With one billion members, Facebook may be world’s largest social media site but LinkedIn is a networking opportunity you don’t want to miss.  LinkedIn brings together over 175 million professional members in 200 countries, providing you with a significant opportunity to acquire new business as well as find partners, vendors and staff.

Getting started with LinkedIn; keep two things in mind.  First, make sure your LinkedIn profile is complete and includes your name, business, industry, location and previous experience. Once you’ve done that, start connecting with others by sending them an invitation to join your network.

With your LinkedIn network growing, here are six other ways to leverage the social media network:

  • Ask for referrals: Take some time to go through the contacts of your LinkedIn connections, if they make them visible to everyone. Updates also tell you when a contact has added a new connection. If you see someone you’d like to get to know, ask your contact for an introduction. The potential for new contacts is significant. Just think – if you have 100 contacts and each one of them has 100 connections, you have access to 10,000 potential new business contacts.
  • Get recommendations: A positive customer testimonial is golden when it comes to getting new business. Ask your customers for a recommendation. It will appear on your LinkedIn profile page, and your network will be notified via updates. Consider all of the potential customers who might need your products or services and now know about the value your business provides.
  • Join groups: LinkedIn groups, of which are at least 1.2 million based on my research, provide you with an opportunity to engage with professionals who are in your industry and can lead to referrals and new business. (You can even start your own group, but that could be time consuming.) Be visible in groups by actively participating in discussions and by ‘liking,” “commenting,” and “promoting” the comments and content of group members. As a member of a group, you also can directly connect with other members to network and build relationships.
  • Get answers to questions: It’s not easy to keep on top of everything you need to know to run your business. You can use LinkedIn Answers to ask questions and get answers from domain experts. By the same token, you can potentially win new business by showing off your expertise by answering questions. When you answer a question, it appears: under the question you answered, as a network update on the homepages of your connections, on your profile and in an email to the person who asked the question.
  • Find new hires and vendors: You can search through your LinkedIn network to find and vet a range of vendors – accountants, marketing professionals and IT specialists are just a few examples – and look for prospective employees.
  • Company page: You also want to consider setting up a company page in addition to your own profile. Having a company profile page gives you even more of a presence on LinkedIn. You can list your team, feature your products or services, embed videos and post your blog and twitter feeds.

How involved are you on LinkedIn? Have you been using it to network and prospect? We’d love to hear what LinkedIn has done for your business.