Teresa Thomas, a connector of people since college, took stock of her Women In Networking (WIN) business three years ago.
She had just turned 50. After 20 years, despite appreciation of clients and friends, she was not energized.
And she was far from wealthy, although she said that mattered less.
“People saw me as a women-entrepreneurs connector,” Thomas said. “I wanted impact beyond that.”
In the best year, Thomas grossed about $100,000 running a 200-member dues-paying organization that staged three or four events monthly and managed several social media platforms. She always was on call.
“It was growing faster than me,” she recalled. “I decided to scale back.”
She was spinning her wheels amid fast-growing expenses and a never-ending list of things to do.
Thomas had grown a business for years while a single mom to teenagers.
During lean times, she would take side gigs, including working on the national census earlier this year.
Thomas slowed her pace in 2017 to consider and recalibrate her future. The business didn’t lack for competitors.
Thomas concluded she would go all-in on a digital approach, exclusively using LinkedIn, the employment-and-professional networking site.
No more membership dues. She would charge for seminars.
And out of that approach has grown personal opportunities, from Minneapolis to Arizona to Italy, to lecture and consult on finding purpose and passions. For which she gets paid directly.
“My role on this earth is to be the catalyst,” Thomas said.
“My purpose is to connect people to have more fulfilling, purposeful lives. You have to have a profit equal to the purpose or you just burn out. It starts with purpose.
“I remember when I was a student at the University of Minnesota in studio arts. I thought I was a loser who wasn’t super-talented in art. But I was good in creative connections.
“I started to think about art in terms of organizations and internships and volunteer opportunities.”
Her first position was placing students in off-campus internships and jobs at the U. She joined WIN after she presented once. The then-owner asked her to take over the organization 18 years ago.
Also during 2017, Thomas wrote a simple but meaningful book called “50 Fun Things.” It commemorated her 50th birthday and period of assessment.
The book is lighthearted, but poignant. It’s heavy on simple things you can do to benefit others, from a handwritten note to a positive testimonial to supporting local small businesses.
It also describes low-cost things people can do for themselves that benefit physical and mental health.
An overriding theme in Thomas’ career is that networking often starts out with kindness and generosity, without expectation of any quid pro quo. Yet this may lead to a business connection or opportunity.
By 2019, Thomas was convinced she was on the right path.
The digital-only business resulted in a growing number of online events, more paying attendees.
There was less stress over arrangements and paying the bills for venues such as St. Paul’s Downtowner Woodfire Grill or the Golden Valley Country Club. She loved the locations but not all the work.
“And sometimes connections can be easier, quicker and eventually deeper because you get it right faster online,” Thomas said. “There was a ton of networking going on. I just wanted to focus on connections.”
Out of “50 Fun Things” and online workshops grew seminar engagements, including a wine bar workshop.
Out of that workshop came a connection with Jane Reeves, who hosts “Radiant Jane Retreats” in Lanesboro, a beautiful town in southeastern Minnesota.
Reeves invited Thomas to present at her annual yoga retreat in Tuscany, Italy.
Not all engagements are so exotic. However, Thomas is getting traction and recognition. In 2019, she was the recipient of the 2019 Women in Business Champion award of the U.S. Small Business Association of Minnesota.
With the time gained from jettisoning networking receptions, Thomas has put everything together, including her time-tested networking book at www.teresa-thomas.com.
She’s been lauded by the local Better Business Bureau to human development professionals. Men and women.
Thomas was in Arizona last week, helping a friend’s father with a move.
She viewed it as economy-style chance for sun, exercise, reflection and online work.
She’s grateful, including for her online focus, just in time to survive COVID-19, killer of in-person networking.
“This now is my business,” Thomas said. “It’s going to work. It’s lighter, easier and more accessible. There are tons of networking and women’s groups. I just want to be a connector.”
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.