Networking: There’s No Such Thing As a Free Lunch

Many small businesses function on a limited budget when it comes to small business marketing and advertising.  One tool they use when first starting out, therefore, is networking because it has a low cost, or so they think.

And often, because it can work, they do stop trying other methods of getting business.  This can be a costly mistake for a business that wants to grow revenue consistently and over a large geographic area.

Now, I am a big fan of networking and think it needs to be a part of every small business owner’s toolkit, so don’t take this in the wrong way.  I get a good amount of business through networking and I could do nothing but that if I wanted to make a comfortable living as a small business marketing consultant.

But, I am a business owner.  And meeting people and networking is just part of my role.  There are the clients that need to be taken care of, bills that need to be paid, new programs that can help my clients that need to be developed, and countless other items that take time.  How am I going to grow my business without sacrificing my life, my health, and the energy needed to offer first-class help to my clients if I am always networking?

What do I mean?  Well, many networking events take about 1 to 1.5 hrs.  But that is just part of it.  You usually have to get there and back, and let’s just assume that is 30 mins each way.  Add another 30 mins for stopping what you are doing and then restarting up again, you can figure that each event you attend is about two to two-and-a-half hours.

Many business owners I know go to at least two networking events a week. So, that’s about four to five hours a week.  Using a 40-hr work week, that would be 10% of their time networking.   Assuming a $50 an hour rate, that would be an investment of $200 to $250 a week.  So, in four weeks, the networking is about an $800 a month advertising investment.  Add in the cost of membership to that can add another $25 to $50 a month to that, easily.

If a small business owner, therefore, is looking at the networking opportunity as a way to generate new business for his or her business, then he or she has to evaluate whether the revenue generated exceeds the investment.  For many businesses, mine included, the answer is yes.

But if the answer is no, then you need to spend less time networking and more time focusing on other ways to get the right kind of customers or clients your business needs to grow.  And if you doubt you can do it, think about a company called Amazon.  I have never met anyone who works for Amazon.  Yet, they are a billion dollar company.  (I know they do “networking” behind the scenes, but it isn’t how they have built a huge customer base).

The bottom line is don’t rely too much on one way to get clients and always measure what you are doing to see if it is working for your business model.  If it isn’t, try something else sooner rather than later.