A business card is a simple tool for sales or marketing, and, like any tool, it should be used with intent. But most people force cards on others, who accept out of politeness.  

Worse, some just throw their cards around like confetti, hoping that others will keep them and someday call. But they don't. They get home and throw them aside or put the info in their contact list and forget the people who passed on the card in the first place. Yes, even the clever or fancy cards rarely serve as a reminder of their source.

When you are networking, you are looking to connect with those who can help you. They might be customers, connectors, mentors, or other people of value to your business. But not everyone in the room is worth your time. You want to build a relationship with those who are. And business cards rarely get that relationship started.

About two years ago, I stopped carrying business cards to meetings and networking events. It wasn't because I was bumping with my smartphone or using Google Glass to identify worthy prospects with face-recognition programming. It wasn't even because I wanted to save trees. I simply found a more effective way to engage with people I met.

Often, when I meet with people, they ask me for a card. At this point, I know they have some interest in what I have to say or sell. I tell them I don't carry cards, but if they give me their email address, I will send them my contact info. I also ask them if I can send them an interesting link as well. So far, I have never been refused. Either I take their card, write down the address, or have them email me from their smart phone on the spot. I always follow up with an email within a few days after the event.

If you take this approach, you have an advantageous opportunity for three reasons:

  1. You have permission to contact people.
  2. You don't have to wonder if they'll remember you.
  3. You can send them something to truly impress them.

This third element is critical. You have the opportunity to make a real, lasting impression and develop a relationship. Don't blow it. Here are three ways to keep things moving forward:

1. Send something truly useful. Once you have started a relationship, the surest way to end it is by sending high-pressure sales material. Instead, send the person content you know will have real educational value. If you don't have any, create some. I usually send a popular column of mine, or a book link for an interesting author we may have discussed. Regardless, I make sure the first communication gives someone a reason to communicate again.

2. Send something entertaining. So many emails are boring and dry. Show some personality in your communication. This will help your new contact connect your correspondence with who you are. Give the person a reason to smile. People do business with people they like. Help him or her like you. Of course it helps if you are entertaining when you first meet as well. Practice being charming or funny. A little humor goes a long way in relationship building. Then you can always send an appropriate joke.

3. Send something personal. Show your new contacts that you are a listener who heard clearly what they had to say when you met. Ask about their kids or hobbies or any other personal subject you discussed at the initial meeting. Let them know you are interested in them as people and not just prospects. Who knows, they might make good friends as well.

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