The amount of money spent on digital advertising will surpass television advertising in 2018, according to studies by Magna Global.

In just a couple of decades, digital marketing has zoomed past all the traditional forms —radio, print, TV — that dominated the 20th century. The lower initial cost and ability to hyper-target an audience using Facebook or Google Adwords and the potential to reach a global audience with such tools as YouTube.com means the amount of time and money spent digitally will just continue to grow.

Business experts say too many small-business owners rely too heavily on digital advertising and forget the most traditional marketing of all: face-to-face business networking.

Thinker Ventures is based in Rockford, Illinois, a city of about 150,000 that has a plethora of business-networking opportunities. We actually host one of them, 1 Million Cups. Every Wednesday, a couple dozen people come to Thinker for a free cup of coffee, about 15 minutes of networking, a presentation from a small-business owner and then a Q&A with the crowd.

There’s also Rockford Social Square, a monthly 5 p.m. dinner at the same restaurant; the InCrowd Networking Group, which moves from business to business each month; the Entrepreneur Club; and the EIGERlab Innovation Network. There’s a monthly group organized by mostly African-American business owners called Wabongo Wednesdays, and perhaps the oldest Rockford-area independent marketing group, the Salsa Business Network, was started and continues to be run by a group of Hispanic business owners. And there’s The Trusted Compass, a monthly luncheon for Christian business owners.

Some have a monthly cost. Some are free. Many use Meetup.com to organize monthly. More are turning to Facebook. One even targets people through LinkedIn.

This list doesn’t include the various Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours events or Breakfast Buzzes or Lunch & Learns. If you are organized and can carve out the time, there is at least one event a week to attend — and usually two or three.

With all the digital options available, you may be asking “why bother?”

Let us count the ways, courtesy of Amazingbusiness.com:

  1. Friendship. To take the time to get out and network, you are meeting like-minded professionals eager to make connections and learn from each other. Business can be a lonely venture. Networking helps you meet people going through the same trials.
  2. Satisfaction. The feeling of helping someone get over a hurdle is one of the most powerful. Networking allows you to learn from others and to help those who aren’t as far along the path.
  3. Confidence. The more you talk about yourself and your business, the more you figure out what catches people’s attention and what doesn’t matter. You perfect your pitch, which means you’re better prepared when the big opportunity comes.
  4. Influence. The more people you meet and the larger your network grows, the more you are seen as an important person to connect with. As long as you deliver when asked, networking helps you increase your influence.
  5. Profile. The more often you are out and seen at business events, the more it increases your reputation as knowledgeable, supportive and reliable. You want to be the person who pops into someone’s head when they are faced with a problem you can solve.
  6. Advice. We all run into problems we haven’t faced before, whether as an employee or as a business owner. You can Google what to do or you can talk to others who have been through it.
  7. Connections. Every business needs a team of some kind and it’s to find people to trust through face-to-face interaction. Even finding someone through a Google search usually is followed up by a meeting. Networking also can open doors. You often meet someone who has an “in” somewhere and can get you through a door.
  8. Opportunities. Joint ventures, client leads, partnerships, speaking and writing opportunities … all these can grow out of casual conversations. My role here at Thinker came through a business networking event. It was cold. I was tired. I didn’t really want to get out of the car. I was already there, so I went inside and met someone from Thinker who said they were in the market for a “word guy,” and here I am.
  9. Referrals and leads. The potential to generate leads digitally or through TV and print advertising always will be higher than through networking. Referrals, though, will always be higher quality.

Depending on the location and event, you can get lost in the social atmosphere and forget the actual reason you are there, and that’s to build your business. Entrepreneur has a useful list to help you make the most of your time:

  1. Don’t be late. When you are one of the first people there, you can start conversations before people have settled into groups.
  2. Ask easy questions. Don’t wait for an invitation to talk. Go up to someone and ask “what brings you to this event?”
  3. Skip the sales pitch. You’re there to meet new people and make connections. Ditch the hard sell.
  4. Share your passion. If the conversation gets around to what you do, be enthusiastic, then follow by asking what they do.
  5. Smile. Even if you’re dreading the event, smile. You’ll come across as inviting and more people will want to talk to you.
  6. Don’t hijack conversations. Wait your turn and show interest in what others have to say.
  7. Follow up. The biggest mistake is not keeping the conversation going when you meet someone new and interesting. Whether it be a call or email, make sure to contact them within 48 hours.

If there are any tips you’d like to share or, for our Rockford readers, any networking groups I missed, email me at alex@thinkerventures.com.