I was having a cup of coffee with a friend the other day and the conversation turned to my upcoming book on networking (somewhat shameless plug – Networking in the 21st Century: Why Your Network Sucks and What to Do About It). She asked me if it was possible to network on a budget because she found that all of the networking lunches and coffees and events can really add up. She works in alumni development for a large university; and she shared that a lot of young professionals right out of school feel that they can’t build a strong network because they don’t have the financial resources to keep up with it all.
I can understand their concern. If we don’t have the network that we want, it’s easy to think that money is required to build it. Even though investing in your network is one of the best investments you can make, it can be hard to invest when your money is already stretched thin. So how do you network on the cheap?
The most important thing to keep in mind is that networking is based on the relationships that you build. And spending time and attention isn’t directly related to how much money you spend.
Here are a few tips to build up your network without draining your funds:
- When you meet someone for a one-on-one conversation, meet over coffee or tea. And just coffee or tea! It’s an easy habit to go to Starbucks and get the double-cappuccino-mocha-latte-cinnamon-blast that can cost $6 or $7. That adds up fast. Stick with a boring old cup of joe and you’ll find your money lasts a lot longer. Remember, you’re there for a conversation, not dessert.
- If you are meeting someone before or after work, why not bring your own beverage? Meet at a park or plaza near your offices with a cup of tea you brought yourself. It depends a bit on the weather, but it can be a good chance to get some fresh air and mix up the environment.
- Meeting over food is a powerful form of connecting, but it can be expensive if you don’t have an expense account. An easier way is to suggest meeting with someone for “afternoon tea”. You don’t have to call it that, but meet at 2:00 or 3:00 and grab a muffin or scone with each other.
- What about networking events and industry mixers? They can be great ways to meet a lot of people at once; but they can be pricey when you go to a lot of them. If it’s a group that you want to get involved with, see if you can volunteer to help. Most event organizers are dying for another pair of hands, and they’ll usually let you in for free. Plus, you have the added benefit of getting an “in” with the movers and shakers!
- Look for the free opportunities. Sure, a lot of organizations run events with a “cover charge”, but you’d be surprised at how many free networking opportunities are out there. This is especially true if you open up your perspective on what a good networking event is. I think you can meet interesting people that can help your career from all different fields. Why can’t a computer programmer network at an art mixer? Don’t pigeonhole yourself.
These are just a few ideas that can get you started. Remember, the goal of networking isn’t to spend cash, but rather to create connections. Find ways to do that, and you’ll have a vibrant network in no time (and little money).
How do you network on the cheap?
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn. You can find it here.