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14 Tips for Networking Without Breaking the Bank

in Do What You Love, People & Products, Rants

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john-corcoranThis is a guest post by John Corcoran, an attorney and former Clinton White House writer who blogs about how to network effectively at Smart Business Revolution. He recently released a free ebook, “How to Create Your Personal Networking Plan,” full of networking tips.

I’m kind of a networking dork. I love going out to events to meet new people.

In fact, I first met Baker in person at a networking event, which he told me about after I had interviewed him about the release of “I’m Fine, Thanks.”

But there’s one thing I hate about networking: How expensive it can be. The costs can really add up. Conference admission fees, organization annual membership fees, lunches, and even local happy hours can often mean spending a lot of your hard-earned cash on meeting people.

These costs are even harder to swallow if you are unemployed, or looking for work. Even if you recognize the value of networking, it can be difficult to justify these costs that often don’t have an immediate return.

In my case, I’m self-employed, so any money I spend on networking ultimately comes out of my take-home pay. However, because I work in a referral-based business, the cost of not networking would be even more expensive than the cost of networking.

In other words, if I didn’t spend money on networking, it is likely many of my referrals would dry up, meaning my business would suffer. Not good.

Nevertheless, I’ve found there are a number of creative ways to reduce networking costs without sacrificing my personal networking efforts. What follows are some ways you can either cut out networking costs that are unnecessary, reduce your costs, or use no-cost alternatives.

Of course, every industry has different customs and norms, so not all these tips will work for every type of job position or business. But these ideas have worked well for me!

How to cut out unnecessary networking costs

The first thing to do is to eliminate any costs which are not absolutely necessary. In many cases, this means having good willpower and habits.

1. Cut out gifts. Most of the time, the best gift for a client or customer is to do a good job and to give them good customer service. For referral partners, I find your money is better spent on taking the person to lunch rather than on a physical gift. That way, you get 60 minutes of getting to know one another better, which deepens your relationship.

2. Cut out membership fees. There are a number of organizations that I’d love to be a member of, but I really only attend a few of their events per year. I prefer to just pay the slightly higher admission fee for non-members to attend their individual events than to pay an annual membership fee in exchange for a slightly reduced admission cost.

3. Don’t treat non-clients. I have a general policy that I usually try to only pick up the tab for current or past clients, or for people who have referred business to me. As much as I would like to, I try to avoiding taking potential clients to lunch or dinner, as I’ve found that is a more speculative investment.

How to reduce networking costs

In addition to cutting out costs entirely, I’ve found there are a number of creative ways that you can reduce the costs of networking.

4. Go out for coffee instead of lunch. Meeting someone for coffee isn’t all that different from meeting someone for lunch, except it might cost you $2 instead of $20.

5. Show up early to coffee meetings. You know that awkward moment when you meet someone for coffee, and you both end up at the cash register and you feel kind of obligated to pay for their coffee (and maybe pastry too)? If you want to avoid that, show up early. Buy your coffee before the other person arrives. You can then say you showed up early “to grab us a table,” and you’ll look like you were very considerate.

6. Get on the green. If it is common in your industry to cover the cost of high-ticket items like concerts or professional sporting events, then you might be better off treating for a round of golf. At least with golf you are getting a workout in.

7. Barter. If you have a local coffee shop or even a restaurant where you like to meet people, see if you can make a deal to swap services in exchange for coffee or meals.

8. Look for groups with fee waivers or reductions. Some organizations waive their admission or membership fees if you volunteer a certain amount of time at one of their events, or volunteer on a board or committee.

How to use no-cost networking

Finally, there are plenty of no-cost creative solutions for networking. Here are a few.

9. Take advantage of social networking. Of course, networks like LinkedIn and Facebook don’t cost you a dime (except for the time you put in), so take advantage of them.

10. Go for a walk. Rather than meeting for lunch, suggest you meet for a walk in a park, or around a less busy and less congested neighborhood. A walk can be a nice change of pace from more traditional networking meetings over coffee or lunch. Plus, you get some exercise.

11. Talk on the phone. While having a phone conversation doesn’t allow for the same personal touch as a face-to-face meeting, it is an efficient and nearly zero-cost way of getting to know someone better.

12. Go to book signings. A great place to meet people who have similar interests is book signings. I actually first met Baker at a book signing for Chris Guillebeau’s $100 Startup. I met a number of other great people that evening, such as Corbett Barr, Steve Kamb and Scott Dinsmore.

13. Meet for a virtual cup of coffee over Skype or Google Hangout. Even better than talking on the phone is meeting over Skype or Google Hangout using video conferencing. These are excellent, free tools that I have used to get to know people who live in other parts of the country.

14. Ask Your employer to cover it. For some jobs, like sales jobs, employers will naturally allow you to expense a meal with a prospective client. Even if you are not in sales or your employer doesn’t automatically allow you to expense meals, you might be able to convince your employer of the value of your networking on case-by-case basis.

By learning a few tricks, you can still benefit from the power of developing a strong personal network, without spending money unnecessarily!

What suggestions do you have for saving money on networking?

We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

John Corcoran October 24, 2013 at 12:19 PM

Thanks, Joan, Courtney & Baker! Hopefully these tips are helpful. I’m happy to answer anyone’s questions here in the comments.

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Rebekka October 24, 2013 at 5:16 PM

I attend one networking per week on average, this week I went to 4 events. They are usually free and include free food and drinks. Find the right events to attend and you’ll see that networking can actually save you money and you’ll meet key people. Sponsored events are usually free. :)

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John Corcoran October 24, 2013 at 5:56 PM

Hi Rebekka: Free events are great! Your only investment is your time. As long as you are getting good results, I think free is awesome.

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Jill October 25, 2013 at 11:12 AM

These are fantastic tips! I’ll be pinning them so I can refer to them later! Thanks!

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John Corcoran October 25, 2013 at 1:00 PM

Hi Jill: Great! Glad you found them helpful.

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Robert Black October 25, 2013 at 4:39 PM

I’m giving myself a pat on the back here because I’ve been applying most of the rules for a while, although the book signings is a new one for me. Actually the more I think about it, that is a great idea, I’m guessing that’s from your own personal experience?

The one thing I can never understand is the number of people who are reluctant to use Skype. I absolutely love it, it has saved me days not hours of time every month. And yet there’s still clients who will take 2-3 hours out of their day to travel to a meeting that could have been covered with a 20 minute Skype video call!

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John Corcoran October 25, 2013 at 7:35 PM

Thanks, Robert. I have to say that not all book signings are going to be a good networking opportunity. It really depends on the store and the author and the crowd that shows up. But where else will you get a collection of such like-minded people, if you think about it? Everyone who is there is going to be there because they have a very particular interest in common. So it’s a great opportunity to connect with people with shared interests.

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Ravi Peal-Shankar October 29, 2013 at 8:16 AM

Thanks for this post. I do a lot of networking and costs certainly add up. Your tips are very detailed and simple to put in to practice. May I also add that ‘follow-up’ after the Networking event is where we have a chance to show/add value and eventually ‘convert’ prospects in to paying clients.

Kind Regards

Ravi

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John Corcoran November 4, 2013 at 2:56 PM

Hi Ravi: Great, I’m glad you like it. I totally agree with you that following up is hugely important… and if you do follow up, that’s one of the best ways to reduce your networking costs, because it will reduce the amount of networking you will have to do. Thanks for that tip!

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Brian Manning November 3, 2013 at 11:05 PM

My favorite, by far, is the going out to coffee instead of lunch suggestion. I don’t know how much money and time I have saved as a result of suggesting coffee instead of lunch meetings.

Often times an effective coffee meeting can be 30 – 45 minutes where lunch usually takes an hour plus. Additionally, since you are only ordering coffee, there’s no server to distract you and your business associate (assuming that you go to a coffee shop like Starbucks vs. a restaurant)

Going for coffee is efficient and you can also schedule back to back meetings at a coffee shop which is not possible if you’re doing lunch meetings. Who eats two lunches? But you can have two back to back 30 minute meetings at a Starbucks and get a better bang for your buck and knowing this helps the person you’re meeting with too.

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John Corcoran November 4, 2013 at 2:57 PM

Hi Brian:

Doing back to back coffee meetings is a great suggestion. I don’t do that very often, but it is efficient. After all, you only need to travel back and forth to one coffee shop, rather than going to the shop twice. Much better bang for your buck.

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Fehmeen @ Loans and Lifestyle November 6, 2013 at 8:03 AM

I like the idea of showing up early to meetings to cover your own tab. It becomes pretty awkward for the one who doesn’t pay the bill once both parties are faced with the bill. But as long as it’s coffee, I wouldn’t mind paying for the other person since it costs so little – the real problem is picking up one’s own tab at dinner parties. You can only decided to split the bill evenly if you are on casula terms with the other person…

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