I bet we all have them – a huge stack of business cards that we’ve gathered at various networking events, coffee meetings, leads groups, and random encounters. I just grabbed a stack out of my own purse today that’s at least two inches thick.
And do you know what most of these represent?
A missed opportunity. Or at least a bunch of dead weight I’ve been carrying around.
Let me get you my card…
Let’s be honest. Not every business card I receive is a fabulous opportunity. I have taken cards just to be polite with no intention of contacting the person again, for various reasons. Maybe this sales person was too pushy. Or maybe the person is in such as wide off field from me that I can’t really see how we can help each other in the future. But I always take the card, adding it to the noxious stack in my purse.
The problem with this is that these sub-par cards are standing in the way of the valuable contacts I did want to reach. Just this morning, I spent 10 minutes digging for a card, pawing through the stacks and still not finding the right one.
The real problem is organization and discipline.
The biggest trick is to sort the stack as soon as possible and then TAKE ACTION. Just holding onto a card doesn’t do you any good, unless you are playing poker.
When returning from a networking event or meeting, I find that I can make the most of these new cards by following these steps:
- Sort the stack by A, B, and C contacts. The “As” are ones you definitely want to follow up with and the “Bs” are your second choice. “Cs” are the least desirable contacts.
- Throw away the “Cs.” (Yes, it’s allowed.)
- Send an email and LinkedIn invitation to all of your “As” and “Bs.” Make sure that you check them out first so you can send a custom message and tell them why you want to connect.
- Record the people you’ve contacted. This can be in an Excel sheet or even writing it on the card. Be sure to include the date and method of the contact.
- Set up follow up dates for your “As.”
- If you’re a pack rat like me, you may choose to keep the cards – but only your top choices. However, bundle them in rubber bands with the date and name of the event or the month if these are general connections. Another option is an actual binder with business card insert pages.
- Once the contact responds, save their information in your email program.
- Continue the relationship – perhaps in a personal meeting or phone call. Always think about what you can do for them. Can you offer recommendations, other contacts, or information?
- If you build a solid relationship, ask for more cards – so you can recommend the person to others!
LinkedIn Connections: the new stack of business cards
Many times, people connect on LinkedIn and then do nothing to further the relationship. This is the equivalent to throwing that business card in the purse. If you don’t do anything to get to really know the person, it’s just clutter in your Connections.
The trick here is to SEND A MESSAGE after the person connects with you, regardless of who initiated the invitation. About 95% or more of LinkedIn invitations I receive are the same generic boring greeting: “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”
I give people the benefit of the doubt because I know that many people don’t know how to change the standard message. However, after I connect with someone, I always send a follow up note thanking them for the invitation and asking about how I can help them.
It is the follow-up email that generates business and valuable professional relationships for me. From these actions, I have gotten contacts with key managers, executive job seekers, complimentary coaches, personal professional development opportunities, and strategic partners. This is where the magic of LinkedIn becomes obvious.
But you have to communicate for it to happen.