THE BLOG
05/25/2016 12:33 pm ET | Updated 2 days ago

Transform That Nagging Stack of Business Cards into Opportunities

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By Vanessa Best

We've all experienced the stack of unsorted business cards looming on the corner of the desk. We say, "I'll get to them tomorrow," which turns into next week, which turns into next month - and then we just give up. We all know what happens next. Along comes another event and the pile continues to grow...

What are you leaving on the table when you ignore that stack? Quite simply: money, in the form of business cards. If your pile has grown so large that you've said, "It's not worth it now, I'll do better next time," then today is the day to change your stack of business cards into opportunities that mean more money in your pocket.

I would bet that when you go to a networking event, including a conference or meeting, as an entrepreneur you make sure your look projects confidence and poise. Because you know the adage "you get only one chance to make a first impression," you pay attention to your outfit, the colors on your color wheel, your makeup, hair, nails, shoes and bag. You practice your elevator pitch and walk in well-equipped with business cards.

The important factor to remember is that the sale and opportunity also begin at the first encounter. This includes getting business cards from potential clients and ensuring the cards are a tool for the sale. I remember hearing motivational speaker and financial guru Suze Orman talking about the need to respect money. She mentioned that we can't just throw money in our bags; we have to respect it. We should know how much we have and we should keep it neat. The same principle should apply to business cards from potential clients. Respect them; keep them neat; don't just toss them in your bag.

Business cards are keys to potential opportunities. Here's how to keep that stack from growing to overwhelming proportions and start gaining value from it.

Steps to take when you get a business card

Write on it!
As an entrepreneur, you probably often use your phone or tablet to take notes, jot ideas, check and respond to emails and mark your electronic calendar. But when you get a business card, your first step should be to take out an old-fashioned pen and write a note on the back of the card. It's even okay to let the person see you writing the note. The act of writing the note says: "You're important and I don't want to forget the critical details of your story."

Remember, the opportunity or sale begins at the first encounter. You need to set the stage for follow-up. The person you've just met is a lead and is important in your pipeline. The business card is the tool to get the pipeline moving. I often say to a new contact, "Excuse me, let me get a pen. I want to write this down so when I follow up with you on Monday, I won't forget." Some notes on the back of the card may include:

  • A topic you discussed with the person
  • Best day/time to contact them
  • A common contact you share
  • An "ask" you will request of them
  • A "give" you will provide to them

This prepares you for the follow-up.

Convert the business card information into data for an electronic list

The purpose of collecting cards and making notes is to gather information you can act on. You have to convert this paper-based intelligence into an electronic form you can use to follow up and track success. Whether you have a current stack of business cards or are preparing for your next event, there are several ways to do this.

  • Get a free app to do it electronically. Search for the application category "free business card scanner." Many apps allow you to take pictures of (scan) the collected business cards. The program will then convert the data from the cards into a single Excel spreadsheet.
  • Manually create a simple spreadsheet in Excel with columns for name, address, email, telephone, notes, etc.
  • Use a service like Fiverr. This online marketplace offers creative and professional services for as little as five dollars. A seller that does data entry can create the spreadsheet for you very economically.

Work your list of leads

Now that you have a list, you can work it in many ways.

Shade your spreadsheet
  • Identify colors for hot leads (red), warm leads (green) and lukewarm leads (yellow).
  • Go after your hot leads first. Work down to your lukewarm leads.
Create a template for your emails, then customize
  • Say something like "It was great meeting you on Tuesday at the WENYC networking event." Then draw on the notes you took at the first meeting. End the email with a request for a brief (15-minute) teleconference.
  • If you're working through your existing stack and don't have any notes, you could say something like "I have your card because we met recently. I am reaching out because I would welcome the opportunity to get reacquainted and learn more about your business." End the email with a request for a 15-minute teleconference.
Integrate with other programs
  • Get an email marketing program like Constant Contact or MailChimp, both of which offer free plans for up to a certain number of contacts. You can import your list and send mass emails, positioning yourself as a subject matter expert along with providing updates about your company.
  • Use a CRM (customer relationship management) program to track all the details about the new opportunities and interactions. There are many free online CRM programs.
  • If CRM is not for you, continue to use your spreadsheet to keep track of your opportunities and leads.

No matter what business you are in, never leave money - or a stack of business cards - on the table.

Respect them, nurture them and watch them turn into profitable business opportunities.