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How to Use LinkedIn To Dramatically Improve Your Business: “Create value before you ask for it.” with Dane van Zyl and Chaya Weiner

Create value before you ask for it. This one is pretty simple and emphasizes some points raised in step 1 and 2. Relevant and helpful engagement is king. LinkedIn states that nearly 64% of B2B buyers appreciate hearing from a salesperson who provides knowledge or insight into their business.

As part of my series of interviews about “How to Use LinkedIn To Dramatically Improve Your Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dane van Zyl, the CEO and Co-Founder of Uku Inbound, one of South Africa’s leading inbound marketing agencies and HubSpot Partners. Based in Cape Town, Dane started Uku in 2014 with his twin brother Nathan and has built it into one of South Africa’s leading inbound agencies delivering campaigns for clients across South Africa, China, Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Europe and the United States. Dane got his start in digital marketing in Taipei in 2011, where he built his first e-commerce startup. He then moved to Shenzhen, China where he continued to build his experience in e-commerce and marketing. Dane eventually moved back to South Africa, where he and Nathan decided to use their experience to help businesses make sense of the rapidly changing digital landscape. Dane and his team have delivered hundreds of successful campaigns for clients on five continents.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have spent the last seven years working in startups. It started when Nathan and I decided to take a year off after our postgraduate degrees. We set off to Taiwan and Shenzhen, China to explore their technological manufacturing boom. While in Taiwan we built and launched South Africa’s first men’s online fashion retailer, KIPH (pronounced ‘kiff’), and then built a distribution business that sent me back to China to supply products to over 70 retail stores in Southern Africa.

Working in retail is extremely challenging and the e-commerce market in Africa is simply not as mature as it is in the US, UK and Asia. Roughly 2% of South Africans shop online which pales in comparison to more developed markets.

So we decided to shift our focus to use what we had learnt to help businesses transition to a digital-first strategy. For many companies, their digital strategy is simply an afterthought and because of that they never really understand how to create value for their customers online.

We want to enable businesses to grow better by creating value before extracting it. It’s a simple philosophy and with the right technology and digital strategy, it can revolutionize how businesses engage with their customers.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

Ah, yes! There have been a few interesting moments throughout my career. A few hair raising moments that I’m glad I experienced but happy to not repeat. Several years ago while we were still running KIPH and distributing products to one of South Africa’s largest retailers, I was on a trip to China. The retailer had placed an order with us that was several times larger than we had received before.

We were over the moon but had to raise money to fulfill the order. We managed to raise just enough finance to the cost of the deal and ensure we had a small buffer in case anything unexpected happened.

Several days later I was in China and placed the order with our supplier. We were in a good position. We had found a reputable factory, were familiar with doing business in China and had some extra cash flow as a contingency.

And then it went pear-shaped. Due to some political instability, our currency plummeted overnight and completely wiped out our buffer. We had everything on the line and now didn’t have enough money to complete the project.

Our only option was to turn to our suppliers. We renegotiated the final payment and managed to get our logistics partner to extend our terms with an additional line of credit. This meant that we would be able to get the product delivered, get paid and then pay our suppliers all on the same day. We could have no delays otherwise we were going to default.

Luckily, it all went our way and we paid our suppliers on time and paid our investors back with interest.

I guess business is always a juggling act but what I learnt was that working with the right suppliers can really make or break a company. That’s why now at Uku we focus on partnering with our clients. Their struggle is our struggle and we work hard to make sure they succeed.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Absolutely. I mean I’ve probably made more mistakes than most. I remember when we had just brought on our first few employees. It was early days and we were all still getting to know each other.

My girlfriend and I were doing long distance and I decided to send her a message after our morning stand up. It was a voice note and I’ll spare you the soppy details but I accidentally sent the message to our team.

Needless to say, it was a great icebreaker and they all had a good laugh.

I learnt two things…

One, sharing something personal is a great way to break the ice.

Two, always double check your recipients before sending messages and emails :)

Which social media platform have you found to be most effective to use to increase business revenues? Can you share a story from your experience?

In my experience, it really depends on how each channel is being used and the type of business you are in. For Uku our two best performing channels are Twitter and LinkedIn. Our Twitter converts website visitor to leads at an average 5.26% while LinkedIn drives the most traffic when compared to our other social media channels.

We put a lot of time into organic engagement and frequently join conversations on Twitter which plays a big factor in our high conversion rate.

We work mostly with B2B businesses and in that case, Twitter and LinkedIn when used correctly are the best performing channels. This is generally the opposite for B2C companies where Instagram and Facebook usually drive the most traffic, leads and engagement.

Let’s talk about LinkedIn specifically, now. Can you share 5 ways to leverage LinkedIn to dramatically improve your business? Please share a story or example for each.

When it comes to driving business through LinkedIn we are actually talking about social selling. Social selling is a concept introduced several years ago and effectively looks at how you use social networks to find and engage with potential customers.

In a B2B context, LinkedIn can be a powerful tool to drive business growth and boost your own Social Selling Index (SSI) score. Here are 5 ways to leverage LinkedIn to boost your SSI and grow your business.

  1. Build your professional brand

The first step is to make sure your profile is 100% complete. This means making sure you add a good quality professional profile image, including a relevant headline, a well-written summary and your experience.

You are trying to establish yourself as an expert in your industry to make sure you create your profile with your customer in mind. Establishing yourself as an expert does not stop once your profile is up-to-date.

Create and share content that is helpful and relevant to your target audience. This can be as simple as a blog post that you wrote or creating a slide deck highlighting your companies products and services and putting it on SlideShare.

You can also share content that you think your audience will find relevant and interesting. I’m not talking about cat meme’s although I do love those. Just ask yourself 3 questions:

  • Is it relevant?
  • Is it helpful?
  • Is it interesting?

If your answer is yes to all three then you’re good to go.

Finally, when it comes to brand building it’s always helpful to get endorsed. Make sure you update your skills. Get your colleagues to give you some endorsements and make sure you reciprocate. You can even find some old colleagues and customers and give them an endorsement first and very often they will return the favour.

2. Connect with the right people

Building the right network is very important. It’s not very helpful to have 5000 connections if none of them are decision makers or don’t work in industries that are relevant to your company. In this case, LinkedIn outshines all the other social media channels.

Utilize LinkedIn’s search filters to specify industry, location, their current company or even their past company. A good option is to upgrade to the Sales Navigator which will open up a whole host of new search variables.

A great way to build up relevant connections is to target 2nd-degree connections. They are more likely to connect with you because you are connected to someone they already know. This works well specifically when you look at who your customers are connected to. You are likely to find people who are similar to them and are a good fit for your company.

Last but not least make sure you join relevant industry LinkedIn Groups. By engaging in the right groups you are more likely to find potential customers who are actively looking for your products and services. So when it comes time to accept your connection request they already know who you are and thus more likely to connect.

3. Create value before you ask for it.

This one is pretty simple and emphasizes some points raised in step 1 and 2. Relevant and helpful engagement is king. LinkedIn states that nearly 64% of B2B buyers appreciate hearing from a salesperson who provides knowledge or insight into their business.

Sound great, right? But where do you start?

That’s the easy part! Start by sharing content that is useful to your audience. Engage and comment on their posts. Leave thoughtful, constructive comments on your prospects posts. If you share a post that is particularly useful to one of your connections then tag them in the post.

A quick word of warning. If you are engaging with their content and in groups make sure you add value. Don’t sell or simply drop links. Inappropriate comments or spammy links will do more harm than any good.

4. Build relationships

Size does matter. Make sure you keep connecting with decision makers because ultimately the larger your network the more opportunities you’ll have to find new connections and the more exposure your content and updates will receive.

Once you have connected make sure you nurture those relationships. Send an introduction, and then make sure you reach out periodically. Offer them relevant content, ask a question, share their content, wish them a happy birthday and ultimately just keep in touch. Most people won’t mind hearing from you regularly as long as you add value.

They are far more likely to engage with your sales updates or case studies if your past interactions have been focused on their needs instead of yours.

5. Track your progress

The final step is to track your progress. This could be through establishing a high-level KPI like website traffic from LinkedIn, or visitor-to-lead conversion rate from LinkedIn.

LinkedIn also provides a very useful SSI report that you can use to track and measure your score over time. The more effective you are at creating value and building your professional brand the faster your SSI score will rise.

Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

It’s a simple idea: create value before you ask for it. Businesses of all shapes and sizes have the ability to have an immense impact on their customers, their employees, and the communities in which they operate.

By sharing your knowledge and putting your customers and employees first, by helping them solve their challenges, you build up powerful ambassadors for your business and create a workforce that is engaged and customers that want to do business with you.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

Well as an inbound marketing agency there two people who have had a defining influence in how many businesses now approach their marketing: Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah the co-founders of HubSpot.

Between them, they created and defined what is today known as “Inbound Marketing” and provided a framework that has helped thousands of businesses succeed by taking a “value first approach”. On top of that, they are also successful entrepreneurs, having built HubSpot into the world’s leading marketing automation platform.

Thank you so much for these great insights. This was very enlightening!



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