As an avid networker (although I do have my dry spells), I have had the tendency to “collect” business cards. As I was going through some office stuff for routine cleaning, the question occurred to me: “What the heck should I do with all these business cards?”
I ask myself this because I don’t like stuff just piling up. I also know I am not alone in this dilemma. And yet, before I go further, I need to clarify some points that beg back to some fundamentals of networking.
Networking is not about collecting business cards, or just seeing how many names you can add to your mailing list, address book or LinkedIn network. Indeed, as I have indicated in previous posts (namely, “The Two Faces of Networking” among several others), it is not about quantity of contacts but the quality of the relationships you are able to foster. At the same time, we all know that we cannot become close friends with everyone we meet—and there is also something to be said about the strength of loose connections (and for building a strong distribution list!). For this reason, when you receive another person’s business card either personally handed to you or dropped in a fish bowl at an event, it’s important to have a system in place so that individual does not fall through the cracks.
I meet lots of people as I go throughout my day—especially when attending or exhibiting at events. I may have an immediate cause to follow up with only a portion of my new connections. The others are also important, but may be less urgent. However it would be short sighted of me to take the business card of someone with whom I may not have such cause, toss it into my desk drawer and let it (i.e. that person) be forgotten.
This was something I became more mindful of not long ago, surprisingly enough. I was prompted when I came across a “mystery card” in my drawer.
Some of you may know what I’m talking about: that business card you stumble upon on your desk or in your wallet or elsewhere of some measured prominence. Neither the name nor business ring an immediate bell on how you received it, yet as you grip it between your fingers you are mentally beating your head against a wall trying to ascertain the source of this connection.
I’ve also had a similar experience when going through new cards acquired within the previous week or so, and yet I am unable to pinpoint from where precisely each of them came. That’s when I realized that I had gotten lazy and I had to be better disciplined about how I handled this currency. I also knew that I had to make better use of the technology at my fingertips.
First of all, if you are going to be at an event either as an attendee, sponsor or speaker, know in advance that you will likely be collecting cards of new contacts. After all, isn’t that part of the reason you will be there? So be intentional about it, and make sure that all the cards you collect are kept together and separate from any others. When I engage a new person in conversation and we exchange cards, here is what I have begun to do immediately (and it has made a world of difference):
- I note the back of the card with the date and event (if applicable), what we spoke about—and perhaps if any action items are in order (I often just use key words or phrases to jog my memory.).
- Using my iPhone, I snap the card with a program called CamCard (it’s available on multiple platforms). This is a great app that’s available free of charge. The program has powerful optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities, and will automatically import the data into my address book if I choose.
- After the card is scanned to my device, I fold it in half.
- I do like to connect with people I meet through LinkedIn, and so at minimum that is what I do and it is a personal outreach effort. Seldom do I send someone a connection invite with the generic “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” (Even the LinkedIn app defaults to this automatically, so be careful! I think it’s too impersonal and in my opinion, unprofessional.) Most of the time when I invite someone to connect on LinkedIn I will always add a personal note, perhaps reminding the recipient of the nature of our connection. The exception being if I am with the person in real time, and I let them know I’m sending a connection invite.
At one point in the past, I was adding new contacts to my mailing list, but in recent years have backed off from that (some folks get cantankerous about it). I still do it on occasion but not without specific permission (although when someone volunteers their card to you, permission for responsible use of their information is typically implied).
As I mentioned, once a card is scanned and the data captured, I fold it in half. That means I no longer need to hang on to it (I lean paperless).
My problem now: As with greeting cards, I do not always have the heart to just toss them out. Which leads me back right to where I began…