I finally decided to recycle the last box of business cards that I had collected from various connections over the years. There was no good reason to hang onto them anymore -- most of the people had moved on and were working somewhere else anyway. That box of business cards had become nothing more than a paperweight of fleeting memories.
Business cards are great -- if you are hard-pressed and need a bookmark. Other than that, they are pretty much useless these days.
You may wonder why I am picking on this venerable tradition. For centuries, business cards (known as "trade cards" in the 17th century) have been a respected form of currency in the professional world. They were an inexpensive and easy way to communicate who you were and what you did.
I remember looking forward to getting that new box of business cards whenever I joined a company or received a promotion. I saw business cards as a badge that signified my advancement as a product leader -- more validation of my career progress. But now I know that was silly.
No 3.5-by-2-inch piece of cardboard is a sign of your worth -- then or now.
I now see these paper relics as a quaint throwback to our pre-digital past -- and largely unnecessary, because today there are better, more personal and permanent ways to connect.
Instead of handing out business cards indiscriminately, I suggest that you save a few trees and do this instead:
Leverage social media
Make the most of LinkedIn or other social networks, and invite your new acquaintance to connect there. You can learn about the person's background, see connections you have in common, and send messages. And even if your new connection switches companies, you will not lose track of them -- unlike a business card, which becomes worthless as soon as a person makes a career move.
Use your phone
You most likely always have your phone right with you -- so use it to your advantage. When you meet someone new, immediately add them to your contacts and send them your stored contact info as well. This effort demonstrates more sincere interest than passively accepting a card and sticking it in your pocket for later disposal. Adding someone to your contacts list means you can keep track of other details all in one place, including their email, website, and other notes.
Here is a great way to connect with someone you just met -- immediately send them a brief email to follow up. This reinforces your earlier introduction and can spark up a conversation. It can also lay the groundwork for a meaningful relationship. Make sure that your email signature includes all of your contact information, just in case they decide to call you or check out your company website.
Rather than exchanging business cards and promising to meet at some vague time "in the future," set a date instead. You and your new acquaintance can easily pull up your calendars to arrange a follow-up meeting or a call. An on-the-spot decision to set up a meeting will leave a positive impression, demonstrating responsiveness and genuine interest.
Yes, for hundreds of years the ritual swapping of business cards seemed necessary to validate who you were and what you did for a living.
But today business cards add a layer of formality (and more clutter) that we simply do not need.
So go ahead and ditch those old cards. Embrace more personal ways to connect. And stop kicking yourself for losing that card when you actually need to reach out to a specific person and deepen your connection.
How do you like to connect with new professional contacts?