In the Indianapolis business community, we do a lot of networking, and that means exchanging business cards at the end of a conversation. Unfortunately, in many cases, these beautifully-designed business cards end up getting shoved into a box in the corner of an office, never to be seen again. To ensure that this doesn’t happen to you, I want to share a simple process that will allow you to keep up with your business card pile, while making sure that you are staying connected with the people that you meet:
- Start fresh. If you have an old pile of business cards dated 2007, take the time to go through and pick out any important cards that you want to keep, or that you think might still be valid. Recycle the rest.
- Get an organizational system for your cards. If you prefer to save the actual business cards, invest in a small office filing box to store the cards by category or date. Many people prefer to save their business cards electronically. In this case, you have several options. You can invest in a small desk scanner (I recommend color) or simply have them scanned by a professional or card scanning service in order to put them into readable format (Microsoft Excel and/or uploaded to your favorite CRM system). Many scanners will come with a software that allows you to view the cards by searching. Once you are done entering the cards, you can either file them away or recycle them.
- Time to network. The next time you’re out networking, make sure you bring plenty of business cards. I use a leather business card holder and keep an extra stack of business cards in my car in case I am attending a large event or speed networking event. When you’re socializing, don’t be afraid to ask the other person for his or her business card if you’ve had a good conversation and would really like to stay in touch with them. Most people don’t mind if you ask, but don’t just walk around asking people for their business cards the entire time. Try to jot down something from the conversation or a detail about the person (such as a shared connection, their ideal referral, etc.) on the front or back of the card. I also write the month/year of the event and the event or organization name on the front of the card, so I can easily remember when I met the person and how we’re connected. This also comes in handy when you are scanning your business cards later as these details can be added in the notes field of your CRM system.
- Processing your business cards: Once you return to the office (or select an ideal time for doing this when you have some down time or at the end of the day/week), sit down at your computer and go through your business cards. Are there some that you want to keep? Discard? Add notes? If there are any to-do items that you want to follow-up on immediately, such as someone who was interested in a proposal or 1-1 meeting, make a separate action item for these individuals. Otherwise, you are ready to process your business cards. This is the typical scenario that I follow:
- Send an email to the person saying it was nice to meet them: Comment on anything you discussed, or something about the meeting. Follow up regarding any information or a referral they requested, ask them a follow-up question, or tell them a little bit more about you and your business/service. Direct them to your e-newsletter, blog and/or social media links, and make sure you have a signature file with all of your contact information. Keep it short and sweet.
- Follow or friend them on social networks: Search for the person on LinkedIn and add them as a connection (make sure you mention where you met, rather than using a generic “connect with me” email). Find their company profiles on Twitter or Facebook and follow or like them, if you wish. Visit their company website and subscribe to their newsletter or blog feed. Although you may not wish to do this with everyone you meet, it promotes goodwill, and the connection is likely to follow your lead.
- Enter your card into your database/CRM system: As I mentioned earlier, you could scan the cards or have a professional do this for you. Make sure to categorize the contact information either on the card or in a pile before you scan, or when you’re uploading the data into your CRM system. You don’t want to have a bunch of contacts and not know which ones are potential prospects, partners, vendors, suppliers, organizations, etc. so use these common categories to get you started, and adjust based on your own industry’s needs.
- Stay organized: Now that you are more organized and have a system in place for managing your business cards, don’t let them pile up on you again. Everyone gets busy, and doesn’t get around to processing cards, but if you stay on top of it, you’ll make the most use out of the connections you have, which will make your networking efforts that much more fruitful.