Following your passions and ultimately becoming a better you often means gaining access to new industries and professionals. Networking plays an essential role in embarking on a new career path or branching out on one's own, but coffee and dinner dates quickly add up for those with lean wallets and even tighter budgets. Yet with a little creativity and open mindedness, all hope is not lost when networking on a budget. In fact, suggesting out-of-the-box meeting locations and attending free local events demonstrates resourcefulness and a willingness to experiment. Whether contemplating a new opportunity, looking to enhance your current career path, or simply trying to make new friends, consider these low cost, yet effective networking ideas.
1. Great Minds Think Alike
"Neighbors getting together to learn something do something share something" is the main goal of Meetup.com, an online platform that allows users to create groups around common interests and organize local gatherings. From Young Lesbian Professionals to Alpine Hiking & Climbing, this enterprising website provides users with countless opportunities to meet individuals from a diverse array of industries and personal interests. One can find virtually any professional group, but if a specific area of interest is not covered, users can create their very own Meetup.
These get-togethers can also soften the uncomfortable blow of jumping from one career to another. A user switching from healthcare to finance, for instance, might decide to join a Finance Meetup to learn from and network with guest speakers and other finance professionals, or even create a Meetup specifically for finance professionals passionate about the health care sector. Make sure to closely read the details of each Meetup event, which range from free to cheap to costly, depending on the organization and type of event.
2. Step Up Your Social Media Game
Facebook and Twitter are not called social networks for nothing. These platforms can and should be used for not only keeping in touch with friends, family, and news (and celebrities, if that's how you roll,) but also following and reaching out to influential figures, companies, and publications. Making a name for one's self has never been a simple task, however joining and sparking discussions in which those individuals you are interested in connecting with are involved has been made possible by Twitter.
A well-maintained account, thoughtful contributions, and consistency will establish your reputation in whatever circle you hope to enter. Keep in mind that, similar to life offline, the barrier of entry for communicating with up-and-comers will be much lower than with prominent bigwigs who have an overwhelming amount of followers. As for Facebook, take advantage of the "mutual friends" button to scope out exactly who is a friend of whom in your current circle. And it should go without saying, but always send a professional message introducing yourself and why you would like to connect with the mutual friend before sending a friend request.
3. Share Your Business
"Do you have a card?" One's response to this should always be an unequivocal "Yes." In addition to displaying your qualifications and providing a physical reminder for those whom you have just met, a great business card can make a great professional impression. Thanks to companies like Vistaprint, Staples, and Moo, you can now purchase hundreds of business cards for as low as $20.
Prices will vary depending on quantity and quality, but the age old adage of simplicity being the key to success will work in favor of those on a shoestring budget. Once you have decided on a manufacturer and style, make sure that the information on your card is legible and that any imagery, logo or graphic truly represents your brand.
4. You've Gotta Give to Get
Paying it forward will always come back to benefit you, so why not volunteer your services at the next gala, awards show, or conference to get your foot in the door? Generosity and initiative will go a long way when developing relationships within a new circle. Volunteer opportunities can be found at Idealist.org and even Craigslist.
Just remember that your presence ought to be remembered not only by your eagerness to help, but by your leadership and self-starter capabilities. That means forgoing the less social duties like restocking bathroom supplies or going for ice runs, if possible. Whether greeting guests at the door, manning the coat check, or serving as MC, people will be more likely to place your face with your name if you are literally in their face. Just do not forget your business card.
5. Let's Make A Deal
If all goes well, your hard work will soon pay off with some genuine one-on-one time with a potential employer or influential professional. And in most cases, a coffee, lunch, dinner date might not be avoidable, and common courtesy suggests that the one seeking the help pays for the meal. Being the smart budget networker that you are, check out deal-of-the-day websites like Groupon and Living Social for discounts on restaurants, coffee shops, bars and more.
These websites match users with activities, events and restaurants in their local area based on their specific interests. Discounts like 2-for-1 dining and 75 percent off rooftop drinks can usually lead to great, casual conversations, career insight, valuable advice and possibly future opportunities. To avoid any awkwardness afterwards, discretely give your server the coupon before your guest arrives.