During the past year, or so I’ve attended a number of networking and referral groups. It never ceases to amaze me how many people simply don’t come prepared…or don’t seem to know what to do at these events.
They don’t wear the nametags usually provided for them…and if they do, they don’t write their names or business name large enough or legibly. They don’t bring anything to write with (or on), and more often than not, they don’t bring business cards, or the right mindset to make the investment of time and money really pay off.
At a recent event I found myself speaking to a business executive. It sounded like the company was doing some fascinating things. I had some questions I wanted to ask, and a few ideas I wanted to share about how to possibly improve her business…but on the floor of a networking event wasn’t the best place to get into such a discussion. I wanted to follow up with this person after the event, so I asked for one of her business cards, as I was reaching into my pocket for one of my own. In an embarrassed tone she mumbled to himself about not being sure where they were, or if she even had any with her.
She pulled out her purse and began looking through the various sections, becoming more anxious as the seconds crept by and the silence of our interrupted conversation became more and more uncomfortable. As I watched her it felt as if I was an eye-witness to an archaeological expedition. She pulled out credit card receipts, credit cards, family pictures, her driver’s license, and other people’s business cards…most with notes scribbled on the back. Sheepishly she said, “I know I’ve got one…somewhere. Let me look in my briefcase.” The search continued. She opened her briefcase, which was packed with files and papers, memos, reports, newsletters, newspapers, and perhaps at the bottom, a business card. Finally she found a shabby, dog-eared one and handed it to me. We agreed to speak again…and moved on.
Wanting to make a few quick notes on the back of her business card to facilitate adding her to my database, and planning to give her a call in a few days, I turned the card over…and there were notes already scribbled all over it. I made my notes in a small white space I found in one corner. When I got back to my office I updated my contact database. Who knows where the business card I gave her might have ended up?
A few moments later, I began a conversation with networking partner. We spoke for a few moments, and when I asked if he’d be interested in hearing more about one of my marketing approaches he said he would. So I asked him for a business card. He opened his portfolio, and began a similar ritual rummage through its contents. He found just about everything…except a business card.
Finally, after a minute or more of silent searching I handed him one of mine…along with a pen, and asked him to write his name, e-mail address, and any other contact information on the back. When I retrieved my card back I handed him another of mine…which got promptly added to his bulging portfolio.
Business cards are not terribly expensive. You can buy five hundred for $50 to $150, depending on whether you go for black & white or color, and how much graphic work is required. You can even create your own, quite simply, on your computer. But if you forget to carry them around with you…what good are they. You never know when you’ll meet someone who could become a customer, business associate, or ‘circle of influence’ contact. Rule # 1…always be prepared for opportunity.
While waiting for my flight I found myself sitting in the departures lounge next to a business owner- who was also headed to Denver. We arranged to sit together during the flight and had a great conversation. When the plane landed, we continued our conversation as we walked into the terminal and collected our luggage. During the few hours we spent together we discovered we shared a number of common philosophies and business interests.
Before saying goodbye we both made notes to ourselves…on the backs of each other’s business card…about what we would do next. We’ve since exchanged e-mails and have agreed to exchange additional information.
Tips & Suggestions:
1- Always keep a large quantity of business cards in your briefcase, wallet, or purse and replenish your supply after every meeting and networking event.
2- Create a system for giving and taking business cards. You might consider keeping yours in your shirt pocket or left-hand pants pocket (or a certain pocket in your purse or briefcase) and put the cards you receive in your right-hand pants pocket (purse or briefcase).
3- When you receive someone’s card carefully review it before you put it in your designated ‘place.’ Look at their name, look at their face. Make a mental picture of both their name/face so you can have more than a printed card to remember them by.
4- After meeting someone, note key pieces of information on the back of the card, and any action items or follow-up you have committed to (or want to) when you return to your office. If you don’t want to follow up or put them in your database, discretely write an X across the card.
Your Job Is To Follow-Up
Giving someone your business card isn’t nearly as important as getting the other person’s business card. If you hand someone your card, and then expect them to call you up, you’re going to be sitting by the phone for a long time. In fact when others ask me for mine, I often teasingly reply “I only get cards…I don’t give them.”
The real reason most of us aren’t effective net-workers is that we don’t have a good follow-up system. When you meet someone, and want to keep in touch with them, take the responsibility to put their name in your database, schedule a follow-up call, and then…call them.