Last week, something happened on LinkedIn, and for me, it was the last straw. I received (for the hundredth time in a few months) an autoresponder from someone’s LinkedIn account that pitched their business hard, offering me a free consultation on something I had less than zero interest in, immediately after connecting with me.
When an action like this hits me as really off-putting and annoying, it’s usually affecting lots of others this way too, so I wrote the following LinkedIn tip as an update:
Here’s a LinkedIn tip – don’t program your account so that you immediately send a business pitch when someone accepts your LI connection. It’s the wrong way to go. It’s really off-putting and personally speaking, I’ll immediately delete the notification and not want to connect with you. Do you agree?
As of this writing, that one update received 155,980 views, 969 likes and 129 comments. It truly hit a nerve. At least 95% of the comments I received (either underneath the post or privately) were along the lines of “I agree 100%! I’m so tired of this!” A few of the comments were a bit nasty or defensive such as, “Aren’t you the ‘Brave Up’ expert, Kathy? Why are so off-put by this?”
But several people responded with legitimate questions like:
“Isn’t this what LinkedIn is for – to network?”
“I’m new to LinkedIn and I’d really love your help on this. How IS the best way to reach out to people and share my business services, which I’m really excited about?”
I appreciate these sincere questions, and would like to share my personal take on what networking is and what it isn’t, and how to best go about reaching out to a stranger online and making an authentic connection.
First, what not to do:
Don’t pitch your business to every single person you meet, and never immediately after connecting.
I like to think of LinkedIn as the “great cocktail party in the sky” and I find that analogy really helpful for my clients. So, if you were to think of connecting on LinkedIn as you behave in person at a cocktail party, think about how you approach and interact with people you just meet. Once you get introduced to someone new, do you, one second later, regale them with information all about your packages, services and programs, and offer them a free one-hour consultation? I’m hoping no (but if you do this, you should stop). It’s a huge turnoff.
Pitching people you don’t know, whom you have zero idea about in terms of their needs, wants, goals, visions, professional focus, etc. is like casting a net into the shallow tide of the sea and expecting to catch a whale. You have to know where the whale lives – how it operates, what it needs and wants, and what would entice it to seek you out. And you have to understand that the number of people who will want anything you have to offer is very small, particularly when you’re dealing with LinkedIn, which has 467 million members and growing. While you’re understandably excited about your work, you have to help others become excited about it and allow them to know, like and trust you before they do – and that doesn’t just happen in an instant.
Don’t confuse pitching with “networking” — authentically connect instead.
Secondly, the worst thing you can do is make a bad impression the second you connect with someone, because they’ll then disconnect from you forever. And you make a bad impression when you hit a stranger up to buy your products, when you’ve not even said “hello” or attempted to connect from the heart and spirit and try to understand them. Pitching is not networking. Networking is building a wonderful tribe – a supportive, enlivening community that you love and that offers mutually-beneficial support. And you are off-putting if you think networking is looking for people who’ll give you money. If that’s all that’s on your mind (how to get over and make money from someone’s needs), then you shouldn’t bother connecting in the first place.
I see this as an ever-growing trend in a number of fields, but most notably in the online coaching world. New and even seasoned coaches are often struggling financially, and have taken to hitting people up continually with their new online programs and courses, many of which are not a fit at all with what we personally need, want, value or resonate with.
On the other hand, the best first impression is made when you reach out with something truly helpful to the other person, and not something that requires that they buy your products.
To be fair, many folks are really excited about what they have to offer, and feel that it comes from a place of wanting to be of service, when the share all about their business and their pitch. So when they share about their programs and services, they feel they ARE being helpful. But that’s not the “help” I’m talking about.
If it’s help that’s revolves all around you and your products and your earning money (or even the freebie that you’re giving away as a funnel to entice people to buy your programs later), then you need to switch your focus.
So what should you do instead?
Do reach out and say hello and explain why you’re excited to connect.
Don’t make your introduction all about you. Share why you’re interested in knowing this new contact – what they’re doing that’s inspiring, exciting, and enlivening, and how you find value in their work.
Do follow their work, and support their messages and their visions.
Show that you are supportive of THEIR work. Make a real connection by sharing their updates, commenting on their posts, commenting on their discussions, and introducing your colleagues to their work.
Finally do share a bit about what you do, but not in a way that’s trolling for work and for money.
Finally, after some time (not the next day after connecting), share a brief (1-2 lines) description of what you do, and point them to your website or profile that has free materials that are helpful to anyone who may be interested in learning more. Share exactly who you love to help, and why it matters to you to do the work you do. Then, and only then, should you ask for anything.
Here’s some language you may find helpful. You can craft an invitation that goes like this:
“If you know anyone who might be in need of some help to _________, I hope you’ll share my info with them. And please let me know who your ideal clients, colleagues or organizations are, and I’ll do my best to send folks to you who can benefit from your work.” Then follow up on that promise.
Someone underneath my LinkedIn post said, “This approach takes a lot of time.” Yes, it does. That’s what real connection requires. The key is to stop focusing solely on your bank account, your business and your own growth when you connect. If you’re ever to make a real heart-and-soul connection with others, it’s important to understand that it takes time and sincere give-and-take and effort. The happiest professional and personal relationships are a beautiful two-way street, mutually beneficial and mutually inspiring.
This article orginally appeared in Forbes.