food for thought

Building Community to Build Your Business

Last month, we led a session on “Building Community to Build Your Business” at Natural Products Expo East, along with Bill Capsalis of Naturally Boulder.  We know all too well that these days, marketing often means spending hours at the computer creating social media campaigns and Google Ads, where your only contact is with your cat and AI bots.  While these are stellar marketing strategies, you can’t beat good old-fashioned networking and community building. 

First, what do we mean by “networking” and “community building”? -:

Networking  net·​work·​ing |  \ ˈnet-ˌwər-kiŋ   \

Definition of networking

1: the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions 

Specificallythe cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business

Community com·​mu·​ni·​ty | \ kə-ˈmyü-nə-tē   \

Definition of community

1: a unified body of individuals: such as

a: the people with common interests living in a particular area
b: a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society
c: a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society

There are many ways to build your network.  But as Bill Capsalis reminds us, it all comes down to this: Do what you love, look for your people, and you will find your place. He loves the way the Co-Founder and CEO of Once Upon a Farm, John Foraker explains it: “Build a network. Learn from your peers. Create a sense of family in your work.”


Camera Rio shot Cliff Grassmick

Partnership marketing

Partnership marketing is simply when you collaborate with another business, organization, or person because they have a relationship with your target audience (not to mention you love them and want to support them.) By partnering with someone else, you’re able to introduce your company to a whole new audience, and learn new ways of engaging with customers.

Get clear

You’re ready to incorporate partnership marketing into your overarching strategy, but you aren’t sure how to get started, and how to decide who you should approach about a partnership.

We feel you. The smorgasbord of partnership opportunities—nonprofit partnerships, B2B partnerships, product partnerships, government alliances (and more)—can be overwhelming. The most important thing to consider is that your partnerships complement your company’s mission and promise.

Start off by thinking through your goals for your partnerships. Great prompts include asking yourself: Why do you want to elevate your company’s impact work? Why do you want to engage new audiences? Why do you want to reignite your returning audience’s excitement for your work? The why’s you identify from these questions will provide you with your goals. Then, make the goals SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based—and you are clear on your objectives for your partnerships. 

Smart questions lead to smart answers

Once you understand your objectives for your partnership marketing, the next step is to ask yourself these questions:

  • Will this partner connect me with my customers? Partnerships with an organization that serves your ideal customer are the only partnerships you should pursue. You wouldn’t spend money on a Facebook Ad targeting 65-year-old women when your ideal customer is a 21-year-old male. The same rule applies here. 
  • What unique approaches does this partner bring to my marketing? The saying “more heads are better than one” rings true for strong partnerships. With the right partner, you can leverage each other’s strengths to develop new types of content, unique media opportunities, and memorable experiences for your customers.
  • What value does my business bring to the partner? The partnership needs to benefit your partner in some way. While their value-add doesn’t have to be the same benefit you are seeking, the most enduring and effective partnerships are ones where each partner fills gaps in the other’s work.
  • How has this partner executed previous partnerships with other businesses? Whether your partner is a nonprofit or a complementary business, ask them what partnerships they’ve pursued in the past, and what were the outcomes. Their response will give you insight into how they value their partners. The more ideas rooted in data in their response, the better.

When you join forces with an organization you admire and that aligns with your mission, your customers take notice. Partnership marketing is all about living your brand’s promise and seeking new ways to show it to your customers. Remember to be selective with who you approach and who you partner with. You only have one shot with potential customers. Make sure not to blow it by tarnishing your reputation with a misaligned partner.

Three women on outdoor couch with drinks.

In-person networking

Imagine yourself leaving a networking event with a handful of business cards feeling happy, inspired and excited. What can you do to maximize the chance of that happening?  

Before you walk in, set this goal: “How can I help the people in this room?” People love to be connected with, and to work with, people who are clearly excited about helping them, with no ulterior motive.

Networking is all about relationship-building. It’s about:

  • People enjoying other people, communicating passions and connecting with others who share those passions
  • Listening, figuring out what others need and connecting them with people you think can help, without any designs for personal gain

The most successful networkers build genuine relationships and give more than they receive. They go beyond thinking, “What’s in it for me?” to ask: “How can I help?”

Before you walk in, get clear on what talents, strengths, skill sets and connections you can bring to the table. Map out what you want to talk about, particularly how you may be able to help other people, either now or in the future.

This means:

  • Forgetting your personal agenda
  • Never dismissing anyone as unimportant
  • Introducing people to each other who might be a good fit for working together
  • Figuring out how you can be useful. Memorize these two key phrases: “If you need anything, please reach out to me or connect via LinkedIn,” and, if there’s truly no relationship to be built here, this one: “Well, it was great to meet you!” and move on.
  • Following up and following through – make a quick note on their business card or in your phone before you move on to the next person, then make sure to follow up with them 1-2 business days later.
Woman using laptop at kitchen counter with glass of milk in foreground.  Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

Online networking

Everything you need to know about online networking and marketing is in our “Ultimate Guide to LinkedIn Sales and Marketing That Will Grow Your Business”.

 Groups and Events 

There are dozens and dozens of online and in-person organizations and events in the food and natural products industry. Email Kuvy at [email protected] for a robust list that her team compiled. Here are just a few to whet your whistle! 

American Herbal Products Association
Cornucopia Institute
Food Tank
Gates Ag One
Good Food Foundation
Green Biz
Institute of Food Technologists (IFT)
J.E.D.I. Collaborative
National Organic Program
National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)
Natural Products Association
Naturally Network
New Hope Network

Norman E. Borlaug International Dialogue
All Things Organic Conference at Expo East
America’s Food and Beverage Show
BioFach America
Startup Weeks
Edible Institute


Pro Tip from Bill: hire people younger than you, so you don’t have to find new people when they retire!  Here are a few of the types of people you’ll need in your arsenal: 

  • Lawyers – you need them for help with business formulation, contracts, fund raising, FDA requirements and merger and acquisition
  • Design & Branding – competing in this industry requires strategic thinking around your brand and how it presents itself. Agencies can really help you!
  • Brokerage / Sales Consultants – we can’t all be good at everything – consider hiring pros to run your sales for you
  • Amazon experts – we love Riverboat and EcoD2C
  • Finance & Accounting – consider outsourcing this aspect of your business – you won’t regret it!  We love Enlightened Order Bookkeeping and Consulting
  • PR / Marketing – you are going to have to support your brand and you are going to need help with every aspect of this – hire pros like ROOT the good food agency (thanks Bill!!)

If you still have lingering questions about networking, and how building community can build your business, let’s connect! We love helping food and natural products brands grow their reach through relationship-building. Let’s see what good we can do together. 


food for thought

Woman looking at laptop with a glass of milk in the foreground

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