The Business Card Mafia

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Lions Gate Films
We’ve all been victims of the Business Card Mafia, of which members are known for their short, unmemorable conversations followed by the inevitable business card handoff. The awkwardness ensues from here as we hesitantly return the gesture. I’ve traveled to more tradeshows than I can count, and one of the biggest takeaways I’ve ever gotten is to learn when it is appropriate to give a business card, and when it’s just plain unnecessary.  After all, the goal is not to see who has the biggest stack of business cards, but to effectively meet people with whom there’s a mutual benefit to staying in touch. Too many cards distracts from that. Three common scenarios come to mind:

The Small Talker

What length of conversation merits a business card exchange? This is a touchy one, as we all seem to have different opinions. My thoughts are that an exchange that never ventures past name, title, and home state requires no business card exchange. Sometimes, these small conversations not only never touch on business, but you find out you have little in common on nearly all levels. In this scenario, a card exchange is unnecessary. On the other hand, if the conversation goes beyond “small talk” and there is a possibility for future mutually beneficial interactions, share away, also keeping in mind that sometimes, exchanging only an email or a Twitter handle may cover your bases, and a business card stocked with all of your personal information may not be appropriate.

The “Piles O’ Cards” Networker

Ahh, we cannot forget to mention the person who always hands over not one, but two, three, sometimes uncountable piles of business cards. Perhaps I’m interested in future business, and we had a good conversation. But why all the cards? Are you implying that I should network on your behalf all day? Are you making sure if I lose the first 5, I’ll still be able to get in touch with you? I’ve never been able to crack this code, but I will say, to all of you over-carders, please stop! One is enough, and if our future is that important, I will not lose your card.

The One Who Insists on a Card From You

The last common example that comes to mind is the person who demands a card immediately. It usually appears they are starting some sort of a collection. Before I can spit out my name and title, their hand is out eagerly awaiting my business card. Personally, I think cards should only be requested after a conversation where a possibility of future contact/business is present. You are essentially asking for the person’s phone and email contact, so make sure this is something the other person has made clear that they are willing to offer.

How to Avoid Stacking ‘Em Up

While we can’t always control others’ actions, we can choose how we react. A tip for staying organized between “mafia card traders” and genuine business connections is to make a personal note on the back side of the important cards you receive—something to help you remember your conversation with that person. There are several services available to help organize the piles of cards you receive. To name a few, Evernote, FullContact, and CamCard are all great services for digitally recording contacts and notes so you can keep track of the contacts most valuable to you. Now that you know the rules, I hope you feel better equipped to recognize the difference between expanding your acquaintances and pursuing valuable business opportunities. Don’t fall victim to the clutter of unnecessary contact information. Now, get out there and network!

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