First and foremost ask yourself: Why have you collected the business cards in the first place? Are you collecting business cards just for the sake of it?
Are you exchanging cards, or just collecting their cards? Do you exchange cards with everyone you meet? What’s your purpose?
Here are some of the reasons why people give you their card:
Some people you meet at events will give you their card simply because they’re speaking with you. Others will look to meet you just to hand you their card. Some will offer to exchange cards with the intention of getting together for the infamous “coffee meeting.”
Or some will see the value in collaboration and feel you can refer one another. Some may even “like” you (not the Facebook type of “like”) and want to learn more about you or from you. Some will want to date you and use the business card as a starting point or “opening line” (it’s true!).
Others will look to collect your card just to add you to their newsletter or blog. And yet others look at collecting a lot of business cards at events as a badge of honor. Of course, there are those that don’t know what to say or do when meeting someone for the first time, so they ask for a business card hoping it will lead to an easy conversation.
What’s your purpose when you deprive someone of their business card?
And how many business cards do you have sitting on your desk -- right now -- in a snarl of rubber bands? What do you plan on doing with them? Do they deserve to be in your rubber band pile?
So many questions, so few answers.
There are only a handful of reasons why someone’s business card should make it to your desk.
1. To throw it in the trash:
Yep! You will meet people that will give you their card just for the heck of it. It happens all the time. You find yourself chatting with someone for a few minutes, they hand you their card, and then they’re off like a switch.
Naturally, it would be rude to refuse to take their card or to “86 it” right there at the event or in front of them – imagine the look on their face. Instead, their card makes it home or back to the office with you and before you can even remember who gave it to you, it should be tossed. No harm, no foul.
The card should never make it to your rubber band pile. If you feel the need, you can send a quick “nice to meet you” email, but the reality is, if it was important, you would have written a note on the card and your follow up would be much more substantial. Just drop it in the shredder and move on.
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2. To follow through on a promise to send information:
A good reason to collect a business card is so you have the email address or “snail mail” to send the info you promised. If you already have their contact information, the card may simply serve as a reminder to follow through on your promise.
How many times have you met people that made promises to follow up or follow through and they never did? Flake-ville. Don’t let that be you.
Collect their business card, ask for permission to scribble your “to do” and get it done the very next day. After making that “deposit” to the relationship, you may want to keep the card to reconnect and develop the relationship through a future call, meeting, or whatever. If not, just throw the card away (see No. 1).
3. To become part of your mailing list:
Who doesn’t have a blog or newsletter these days? If you’re a financial advisor or broker, no doubt your firm has a boiler plate, compliant-friendly version of a newsletter that everyone sends to their mailing list whether they want it or not.
Anyway, don’t let that be you. If you meet someone at an event and you have a nice connection with them, ask if they’re interested in being added to your mailing list. (Hopefully, that’s how you got to be part of mine.)
If so, ask to exchange cards so you can add them to your list. A good reason to follow up with them is to get their feedback about what they think of your newsletter, blog, or collateral and ask if they know of others that would find value in the information.
Then, let them make the offer to that other person by having them forward the newsletter to them. Then, repeat the process -- rinse and repeat.
See also: 2 social networking errors to avoid
4. To make a valuable introduction:
A great reason to exchange cards is if you’re speaking with a new contact and they would be a great connection for someone already in your network. Having their business card would allow you to research their background further -- for example their website, social media, etc. -- so you can ensure that the introduction you make is a valuable one.
See also: 15 tips for effective networking
5. To set up a meeting to learn something:
You can collect their business card to…
Learn about how you can become their client or how they might become yours.
Learn about something that would be of great value to you.
Or to teach something that would be of great value to them.
Learn more about one another’s business or goals to determine how you can develop your relationship and be of mutual benefit.
I wouldn’t recommend setting up meetings with everyone you meet. This is worse than getting a business card from everyone you meet.
Meetings take up a lot of time, can cost a lot of money, and contribute to the consumption of a lot of caffeine. Frankly, most networking meetings amount to nothing for a lot of reasons, so be protective of your time and arrange face-to-face meetings that count.
It’s always better to exchange cards rather than just offering one or collecting their card. I find it’s best to establish a potential collaboration up front, or what I call a “we thing” rather than a “me thing.” That’s what networking is all about – a collaboration. Think: relationship.
Also, establish why you’re exchanging cards in the first place. If there is no good reason, then there’s no reason to make the offer. Technically, your follow-up begins once you have their card or they have yours in hand, provided it’s for a good reason. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Bottom line, set the right expectation by saying something like: “Let’s exchange cards and I promise to reconnect with you tomorrow to coordinate a time to continue our conversation about how we might refer one another business in our respective markets.”
And then make good on your promise.
How will those business cards you collect qualify for your rubber band pile?
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