In tough times, there is always more pressure on business budgets and businesses begin to strip non-essential expenditure out of the mix. The budget for marketing is an area that often comes under intense scrutiny and there is a temptation to reduce expenditure that seems to have no clear hard benefits attached. There is an article to be written about the importance of marketing out of tough times – this is not it. This is about a small part of marketing – the budget, both of time and money, for business networking.

It is notoriously difficult to quantify what hard benefit comes from networking. Done properly, networking is about casting bread on the water in order for some of it to be returned. It is not a sales activity and the return will come not from the people you speak to but often from those they speak to. Some networks count referrals and attempt to value them and that is something we all could do, however, how do you identify work that comes via a contact of a contact (of a contact of a contact …) who first met you networking?

There also remains the problem of how you value the intangibles of networking. They include such things as education, confidence, business intelligence and camaraderie. All of them are areas where the business could lose an edge if they are not satisfied in some way – especially where the business is a small one and dependent on others to find paid work.

However much you need to focus internally and on sales, you will still need to be seen by others in business. Would you refer business to someone you hadn’t seen recently. You might ask yourself ‘are they still referrable?’ or, worse, ‘are they still in business?’

There is a myth that battening down the hatches and riding out the storm is a viable strategy in the current climate. In my opinion, you may ride out the storm but the damage to your reputation and presence may be done and if anyone bothers to open the hatches, they will find a dead company there.

Those are some of the reasons why you’ll find me out there networking, connecting, advocating, referring, learning and doing my best to keep business flowing and confidence growing. You must decide your own approach to the current circumstances of business. But in my view, networking should be one of the activities that you increase rather than decrease over the coming months.

Andy Coote is a professional writer and publisher and co-author of A Friend in Every City, a book about Social Networking and Business.