Business cards come stacked, piled, massed and scattered. Turn cards and associated notes you've collected into valuable data by immediately entering or scanning them into contact manager software.
Get Rid of Those You Don't Need
Everyone collects lots of business cards, and nobody really knows what to do with them. We're afraid to throw them out. But there's little benefit in saving them in a jumble in your drawer. There are a variety of containers available, from plastic to electronic. But to think first about storage misses the point. Before you think about "What's the best place to put them?" ask "Would I really need this again, and if so, why -- and when?" Be firm; get rid of cards from people you are not likely to contact in the future. If you have a great many business cards, it can actually backfire - the more cards you have, the harder it is to find a specific one when you need it. Less is more-- It's easy to keep them in order, and easier to find when you need them. And remember, the point isn't to collect the cards, but to keep them in a way that makes it easy to use them.
Add Useful Details
Once you've decided which cards are keepers, jot a note on back of each card stating where you met the person and what you might contact them about. This should be done as soon as possible, especially if you return from a networking event with a pocketful of cards--otherwise when you come across the cards later, you'll have no clue as to who these people are.
Different Ways to Store Your Cards
Now that you've culled your cards and made notes on them, you're ready to think about where to put them. Don't use plastic business card books with a dozen or so slots per page -- it's impossible to keep cards alphabetized. If you insist on staying low-tech, use a Rolodex with alphabetical tab dividers.
The alphabet's easy for people whose names you'll recall later, but what about service providers who are recommended to you that you're merely keeping in case you need them later on? Let's say your friend Jane Smith recommends a great cyberlaw attorney named Joe Moon. If you file it under Moon you won't remember the name. File it instead by category --under Lawyer, under L in your Rolodex. Do the same for plumbers and accountants and anyone else you might do business with.
The Power of Software
But the old fashioned Rolodex is limited. It's much more effective to use contact-management software (Outlook, Act and Goldmine are some popular brands). This gives you the best of both worlds -- if you tag Joe Moon's record with the word "lawyer," you can locate him by looking up "Moon" or "lawyer" and find him either way. If you also note that Jane Smith recommended him, you can look it up this way too.
Such software does more than automatically alphabetize your entries by contact name, company name, and type of business. It also provides almost unlimited room to type notes on each contact. You can record when you last talked to them and about what. It can also save a record of e-mails you sent to or received from them. Used fully, contact management software keeps a record of all your dealings with each person. This does more than supplement a faulty memory. It permits you to slice and dice your data in a variety of ways. You could search for all referrals who were sent by a certain person, all the prospects who phoned you in July, all clients in a certain zip code, all clients who spent over a certain dollar amount, etc.
Should You Buy a Card Scanner?
If you have a great many cards, you may not want to type them all into your software. There are small, inexpensive scanners made specifically for business cards that capture all the text information on the business card (name, company name address, phone, fax, and e-mail address) and feed it directly into your contact management program. This could save a lot of time if you collect tons of cards, for example if you attend trade shows and plan to follow up by doing a big mailing. But I've heard mixed reports about the accuracy of the card scanners. They are often thrown off by graphics, unusual fonts, speckled paper, and so on. It can take time to get the hang of it. Card scanners probably aren't worth the bother if you only have a small number of business cards.
About the Author: Jan Jasper has been training busy people to work smarter, not harder since 1988. She helps clients streamline their systems and procedures, form optimum work habits, use technology efficiently, and manage information overload. Her specialty is helping people who've already worked with professional organizers and coaches and are still not able to get it all done. Jan is the author of Take Back Your Time: How to Regain Control of Work, Information, & Technology (St. Martin's Press). She recently completed a North American media tour as the national efficiency spokesperson for IKON Office Solutions, Inc. In 2001, Jan was the office productivity expert for staples.com. She has appeared on radio and TV all over North America and is quoted regularly in print. Jan is currently on the board of the Tri-State Chapter (NY, NJ, & CT) of the National Speakers Association.