By Melanie Dawson, Marketing Co-ordinator for Sage (UK) Limited

So, should I be LinkedIn or locked out in the cold? For this one, I'm putting myself in the shoes of the small business. You hear so much these days about what social media can do for your business. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, we've heard of them all, but do I really need to spend my valuable time on the net when I can spend the time investing in my business?

It's supposed to be a valuable networking tool and I recently worked with Andy Lopata a networking strategist, creating videos on networking strategies and getting referrals for small businesses, one of which was called “Four steps to using LinkedIn as a referral” , so I decided I better check this LinkedIn thing out for myself.

I prefer to do my networking face to face rather than with an unknown entity at the other end of a PC, so I may end up being slightly biased. At least I know this way exactly who they are, what they're like and if they're honest and decent and if someone needs advice they could help with, then I would refer them to my friends/colleagues, but would I if I didn't know them personally or only met them a couple of times?

Ok, so here goes, I've done a search online for LinkedIn, signed up and best of all it's Free, so that's always a bonus. I’ve skipped the email contacts bit, I'm always a bit cynical until I find out why they need that kind of info. Whoops, appear to have fallen at the first fence, input my work email, and I'm working off my home pc, have to logon to work email to activate my account.

All done, working my way through the screens, asking me to add people I know and trust which has given me a bit of an uplift although I don't know anyone on the list, so I'll have to find some friends later, unless my name is “Billy no mates” and finally I've chosen the free package and I'm in.

And here's the info I can access; add connections, view my connections, connect to groups, find a job and there are some in my local area, although I don't know much about engineering, send/receive emails, search for companies and news section. One point on the add connections, I typed in Sage and got a suggestion for a waiter (of which we don't have), so I'd stick to adding people or groups you know and trust, that are valuable to you until you find your feet and start you’re networking connections.

The type of information you can pick up is varied and can range from simple updates to business tips and information.
You can link to a Twitter account via applications meaning, when you Tweet, it will also appear on your LinkedIn Account, there are also useful applications that mean you can connect to your Blog or share presentations.

After having a further play around with the app, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

The positives

•Save's time in attending lots of networking events

•Access to a vast and varied audience that you wouldn't necessarily have

•Liaise with people wishing to promote their business

•If you do it right the return could be worth it.

The negatives

•Are you meeting people who just wish to promote themselves or are they willing to promote you also?

•It needs to be about give and take – I'll promote you if you promote me

•Not very personable unless you've already met the person face to face

•It’s time consuming, once you've made the commitment, you have to see it through to make it work for you.

If you have a few contacts already on LinkedIn, then you could give it a whirl and make your own decision as to whether it’s right for you.

Sage ACT! software can also help you manage your contacts and help keep track of and stay in contact with prospective customers.

Don’t forget to come along to Sage World – free business event 12th-13th October – visit the Sage World website here

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