It's about making a friend, not a sale

Katie Odom

8/20/20233 min read

A group of friends at a coffee shop
A group of friends at a coffee shop

Networking sucks.

It makes you feel icky. You're selling yourself to a stranger for profit, and that just feels... well... like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, and not in the good way.

At least, that was how I felt until this past week, when I figured out that I learned the most important principle of networking in kindergarten: make a friend, not a sale. Why would you stay connected to someone when you know they only reason they want a relationship is to extract value from it later? I've had someone hand me a business card and tell me I should go to their website and buy what their selling because that would really benefit me.

I literally thought, "That's bullsh*t, and I don't owe you anything." But I took their card anyway, said I would check it out, and I knew I was lying when I said it. I didn't feel bad about it, either. Because why should I have felt bad lying to someone who just tried to manipulate me into thinking I needed them, when I knew it was the other way around?

Here's what opened my eyes: making bingo cards was not the payoff I thought it would be. In my post, "How and why I made my website," I mentioned my idea to disseminate my bookmark business cards by attaching them to bingo cards. Alisa and I brainstormed the activities that would promote networking, exploring the convention space, and trying a variety of activities. We designed and printed 100 cards with 5 unique bingo games that contained sections for notes and plugs to our websites and social media. We thought, gamifying convention experiences and providing a folded card with a binder clip to store business cards were both valuable things we could offer con-goers. Therefore, people will want to visit our websites in exchange.

I don't think it works that way anymore. For one thing, when I collected the leftover cards I had laid out, 42 remained, meaning at most 58 were taken. I don't know how many people were there, so I can't calculate uptake, only estimate, but I know there were a lot more people than 58. I saw some new visitors to the site that week, but the biggest traffic came from the Tuesday prior, when I told members at the Women Who Write meeting that I had a website. I think the key is that they are my friends. The people who I could tell visited my site during the convention (because they mentioned it in passing conversation) were the people I'd befriended over the weekend and the prior year.

The best connections I made didn't come from trying to sell people on the idea of me or offering them something free they didn't ask for - they came from trying to make friends. How do you make friends? It's getting to know people not because you want something from them, but because they're a person you like and respect. Those people make you feel good, and you want to do the same for them. You'll recognize their agency by not trying to control them, and support them if you can, even if it's just by showing up.

By the way, I think the same goes for dating. I've also thought, "that's bullsh*t, and I don't owe you anything," when a romantically interested man insisted on a course against my wish or judgment. Tell your friends: Katie Odom Writes now gives dating advice! When you go on dates or network, treat the other person like a free-thinking being who knows their own mind rather than a resource to use to your advantage. What I wish someone had told me about networking is, it's about forming a community and looking out for each other. You've got to work at it, and you won't be able to find a fast, passive way to make lots of good networking connections.

You've got to care about people and show you're a good friend. Networking isn't about making a sale. Haven't you heard the saying, people help their friends first? First, you need to make a friend.

Tell me about your best a worst networking experiences in the comments! Am I on to something here?