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011 - How to use LinkedIn to connect with your dream vegan contacts

Did you know there’s a secret code that vegans use on LinkedIn to find each other?

In this episode I’m going to convince you why you need to be on LinkedIn as a vegan business owner or vegan professional. You might already have a LinkedIn profile, and it sits there not really doing anything and you don’t see the point to it. But since Microsoft bought LinkedIn in 2016, the platform has started to become more appealing and accessible to a wider range of users. Yes, you still have your big boardroom executives using LinkedIn, but now you also have more smaller business owners and mid-level professionals. And this is where the magic of LinkedIn can happen: those decision-makers and people in senior roles who you are unable to contact through other methods, there’s a good chance that you can connect with them on LinkedIn.

So today’s we take a look at Linkedin, why you should be on it and how you can use it make better quality connections. We also look at the secret code that vegans use to identify and connect with each other which will hugely increase the number of connections you make.

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Full episode transcript

Hello and welcome to episode eleven of The Vegan Business Tribe Podcast with myself David Pannell, co-founder of Vegan Business Tribe.  If you have a vegan business, or are thinking of starting one, then Vegan Business Tribe is here to support and inspire you not just to build a vegan business, but to build a SUCCESSFUL vegan business.
And if you want to go beyond the podcast and connect with our community of like-minded vegan entrepreneurs or get support from myself and Lisa, then head over to www.Vegan Business Tribe .com where you can get new free content every week, or you can also join our paid membership to take part in all our online events, join our business clinics and workshops, study our vegan marketing course and a whole lot more to help you with your vegan business.
In this episode, we’re looking at a platform that you might already have experience with and that’s LinkedIn.  And you might already have a strong opinion on what LinkedIn is and what it’s for – and if you’re not on LinkedIn yourself because of this strong opinion then I’m going to set you a little challenge today.  And that’s to simply listen to this episode to the end, which will only be twenty-five minutes to half an hour of your life, because if you have a vegan business, or if you’re a vegan professional, then I’m going to convince you of the reasons why you should be on LinkedIn.  It might be that you’ve already got a LinkedIn account, and it sits there not really doing anything and you don’t really see the point to it.  Because LinkedIn is all suits and ties isn’t it?  It’s all boardrooms and watercoolers which might be a million miles away from what your business is.  Well, if you’d said that to me five years ago, when I was all suits and ties myself, then if you ran a small local company or a retail business then I’d probably have agreed with you.  With all the ways you can communicate then I wouldn’t have put LinkedIn anywhere near the top.  But something happened to LinkedIn back in June 2016 – and that something was Microsoft bought it.
Now some people absolutely hated this and the changes that Microsoft started making to the platform.  Ask someone who has used LinkedIn for years, as I have, then they will tell you that the feel of the platform has changed over the last few years and although it is still very much a business platform, since Microsoft took it over LinkedIn has definitely loosened its tie and is now turning up to meetings wearing a pair of jeans. 
And this casualisation of LinkedIn has meant that it’s started to become more appealing to a wider range of users.  Yes, you still have your big boardroom executives using LinkedIn, but now you also have more of your small business owners and mid-level professionals.  And this is where the magic of LinkedIn can happen for you if you know how to use it: Think about who you would most like to connect with to help your business.  Perhaps it’s a larger company you’ve been trying to get noticed by who you want to stock your products, or maybe you’ve been liking a company’s Instagram posts and sending them direct messages to try and get them to notice you. Well, the only person who will notice you is the social media assistant who runs the company Instagram.  The managers of the company who you want to notice you are probably all on LinkedIn.  Or maybe you’ve been trying to get in touch with a decision-maker at a business to sell your services to them, but no-one is answering your emails and even if you pick up the phone you only get through to customer services.  The CEO or directors will also likely be sat there on LinkedIn.  And unlike Instagram or Facebook, the person who’s picture is on the profile will be the person who receives the alerts when they receive a new message.  They will be the ones getting the ping on their phone when you comment on one of their posts.  You can find that you can connect direct with someone on LinkedIn where everywhere else there’s too much traffic to get through.
If you think of Facebook as being the pub on Friday night, and Instagram to be a busy cafe on a Saturday lunchtime, then LinkedIn is like the coffee room at a business conference on Monday.  If you’re looking to make connections online, then those biggest connections will be on LinkedIn.  And the site has also become a hotspot for vegan professionals, thanks to ‘One Neat Trick’ that we’ve all discovered.  Sorry, I went into click-bait mode there, but we vegans have genuinely found a way to hunt each other down and connect on LinkedIn which… I’m going to go into a little bit later.
First of all, let’s look at how to actually use LinkedIn.  And, just to be fair to you – if you’re looking for a technical guide, such as which button to press and a step by step guide to setting up a profile, then just go and Google one.  Because anything I could tell you now about how to set up an account will likely be out of date by the time I put this podcast online. So if you’ve never used the platform before then go find a really good guide, published in the last couple of months, to show you how to do it.   And once you are on there and signed up, then you will have just heard me talking about the kinds of people you can connect with – and start to get all giddy and excited about all these CEOs of your dream vegan business who you can start sending messages to – but, I’m sorry to say that, initially, it doesn’t quite work like that.  Because if anyone could just jump onto LinkedIn, set up an account and then start spamming the Head of Plant-Based at Tescos supermarket then the Head of Plant-Based at Tescos supermarket wouldn’t be on there.  And I know that they ARE on there because they are in my connections list.  However, if you have just joined LinkedIn then that magic ‘connect’ button won’t work for you on certain contacts. LinkedIn does a very good job of connecting people, and doing that means also protecting people in senior positions from just anyone getting in touch with them.  If you’re new to LinkedIn then you will find that you will be limited to who else you can first connect with. You will need to link up with connections of target connections first, so before you can connect with the head honcho at a business, first you might have to connect to some of the people they know, or some of the people who work at the same company, to prove to LinkedIn that you are worthy of connecting with them.  So start out by building good quality, relevant connections. You need to be proactive on building your LinkedIn connections, especially at the start to get it rolling.  If you are at a tradeshow or a vegan fair and you meet someone who works for a business you would like to talk to, no matter what their role is at that business, send them a connection request whilst the conversation is still fresh in their minds.  Or if you have a call with someone, or meet someone at one of our Vegan Business Tribe networking events, get used to sending them a connection request on LinkedIn straight away afterwards to keep building good-quality connections. It’s like building up good back-links on your website but for yourself.
And as your connections build, and as you make more mutual connections with the people you actually want to connect with, the quicker the platform will let you send connection requests to people in more senior roles. So spend time looking for good quality connections that you have synergy with, not just people you want to sell to.   And making a connection request on LinkedIn is a bit like making a friend request on Facebook – the person actually has to accept your request.  But one big difference is that LinkedIn allows you to send a short note with your connection request – it allows you to personalise that request.  You should never send a connection request without adding a personal message, and you should never use this personal message to send a sales pitch.  You are looking to get yourself in the same room as the person first. Be friendly, be personal, and if you have met them before then remind them where.  If you have a mutual connection then say how you know them.  Adding this short note will increase the number of people who accept your connection requests tenfold. I get anywhere between one and five connection requests a day on LinkedIn, more if I’ve been speaking at an event.  And most of them come without a covering note so I have NO IDEA who they are or why I should connect with them.  I can’t work out some times if they are actually vegan or work for a plant-based company, so I assume that if you don’t put a covering note with your connection request then you are trying to sell to me.  And you can guess where all those requests go!  So if you want to send me a LinkedIn request, then let me know that you’re a listener to the podcast, or let me know that you’re a subscriber to the website, or let me know that we spoke last year at the Plant-Powered Expo and I’ll more than happily accept and say hello.  And this is how you should approach connecting to people too.
Even worse are people who have been told they need to personalise their connection request and so use a generic copy-and-paste saying something like: ‘Hi. I am looking to build my connections and came across your profile and thought there would be mutual benefits to us being connected’.  I know this person hasn’t really looked at my profile to see who I am, and there’s a good chance that as soon as I accept this kind of connection request I’ll get a follow-on sales pitch.  So don’t send these kinds of messages.  Ever.  It’s not a numbers game and as people de-connect with you LinkedIn will know what you are up.
But also, when you’re on the receiving end and you get people sending you connection requests or accepting yours, don’t just leave it there. When someone sends me a connection request on LinkedIn, if they look like someone I should be connected to but I don’t know them yet, then I’ll send them a really simple message back of “Hey, and thanks for the connection.  Can I ask, have we been introduced before?”.
Not only is this basic human politeness, but it’s also a way to start a conversation.  And that’s one of the big things people miss out on from LinkedIn, it’s like getting introduced to someone and then just standing there in silence.  Send a hello message to your new connections, and again don’t try to sell.  Find out who you are talking to first and work out if either they can help you or if you can help them. Some of the best connections I’ve made on LinkedIn have started out with this simple message exchange.  And it doesn’t matter if that exchange and conversation happen over a number of days.  People know you are busy, so don’t be afraid to go back to a response you got last week and pick up the conversation again.
So are you starting to see how just getting amongst the people you have some synergy with and starting conversations with them will start to open up opportunities? And this is the difference between what they call hunting and farming. Hunters take, farmers grow. And as vegans, then surely we’re all farmers, right? We want to grow our contacts and with that our opportunities, not try to take a bite out of every new contact we find.
Now, I said right at the start that I wasn’t going to give you a technical guide for using LinkedIn, and I am definitely not.  Again, if you’re trying to figure out how to do something on LinkedIn just Google it and you’ll find the latest guide to what buttons are where. But there ARE a couple of things that I want to make sure you’ve got right before you start connecting and talking to people.  First, is sorting out your profile page.  The great thing about LinkedIn is, unlike in the real world, you can find everything you want to know about who you are talking to by just clicking on their face.  So that’s why it’s really important to get your profile sorted out first, because you might only get once shot at your dream contact accepting your connection request.  It might be that you’ve had a LinkedIn account for years, and it doesn’t reflect who you are now, so you want to make sure you bring it up to date.  But remember, your LinkedIn profile page IS NOT a CV.  Unless you are genuinely using LinkedIn to try and get a job interview then you can be selective as you like about the information you put on there. That two years you spent waiting and serving in a cafe, no need to include it unless it actually brings something to your profile page.  Had three different jobs in a single year that didn’t work out?  No need to include that unless you’re really trying to prove a point about how unemployable you are!  Remember, this isn’t a CV.  You’re not going for a job interview.  So I’m not saying out and out lie about your experience, and it’s good to show your career progression, but show the experience that proves your expertise the best.  Present the best version of you.
And this leads me to my second point, the profile picture you use.  Now, LinkedIn is all about PEOPLE.  Yes, you can have company pages, but we’re talking about your personal page here – so use a good, clear photo of YOURSELF.  Not your dog, as lovely as they may be, and not a photo of you and your mates in Ibiza partying on the beach – unless you happen to run a vegan Ibiza party company – but a clear, pleasant photo of your actual face.  You are going to be connecting with people who don’t know you yet, and all their impressions are going to be made in the first couple of seconds when they see your profile photo. Use a photo that is friendly, welcoming and professional. Now, don’t forget that we are all vegans.  So this means it’s OK to put a bit of personality in your photo.  In fact, it’s preferable. You can still have some personality and even fun in a professional profile picture. Lay on the green grass and surround your head with orange carrots to make your photo stand out; do include an animal but make sure you can still clearly see your face at thumbnail size. Make yourself look like the kind of person YOU would like to accept a connection request from.
And then finally, you’re almost ready to head out there and start making your new connections.  But before you do, there’s one last thing you need to do if you are vegan and on LinkedIn, and this is the thing I teased you with at the start, the click-baity ‘one neat trick’ that all vegans do on LinkedIn to find each other.  As a vegan, you will at least double the amount of connection requests you get, and the number you get accepted if you add the ‘v in a circle’ symbol to the end of your name. Now this seems might seem weird, but it’s the way that people have started indicating to each other that they are vegan on LinkedIn.  Some people use the little green seedling or leaf emoji after their name, but it’s the v in a circle that you can actually search for.  Try it now.  If you don’t know how to do the V symbol on your operating system, just Google ‘v in a circle’ and copy and paste it into the search box on LinkedIn.  What you should now see is a page full of search results of people who have the symbol added to the end of their name, and the vast majority of these people are fellow vegans. Go click on them.  See who’s in that list you’d like to be connected to, and send them a connection request with a hello message!  Now, I’m risking falling foul of some future update when LinkedIn stops people from doing this, but having that something in your name or title that is a visual indicator that you are vegan means that fellow vegans are more likely to connect with you.  And that’s because we want to connect and work with other people who share our values. If I’m looking for someone to do my tax returns, I’d rather give the work to a fellow vegan who’s on the same mission as me. That’s why I have both the plant emoji and the v in a circle after my name on LinkedIn – and if they change the rules so you can’t put emojis and characters in the name sometime in the future, then I’ll find some other way to make it clear at a glance that someone is connecting with a fellow vegan. Because if you’re trying to connect with this big CEO of a vegan company, don’t you think they are more likely to accept if they can see straight away that you are vegan too?  Vegans want to help other vegans, it really is as simple as that.
So I’m hoping that by now, I’m starting to convince you that LinkedIn is worth your time. And time is the key thing here, because when you’ve got your own business there are SO MANY things that you could be doing.  Should you be doing social media, should you be doing YouTube, and there’s all those emails sat in your inbox to get back to.  And if this is where you find yourself right now, then go take a look at the third section of our vegan marketing course which will show you HOW to plan what you should be doing and when.  But there’s no point in putting all this time into LinkedIn if you haven’t worked out a plan to actually get something back out of it.  If all you are looking for is more customers to buy your consumer product – so if you make something or sell a physical product that you sell to the public – then you are unlikely to find those sales on LinkedIn.  You’ll be far better on Instagram and Facebook.  But if you want to find people who can help your business, even people like investors and mentors, or if you’re wanting to reach a business audience because you sell services to other professionals, then LinkedIn is a great place to make those connections and build your credibility.  I just mentioned our vegan marketing course, and a large part of that talks about nurturing customers – so leading them through their decision-making process, and having a funnel in place to take people from being aware you exist to actually buying from you.  And LinkedIn can have a really big part to play in that.
Just like other social media platforms, LinkedIn shows a timeline of all your connections’ posts.  And it only takes a few months of people seeing you post about a specific topic, or writing blogs and sharing graphics for them to start thinking of you as an expert in that topic.  And that’s the first part of turning someone into a customer.  Making them aware that you exist and believing you are a credible expert in what you do.  If you want to learn about how to take someone from just knowing about you to buying you, then go study the rest of the marketing course, that’s why we wrote it, but MAKE SURE that once you are on LinkedIn and once you have connected with people who might want to buy from you, invest in you, help you, stock your products, or use you in their business – that you put the time into becoming VISIBLE to them.  And LinkedIn has become far more visual since Microsoft took them over, so use images and videos to stand out in their timeline.  If you have a meeting with someone, and that might be face to face or online on Zoom, ask if you can take a photo or screenshot of you both together.  Use the photos to write a short post talking about the work you do, and tag them in so all their contacts see it too.  Learn how to use hashtags in your posts such as #vegan, #plant-based, or #vegan-business and regularly go see what other people are talking about on those hashtags too.  Go join the same LinkedIn groups as the people you want to get in front of and become part of those conversations.  This is like hanging around the coffee pot at the business conference and seeing who you can start talking to.  Doing a quick search for who is talking about ‘plant-based’ this morning on LinkedIn, I found a conversation in the comments section of a post between one of the product developers at Unilever and a distributor in India about stocking a new meat-replacement product. If I want to, I could now introduce myself to both people – I’ve put myself in the same virtual room as them.  I can even jump in on the conversation if it’s worthwhile to… or… I might have never known that the conversation was happening.  And that’s the thing, these conversations on LinkedIn are going on whether you are there to see them or not.
And if you do all this, you will find that not just the number of people you are connected to and can reach out to increases, but the quality of them will increase too. I get new contact requests every day on LinkedIn.  Lisa, because she’s far more personable and friendly than me, gets twice as many.  She’s also twice as active on LinkedIn, and the majority of our best contacts and conversations tend to come through her.
So, let’s have a quick bullet point rundown of what we’ve covered:
1. Decision makers and people in senior roles who you are unable to contact through other methods, there’s a good chance you can connect with them on LinkedIn.
2.  You can’t just sign up to LinkedIn and start spamming these people in senior roles though. You need to work your way up and build high-quality connections first.
3.  Always send a personal message with a connection request, with the emphasis being on personal.  Let someone know how you know them.
4.  When you get a new connection, send them a short message to start a conversation. As I said, I get a wonderful response-rate from a two-sentence message. Find out who you are talking to and work out if either they can help you or if you can help them.  Be a farmer, not a hunter.
5.  Get your profile in shape before you start connecting with people. Remember, this isn’t your CV so you can be selective.  Present the best version of you – and that includes the photo you use.
6.  Make sure you have an indicator in your name that other vegans will recognise. Such as the seedling emoji icon or the v in a circle symbol.
7. Make yourself visible to your contacts.  Post about a specific topic and be visual.  Put yourself in the same virtual room as the people you want to talk to.
I hope that I’ve succeeded in convincing you that you should go take a look at LinkedIn if you are not using it already – or if you are that you might be able to change HOW you use it to get better results.  And if you do sign-up to LinkedIn, then come find Lisa and I – so that’s Lisa Fox and David Pannell – and make us some of your first contacts.  Or when we post screengrabs from our vegan networking events on Zoom, if you were there then come and tag yourself in the picture.
And as I said, if you need more help and support then go check out our vegan marketing course on The Vegan Business Tribe website which talks about not just things like how to do LinkedIn, but how to make them part of a wider marketing plan that actually gets you customers, not just makes you into a busy fool!  So, that’s it for me for this episode, and as always if you’ve enjoyed this and found it useful then please do tap the subscribe button or leave a review or rating if the platform you’re listening on allows it.  Because, you know all those other people who are looking for help with their vegan business? We want to reach them, and that’s how you can help us do it.
So thank you so much for your time, I always hugely appreciate it, and I will see you on the next one!

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