When I was 21, I had the good fortune to attend the Social Venture Network conference, a membership group of hundreds of CEOs committed to building socially-oriented businesses that value social change alongside profits. The cost of SVN seemed extravagant at the time—$1,500 to become a member, and an additional $3,000 to fly to and attend the conference.
But the reality was, it put me in an room for three days with 300-plus CEOs and investors, contacts that I've remained close to now for almost 15 years. In the three years I attended SVN at the start of my career, I probably sold $300,000 worth of web development services through business contacts who also became friends.
Speaking of investment: in my effort to raise $3 million in venture capital for DailyWorth, about $600,000 of it originated with contacts I made at SVN more than a decade ago.
I've made most of my influential contacts at conferences. Yes, conferences are expensive, but when they put you in a room with decision makers, deals happen.