That will be the big clear out that I had over the weekend, when for the first time in my thirty four year career, huge quantities of card and paper were removed from shelves, shoe boxes, plastic stacker boxes and ‘filed’ in the circular filing cabinet.
It’s not that I’m a hoarder; no, this was stuff that I just had to keep. But over the weekend I finally let it go.
The material that headed for the recycling facility was my collection of literally thousands and thousands of business cards.
Before I became self-employed, I worked for a number of large financial institutions in Sales. Over twenty five years in Sales and Key Account roles, I averaged ten meetings with prospects and clients every week. I also attended every conference, every industry exhibition and had developed a technique for collecting audiences’ business cards after every seminar and conference where I was speaking.
That resulted in a massive collection of business cards. In fact, I didn’t stop collecting them when I went self employed. At that point I started running several seminars each month and was speaking at even more events, so my business card collection grew even faster.
It goes without saying that a large business card collection can mean a very large list for your newsletter, and that can mean a truly valuable prospecting list. And if you enjoy networking then a large collection can make networking almost a full time occupation! But it was this collection which formed the foundation for my own social networking site, so it proved to be valuable in its own right.
One observation I had, was that in the financial world where I was collecting these cards, the turnover rate (i.e. people changing jobs and companies) seemed very low. In fact, a quick look through the cards over the weekend showed that many people whose names were on cards I was given twenty/twenty five years ago are still there. In many cases the logo and name of the company has changed (due to takeovers and endless reorganisations), but a lot are still in a similar role and at the same organisation. And although a lot of people had changed companies, they were still in my card box – still a part of my network.
But all of a sudden technology has changed things. Over the last five years, I’ve experimented with various business card scanners and devices, all of which have promised to make my life a little less cluttered and a lot more organised. Most of which have done nothing of the sort. A lot of names on cards ended up as Contacts in Outlook and more recently in Google Apps – but essentially they are still just names on cards – whether on paper or kept digitally. They’re static – they don’t live and breathe.
It has been since I’ve been running workshops and consulting on how to use LinkedIn that I realised that I now, finally, no longer need to keep those business cards. Why, because the overwhelming majority of those people are now on LinkedIn and other social networking sites – where not only do I have a simple record of their name and company, but I can now get a much more detailed sense of who they are, what they are about, their areas of expertise, what they’re doing, what projects they are working on, where they are in the world – and much more. They even let me know electronically when they change jobs.
In fact, their online profiles are telling me much more about them than I had ever known in the first place when I originally met them face to face. Many of these people had great reputations in business in the ‘real world’, but now they are developing reputations in the ‘online world’ too.
But a word of caution; if you had a great reputation in the real world, it does not necessarily follow that you have a great reputation in the online world. In fact some people’s online profiles (particularly on Facebook and Twitter) tell people a lot more about them than perhaps they had intended.
Social Media enables and empowers people to highlight their expertise and their personality to the world and reputation matters. It always did and always will; don’t get too carried away with the visibility that Social Media gives you – think carefully about what you want people to see and experience about you.
The relief was palpable and like a weight off my shoulders when the business cards headed for the recycling via the shredder. But I was also relieved that every single person is still part of my network and still just a click away.
Where is your network – in a card index on your desk or dead and buried in a box on your office floor? Or living and breathing online?
Tip: If you can’t yet get your head round finally ditching your business card collections, check out LinkedIn’s cardmunch app which enables you to scan a card and connect with them on LinkedIn – all in one process. It’s a really neat way to integrate your ‘real life networking’ with your ‘online networking.’