It's time to ask yourself: How many business cards have you collected that never again see the light of day?
Seriously. This is an important question.
My mentor Tom Antion doesn't use business cards as a rule. Why not? If people need to reach him and it's that important, they will find a way. I tend to agree. I haven't had any business cards for many years. Instead, I make a point of asking new connections to email me. (When I respond I make sure to include my full contact information.) I have seen people at networking events in L.A. using their phones to type contact information right there on the spot. Fast-forward a few years, and maybe all of us Google Glass-wearing techies can just look at each other to swap contact info. Here's to the future.
I propose skipping the formal and mindless business card exchange if you really want to develop a professional relationship with a contact. Try these alternatives instead:
Stick to Your Inbox
There's nothing worse than having to scour your email for the contact information of someone you need to call quickly. I've remedied this task with help from WriteThat.Name. This tool acts as your personal email assistant to keep all of your contacts automatically updated.
WriteThat.Name scans the signatures of the people you're emailing, extracts their information, and merges it with contacts on your email and phone. The best part of this tool is that your contacts aren't just on your phone; they're also in the cloud for safekeeping.
If you want to keep things as simple as possible, ask new contacts to shoot you an email prior to saying goodbye. This method can be easily implemented with WriteThat.Name and is also a great way to ensure you never miss a chance to follow-up with someone you've met.
Get Smarter With Your Smartphone
If you prefer a software solution rather than a business card, Bump might be the app for you. Available for iPhone and Android, the best part of this app is its ability to transmit information from your phone to your computer. It might be a challenge if you're looking to Bump contact information from someone who doesn't have it downloaded--but 125 million Bump downloads so far indicates the odds are relatively good you'll find someone with the same app.
If you're not quite ready to go completely cardless, try LinkedIn's CardMunch app. It turns business cards into contacts. If you collect a business card at a networking event, simply snap a picture with your camera and let the app works its magic. The picture is immediately converted to a contact, and it also links directly to your new connection's LinkedIn profile information and connections you have in common.
I've only scratched the surface of business card alternatives. What do you use?