in mind.
Think about one key thing you’d like to accomplish in your career. Maybe you’re in marketing and you want to get on the CMO track. Your strategy could be to identify five to 10 potential connections who are CMOs—perhaps in smaller or medium-sized companies—and specifically target them.
Sure, the CMO of Apple might take your phone call. But it’s unlikely. Start with people who are more likely to engage with you. If you target people in local organizations, you’ll also stand a better chance of being able to meet with them face-to-face at some point.
Use a “One-Two Punch” for Connecting
OK, so you draft and send an invitation to connect with your prospective contacts. You mention their work, tell them how much you admire them, and ask if there’s a chance you can have a conversation at some point in the future. (If you're not sure what to write in your invitation, try one of these templates.)
And here’s what usually happens when you send a connection request, and a “can we meet?” in the same message: Your contacts accept your invitation request, but you get crickets on the meeting request.
So, make your process a one-two punch. First, send the connection request. Once it’s been accepted, use a few of the relationship-warming strategies below before you make that all-important conversation request. You’ll be much more effective in actually speaking with connections when you separate the two requests.
Keep Your Connections Warm
One of the most common questions my clients ask is, “Okay, I’ve connected—now what?”
On LinkedIn, most of us have tons of connections that we probably don’t interact with or even know very well. However, you have to keep in mind that eventually, you will want something from one of these people, especially if he or she is one of your target coffee connections. If you don’t have a foundational relationship, it’ll be hard to blurt out an ask—and not very likely that you’ll receive what you want.
So when you first connect to people, use a few “warming” strategies to forge a deeper relationship with them.
Comment on Your Connections’ Updates
LinkedIn will let you know when people change jobs, get promotions, celebrate job anniversaries or birthdays, and make profile updates. When you see these updates pop up, email your connections to convey your good wishes in regards to the occasion. This can easily ignite conversations that allow you to connect on a deeper level.
Share Articles and News
The basic premise of all networking is to lead with generosity. In other words, give to get. Start by sharing information with your connections that they may find helpful, interesting, or complimentary.
Make sure to study the profile of your connection, so you can share articles, updates, blogs, book recommendations, and other information that’s pertinent to his or her career and interests. Above everything else, make it about the other person.
Once you’ve created your career goals—like becoming a CMO—you can develop good questions to ask your connections.
Perhaps you can ask about the three most important skills they possess that make them successful CMOs. Or maybe you can ask about how they planned their own career journey and determined each next step. And you can always ask for advice on how to make good choices about your next move. Once you have something specific to ask, use The Daily Muse writer Sara McCord’s advice to craft a LinkedIn message that will actually get read.
By asking good questions, you’ll demonstrate your interest, commitment, and professionalism. It will help you stand out from others who simply want to “pick someone’s brain”—a phrase that focuses on taking rather than giving.
Good questions are a great connection builder. People love talking about their experience, advice, and personal history. If your questions inspire your connection to share, you can ask to talk further over the phone or in person.
Now, you’ve gone from a cold connection to a great potential meeting that will be time well spent for both of you. And you’re building a great relationship in the process.
Before you jump in with the coffee meeting request, it’s important that you deepen your connections and establish your reputation as a committed professional. By building first, you’ll create the opportunity to truly benefit from your LinkedIn connections. Just don’t forget to always give more than you get.