Master Collaborator Eric Dexter Offers Tips for Networking and Building Meaningful Professional Connections
Eric Dexter’s career is a clear illustration of the power of building authentic relationships, both in business and in the community.
A native of Alexandria, Louisiana, Dexter joined Civil Solutions Consulting Group in 2015. The Baton Rouge-based civil engineering consulting firm assists governmental agencies, developers and architecture firms with the planning, design and management of transportation infrastructure, residential and commercial development, and disaster recovery projects and programs.
Dexter, who leads the firm’s marketing and business development initiatives while managing new and existing client accounts, has been instrumental in driving its growth and culture. He’s also active in the community, volunteering and serving on the boards of numerous nonprofit organizations.
He shared some tips on his approach to networking and collaborating with clients and partners at a recent Tech Park Academy event at the Louisiana Technology Park. Here’s what he shared.
Establish Your Personal Brand
Networking and cultivating meaningful business relationships begins with developing a strong personal brand, he says. When approaching personal-brand building, Dexter says, it’s useful to think about three key areas: visibility, credibility and profitability.
Visibility refers to the power of simply showing up, whether it’s to a business event, networking gathering or some other function that offers opportunities for building relationships. “If people don’t know who you are and what it is you do, it will be hard to build personal and valuable connections,” he says. “Show up — nothing can replace your presence.”
Credibility, he says, refers to evaluating the people with which you spend your time and deciding whether those relationships are adding value to your life and career. If they’re holding you back, some adjustments may be necessary, he says. “You’re judged by the company you keep,” he says.
The last concept refers to measuring the return on the time you’re putting into networking, whether it’s a seminar, luncheon or some other relationship-building or business-development event. Dexter says this starts with understanding the value you want to get out of the investment of your time and resources — whether that’s new business or some non-monetary value — and then measuring that over both the short and long term.
Write Your Own Story
Perception is key when building connections and relationships, Dexter says, and you have a chance to affect what people’s perception of you is via social media based on the type of personal information you share. “Whether it’s LinkedIn, whether it’s Facebook, whether it’s Instagram, it’s creating a picture of who I want you to think I am,” he says.
Still, he warns against holding back too much information or trying to cultivate an overly perfect online persona. He says it can be beneficial to talk occasionally about your faults, failures or challenges.
“There is value to being authentic,” he says. “You have an opportunity more than any other generation to write your own narrative. You can be as free as possible telling what it is you do and how you do it — and most importantly why you do it.”
Be Purposeful and Authentic with Social Media
When it comes to social media, Dexter says to be authentic and purposeful with what you share. Publish articles, share, comment and “like” posts when appropriate. He also suggests taking steps to establish meaningful connections before conferences or events.
He says to avoid building up a fake persona, playing it too safe or asking for something as soon as you connect. Failing to research people and companies before connecting with them can also cause problems, he says.
Become a Student of the Business
Dexter says you need to understand your business by reading industry publications or community news sources. This is especially important when meeting someone new face-to-face in a networking situation, he says.
“Don’t ever assume the person you’re speaking with does not understand what you're talking about,” he says. “They may know more about this particular subject than you think. You have to do your research, do your homework.”
Get Involved in Your Community
A strong community advocate, Dexter plays a leading role at a number of nonprofits and associations, with focuses including business, education, economic development, the arts and social good. He suggests joining organizations, volunteering, serving on boards or committees or sponsoring events.
“If you're sitting at the house waiting for things to happen, it’s not going to happen,” he says.
Keep in mind that these contributions aren’t always going to generate a direct sale, he says, but the long-term benefits of building relationships can be powerful and pay off down the road in unexpected ways.