Thursday, July 23, 2009

What do you do with business cards you're given?

I have received the following question from 'Connecting is not Enough' reader Theresa Summers:

How do you deal with business cards you’re given? Currently I write on the back the date, location and maybe a couple of buzz words. Then technically I put them in a database, and then file the card. Although am not sure why I file the card really. Anyway, would be very interested to hear what you do, or what other people do.

The most important thing you can do is follow up as soon as possible. It does surprise me how many people will ask for your card and never follow up personally. It may be that they then add your details to a marketing database, but that's not the purpose of networking. Buying a list for such a purpose probably works out less expensive in terms of time and equally ineffective.

You're absolutely right to put some brief notes on the back of the cards you are given at events. Make sure that you ask people's permission to write on their cards at an event, or do so shortly afterwards while the information is still fresh in your mind. Also be aware of cultural differences. If you are exchanging cards with someone from South East Asia for example, writing notes on their card would often be seen as a sign of disrespect. This is a good article if you'd like to know more about business card etiquette.

Whatever you do, make sure you keep a good record of what you said you would do during your discussion. If you made a promise it is important to keep it, otherwise your reputation for reliability will suffer a hammer blow at an early stage.

Once you have followed up and established the relationship, the business card plays a much less important role. I'm often offered three or four cards by people who hope that I'll then hand them out to other people as a referral. First of all, that's not a referral, it's a recommendation (the subject of another blog perhaps). Secondly, I can't carry the cards of everyone I meet around with me! If you want me to recommend or refer you, you need to be foremost in my mind and that comes from developing a relationship.

I scan all of the cards I receive using cardscan software (available here). I then import the contacts into my Outlook and file the cards. It is worth keeping hold of them, if you are a visual person like me you might remember someone by their business card. However many cards I have, I often know exactly where to look and what the card looks like, but can't remember the name!

The card scanner I use allows us to record the notes saved as well, which helps update your CRM system quickly. You do need to keep a close check on each record as you input it though, as it's not foolproof.


  1. excellent article and top tips on etiquette.
    I have to say I was guilty of just adding to my database and treating it as if they subscribed to my newsletter (until someone complained)Now when I take a card I actualy ask if they would like me to include them on my mailings which is great as face to face you get a positive response

  2. Thanks for your comment.

    I do exactly the same, asking for permission in advance and confirming in writing in the follow up.

    It makes a difference, people actually expect, and look out for your mailings.

  3. Thanks for such an interesting article.

    I keep mine in a filing system after adding the details to my outlook contacts. I also make notes on the reverse of the card to remind me.
    I ensure I follow up all promises I've made within 24 hours of making them.

    I do not automatically include contacts on my mailings without asking. If I think something will be of particular interest to a contact, but I have not asked their permission to mail, I will send it to them individually with a note explaining why I have sent this particular mailing and offering to include them on all mailings from then on if indeed they do find it interesting.

  4. I agree that notes are essential on business cards! However I also confess that I probably actually make notes about 75% of the time. I do the note-taking at three points in time: on the spot (asking permission, as suggested), on the train afterwards and the next morning first thing (or later in the day if it's a morning event).

    In addition to asking new contacts if they would like to be added to the gallery newsletter, I have another offering for new networks. Whenever the person is in a property-related/creative industry (which many of my networks are), I ask if the person if he/she would be interested in attending an event for property/creative professionals. I explain that I hold an event quarterly and would be happy to add the person to the invitee list. I've discovered that this offering frequently results in the new contact emailing me first thing the next morning, or later on the same day. Brilliant!

    Thanks as ever Andy for your insight, and for stimulating thought on this essential area of business networking!