You’ve probably heard the old adage, “it’s who you know”, and LinkedIn is a great place to generate business opportunities. With over 85 million members, LinkedIn enables you to connect with colleagues, customers and prospects, plus you also gain access to their networks. But you can’t expect to expand your business by simply creating a profile. So how do you leverage your connections and create real business opportunities?

The following six tips can help you get more from your membership…

1. Give your profile a facelift: Create a profile that’s customer-centric—focus the message on whom you can help, what problems you help them solve or the results you help them achieve. Mention current roles you hold in addition to your day “job”, especially details like public speaking engagements or board memberships. Add creative, attention-getting links to your website, blog and Twitter account so your connections can get to know more about you and the organizations you represent. Customize your LinkedIn Profile URL so your LinkedIn Profile appears higher in search engine results for your name. Use status updates to help reinforce your expertise and share information, but make sure it’s important—no one cares that you just had a latte. (But if it was an amazing latte for half price, share that on Twitter!)

2. Determine your LinkedIn connection strategy: LION vs. IKY. LinkedIn Open Networkers (LION) accept all invitations and encourage connections from any other member, whether or not they have had a previous business relationship. The abbreviation LION is usually placed somewhere in the headline of the profile so it is easy to identify an open networker. LinkedIn does not allow you to invite connections without access to a member’s email address, so LIONs place their contact email somewhere in their profile. While this strategy allows you to grow your network quickly, you will not have a true relationship with all of your connections, making it more difficult to provide or receive strong introductions or referrals. IKY, or I Know You, is the other connection strategy option. Using IKY, you build your network by connecting to people you meet in traditional networking environments, through groups and through your personal network. (I like to take this a step further by setting up a time for a call or coffee when someone invites me to connect. It gives me a chance to learn more about my connections and how we might help each other.) There are pros and cons for both approaches, and you need to determine which strategy is the best fit for your objectives.

3. Use the advanced search and your connections to help prospect a lead or target: LinkedIn is an amazing research tool. You can use the advanced search to look for prospects by job title, location, company, relationship and more. Or you can look at the contact list of an individual in your network to see if there is anyone you’d like to be connected to. Once you’ve identified people you’d like to meet, contact your mutual connection and ask if they will introduce you. Getting a personal introduction is an endorsement of your credibility and can really help “warm-up” a “cold-call”.

4. Get connected before a meeting: How many times have you quickly scanned someone’s office or conference room looking for conversation starters? Getting connected on LinkedIn prior to your first meeting allows you to find out about the person’s history and interests. Having some icebreaker insights can help your meeting get off to a great start. Show your prospect a genuine interest in getting to know him or her, not just closing a deal.

5. Be an “Answers Expert”: Create awareness about your product or service by answering questions in your area of expertise. The Answers section poses questions from your network as well as industry-specific questions. This is a soft way of selling your expertise. Be cautious that your responses reflect information sharing and not hard-selling. Hard-selling can do irreversible damage to your reputation on LinkedIn.

6. Plug in calendar time: Just as you would add a networking event to your calendar, you need to add time in your schedule for prospecting on LinkedIn. In order to reap the benefits of virtual networking, you need to spend purposeful time communicating with and building your network.

Have you been using LinkedIn to prospect new opportunities and network? Share your success story or questions.