Business card dilemma: Why take them? Why keep them? What to do with them?

I have a notebook binder with a 1000-1500 business cards, most of which are from people that I met once and wouldn’t recognize again.Originally, the idea was to gather names for a newsletter database but my paranoia about being a spammer got the best of me: First, I sent newsletters to my entire business cards database and got some negative responses from some recipients. Later, I started asking first before sending a newsletter but often forgot to ask. Finally, I prefaced each newsletter with a disclosure advising people to unsubscribe if they didn’t want to be on my “list”.

No matter how we look at it, business cards remain one of the least expensive forms of marketing but what kind of contact or impression are you making? Business cards are ideal for speed networking events, kids birthday parties, Rotary meetings, Chamber of Commerce events, and little league soccer games; they are quick and efficient for short brief encounters.

When I first got into insurance sales our manager would say everything revolves around the “Law of Large Numbers”, i.e. “You have to talk to 30 people a day everyday”. Not everyone is prepared to purchase or needs your services today but the more people you talk to the more opportunities you have to meet someone who becomes a live prospect. The “Law of Large Numbers” works but the LoLN is work; the LoLN is fishing, looking for that sweet spot.

There is a number of networking referral groups whose premise is that people purchase products from people they know and trust and readily encourage various forms of card exchanges. These groups, who meet on a regular basis, encourage people to get to know each other on a “deeper” level and approach relationships from the “Six degrees of Kevin Bacon” point of view.

There is always the expectation that group members will provide a qualified lead shortly. People do business with people they feel they have some connection with; thus, if I know what you are looking for I’ll connect you with my “friend”, and if not, some groups will ask you to leave the group. I never felt that this was very good for developing trust for true relationships.

I talked to a friend last week who said she only exchanges business cards with people she feels are sincere and with whom she might do business. Are you missing someone? A woman I know who represents an online greeting card company, sends an acknowledgement card to each person she meets-not only as a way of reaffirming the contact but also as a means of exhibiting the use and quality of her product.  People who accept a trial or purchase her product then become part of her database which she infrequently sends reminders or birthday notices. I’ve always been impressed by her diligence.

Thus, I have a large notebook of business cards and from the LoLN point of view this would be my starting point for any new product/service I wished to market. In addition, 1000+ cards must mean that I’m connected to many people. My reality is that I’m not a good net-worker, I collected cards with the hope that someone would remember me and when they had an office networking need they’d call me.

In the reverse, I have at least 50 cards from real estate agents, but I only know two or three of them (one of them is my wife’s friend). Who did I call when I sold a commercial building last month; none of them.

I think business cards are as important as you make them. To me the issue is not collecting cards or developing a follow-up data base but are you developing relationships?

One of my biggest business mistakes when I changed careers some time ago was not maintaining my social capital. Different business offerings meant different contacts, right? Wrong! Our social capital whether business or personal is our most important asset; no matter what we do as humans we are no better or worse than the company we keep.

There are no shortcuts to building social capital. Building a reputation/brand takes time and effort; therefore it is more than just exchanging business cards at networking events, it is about developing relationships. Serious relationships last over time not just at networking events or at the time of the sale or the receipt of the check.

So my quandary is not how many business cards I’ve collected but how many relationships have I built?

(Originally published on


2 thoughts on “Business card dilemma: Why take them? Why keep them? What to do with them?

  1. Social capital. Got it. I think I hear your message: take the time and effort to build it or earn it then do not waste it. One of many good points in this piece. Thank you.

  2. Pingback: Authors of the Economy of the Future

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