Professional Networking On A Budget

Networking Event Photo

Photo from ArtJonak, used with Creative Commons License

I did it! I got out of the house and went to a networking event! And I survived!

Well, a little background first…

I’m technically an introvert: in order to get my energy level up, I need to be by myself for a while, cranking away at work stuff at my Chicago-area communications agency, Area 224. This is introversion to me – it’s not shyness, it’s not that I’m uncomfortable around people. It’s just that I need to work like this.

So, when I make the decision to hit a networking event, I make a different sort of calculation. Where will I be, who will I be with, do I have enough “me time” first. AND, after I make those calculations…well, I DO need to figure out whether it’s worth my while from a budget perspective.

Introvert? Extrovert? In-between? You still don’t want to spend a ton – so here are some tips to keep your networking professional and keep your budget in tact.

  1. Meet for coffee to build the relationship
  2. LinkedIn is great for building a professional network – a free basic membership is just about all you need – but sometimes you need to dig a little deeper and find out what you can do to help the other person. Coffee works great for this: doesn’t have to be a Starbucks and maybe your independent coffee shop works just as well for your budget. (Shop local, all that stuff.)

    Tip: Ask someone in your network to meet for coffee to see how you can help further their network. If it’s about them, and not you, there’s tons that can come out of it for you. Karma.

  3. Check the attendee list for bigger events
  4. This happened to me a couple times recently: I was figuring out whether or not an event was going to be worth my while, so I peeked at who was coming. (Eventbrite is great for this.)

    If the list includes people you know, or people you want to meet, your handshake and business card value exchange quotient (I made that stat up) could potentially be off the charts.

  5. If there’s alcohol – know your limit
  6. This is an important one. For me, I know that “free” beer tastes awfully good. I also know that more than one free beer and I’m going to wake up with an infamous “two beer headache.”

    But you also don’t want to be “that guy” (or gal). And be sure to take a look at the appetizers or food and get your money’s worth there, too.

  7. Early Bird Gets The…
  8. Book! (Or other freebie.)

    Well, it’s not a freebie if you have to pay for it, but here’s the calculus from my Monday night networking event, Social Media Club Chicago.

    Early Bird Ticket: $10
    Transportation to/from: $8.50 train ticket
    Copy of Optimize Book by Lee Odden
    Three Slices of Domino’s Pizza
    One Beer

    This doesn’t even begin to measure the number of handshakes, business card exchanges, hugs from old friends, and the like…

  9. Volunteer!
  10. This is one of the hidden gems of networking. Pretty much every group, club, organization or association needs help. And if you volunteer to hand out drink tickets, watch coats, or clean up – not only can you get in free, you can meet tons of people.

Are these foolproof methods to network on a budget? Well, maybe not foolproof – you’re going to have some free events that aren’t worth the cost of admission. But, still, you’ve got a really good chance of turning your next networking event into future opportunities – and not breaking the bank in the process – if you follow these tips.

Any networking tips you want to share?

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About Dave Van de Walle

Co-Founder of New Frugality, Dave's day job is as lead consultant at Area 224, a Chicago-area strategic communications firm. He has been an entrepreneur since 2006, when he founded an education technology startup, and has been living somewhat frugally ever since.

BobReed 1 Like

From a fellow introvert, thanks for posting, Dave.  To make networking more directly applicable to your company's mission, don't ignore the vertical organizations that your company serves.  We all gravitate to the marketing and pr groups, but matching your client list (or dream client list) with industry association can help get you in front of the folks or referral sources that can land your next paying gig.

davevandewalle 1 Like

 @BobReed YES, Bob, a thousand times over...great advice. And the professional networking doesn't have to be limited to finding the next job or the next client. Maybe there's a skill that you want to hone - and meeting people who work in that industry can get you the right connections to get better...


 @davevandewalle Just got off the phone with my partner to divvy up our next batch of events.  Face-to-face and referrals win the new biz race.