Networking can be an important catalyst for your career. But it can be expensive. Here are some tips on how to network without going broke.
Have you ever heard the phrase ‘your network is your net worth’? It’s true, perhaps more so today than ever before. The job landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade, with more jobs becoming automated, and with the expansion of the gig economy and STEM jobs. Who you know and meet within a professional context can have a direct impact on your career.
Your network might just end up shaping your opportunities whether you work a 9-5 or own your own business. But between event ticket prices, happy hour drinks or coffee meetings, professional clothes and transportation costs, networking can carry a high price tag. It also comes with an energy cost: meeting people and constantly being “on” can drain your energy. How can you meet everyone you want to without going broke, financially and mentally?
Stay Financially Strong When Networking
Have a plan
It’s easy to feel you have to be at every cocktail hour, expert panel, or speaker event. Especially when you see that everyone else is at events on their social media feeds. However, it’s much smarter to be strategic with your event schedule.
Rather than signing yourself up for every event that’s happening in town, parse it down. What are the industries you’re trying to make headway in? Who are you trying to meet? Having a clear vision of why you’re networking will eliminate events that will just waste your time and money.
Many events, especially larger scale events like conferences, need volunteers to make sure everything runs smoothly. Oftentimes, they’ll trade a ticket to the event in exchange for a portion of your time volunteering. At SXSW for example, a huge festival that draws people from around the globe in areas from film to comedy to tech startups, volunteers receive a festival badge pass in exchange for anywhere from 24-64 volunteer hours. (The festival is two weeks long.)
If there’s a group that hosts events you’d like to take part in, see if you can trade volunteering hours for a free ticket, or for free entry to a future event they host.
Reframe what a meeting is
If you know someone even a little and your budget can’t take one more coffee meeting, switch up how you get together with them. Rather than have your second meeting be for coffee, a meal or a cocktail, suggest a free activity instead.
You can invite someone to go for a walk, or if they’d like to met you in a nearby park for some sunshine instead of sitting indoors. Build your relationships with a little creativity.
Take it online
It’s the digital age, and it’s time to use that to your advantage. Being active in online forums like Facebook groups is a great way to build relationships. Be hyper active in the social networks that your target demographic is in, and in areas relevant to your business.
The single best way to get attention online is to be a resource for people who ask for help. So when you pop into Facebook comments or Twitter threads, offer solutions, help, and productive thoughts. Give genuinely, and people will connect with you in a meaningful way.
Become a member
Become a member of professional organizations in your industry. While memberships carry price tags themselves, you’ll usually save money in the long run with free tickets to all the the events they throw year round, as well as any online groups or forums that they run. The cost of an annual membership can be well worth it if it connects you to people across multiple platforms for an entire year.
Stay Mentally Strong
Networking can drain our energy, too. Conferences in particular can be a sprint of socializing that leaves people feeling drained for days afterwards. If you’re exhausted or burnt out when you’re meeting people, you could leave a bad impression or not retain any of the things you talked about.
To protect your energy levels, try these three things:
- Don’t go to more than three events a week. Keeping time for yourself, or for family and friends, will help you recharge.
- Try to limit events to weekdays, and keep your weekends as the days that you get to have fun and forget about business.
- Set limits. If someone asks for a meeting on a day that you already have three meetings, suggest another day when you’ll be less busy and can be more present.
Networking doesn’t have to leave you broke and exhausted. Work smart and not just hard, and you’ll be happy at the money you retain and the connections you make.
Kara Perez is a freelance personal finance writer living in Austin, Texas. She is passionate about helping people become financially literate and telling people’s money stories.
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While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.