5 Powerful Uses of LinkedIn Few Businesses Are Maximizing You're doing yourself a major disservice if you write off LinkedIn as a boring, stodgy website.

By Iman Jalali

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Denys Prykhodov | Shutterstock.com

I value LinkedIn more than any other website. I would gladly give up access to Facebook, Twitter, or my vice, Reddit, before I would let go of LinkedIn. Whenever I mention this, people think I'm crazy. You might be thinking that right now. Well, it's probably because you're not taking advantage of everything that LinkedIn can do for you or your business. Time to level up.

If you think of LinkedIn as a large database of resumes and nothing else, you're so wrong. It's a rich source of information and a social network. If you're in sales, and you're not using LinkedIn, I'm shocked. If you're hiring and not using LinkedIn, I'm even more shocked.

I realize that I may sound like a giant advertisement for LinkedIn, but that's just a reflection of how useful I find the service. Here are the ways I strengthen my business via LinkedIn.

1. Use it for competitive intelligence.

Competitive intelligence should shape your business strategy. If you don't know much about your customers' other options, you can't develop an edge and keep gaining market share.

As Burt Helm wrote, "It's not as romantic as speeding along the Amalfi coast in an Aston Martin, but the first thing you probably should do is jump online, and take a close, nuanced look at what is available publicly."

You can use LinkedIn to unearth answers to many of your questions about competitors. Here's some basic information that a LinkedIn search will reveal.

How many employees does a competitor have? How many did they have six months ago - in other words, how fast are they growing?

What kind of employees are they hiring? An influx of developers might indicate that they have a new product in the works. In general, recent hires provide clues to a company's current focus.

Furthermore, in many small-to-medium businesses, there are star employees, who are responsible for significant amounts of development, sales, marketing and other important aspects of the business. Knowing who to target and getting them to defect and work for you instead can be a gamechanger.

2. Use it for networking.

"I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn" has become a joke, but that's mainly because the website is so ubiquitous. Every professional has a LinkedIn profile. I add people I know to my network, but I also turn to LinkedIn first when I'm in search of someone with a particular skillset.

Recently I needed a tax advisor and used LinkedIn to find someone who a few of my friends in the Chicago tech community also use. As another example, if I was looking for a new commercial bank, I would search LinkedIn first to see who within my network was connected to which commercial bankers. Then I would ask for an intro.

Warm leads are always better than cold leads, and LinkedIn is a golden source of warm leads. In more ways than one.

3. Use it for business development.

Cashflow is the lifeblood of any business. And whether you're dependent on venture capital or revenue, getting new customers is key. LinkedIn can help you here too. Use your profile and your network to demonstrate your knowledge and skills, providing a touchpoint for potential customers.

For example, if you're a consultant, having a presence and cultivating connections can make you visible to clients who wouldn't find you otherwise. One time I had a question about having a stainless steel product manufactured in China, so I sought out a few people on LinkedIn who had experience with exactly that. I sent them LinkedIn messages asking for help. Access to their expertise saved me months of research and trial and error, and these people gained a client due to their robust LinkedIn accounts.

Another time I was seeking marketing help with a digital channel I had little experience with, and I was able to find someone within my network who had worked with one of my connections. Uncovering this person helped make the marketing campaign a giant success.

What does that mean? This marketer had another giant success to put on their resume, and they expanded their network to include me and everyone I know.

Related: 18 Tips to Create Your Perfect LinkedIn Profile (Infographic)

4. Use it for advertising.

LinkedIn Ads enable excellent targeting for any kind of enterprise outreach. They provide roughly the same media options as a Facebook Ad, with an audience of purely professionals. You can narrow down that audience by using criteria like industry, company size and job title. The fine-grained targeting means that none of your ad spend is wasted on people you don't care about.

Let's say you're selling software to make real estate agents more productive. Target every real estate agency in whichever geography you want, and then drill down to specific job titles so you're reaching the people who make purchasing decisions. LinkedIn Ads are the quickest way to contact this audience without doing hundreds of hours of laborious legwork.

Related: The 12 Types of People You Hate On LinkedIn

5. Use it for recruiting.

This one should be a no-brainer. LinkedIn is the first place I look for specialists. No better way to target specific skills and experiences so that you find exactly who you're looking for. LinkedIn is also a great way to find desirable hires who aren't actively seeking a job.

If you're the one looking for a job, keep your profile updated, add a summary, and add depth to your list of previous work experiences. Make sure to include a professional photo; this isn't Facebook, so no basketball shorts or bikinis.

Related: The One Thing You're Doing Wrong on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is much more than just an online resume database. The information and network can used for all sorts of different purposes, and you're doing yourself a disservice if you write off LinkedIn as a boring, stodgy website.

Iman Jalali

Consultant, Entrepreneur & Former President of TrainSignal(acquired) & Former Chief of Staff, ContextMedia

Iman Jalali is Chief of Staff at ContextMedia in Chicago, a healthcare technology company. Previously he served as president of TrainSignal, which was sold in 2013 to Pluralsight. He is actively investing in small businesses, tech startups and real estate across the country.

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