The recent post here about whether paper business cards are obsolete reminded me that, yes, there are important things to be done with all the cards you collect at a conference or meeting.
First, let’s talk about business card management while you are at a conference or a similar event.
Don’t Leave It Naked
Before you arrive, you should have planned your networking conversation. What’s hot in your practice area? For example, I often open a discussion with, “What are you doing about Medicare compliance?” This is a great way to determine if my new friend is a prospect for help incorporating a Medicare Set-Aside into a settlement. More often than not, I can offer to send them an article or web link that provides the information they need to resolve their issue. The articles are almost always ones I have written.
Once you have spent some time networking at the cocktail party, breakfast, social event or whatever, make sure to request the other person’s card and offer your own. But don’t just turn over your naked card. Make a note on the card about what the two of you discussed, and even the date and name of the conference. Likewise, mark the other person’s card with that information, too, along with a reminder about anything you promised to send—like that article or link. When you return to the office, follow through on any promises you made. Experiment with pens before you arrive so you will be able to write on glossy cards as well as matte ones.
Preserving the Connection Back at the Office
You want to keep and use the information you worked so hard to gather, so here are things to do once you return to the office.
Scan it, save it. I use CardScan to preserve an image of the card—including my notes on the front or back. CardScan also allows me to categorize the person and jot other notes. One category would be the conference where we met. After I scan those cards—and I always come back with a lot—I can easily create a .csv list of the conference category names to upload to my newsletter distribution list.
Use the information—on LinkedIn! This is what I consider the real secret: Rather than send a “nice to have met you” email, I go to the person’s LinkedIn profile and send a request to connect. I put the “nice to have met you last week at the Marzipan Conference” message, along with any other pertinent information, in the connect request. Because you have their business card, you probably have their email address. That means you can connect on LinkedIn. For the best response, personalize the invitation instead of using the generic, pre-written one. There are multiple advantages to using LinkedIn rather than sending an email.
- If they accept the invitation, they will continue to receive your LinkedIn updates.
- The connection will be in both of your contacts lists. This is easier to sort through and retrieve than trying to find an email you sent three years ago.
- You will get notice if they change jobs. When this happens, you can change the recipient’s address in your newsletter distribution list.
Of course, if they are not on LinkedIn, then by all means send an email. You can also send a letter or handwritten note. Some firms use informal cards—typically with the firm’s name and logo on the front and blank inside for a handwritten note. You can decide if using the postal service will be seen as charming or hopelessly out-of-date.
Business cards are important in many ways other than in the conference setting, and I could write a whole chapter about them. (In fact, I have.) In my neck of the woods, cards are indispensable because you need cards in court and at mediations, let alone for marketing. So keep your business card handy. You never know when it will result in a new relationship.