The Power of Authentic Networking: 4 Lessons For The Introverted
Last week I was excited and a tad anxious during lunch with my friend and colleague Cheryl Benton. Cheryl is the founder of the online magazine The Three Tomatoes….talk about the power of strategic partnership! So, why the anxiety? It’s because our Wonder Woman Series was originally created in response to a specific moving story, and I hadn’t yet identified Cheryl’s specific superpower. Don’t get me wrong; she’s an inspiring businesswoman, a brilliant marketer, a responsible and reliable S.P., and is admirably close with her family. But how does all of this converge to spell out “wonder woman”? Well, I shouldn’t have worried. Once we put our heads together, it was a matter of minutes before we ran head-on into the answer: Cheryl is an introvert.
Meeting her, you’d never know that Cheryl is (admittedly) a tad shy. Networking events exhaust her as she struggles mightily with small talk. Nonetheless, she has been building her businesses since before Susan Cain’s groundbreaking book about introversion: Quiet. But Cheryl didn’t need to read a book to figure out what to do to leverage this ‘affliction’ that up to 35% of the population shares with her. She found her own way of networking (cue the Frank Sinatra song), and gracefully has positioned herself as the “Queen Tomato” of a digital lifestyles magazine for “women who aren’t kids.” How did she do it? Unbeknownst to her, she created and lived the four most important lessons of a career full of networking!
Lesson 1: Find an Organization That Inspires You and Become Actively Involved
When you decide to play a role in a group that interests you, you can automatically position yourself as a leader. For instance, when Cheryl got a position as director of advertising at a large tech firm, she knew it was important to meet other professionals in her industry. She needed to keep up on best practices, learned about trends, and developed relationships with these folks. So she took a logical step and joined a business marketing association! She became the president of her local chapter and went on to become the first woman Chair of the 70-year-old national association! She proceeded to remain involved with this professional association for 30 years.
Lesson 2: Align Networking With a Personal Passion
It might come as no surprise that, as a New Yorker, Cheryl is a foodie! A networking opportunity came up when she was invited to Felidia for a dinner where, serendipitously, Cheryl sat next to a man who’s voice she recognized from a radio talk show. As it turns out, he was Arthur Schwartz of The Food Maven. When Schwartz told Cheryl that he’d just started a blog post, she shared details of her (then) fledgling project The Three Tomatoes. It seemed like a win-win for Schwartz to contribute to her newsletter, as it would drive traffic to his blog. But the story gets juicier. When Cheryl later got a call from Schwartz, he was raving about how he had shared details of 3T with his friend Gael Greene (the Gael Greene, restaurant critic), and she is now a contributor to 3T as well! Cheryl admits that she’d likely never have connected with Schwartz had the networking event been in a conventional, unstructured setting. Her biggest lesson was to continue to leverage networking in more intimate settings to increase the likelihood of such chance conversations.
Lesson 3: Provide Value to Your Network
Early on, Cheryl discovered a need-turned-niche in relation to her network of great women friends, most of whom were over 40 and accomplished in their careers. They would exchange ideas and inquiries regarding lifestyle for NYC ladies in their demographic who were struggling to simply find a nice restaurant where they and their husbands could actually hear themselves speak, or a place to shop for grown-up clothing. This prompted Cheryl to start her own newsletter helping these women zero in on what they were looking for, and last year launched the “Three Tomatoes Hot List” broadcasting the insider favorites in boutiques, nail salons, wine shops and various other NYC product and service providers. The newsletter was initially sent to 60 people in her network, but it has since grown to 3 weekly editions (NY, LA, and San Francisco) with 15,000 subscribers, sending 30,000 visitors monthly to her website (You, too can sign up by linking HERE). DRIVEN even contributes blog posts and other articles to 3T as part of our mission to council professionals to position themselves as industry experts.
Lesson 4: Follow Your Intuition About ‘Give and Take’
Cheryl has the gift and the habit of keeping people at top of mind and making thoughtful (rather than promiscuous) introductions. She believes in organic networking, and plans to dial into her intuition when making decisions about her contacts. Her goal is to be more aware of those internal red flags with individuals instead of ignoring her gut instincts. This will clearly be a successful formula going forward, further proving that Cheryl’s introversion is by no means a roadblock to her career. If anything, it’s an asset.