It is one of the great mysteries of adventure funding that hopeful adventurers put the least effort into the social network that is home to the most money.
No matter which social network(s) you have prioritised for your public-facing adventure profile [Instagram, Twitter], you need to be working LinkedIn at the same time. This is the home of all your future sponsors and brand partners. Both right now and in the future.
LinkedIn is a major network. As of mid-2017, it has over 500 million users, with 100 million of them visiting the site at least once each month. That being said, its future is a little uncertain. Being bought by Microsoft does not seem to have done it any good. Facebook is actively moving into the business market, while LinkedIn is becoming more confusing and crowded than ever. I don’t think LinkedIn is a usable as it used to be. However, there is still plenty of value to be gained from it, if you have the patience to learn to use it.
Why is LinkedIn so important for adventurers?
1. Following the careers of your contacts
2. Reaching decision-making individuals
1. Following the careers of your contacts
The world is a very busy place. Outdoor brands, corporate sponsors, speaker bureaus, agents and publishers, etc, etc - everyone you want to reach is being bombarded by unwanted cold pitches on a daily basis. You will always do better if your pitch is ‘warm’, that is you have a personal connection that means they recognise your name and are curious enough to open your email.
The secret super-power of LinkedIn is that it lets you track people to their future jobs.
You do a small adventure, you do an interview with a young freelancer writing for a local newspaper. In five years time you are embarking on a much bigger project, and that journalist is now employed by a national newspaper. You want to know that! You will a much better chance pitching her than pitching cold to other journalists.
For your small adventure, you get some free gloves thanks to an intern at a small outdoor company. In five years time he’s the marketing manager for an international outdoor brand. You have a connection with him that you don’t have with other outdoor brands.
That girl you sort of remember from school - 10 years later she’s working for the BBC. That guy you met in college - 10 years later he’s marketing manager at an investment bank but wishes he could do adventure instead. They are your starting point in looking for television coverage and corporate sponsorship.
People who already have extensive business networks thanks to opportunities of birth, education, or profession will always have an easier time raising money. But you can reduce the gap by being proactive and forward-thinking in your own network building. Every person you meet where there is even a hint of future potential - get their names, track them down on LinkedIn, send them a contact request.
- Never simply send the generic connection enquiry. Always write a note reminding them how you met.
- You can also send connections invitations to people you've never met. Many will accept. But always add a note saying why you want to connect - it can be a simple as saying you admire that they do.
- Eventually the number of LinkedIn contacts that you have will become overwhelming. (Particularly once people start reaching out to you.) You also need to be running your own database (the free Contacts app that comes with your phone or computer will do). Keep a note of the details of the most interesting people that you meet.
That's all very well, but you want money now, not in 5 years time.
2. Finding the key people to pitch
While the company / publisher / speaker bureau can seem like an impersonal monolith, your point of contact is always with a person. You need to persuade that person that you are interesting and your proposal is intriguing. If they are not the decision-maker, you want them to pass you on to the right person in the organisation with a positive introduction.
When you pitch, you should never be emailing info@…. addresses. You want to be targeting specific individuals and in general you find them through research on LinkedIn. (This also applies if you are trying to get writing published in media. They may have a generic online submission email address but you will always do better if you can find the name and email of the decision-maker and send your pitch to them specifically.)
Once you've identified people, how do you message them? With a name you may be able to google them to find an email address, or work out the email address formula of the company. But you can also make use of LinkedIn's messaging function.
LinkedIn will let you message people you are connected to. But how do you get a message to someone you wish you were connected to?
1. Send them a connection request. Always include a short message (you have 300 characters available in that initial request). Plenty of active LinkedIn users accept connection requests from people they don’t know - especially if your profile makes you seem interesting. Some members will have set their invitation preferences to ask for an email address with an invitation, but most haven’t.
2. Exploit the groups function. You can send messages to people who are in the same group as you, even if you are not connected. LinkedIn Groups are dying - they seem to have ceded the space to Facebook Groups. You may not get much value from group activity, but you can still join them as a way to reach people. Go to the bottom of your target's profile. Under interests, click see all, click on Groups. Join a group they belong to. Take advantage of this feature while it lasts.
3. Buy InMail credits or go premium. LinkedIn wants you to pay for InMail - their messaging system for reaching out to member you are not connected to. You can buy InMail credits, or upgrade to a paid subscription. This is probably not worth your while, unless you are actively looking for corporate sponsorship. In that case, a short-term investment in a premium subscription could be value for money.
3 more ways to get value from LinkedIn
1. Sharing your content
At the top of your profile page is a category called Articles and Activity.
Activity is the updates you share.
Make sure that every blog post you write and every interview you do gets shared to your LinkedIn network. Share interesting articles from your area of interest as well. If what you want is sponsorship money, research successful adventure sponsorships and share articles about them.
Articles is LinkedIn’s native blogging platform (called LinkedIn Publishing).
Rework and update old blog posts and publish them on LinkedIn. Write new material, picking an angle relevant to what you want to get from the platform. If you are looking for corporate speaking engagements, write about lessons learnt from your last expedition that are applicable to people in business. If you want sponsorship, write about the value of adventure sponsorship to companies.
2. Accepting contact requests
LinkedIn is undoubtedly disingenuous - they claim you should only connect with people you know in real life, while pushing everyone to connect with everyone. As an adventurer, you will probably get connection requests from fans and adventure-hopefuls and the simply-curious. You can use that to your advantage. One possible strategy is to accept everyone that seems ’normal’ - not out to scam you or sell you something - and reply with a message inviting them to follow you wherever you are most actively audience-building, and/or inviting them to sign up for your email newsletter. [How one travel journalist leveraged LinkedIn contacts and groups to build an email mailing list as a sales base for his self-published book.]
Tip: Speed this up by having a generic template reply that you access via an app like TextExpander or via your computer's built-in text expansion feature. Add the person's name at the top, customise the text if needed, and hit send.
3. Getting testimonials
Ask for what LinkedIn calls ‘recommendations’ from anyone who has spent time with you in a professional capacity - in the adventure space that could be anyone who has listened to one of your talks, who has commissioned you to write an article, who has worked with you as a brand ambassador. (Give recommendations freely yourself - give first, then ask is a good strategy.)
The recommendations are public, and can then be re-used on your website or in your pitch letters.
Building an attractive profile
As with any social network, if you are on it, take the time to set up your profile for maximum effect.
- Get your personal URL (LinkedIn has good SEO, it will give you another Google first page hit when people search for your name).
- Get a professional profile photo - preferably the same or similar to what you use right across your social media profiles.
- Make use of the banner image - use it to show you in action as an adventurer.
- Fill in each of the sections - the more complete your profile is, the better you will fare in LinkedIn’s algorithm. Make use of the multimedia options - photos and video.
- Ask for (and give) recommendations.
- Post updates and write articles for LinkedIn.
Your adventure career vs your professional career
If you feel you need to keep adventure and profession strictly separate, and you have LinkedIn set aside for your profession, it’s worth revisiting that decision.
- People are more likely to trust you with sponsorship money for adventure if you also appear to be a competent professional.
- You are more likely to stand out in your professional arena if you are sharing the adventures you do in your free time.
- You are likely to do better in the corporate speaking arena if you can show that you have insight into both the business and the adventure world.
You are welcome to connect with me on LinkedIn (and you'll see the reply you get will probably direct you towards my two email newsletters).