Jen was sitting in a particularly heavy traffic jam one day, stressing about being late for an important meeting. This was one of those nightmare snarls where you move a metre every twenty minutes.
A truck driver in the lane next to her - in an attempt at sociability to ease the boredom due to the lack of forward progress - called out to her and asked her what she did for a living. She responded that she coached growing small businesses around the country. He replied, "Really? I know someone who could use some help - do you have a card?". She dived into her glove box and handed him her business card. The ensuing follow-up interactions resulted in a series of business consulting engagements for Jen's business.
If you met someone at a business meeting, corporate function - or even in a traffic jam , you could invariably end up giving or receiving a business card. The VALUE of a face-to-face interaction that's consummated with the exchange of business cards is realised with WHAT you do with the information on that small piece of cardboard AFTER you receive it.
For Jen, it led to a revenue opportunity due to her diligent follow-up discipline. As an active online networker, every business card I collect becomes an invitation to online business network, Linkedin. This way, I can formalise the physical contact with a business prospect via an active and mutually agreeable virtual connection.
My rationale is that if you've met someone face-to-face albeit briefly, exchanged business cards and then formalised that interaction with an accepted invitation to an online network by the invited, you've established a legitimate business connection.
The beauty of an online business connection database is that it's more visible and actionable than a wad of business cards that have piled up over the years. It is more searchable by criteria such as location, expertise and industry.
Most importantly, it usually updates itself as the onus of keeping data current is with the invited, not the invitee. For me, the real value is that you can download your Linkedin connections into an Excel spreadsheet - at any time - to retain your connections in your own database.
I've been on Linked in for 14 months and have accumulated almost 3300 connections to date during that time. To me, they are all potential business connections which I plan to actively utilise at the appropriate time for my business. Having them on an accessible and dynamic database gives me this option. What do you do with business cards from people you meet? Are they relics of past meetings or potential business opportunities?
Even though I am an avid LinkedIn user, I still like to keep people's business cards in an old school rolodex. There's something about the tacticle feel and the self expression in the design that helps with recall. I like occasionally flipping through and reconnecting with someone I haven't spoken to in a while. This is just not the same in LinkedIn or a digital address book.
Ian, I also keep business cards in a file. Like you, I use these as reminders or prompts of meetings I've had and for recall purposes.
What I'm saying is analagous to photo prints - I still keep all the old ones, the ones I choose to print or am given in a photo album. I appreciate their look and feel and sentimental value too and flip through them on occasion. However, most of the 'treasured' photos have been digitised and catalogued on Facebook or Flickr.
Like a digital business address book, digitised photos are easily accessible, searchable and actionable.
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