Breanna Suden is President & Founder of Suden PR
Can you share a little about what makes you an authority on building a great network?
Have you ever heard the saying, “it’s not always about what you know, but about who you know?” This has been the crux of my success and words I have always lived by when working to build my career. Back in college, to build up my resume, I made sure to join networking groups, amp up my LinkedIn profile and attend relevant events and seminars where I was able to meet and converse with industry experts. This, along with my skillset and knowledge of the public relations industry, landed me my first big agency job at Weber Shandwick, where I got to work day-to-day on multimillion dollar accounts.
Since then, I’ve worked at a handful of top global public relations agencies where I’ve had the opportunity to build strong relationships with colleagues and learn from industry bigwigs. I’ve kept these relationships for years, and in 2020, when I decided to open my own agency, Suden PR, my network came through in a big way. Colleagues connected me with potential clients, past clients reached out for assistance, and I was contacted by many in my network to share insights on starting my own business. I never underestimate the importance of networking.
How important is networking for professional success, and why?
Networking has always been a huge part of my professional success. If done correctly, it can help you obtain leads, referrals, advice, information, and support and can make it easier for you to find a job. Networking can also:
Open doors to new opportunities. Networking allows you to tap into hidden opportunities that may not be advertised publicly such as connecting with a diverse range of individuals. This provides an increase in the chance to discover job openings, career advancements, collaborations, partnerships, and business prospects.
Provide a platform to exchange knowledge, insights, and information. By engaging with professionals from various backgrounds and industries, you are exposed to different perspectives, experiences, and expertise.
Be vital for career growth. Building relationships with professionals in your industry can lead to mentorship opportunities and valuable career advice. Your network can provide referrals, recommend you for job openings, or inform you about upcoming opportunities.
What's your usual ice-breaker question when meeting someone for the first time?
To be honest, I find ice breakers to be a bit silly. Sometimes the questions are so outrageous I can’t easily come up with a response. So, I usually just ask for your name and what you do and go from there.
How do you approach networking differently when you're meeting someone in person versus virtually?
With the ever-changing technology landscape and number of social media sites popping up every day, people have started to make the switch from in-person networking to virtual networking.
I think the main difference in how you approach networking virtually vs. in person is how you start a conversation. When you’re virtual, you can’t just walk up to a person and introduce yourself like you can when you are at a physical event together. Instead, you need to leverage your networking sites (think LinkedIn, social media, etc.) to get them to notice you. You can do this by commenting on a post they’ve shared, providing insights in a networking group you both belong to, or sending them a connection request introducing yourself.
What are some common mistakes people make when trying to build their professional network, and how can they avoid them?
Being Transactional: Never approach networking solely with a transactional mindset, focusing only on what you can gain from others. Instead, shift your perspective to building genuine relationships; show interest in others, listen actively, and look for ways to provide value and support to your network. I typically do this by commenting on posts in networking groups, responding to insights from colleagues, and sharing my skillset and knowledge with those who may be interested.
Lack of Reciprocity: Like point #1, networking is a two-way street. Try to avoid asking only for favors or assistance without offering help or expertise in return. Be proactive in providing support, sharing relevant resources, or making introductions. This will help foster a strong relationship you both will benefit from.
Not Leveraging Existing Relationships: Often, people overlook the potential of their existing network which can be a huge mistake. Your current contacts, colleagues, or friends are usually valuable connectors and are typically the first place I start. Don't hesitate to tap into their network or seek introductions to individuals who may be beneficial to your professional goals.
Ignoring In-Person Events: While online networking has become more prevalent, especially in a post-covid world, don’t neglect in-person events. When you can, attend conferences, industry events, or local meetups to meet professionals face-to-face. It’s a completely different experience meeting someone in-person vs. virtually, and it can allow you to establish stronger connections and create memorable experiences.
Have you noticed any differences in the types of relationships you build through in-person versus virtual networking? If so, can you describe those differences?
Meeting someone in person versus meeting someone online is a completely different experience. The main differences I have noticed are surrounding depth of connection, geographical reach, ease and accessibility, and networking reach and scale.
Depth of Connection: I’ve found that in-person networking can allow for more organic and personal interactions as being physically present with someone allows for non-verbal cues, body language, and the overall atmosphere of the interaction. This can contribute to a deeper sense of connection and rapport whereas virtual networking can sometimes feel more transactional when speaking to someone through a screen.
Geographic Reach: Virtual networking has a huge advantage of allowing you to connect with professionals from around the world without traveling, broadening the pool of potential connections. This can also enable access to diverse perspectives, cultures, and industries that may not be readily available in your local area through in-person networking or without traveling.
Ease and Accessibility: Tying into geographic reach, virtual networking offers more convenience and accessibility than in-person networking as it allows you to easily connect with professionals from the comfort of your own home or office, saving time and resources associated with traveling to events or meetings. Virtual platforms also provide unique features including chat functions, virtual breakout rooms, and discussion forums, which can facilitate engagement and networking with a larger number of people simultaneously.
What are some strategies you've found effective for building rapport and establishing trust with someone you've only just met?
When meeting someone for the first time, I usually try and establish some common ground. Whether it’s a shared interest, experience, or goal, I try and find something we can both connect with and discuss. This helps immensely with building rapport and feeling comfortable around someone new. I’ve found that highlighting these commonalities early in the conversation helps establish a bond.
I also make sure to be super authentic and transparent. For those who know me, I don’t typically present a false image of myself, I appreciate honesty. So, when meeting someone new, I try to be as authentic as possible. I can do this by sharing certain experiences or discussing insights in a transparent manner, which, ideally, will a more genuine connection and will encourage reciprocation.
How can someone use social media and online networking to expand their professional network?
If used correctly, social media and online networking can be some of your most powerful tools. First and foremost, I always recommend joining relevant groups and communities related to your industry, interests, or professional goals. This will allow you to meet likeminded individuals where you can engage in discussions, share insights, and contribute valuable content. It’s important to try and actively participate to build visibility and establish yourself as a knowledgeable professional that others may want to converse with.
It's also important to optimize your online presence. Ensure that your professional profiles on platforms like LinkedIn accurately represent your skills, experience, and interests. Write a compelling bio, highlight your key achievements, and make sure your profiles are discoverable by using relevant keywords and hashtags. This will make it easier for potential connections to find and learn more about who you are as a professional.
What advice would you give to someone who is new to networking and trying to make connections in their industry?
Be curious, open, and have fun with it. Meeting new people can be stressful, so by approaching networking with a genuine curiosity and a desire to learn, you’ll find yourself to be more open to meeting new people, exploring different perspectives, and understanding various aspects of your industry. Embrace the opportunity to expand your knowledge and build relationships.
Define Your Networking Goals: First and foremost, clarify your networking objectives by identifying what you hope to achieve through networking. Is it to cultivate new relationships? Offer assistance and insight? To learn more about a certain industry? Having these clear goals will guide your networking efforts and help you focus your energy effectively.
Offer Value and Support: Building a great network involves giving as much as you receive. Look for opportunities to provide value and support to your connections. By being helpful and adding value to others, you strengthen your relationships and position yourself as a valuable and trusted resource.
Follow Up and Follow Through: After networking events or initial interactions, make sure to follow up promptly. Send personalized messages or emails to express your appreciation for the connection and discuss potential collaboration or next steps. Demonstrate reliability by following through on any commitments or promises made during your conversations. This will be key in strengthening and maintaining your new relationships.