The Non-Bossy Guide to Networking

If you’ve ever been looking for a job– and let’s face it, we’ve all been at one point or another looking for a job–inevitably you’ve gotten the advice, “It’s all about who you know!” Or perhaps you received a slightly different version: “Relationships, relationships, relationships!” Finally there’s “You just gotta network, baby!” All are equally irritating, of course, when you’re feeling a little bit lost and uncertain and probably less than confident in the strength of your all-important network. I, for one, remember feeling discouraged by that advice straight out of college, since as far as I could tell, I had no network to speak of whatsoever.


My understanding of what “networking” really is has changed quite a bit since then. The mystique is gone, and now it simply refers to the inevitable friendships and alliances that result simply from doing favors for–and asking favors from–the other humans we meet along our merry ways. And while journalism and the other types of work I’ve done certainly have helped me form some great relationships, I am struck by the ways in which starting a business is an especially collaborative act.


With a menu like that, what's not to like?

Consider this: When we first decided we wanted to sell ice pops at farmers’ markets, I of course had to contact my friend Aaron Reser at Mill City Farmers’ Market, which was already full for the year. But after giving me some great suggestions for farmers to buy produce from, she decided I might benefit from a chat with Erica Strait of Foxy Falafel, who is also selling at farmers’ markets–both her delicious falafel and her bike-blended smoothies (you gotta see it to believe it).
Erica shared a very useful brain dump about starting a business, and also happened to put us in touch with Meghan McAndrews of the excellent blog High Plains Thrifter, and vintage store Mighty Swell Vintage–we’ll be catering Mighty Swell Vintage’s July sale– and writing a guest blog post for High Plains Thrifter¬†next week. And thanks to Meghan, a well-networked gal herself, we’ll be meeting later this week with Annie D’Souza of Yelp Twin Cities about possibly doing an event with that fine organization this summer.


Meanwhile, we met Lori Karis of Sweet Cheeks baby food a couple of weeks ago– through her posting about a freezer for sale. Though the freezer wasn’t quite what we had in mind, we bought two heat sealers from her, as well as a couple food scales, bowls, measuring cups and–why not– an industrial size roll of aluminum foil. Lori, like so many other owners of small food businesses, was overflowing with great tips, and happy to help. Looking for a commercial kitchen? she asked. Try Thuro Bread in St.Paul. You already know how that story ends.


And so maybe there really is no punch line this winding tale, other than this: whether or not 10,000 Licks succeeds, I’m learning a ton about the way things work in this world, and the term “networking” has never felt less jargony, and more simply and wholesomely true. Networking, I’m beginning to think, is just another word for how when one person is still splashing in the water, struggling to get on the boat, everyone else, or most everyone else, seems instinctively willing to reach out a hand.


I like a world like that.