building linkedin network strategyHow do you connect with people on LinkedIn? See their name pop up in the “People you might know” list? Receive an email from someone you haven’t heard from in ages? Perhaps meet new connections or run into colleagues at conferences and connect?

This ad hoc approach of connecting on LinkedIn is typical of many professionals. It’s a start. Still, you can go further with a strategic approach that leads to many more quality connections. You can build your LinkedIn connections in a systematic way that can open the door to new leads, new partnerships, new referrals and whatever you need.

To begin, review this list to jog your brain and write down names of people to find on LinkedIn. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “I can’t believe I wasn’t already connected with so-and-so!” This should help you resolve that.

Strategically build your network on LinkedIn by connecting with the following.

Clients

Look beyond your primary contact. Consider other people in the contact’s company regardless if you’ve worked with them on a project. For example, you may be included in a group email from your primary contact. Send a connection request to others in the email with a personal note that says, “I work with [primary contact’s name] and would like to connect with you. Let me know if I can help with any resources.”

Prospects

Anytime you connect with a prospect — whether it’s a webinar, demo, conference, free consult, initial conversation, collected email — that’s another opportunity to connect on LinkedIn. In your message, mention how you connected and ask if they have any current needs. You may be able to direct the way.

Suspects

These are the people who make up your ideal clients that you haven’t yet met. In this case, you want to prepare to introduce yourself to the decision-maker by connecting with others in the company. Let’s say you identify a company that fits your ideal client requirements. You look for employees that you can connect to quickly. Eventually, you’ll make enough connections and reach the decision-makers.

Referrers

This group — such as businesses working on an account with you — can refer business to you or refer you to businesses. For example, I’ve worked with a client who used a search engine marketing company, a social media marketing agency, and a marketing automation company. I connected with the people in the other groups.

You can also work with businesses that do the same thing you do except they’re bigger or smaller than your company. Sometimes a job is too big or too small for them. In this case, they’ll refer a business to similar, trusted businesses that can handle the account.

LinkedIn Groups

When you join a LinkedIn Group, you’re connecting with members who have a shared interest. Be sure to let the recipient know you’re in the group together when sending a personalized connection request.

Employees

Sometimes we overlook staff in our own companies. You can do a search on LinkedIn based on company and location to help you find other employees. Ask colleagues for suggestions or check your colleagues’ connections.

Vendors

Connect with vendors so you can refer business to each other. For example, web designer connects with a writer and graphic designer. Sometimes a web design project needs an outside writer and graphic design work that’s beyond the web designer’s capabilities. You save the client a lot of time in looking for reliable vendors when you refer trusted vendors.

Influencers

Connect with influencers such as bloggers, consultants, experts, editors and writers from your industry. Build the relationship.

Associations

This includes staff and board members from industry associations. Like with influencers, build the relationship before you need them to do something. If, for example, you plan a webinar that would interest members, you can ask your contacts in the organization to email or post an announcement.

Organizations

Organizations consist of PTA, Boy Scouts, church, temple, alumni, anything. You already have something in common with these people: you’re passionate about the organization. Many members and volunteers have successful careers and businesses that could complement yours.

Personal services providers

People who provide you with services in your personal life can make great connections even if you work for a B2B company. These are the barbers, hair stylists, lawn service providers, photographers, bakers, carpenters, and electricians. Friends often ask for recommendations on Facebook. When you provide a successful referral, your connections will think of you the next time they need your business or someone they know who does.

Thought leaders

Thought leaders are people who are on top of your industry. Remember every type of organization has thought leaders. If you’re looking for thought leaders in the managed services provider (MSP) field, you want to look for those in marketing, research and development, HR, accounting, and operations. Not just the CEO or analyst.

Expanding your connections to include these types of people is easier than you think. These are the people you need to know and most likely know some on some level. For those you don’t know, it’ll make it easier to request introductions.

It’s not just about finding and connecting with people. You also want to think about the other side of the coin: those looking to connect with you. You most likely have something in common with the people in this list, which will help them find you. And they will when you connect with the people on this list as they’ll recognize the connections you have in common.

Because of your thinking ahead by connecting with others and the things you have in common with the person doing the search, you’ll come up higher in the results.