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Using LinkedIn to Get Expert Business Advice

LinkedIn's Answers area provides vast, free resource.

If there’s one thing you can bet on as a small-business owner it’s having a never-ending series of issues to research, whether you’re looking to develop a new e-commerce website, assess your social media strategy, consider fulfillment options, evaluate sourcing alternatives or a thousand other things.

We’re huge fans of associations such as the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance, as their discussion boards can be a great help in these cases. Facebook Groups, such as The eCommerce Group, are also fantastic resources, where you can pick the brains of your fellow e-commerce professionals.

Then, of course, there’s the Internet at large. Just how many billions of questions by now, we wonder, have been posed to Google? Here’s something else to ponder, though: How many times did people come away from those Google searches with authoritative, unimpeachable information that served their needs?

Another option we recommend you add to your arsenal is LinkedIn’s Answers area, this article’s focus. This part of LinkedIn consists not only of answers, of course, but the questions that prompted them. These questions, LinkedIn says, should call for one of three things: knowledge, experience or opinion.

Tap the knowledge of millions of LinkedIn users

Through the Answers area, you can pose questions to LinkedIn’s worldwide network of 135 million users. We’ve done this many times and have been amazed at the quality of information we’ve received in return.Providing answers lets consultants, authors and other experts display their expertise. It’s free advertising to a prime market

To make use of this resource, you must first become a LinkedIn member, if you’re not one already. Registration, according to LinkedIn, “takes less than two minutes,” and a basic membership, which is all the vast majority of people need, is free.

As a member you’ll have complete access to the Answers area. You’ll find this part of the site if you mouse over to the “More” hyperlink near the top of your profile page. “Answers” will be the first option under the drop-down menu that appears.

Now you may be thinking, “Why would anyone take time from their busy lives to help me for free?” There’s the satisfaction that comes with helping out someone else, of course. But the main reason may be is that they’re getting something desirable in return—exposure.

When you respond to a question on the site, next to your answer is what amounts to a mini-bio of you, hyperlinked to your complete LinkedIn profile. So providing answers is a great way for consultants, authors and other experts of all stripes to display their expertise. It’s free advertising to a prime market.

“Normally, consultants would hesitate to give away too much information,” advertising consultant Gary Unger explains. But on LinkedIn, doing just that “is good for you, and it’s good for them.”

Susan Schwartz, a Harvard Ph.D. and longtime Wall Street financial writer, answers many questions on LinkedIn. “More people do tend to contact me as a result,” she tells us.

You’ll need to put some effort into crafting your questions to ensure you get the best return for your time investment. Your question will consist of two parts: a concise summary of what you’re seeking that’s usually no more than a sentence, then, below that, an area where you can expand on that summary in paragraph form.

It’s important to create summaries carefully. They serve as the headlines experts scan as they look for questions to answer. Many experts will not take the time to figure out just what you mean if you’re not clear about it yourself, so pose your questions concisely and explain clearly what you need.

As an aside, it’s also a good idea to do an Advanced Answers Search on the site to see if your question has been posed before. Perhaps the information you need is already right there on the site. If the information is incomplete, dated or doesn’t hit the mark in any other way, feel free to pose the question again. You can also use this area “to remain abreast of the latest trends in your areas of interest,” as Krista Canfield, a LinkedIn spokesperson, explains to us.

What kind of answers will you get on LinkedIn?

It’s likely you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how helpful some of the answers you receive turn out to be

With that said, here are some examples of questions from the site that yielded helpful responses. Note these are just the headlines. Each person also clearly expanded on what they were after.

  • What e-commerce and marketing software does it all, at a reasonable small business price?
  • Merchants: Considering joining an online marketplace? What are your major concerns?
  • What is the best way to create a Craigslist/eBay-style website?
  • What are the alternatives to PayPal?
  • Are there any studies on the efficacy of social media marketing?

No matter what, the responses you get will vary in quality, and some will be worthless, as shameless promoters do troll the Answers areas looking for opportunities to strut their stuff.

Then there are the professional question-answerers (we’re not kidding), who keep one or more windows open on their computers at all times so they can dash off responses. One guy we know answers three to four questions an hour. He’s able to do this by being very succinct, often replying with a single word. His reward for his effort is being able to say he has answered tens of thousands of questions on LinkedIn, which in some people’s eyes, we suppose, gives him added credibility. Personally, we’re not sure what this kind of activity buys other than bragging rights, but there you are.

It’s likely you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how helpful some of the answers you receive turn out to be. In response to the PayPal question, for example, a project engineer and former Apple consultant spelled out four options and even included hyperlinks to make things easier.

When someone helpful answers your question, you’re free to follow up with them right on the site or privately. In either case, they’ll probably be happy to expand on anything you need for them to expand on.

Now don’t get us wrong. We’re not saying that LinkedIn should be the first place you turn to for answers to your business questions. But it’s a worthwhile option. Try the Answers area a few times. We bet you’ll find that your time investment paid off nicely.

We also bet you’ll find the process so helpful that you’ll be inspired to help out yourself, and answer a few questions. Then you can be the one garnering important exposure for yourself and your business.

About the author

Brad & Debra Schepp
Brad and Debra Schepp are the authors of 20 books, including eBay PowerSeller Secrets and The Official Success Guide: Insider Tips and Strategies for Sourcing Products from the World's Largest B2B Marketplace. Their most recent book is How to Find a Job on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Brad is also a literary agent for Waterside Productions. For further information, visit the couple's website, Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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