Are you at your desk? If not, imagine it. Look left. Look right. If you’re anything like me, there’s probably a very specific kind of mess staring back at you.
Big stuff on the bottom, little stuff on top, stacked “neatly” for you to go through at some unspecified later time, which you recurringly refer to as “tomorrow”.
I love paper and pencil for taking notes. It keeps me from having a screen between me and the people I’m meeting with, and writing things down tends to make me better at remembering them. Beyond that? I’m always looking for ways to eliminate paper (read: clutter).
For those of us that do any level of networking, those piles tend to be topped off with business cards. They’re the littlest and can’t balance anything on top of them, so they go smack on top. The first thing we’ll get to “tomorrow”.
Until you throw them all away because they’ve quickly multiplied and become intimidating. Like gremlins.
That sounds pretty awful, but we all do it. And business cards are kind of awesome despite the hate. Networking connects you to a ton of people. If they don’t need your services, they may know someone who does. If you’re good at this sort of thing, you’re hopefully identifying people you know who could use the services of the person you just met. And you have a nifty card to remember everyone by.
The Problem With Business Cards
Business cards don’t just create piles. While they contain contact information and perhaps the name of a company, that’s hardly enough to make a quality referral to someone. Plus, it’s no guarantee they’ll remember you either.
After discussions with any number of people, I’ve found a few positive ways to handle those business cards and make them work for you. Some of this, of course, bleeds into how to be good at networking. The good news is that you don’t need any kind of special or expensive tech – it’s all just out there!
You Must Follow Up
First off, you’ve got to follow up. Sorry. No piece of technology is going to prevent that.
Hopefully the next day, or even that afternoon if it was a morning event, you still have a decent idea of who these people are that you talked to and got cards from. Best case scenario, give them a call, and if nothing else, shoot an email their way. Thank them for their time and try to schedule a one-on-one meeting. Coffee, beers, whatever. Most people are familiar with this game, and they’re happy to get together for everyone’s mutual benefit.
If that proves difficult, maybe this isn’t someone you want to work to maintain a relationship with. If they can’t be bothered to take your call or answer emails, or if they flake a lot, that probably isn’t a good way to spend your time.
Toss the business card in the trash.
Otherwise, go have your coffee and do networking things. I won’t go into the dos and don’ts of that here.
Is This Person a Good Person to Have in Your Network?
This meeting will probably go one of two ways, and we’ve all been in both kinds.
It could be negative. The person was sales-ey and self-centered. Or maybe you don’t believe in the services or product they’re selling. Whatever the reason, you have to decide if you want to maintain this person within your network. If you don’t?
Business card goes in the trash. Done.
But hopefully it was a great meeting! The person you met with is well-connected, hungry to grow their business and help others grow theirs. This is a person you want in your network and that you want to confidently shake hands with every time you see each other. You remember their name.
You have to work to make that happen, and a business card in a Rolodex probably isn’t going to magically create that reality.
Preserve the Business Card Forever
At this point, I suggest digitizing the business card. I use a phone app called CamCard, but there are tons more out there. The basic idea is that you can snap a picture of a business card and it’s saved into your phone for eternity. Most connect to your contacts, some connect to your LinkedIn. Find something that works for you.
You’ll probably occasionally run into some clerical errors with the process that you’ll have to correct. Some people hate doing this on their phone and find it tedious, so they use a desktop card scanner instead for the convenience of keyboard entry.
Either way, it’s time to employ some tech in this process. Then toss the card.
Notice how all paths lead to toss the card. You don’t need that clutter anywhere.
At more formal meetings where cards are passed around, you can do this sort of thing on the fly, before you even talk one-on-one with this new contact. Then don’t even bother taking a card. Leave it for the next person! My fancy-pants recycled t-shirt cards are like 50 cents a pop, so I’d appreciate it if you left it.
Keep the Relationship Warm
At this point, you want to make sure you’re following up with this person on a regular basis, in case you don’t see them out and about. You can do this a few ways.
If you’re already sending out a newsletter of some kind, get them added to that list. Don’t add them without asking (you jerk), but at least make the ask!
Otherwise, you should start making use of customer relationship management (CRM) software. A CRM is designed to manage your contacts, pending deals, and other aspects of the sales process. A good one will let you easily set up reminders to keep in contact with someone. It should be able to notify you, perhaps monthly, of people you want to keep a warm relationship with. Ask them to another coffee, or follow up on something you previously talked about.
As far as which CRM you should use, that’s a bigger question than this post. They range in capabilities and cost. Take a look at their features, decide what you’d use and what you wouldn’t, and pay accordingly. Some even have their own card readers, so you can do all this at once!
Some popular ones include:
There are tons, and I couldn’t possibly begin to give them all a fair shake here, but you should find that they help you keep on top of those relationships with great contacts in your network.
Tied to your Rolodex?
If you can’t be convinced to ditch physical cards, I have had people suggest to me using sticky tabs on the cards you want to remind yourself to keep in contact with, should you find you’re collecting more than you actually want to keep in touch with. But I prefer to get rid of the clutter.
What’s Your Secret?
How do you handle business cards? Have a favorite CRM or card capture app? Let me know in the comments below.
Have your own insufferable piles of paper specific to your business? Talk to Sterner Stuff about building software to eliminate that waste.