23 March 2012

What is the best way to manage business cards after a conference?

Ask Cath aims to answer your Business Networking questions.

Dear Cath
What is the best way to manage the business cards and contact information that I receive at a conference?

Kind regards
Stephanie Bednarek
Vice President for Programs
Women in Aerospace

Dear Stephanie
It is very difficult to manage all of the business cards and follow up that is required after a conference. Most people that I know, especially those that attend a lot of conferences and networking functions, have little piles of business cards on their desks that began with good intentions, but are now ignored – or they get filed without action. Over the years, I have tried different methods of managing business cards, with varied amounts of success and have finally found a method that works well – I find it liberating!

I followed these steps:
1. Invested in a card-scanning app for my mobile phone.  I choose WorldCard Mobile because it had good reviews. I am not endorsing the product and it works with varying degrees of accuracy.
2. Scanned my cards before I got home from the conference. During this trip, I received 110 new cards and was able to scan them all during breaks at the conference, at the airport lounge, and on the airplane. It was a bit of an effort and required some discipline.
3. Was selective about the information collected: Name, Position, Company, and email address only. All other information I ignored because I hardly ever use it. Also, the scanning software was more accurate with this information because it is usually prominently displayed on the cards. If I had corrected addresses, etc, I would not have finished before I got home and I probably would have given up.
4. The first business day back, I sync’d the phone with the computer and sorted the physical cards by priorityI do not have any actions for people that do not give me a business card unless they email their details afterwards.
5. Sent thank you notes/emails to the people that attended my seminar, to the panel from my talk at the conference, and to the organisers.
6. Sent quasi-generic emails to all of the contacts that I do not intend on contacting regularly. The email was easily customized with a few words and personally addressed. Then I filed the cards. First 100 done! 
7. Worked through the 10-15 high priority contacts. These take more time and I am adding their full contact details to the database. They get my full attention and follow-up.

I feel liberated because there is no pile of cards sitting on my desk awaiting my attention. Because all of the email addresses were waiting in my address book, I have followed up all my new contacts within two days. The best part is that I was able to spend my first days back sending follow-up emails, not trying to enter contact data. 

Now I am busy following-up and turning the best new contacts into relationships.

I hope you can make use of these tips and adapt them to your own system.

Kind regards

Send your networking questions to Ask Cath at connecting@networkingfor.com
Editor's note: letters will be edited for length and content before posting.


  1. Wow, Cath, that's impressive, I've only heard about people doing what you outline and you can see why . . . 7 steps, time, software and hardware and a concerted effort to stay organized and maximize the value from an event. Did you know that 3/4 of the contacts generated at a tradeshow or conference are never followed up?

    That's why you're beginning to see tradeshows and professional conferences utilize electronic business card exchange tools (like our gomobile.pro systems) to help their attendees stay organized, take meaningful notes (rather than the typical, 'scribbles') and engage the people they meet.

    In a time crunched world, these tools are focused on creating value for those that use them so that opportunities aren't left on the conference room floor.

    I'm curious if Stephanie is participating as an exhibitor, a speaker, a sponsor or as an attendee? I've seen these tools work well for every type of participant.

    Best to you and thanks for pointing out what is quickly becoming the major issue with conferences - staying organized and making them worthwhile.

  2. Brian, thank you for your comment!

    It is clear that people do not follow up on conferences and networking events – which makes them very expensive for their employers. It is just too hard. When you return to work, find a week of missing “to do’s” and need to follow-up leads, there is no time for data entry. I think that it is almost impossible to follow-up properly once you are back at the office and that is why I do try to be diligent before I get home. Being a consultant, I either have to pay for the conference myself or have one of my clients pay: this means that I calculate the return-on-investment of every conference. Which means that I need to follow-up every lead.

    From the 100 emails that I sent to people that I had met for the first time, 27 people have replied so far (I haven’t been back a full week yet) and there has been a spike of hits on this blog. This makes it a very successful exercise. But what I find exciting is that 5 of the replies offer leads for my projects – I would have missed them if I hadn’t sent the follow-up emails. Add that to the top 10-15 best leads, and it is an excellent result. I still have to do a follow-up exercise with the people that I already knew who didn’t need to give me a business card.

    To be fair, “the finding an app” step was only done once and it is in my phone everywhere I go. But it does take discipline to enter every card. Data entry is only half the battle. Following-up is the other half.

    I would welcome a product that gathers contact information, including people that I have met before, that makes follow-up easier. But please don’t take away business cards! There is more to them than contact information.

    I am happy if you give a short rundown on your product in case there are any conference organisers and potential clients reading this blog. Please post the link to your website as well.

    I’ll let Stephanie reply for herself.

    Kind regards

  3. And what you're pointing to is the exact reason people should follow up - opportunities! Imagine all the opportunities that DON'T happen because people don't have an easy way to do exactly what you describe. And, your scenario is spot on, too many cards, not enough time.

    There is one system that I'm a fan of www.cardmuncher.com that aligns with LinkedIn. It's pretty simple; take a photo of a business card, through some magical algorithm the contact data is synched with your LinkedIn and voila...contact!

    However, and especially for attendees who want to connect with colleagues, simply having the contact is only the first step. From there, our gomobile.pro tools help people identify the highest opportunity contacts and most qualified leads (if you're looking for them), amongst the dozens/hundreds/thousands of people you run past or directly interact with at a conference and then gives you a real-time method for sending a message, or having the system do it automatically, to connect.

    So, rather than having to manage the paper-based contacts, schedules, maps, documents, etc...gomobile.pro puts an entire event inside your smart phone and gives you tools to 'reach out' to those that it makes sense to do so.

    Happy to answer any specific questions anyone has; founders@busyevent.com

    Thanks for a very well written blog, I've enjoyed reading it since stumbling across 'ask Cath' a week or so ago. A long time air show and aerospace friend of mine sent me a "you've got to read this blog" message and she sure was right!

    Best to all.

  4. Thank you for your input and I'm glad that you enjoy reading this blog. I have been passionate about networking for years and enjoy helping others improve their skills.

    Please say thank you to your friend who passed on the details of The Networking Workshop and help spread the word!


  5. Remarkable suggestions that helps a lot as at the end when yo get lot of cards to handle them properly and saving them from misplacing is little difficult...

  6. Its admirable tips....really helping in making for choosing card designs...thanks for sharing..!! Clear business cards

  7. Thanks for sharing about business cards..

    Plastic card Printing

  8. Nice post with great details. I like to use plastic business cards in the conference, and your idea will help to me also to many other people. Thanks for sharing this great info.