Rather than making business cards obsolete, technology merely transformed how we use them. Good, old fashioned, business cards still are important. Never leave home without at least a couple in your wallet. In a business situation, the card allows you to appear prepared, professional, and ready for any opportunity that may come your way.
In the past, the business card was an essential part of any business introduction; now it is key to accessing and retaining relevant contact information. You and your new acquaintance can exchange cards and look each other up on the computer and then request to connect via LinkedIn or other social media. You can only locate each other on the Internet following a first meeting, however, if at least one of you remembers the other’s name and how to spell it.
There is nothing faster and simpler (and more accurate) than handing a new acquaintance a business card to exchange information compared to manually writing down important data such as phone numbers and websites. Business cards are especially handy when meeting people on the run, when you only have time to introduce yourself and offer your card. Most people are in a hurry. They may not want to stand around while you to find something to write on or punch numbers into your cellphone, nor do they appreciate being told to “Google” you. If you want to encourage someone to talk to you again, it’s easiest to present your card. Asking for their e-mail address or getting them to jot down yours sometimes is a bit more awkward. The card also heads off any issues of illegible or inaccurate note taking. Especially when you attend a networking event and meet quite a few people, it’s unlikely that you otherwise would remember all their names and companies by the time you got back to your computer.
The act of passing business cards is more personal than keeping your head down to input the information into your cellphone. The exchange of cards with your hands free of digital devices allows for a handshake, plus eye contact and a smile. Networking is about making meaningful connections, and sometimes technology—or the act of using it—can be impersonal. Keep your phone tucked away so as to engage with the person in front of you. A business card is a great way to start or end a conversation and makes the exchange that occurs between the two people personal and tangible, like a symbolic giving and receiving of gifts. Plus, a business card that sits on someone’s desk for a while is a physical reminder to reconnect after the meeting.
The great thing about business cards is that they’re not just low-tech, they’re no tech. They don’t require compatible technology and their batteries never run down. They’re never inaccessible because of dead spots or Internet outages. You can use them on a remote trail or at an industry conference in a mid-city hotel – or even in situations where cell phones and other digital devices must be turned off, such as on planes or in hospitals. At conferences, can you drop them into the jar or basket for gift drawings.
Don’t just collect business cards—use them affirmatively to build your network. As soon as reasonably possible after you get someone’s card and conclude your conversation with them, jot a few notes on the back. You want to jog your memory about something special that’ll help you remember them, plus follow-up steps. Later, either use a smartphone app to snap a picture of it and instantly digitize the card’s information or manually enter it into your contact management database. Next, send a request to connect with them on LinkedIn and/or other social media with a personal message reminding them of where you met and, perhaps, something you discussed. Most importantly, set up a tickler for future follow up to keep that connection going IRL—in real life. Lastly, if you wish, feel free to toss the card into the recycling bin.
Pro tip: Collect business cards at job interviews to make sure you have the emails you need to thank everyone and spell the company and the interviewers’ names correctly.
Pro tip: When attending a potential networking situation, keep your business cards in your right jacket pocket and deposit the cards you receive from others in your left jacket pocket. That way, your cards are handy and you won’t mix them up and give out someone else’s card (which you just collected) by mistake.