It’s safe to say that the vast majority of affiliate marketers can be categorized as small businesses. In fact, most are one-person operations; it doesn’t get much smaller than that in the world of commerce. As a wearer of many hats and as someone who is solely responsible for the fortunes of the one-person enterprise, the entrepreneur has to constantly weigh the various costs associated with running the business against their anticipated benefits. With all the emphasis usually placed on paying for domains, web hosting services, email marketing, PPC campaigns and their respective ROIs, affiliate marketers can easily overlook one very important cost: networking.
The true cost of networking needs to be considered not only in terms of the amount of money spent, but also in terms of the opportunity costs of not spending the money.
Professional networking can mean many things, making it difficult to categorize as a business expense. Some expenses that fall under networking are obvious and their perceived benefits are clear, such as attending affiliate related conferences like the Affiliate Summit. With many educational sessions available and scheduled times for networking such as the Meet Market, the opportunities for networking are practically endless at each gathering of the biannual event. But just because you choose not to attend Affiliate Summit or its European counterpart – Performance Marketing Insights – doesn’t mean you don’t have any networking expenses to consider. As a matter of being successful in business, the true cost of networking needs to be considered not only in terms of the amount of money spent, but also in terms of the opportunity costs of not spending the money.
This article offers a general overview of the benefits of networking. This list is not intended to be exhaustive in its analysis but to act a starting point in any deliberation involving spending money on networking. We know, however, that a systematic examination of your networking expenses will help you focus your activities and maximize your networking efforts.
Why Spend the Time and Money
Perhaps the reason why networking costs are not foremost in the minds of affiliate marketers lies in the fact that those costs and subsequent returns are hard to measure. Unlike an AdWords account, where the budget, clicks and conversions can be tracked, measured and analyzed, it isn’t always easy to determine the value of making the time to network and spending precious funds attending conferences. Who’s to say that attending your local Meetup group is going to ultimately enrich your business? Perhaps the better question to consider is: What are the consequences of not attending?
As an oft-repeated American axiom suggests, “If you never swing the bat, you’ll never hit the ball.” In addition to money, Networking successfully takes time and can really only be measured holistically. In general, achieving monetary success in affiliate marketing is going to be based on the relationships you initiate and cultivate over time as much as it will because of your SEO savvy or A/B testing analysis skills.
Top Three Benefits of Networking
Increased business opportunities through referrals
Some consider the best type of advertising to be word of mouth. The more you network, meet people and talk about your business, the greater the likelihood of connecting with someone who needs your services, or one who knows someone who does. This can be especially effective once people get to know you —not just what you do. Networking and building trust go hand in hand, especially when you can return the favor and help others get referrals too.
Opportunities for learning best practices
One of the greatest challenges small business owners face, especially a one-person shop, is a lack of opportunities to bounce ideas off others and get feedback. Building a strong, tight-knit network of peers affords the chance to discuss ideas and share knowledge. This alone can justify the time and costs put towards networking. Your business network can become your sounding board. This type of focused networking can help guide you through various pitfalls and open up new avenues of growth as it helps expand your knowledge through others’ experiences and perspectives.
Becoming a thought leader
In our “famous for being famous” culture, it can be hard to see the value in generating content or throwing your thoughts into the ring. Being a thought leader in your industry can be easily overlooked or dismissed. If you are someone with fresh ideas and interesting perspectives, there is great value in people knowing your name and seeking you out. Distinguishing yourself as a thought leader might require more effort on your part than simply attending social events. Think about the speakers at Affiliate Summit or top bloggers. They are highly sought after for their vast reservoirs of knowledge and expertise, and also because people tend to want to associate with people who are well known. You can use this self-perpetuating phenomenon to great advantage. Volunteering to speak at local and national meetings and contributing regularly to websites as a guest blogger can increase the value of your business.
Whether you identify networking costs as their own category or lump them into miscellaneous expenses, they are an integral part of your business and should be considered with as much care as any other cost. The true return of networking is rarely one-to-one. But taken in context, the value to you and your business far outpaces the costs.
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