“I’m on LinkedIn. I got on there because someone told me I should be on there. I don’t really know what to do with it.”

If this sentiment sounds familiar to you, then this post was written with you in mind.

Whether you just signed up for LinkedIn or you’re finally ready to brush the dust off an unused profile, this post should help you get started.

Step 1: Prepare your profile

When you first sign up for your LinkedIn account, you’ll be walked through a number of steps to prepare your profile. If you already have a LinkedIn account, you can make changes or additions to any area of your profile by clicking the pencil icon on the section you want to update.

Your LinkedIn profile is like a supercharged resume that lets you showcase your experience and expertise to the more than 106 million professionals on LinkedIn. When it comes to filling out your experience, take the time to do it just like you would on a normal resume. There are also some features that are more unique to LinkedIn.

  • Photo and Headline: Your name, photo, and headline are the first thing people see what they find you on LinkedIn. Make sure to use a professional looking headshot for your photo and a headline that accurately reflects your professional experience (e.g. Owner at Name of Your Business).
  • Summary: The summary is your chance to tell prospective customers or clients exactly who you are, what skills and experience you have, and why you are a valuable connection.
  • Additional Information: What LinkedIn calls “Additional Information” is really the area where you can use your profile to link to your other online and social assets. Connect to your business or professional Facebook Page or Twitter handle (not personal), and provide links to your website or blog.

Bryan Caplan LinkedIn Profile

(TIP: LinkedIn shows your profile’s completeness. I recommend making your profile at least 75% complete before you do anything else.)

Step 2: Build your network

After you’re finished creating (or updating) your profile, then you’ll be ready to start building your network. LinkedIn connections are different from those on other networks. As a professional-networking site, it is important to connect carefully and be mindful of who you are welcoming into your network.

  • Who to connect with: Connecting carefully means connecting with people who you know, trust, and value as a professional connection. This generally means people you have worked with as a colleague or a business partner. Connecting with family and friends can also be a good way to expand your network outside of your industry, but again, make sure they are trusted connections.
  • How to connect: You’ll also want to be careful of the way you send invitations to connect on LinkedIn. Avoid using the default invitation request whenever you can. Include a personalized message. Take the time to explain why you want them to join your network, this shows that you value them as a professional connection, not just as a way to grow your network.

Step 3: Join the conversation

For a lot of users that are new to LinkedIn, starting to build a network is as far as they ever get. Don’t fall into the same trap. Show off your knowledge and expertise by joining the conversation.

  • What to share: You don’t have to look like a pro right from day one, but get started by sharing interesting articles or news stories you see regarding your industry. If you have any of your own content, like a blog post – sharing it on your profile will help get it in front of people that have a vested interest in your industry and will be more likely to comment or share. Even better – use LinkedIn’s Publisher feature to share your blog post. Publisher will give that article visibility in the feeds of your followers and will add it to your profile as an article.
  • What not to share: Pictures of your kids, funny jokes, reality TV news, sports rants, political rants, complaints about your boss, what you had for breakfast, what you want for lunch, your favorite type of ice cream … Do you see where I’m going with this? Keep it professional on LinkedIn and leave the personal stuff for your personal Facebook profile.

Step 4: Start exploring

LinkedIn has a lot more to offer than just a way to showcase your talent and stay connected with your colleagues. Take some time to look around and check out LinkedIn’s products in the Work tab:

LinkedIn Work Tab

  • LinkedIn Learning: LinkedIn offers expert-led online courses and resources for professional development. LinkedIn Learning is $24.99 a month, but you can try it out for one month for free.
  • LinkedIn Groups: Groups are discussion forums centered on a topic, which you can use to connect with like-minded peers and learn more about your industry. When you click on the Groups icon, you’ll go to a page with a newsfeed of the latest activity from your Groups, and search tools to find more Groups you may like.
  • Slideshare: LinkedIn owns Slideshare, which houses presentations, infographics, documents, and more. Search Slideshare to find information on industry topics, bookmarks slides you want to save in a clipboard, and upload your own presentations to share with your peers.

Log on and Link In

Get started … or restarted on LinkedIn today. Think about how you want your profile to reflect your professional brand, who you want to connect with, and what type of content you want to share. Spend some time exploring your network and with a new and improved profile, you’ll make a great first impression when people find you on LinkedIn.

Are you on LinkedIn? What advice would you give other small business owners about getting started… or restarted on LinkedIn? Tell us in the comments!