The number one reason many people attend a tradeshow or conference is for the opportunity to network with other professionals in their industry. This is true for the simple reason that people love to get together and discuss the latest developments, either learning something that they can put to use or sharing information with someone else.
Of course going to these events can cost a considerable amount of money, especially if a company is sending a number of people. But, the Internet has provided all of us with a creative (and virtually free) way to get around the cost of networking-forums.
Forums, which are usually devoted to a specific topic (for instance, powder coating), are places where people can network on the Internet. Forum users can discuss anything related to the forum's topic. In a powder coating forum, users could ask a question about the best powder for use in an outdoor environment or talk about industry trends and new products being developed. Just like networking at industry tradeshows and conferences, forums put you in touch with people from the industry, allowing you to gain valuable insights that you would have not discovered on your own.
I am big fan of the Grateful Dead. In college I began collecting bootleg CDs of the band's live performances. However, there were only four people I knew in school that also collected these CDs. In a short time, all of us had the same CDs and could no longer trade with each other. Then I found several forums that centered around the trading of Grateful Dead CDs. These forums put me into contact with people I would never have met otherwise. And, the other forum users taught me a lot about what shows to trade for and general trading protocol. While I never met any of the users face to face, I got to know them quite well.
While the example is not business related, it gets my point across. Forums put you in contact with people that you might not otherwise meet. These people can expand the knowledge base you work from. Instead of dealing with just your traditional business contacts, you can interact with hundreds or thousands of people that have similar interests.
So, finishers and suppliers check out the forums at www.pfonline.com. Answer a question or ask one of your own. Make it a requirement that your technical people and sales people check out the forums and answer questions. Be of service to the industry. You might even generate new business.