Here’s a trick question: How many business cards does a person actually keep, out of the many collected each week? OK, don’t answer that.
Nearly every profession offers business cards these days. Individuals even create their own, ordering from online or brick-and-mortar print shops or producing their own on cardstock. It’s easy to accumulate an ever-growing mountain of business cards, simply by interacting with everyday folks at work and even at play.
What’s the proper protocol for dealing with the bounty of business cards we seem to collect?
Here are 10 tips to consider when receiving professional business cards.
1. Be selective in requesting business cards.
First, it’s best not to ask for a business card, unless one is seriously interested in keeping track of a new contact. Business cards are not collectibles that accumulate value like baseball cards, movie memorabilia, or souvenirs. Why fill up a business card file with information from people with which one never intends to connect?
2. Ask for an extra card, if you honestly plan to refer the person to another.
It is perfectly acceptable for a well-connected professional to ask a new contact for multiple business cards, if specific pass-alongs are likely.
3. Prepare business cards in various languages, if you travel internationally.
Global business dealings may require bilingual (or even trilingual) business cards. It’s common practice to print in a two-sided format, with a translation on the back, for use with foreign contacts. Here’s a warning, though. Beware of online translation tools, which may produce embarrassing errors. It’s better to ask a fluent national to check business card copy before printing.
4. Reciprocate when contacts give you their business cards.
Business cards come cheaply, compared to potential gaffes. It’s a good idea to keep plenty of cards on hand for business and social gatherings. If someone offers a card, it’s a good idea to offer one back.
5. Read business cards immediately when you receive them.
It’s easy to be forgetful with names, especially when meeting lots of people at one time. It may help to look at someone’s business card and read the name aloud. It is OK to ask a person to repeat his or her name or help with pronunciation, if one does not catch it correctly at once.
Often, business card details may offer a way to find common ground as well, remarking about company contacts, office or plant locations, and other interesting details.
Here’s a tip: Why not jot some notes on the back of a new contact’s business card to aid in remembering pertinent information or the context of the initial meeting?
6. In meetings, arrange business cards in front of you for easy reference.
Professional meetings don’t always include place markers to identify participants. Setting business cards on the table in seating order helps a lot, particularly for using people’s names correctly during discussions.
7. Never refuse to accept another’s business card.
People may become insulted after offering a business card to another and being turned down. What does it cost one to accept a simple card?
8. Don’t toss business cards immediately, even if you don’t plan to keep them.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but too many actually do it. How much more tactful is it to stick business cards in a pocket, purse, or briefcase for the moment? It’s easy to throw out superfluous or irrelevant cards later, out of sight of the folks who handed them over.
9. Follow up with those whose business cards you receive.
After a strategic or helpful introduction to someone, it’s nice to send a quick email to acknowledge the meeting. This puts one another’s contact details into each person’s system. That’s Networking 101.
10. Keep business cards organized in your office.
This is a crucial step, even for those who put phone numbers on speed dial and emails in contact lists. Step two, of course, is to replace old business cards with updated ones, when these are offered. It’s always a good idea to retain the most updated information possible, as this may help to prevent missteps. What if a key contact has changed companies, switched jobs, or reverted to her maiden name?
Business cards may be a somewhat old-fashioned tool, but they still represent professional courtesy and serve as helpful networking devices.