Exchanging business cards is like breaking up with a significant other: you both smile, say you’ll keep in touch, and never speak again. Ditch the inefficiency and cost of paper with a very simple alternative: have your new contact send you an email before you part ways. I’ve been experimenting with this method for a month with splendid results: I never miss a contact, never worry about messages getting caught in spam filters, it’s easier to transfer contact info into my gmail contacts, and the conversation is readily teed up for a reply.
For 90% of interactions, the instant email strategy works wonders; for the other 10%, use a combination of iphone card-scanning and todo list to ensure I don’t waste the valuable time expended networking. Below are a few tips to make the whole process work smoothly, plus some advanced tips on making sure you follow-up 100% of the time.
1. Always have them email you: emailing them holds you hostage to their follow-up prowess. Emailing takes longer than swapping business cards, but that’s a good thing, as it tricks people into thinking you’re worth the time. Expending effort triggers what psychologists call “cognitive dissonance,” a rationalize that occurs when individuals are coerced into voluntary action, causing them to perceive more enjoyment from activities than if they never had to make more effort. In other words, it’s a net positive for the new relationship.
This is especially valuable for high-level contacts who like to seem aloof by not carrying business cards. “No problem”, I say, “just email me from your smartphone.” So far, no one’s been bold enough to outright refuse to email me.
2. If you have to take business cards, use a card-scanning smartphone app: losing cards, forgetting the conversation, and failing to follow-up are still pitfalls of paper business cards (especially at a multi-day conference). I use ScanBizCards for iOS, which imports card info from a picture. I can then follow-up from my phone instantly and also forward the card info to my email to import into my gmail contacts. If you’re lazy, ScanBizCards has human transcription for 100% accuracy, but I’ve found it takes too long, and it’s easier to simply correct the information in my gmail contacts.
3. For Gmail users, Boomerang reminders rocks. Boomerang is a web-based gmail accessory that sends reminder emails to your inbox at a time/date you specify. It costs $5 a month, but I use it for nearly every single email now. It has its downsides, as it triples the time it takes me to send an email (because the system has to “process” email, which can take a few seconds or longer). But, before Boomerang, I forgot countless emails and had to keep (a very long) todo list. Boomerang is also nice way to keep Inbox zero, since I can archive an email until a date I know I will have the time to complete it (usually on a weekend or when I’m traveling).
3. For critical contacts and complex follow-up, use a todo list: I put every important follow-up reminder in my todo list, so it stares me in the face until I complete the task (I use Appigo’s Todo).
So, ditch your business card: no more piles of paper and agonizing over the perfect design, as if anyone really judges you by the quality of your card stock.
Sure, the paperless approach may take a little longer, but it saves time in having to search for lost emails and virtually guarantees that a business opportunity won’t go overlooked due to the paper beast we call business cards.