Organizing Business Cards for Effective Contact Management
Now that you've had colorful new business cards printed, and have been distributing them diligently, what do you do with the cards you collect from other people?
If you're like most people, you have a stack of rubber-banded cards floating around you desk. Or you have been using them as bookmarks, toothpicks, and used gum wrappers and they are all over your office, car, wallet and purse ? but that doesn't help you build your business.
Without a good filing system, the information on those cards is useless. So clean out your desk and develop a system for prioritizing, organizing, and following up with those contacts.
High Tech or Old School?
There are two choices for organizing business cards:
The traditional way of keeping them in a card file
The contemporary method of keeping contact info on a computer file
When you return from a networking meeting or trade show, before you do anything else, update your contact information. Rank the cards you've collected in order of importance before you put them away. Separate warm leads who are likely to bring you business, people with whom you definitely want to follow up, and whose information you want at your fingertips. This can include prospects, people you will refer to others, or who will send referrals to you.
Don't be afraid to throw away cards from people you will never contact or refer. You can file cold leads somewhere else or toss them into the trash.
Know Your ABZ's...
How you alphabetize and file your cards is up to you. Decide how you remember information best, whether it's by company names, people's names, or by category. Perhaps you are better able to find information if it is organized by region or department. Then, alphabetize them appropriately.
You might also file by date or by the event where you met the person. Just choose one way and stick to it. For instance, don't file some by last name and others by business name, or you'll never find what you're looking for in a pinch.
Electronic = Portable and Duplicable
Storing contact information on the computer keeps your office neater and is one more step toward the paperless office; for most people, searching on computer is more efficient than rummaging through paper cards. In seconds, you can run a sort and locate contacts by company, name, dog's name, date you met, etc. If you bring work home with you, it's easy to duplicate your contact list, rather than hauling your entire Rolodex with you.
Storing info electronically is also effective for building mailing lists and printing labels. But remember, backup, backup, backup. I was a high-tech junkie until my hard drive crashed and I didn't have a backup of my computer database. Good thing I kept those hard copies!
There are numerous programs on the market to organize contact information, such as Act or Outlook. I put all of my information in Microsoft Access.
For a low-tech backup, I use a plastic card file box with alphabetical dividers, filing my cards by last name. I also prefer to use transparent sleeves to store business cards in, since I almost always file business cards instead of handwriting the information on blank cards. The sleeves are a uniform size, keeping the box tidy. But you may be different--any system will work, as long as you are consistent with it.
To Keep or Not to Keep?
Some people say you should keep every business card you have ever received, while others think you should throw away the cards you will never use. With the rapidity of people moving around and switching companies today, I throw away cards of contacts I haven't been in touch with for three years. By then their contact information has surely changed, so even if I did want to get in touch with them, it's not likely that I will.
If you insist on holding on to old information, archive those business cards in a separate database or card box. Since I make notes on the backs of cards when I meet people, I always know the date when I first made contact; notes also help refresh my memory of people I haven't been in close contact with.
Finally, remember to follow up with your contacts! Keep a schedule and goals for making contact by phone calls, emails, or snail mail. Periodically go through your filing system and update or delete old information. The reason you store this information is to keep in touch with people--so use your new organizing system to stay efficient and your business will thrive!
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Linda Elizabeth Alexander