Building an impactful professional network can be surprisingly costly, but here's how to do it without breaking the bank.
An FKD Feature exclusive

Sure, everyone hears about the importance of networking, but for some of us, it’s not only a hassle, it straight up isn’t in the budget right now.

Well, let me just leave this statistic about having a strong network right here.

An open network has been shown to account for almost half of your overall career success. Basically, if you’re the person who has ties to a lot of different groups of people who don’t already know each other? You’re on the fast track, my friend.

Personally, that seems like something I want to fit into my budget, but building that kind of network definitely takes some money. Never fear: even on an entry-level salary, there are ways you can swing building a network, paying rent and eating something other than ramen noodles, all at the same time.

Here’s how.

Take the free money (err… tickets)

There are some free networking events in almost every industry if you know where to look for them. To find ones specific to your career and location, pop “my career + my city” into the search bars on Eventbrite and Meetup.com. You can check out the events that look the most relevant, and you should be able to find at least one or two that are free.

Whether the event is free, or at least cheap enough to fit within your budget, another way to save is to make sure you don’t accidentally go overboard buying drinks or food as you network. Snack before you go, and commit to sipping water during the event. A pint might make you feel more comfortable talking to people you don’t know, but it can easily run you the same price as your ticket to the event (and way more if the ticket was free!).

P.S. Your workplace might have a budget to cover tickets to industry-related events for their staff. You’ll never know if you don’t ask!

Set up one-on-ones

If you don’t have the money to buy tickets to networking events, or crowds are just not your jam, never fear. If you’re willing to put in a bit more legwork, you can connect directly with people you want to meet in a one-on-one setting.

"To make this work, start by making a list of people you admire in your industry, both at your level and more advanced in their career."

To make this work, start by making a list of people you admire in your industry, both at your level and more advanced in their career. From there, figure out what contact details you can find for them. Maybe their email is public knowledge, or they’re always on Twitter. Reach out to them and ask if they would be up for connecting with you, online or off!

For bonus points, find out if you have friends or work connections in common (LinkedIn is great for this). If you can have a connection make the introduction, you’re already two steps ahead of the game, and much more likely to get a “yes” to your coffee date invitation! Once you do score a meeting, all it’ll cost you for the valuable one-on-one face time is a few dollars for two cups of coffee.

And if you get a “No,” don’t panic. There are so many reasons people can’t squeeze something else into their day, and if they offer an alternative, like corresponding via email, always graciously take them up on it. Their “No” about a coffee meeting isn’t about you, and they can still be an awesome part of your network even if you never meet face to face.

Leverage technology

You know what’s even cheaper than meeting someone for coffee? Meeting someone for a Skype date in the comfort of your own home. Not only are you saving money, you actually might be positioning yourself better to get a “Yes” from the people you want to meet!

Especially if you’re aiming to network with people who are a few years ahead of you when it comes to the career thing, they’re likely very busy. By offering – or accepting – the option of a virtual face-to-face, you’re saving them travel time, which is pretty much the best thing you can offer a busy person.

Time is money, after all.

Use social media (or a website)

If you’re already going to spend time on social media, why not make it double duty and be where you do your professional network building, too? I mean, it is free, after all.

There are some platforms that will be a better fit than others based on your industry. Your first step will be to figure out where the industry heavy-hitters are, which should be easier if you’ve got a list of people you’d like to meet already. Once you’ve identified a platform, like Twitter or LinkedIn, start following the people you want to meet, and interacting with their posts. They’ll start to recognize your name, which is a very good thing.

Alternatively, if you’re up for it, a website can be the perfect way to build connections in your industry – and you’d be surprised at how many industries this applies to, because everyone’s online these days. Whether you start a blog about insurance or a blog about the latest fashion trends, you can use your new site as an excuse to reach out to industry insiders. Maybe you ask if you can interview them for a post on your new website, or you ask for their feedback on your ideas.

Either way, you’re now on their radar as an up-and-comer who’s making waves in the industry, and that’s never a bad reputation to have.

 

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Posted 11.07.2016 - 03:05 pm EDT