We’ve all been there. You’re at a professional or social event and have a good conversation with someone. You want to keep in touch, so you offer your business card (if you have one) before parting ways, and the other person does the same. If you don’t have one to give out, you may simply ask for theirs and assure them you’ll follow up with an email with your contact information. Note: make sure you actually do this the following day.
But let’s examine the idea behind exchanging cards, because in some cases there may be a better way to share your information. Cards are easily tossed and lost. Just the process of handing out business cards creates a lot of awkward exchanges. For example, if you have to dig into a deep hole in your purse to grab your cards and your personal items start falling out of your bag at the same time – awkward. If you reach out to someone before shaking hands or just after with your card extended – awkward. You haven’t even had a chance to talk yet; how could you possibly know if this is someone you want to keep in touch with? Here are some things to think about before you hand out your business card.
1. Hand it to someone when you first meet, unless everyone is doing that before a meeting commences. As noted above, this is just plain odd because you haven’t yet established if you even want to maintain contact. In addition, the other person is bound to assume you are just trying to collect as many cards as possible and couldn’t care less about who they are. This is like giving someone you meet at a bar your phone number before you start talking.
2. Give it to everyone and anyone you meet. This certainly isn’t going to make you memorable. You will be the person who wants everyone to have your contact information. You might as well be sending a friend request to every person who is on Facebook. It’s just not strategic.
3. Give someone multiple cards unless they specifically ask for more to hand out to people who they think might want to talk to you. No matter what profession you’re in, this is presumptuous and won’t help them retain a positive impression of you. If you’re in a field such as sales or real estate where increasing contacts quickly is important, figure out another way to follow up with the person that will make it easy for them to share your contact details with others.
1. Think about whether it makes sense to exchange cards in the first place. Is this someone you want to get to know as a friend? Exchange your phone numbers, emails or send a Facebook request. If there’s a professional reason, a card may be the answer.
2. Make sure the cards are accessible and that you have a decent amount with you. Know where they are before you enter the event. Since you’ll be exchanging them when you and the other person are ready to part to meet someone new, grab a drink or head to the restroom, you need to be fast!
3. Take notes on the back of each business card you receive so you remember where you met the person. Recall something notable about your conversation that you can later refer to. How many times have you looked at an old business card you’ve collected and said, “I have no idea who this person is or where I met them”? That doesn’t benefit you at all.
4. Write an email the next day to tell each person how much you enjoyed meeting him or her. Refer to something specific you talked about and let them know you look forward to staying in touch. If you promised to send them a contact or a piece of information, follow through at that time.
5. Connect with your new contacts on LinkedIn. This way you can keep up with their professional moves and keep in touch every so often to see how they’re doing.
What is gained in a business card exchange? Contact information for a person you’d like to keep in touch with. Collecting as many cards as possible for the sake of collecting isn’t the point. If you want to do it right, be strategic. You don’t need to get a card from everyone; rather, get them from those you truly intend to stay in touch with. You can easily exchange a phone number or email with nonprofessional contacts, such as those you meet at your child’s school, at the park or on a plane. If there’s a reason to share your professional information based on what you’ve discussed, go ahead and give them your business card. But it doesn’t make sense to give out your card in every case and especially if you are not going to follow up – it can be easily tossed, lost or you could simply be forgotten.