What Should I Do With the Business Cards I Receive?

One of my (many) failures as a professional is my utter lack of a contact management system. I handle my contacts through Gmail’s search feature. So, if we haven’t received or sent an email, you are dead to me. I don’t defend this approach, it’s just the one I ended up with.

Let’s go upstream a little, though, and talk about what I do with business cards. Because that’s really what I’m getting at–what do I do when I receive contact information for a human I’ve recently met? Currently, it works like this:

  1. Do I want something from them, or is there some kind of action item associated with our conversation (“I’ll send you that article”, “here’s that plumber I mentioned”, and so forth)? I act on that more or less immediately, sending them an email so that they’re in my de facto CRM system.
  2. Do they want something from me? I wait for them to email me.
  3. If neither #1 or #2 apply, their card sits in a stack on my desk for a while. And then it usually gets thrown away.

Here’s what I should probably do: when I receive new business cards, immediately enter them into some kind of system which enables me to categorize, tag and annotate their contact details (“Met this dude at SXSW, does graphic design work for bands”). Maybe Apple’s Address Book software is satisfactory for this? I don’t want to use LinkedIn for this, because I don’t want to rely on somebody else to take action. Nor do I want to spam them with invites should they be disinclined to use the tool. After all, it’s my CRM problem, not ours.

But there’s a more fundamental question at play: why bother capturing contact details for people where there isn’t an immediate, obvious reason to do so (as in #1 or #2 above)? I already know more than enough web designers. Yet I meet new ones every month. Should I enter them all into my CRM system? There are exceptions, of course. We met a guy from Lonely Planet at SXSW. While I can’t say what use that connection might be today, I can imagine that it might be useful in the unknown future. Maybe I just need to be selective about who makes the CRM cut?

What do you use with the business cards you receive? And how do you manage your contacts?


  1. I use pretty much the exact system you do, with one small addition.

    For contacts whose use seems like it might be handy on a more abstract basis, I send them a follow-up note to say “Hi, it was great to connect with you, I enjoyed chatting with you about X (your work at Lonely Planet) – some sort of closing, Best, -Me”.

    That solves the problem of both getting them into my system, and giving me some search ammo when I want to find them and say to myself “what was the name of that lonely planet person again…?”

  2. Same as you, more or less. Occasionally, very occasionally, I’ll enter someone’s details manually in Gmail’s contacts so I can somehow keep track of them.
    Rarely, however, do I e-mail someone for the first time weeks or months after I receive their card. Usually I send out a message right away or never at all.
    What I haven’t found a solution for is forgetfulness. If i forget someone’s name/company and their card isn’t right in front of me at that moment, I have no way of finding the e-mail address for ‘that guy who did that cool interactive video thing for that big brand’.

  3. I scan my business cards in and organize them. Interesting – I never thought other people had the seemingly OCD that I had with contact information.

  4. Like the others, I have a very similar system. Though I do put really unusual business cards in a clear jar on my desk to save for design inspiration.

    I have also found myself rooting through that pile in the hopes I still have a card for someone 6 months later.

    My problem is that I’m a visual learner, so I wish I could search for “that guy who had that really neat blue striped card” since I may not actually remember it was Lonely Planet 🙂

    I like Jen’s addition to the system – need to make time after conferences to do that.

  5. I use a service called Jibberjobber. It’s basically a customer relationship management system for networking. Very helpful!

    I started using it a couple years ago, and it really helps keep me from losing the info of interesting people.

  6. I use my CueCat scanner to read the CueCat barcode that they’ve put on their business card. Automagically enters their contact information in my address book of choice.

    If they don’t have a CueCat barcode on their business card, they’re obviously not “with it” enough for me to bother having amongst my contacts.

  7. I collect them and every month or two scan them and bring them into Evernote. Then I can access them from anywhere via the web, tag them, annotate them, search them, etc.

  8. I enter the business card contact info into GMail Contacts and tag them with where I met them, what their profession is etc. That way I can search my contacts, and – for example – if I need to contact a project manager, or anyone I met at a PMI dinner, I just need to type in PMI into search and I get my list. It is robust.

  9. Annnnnd I keep those cards because I like to look at them later. You never know where ideas will come from, or new inspiration from a conversation that happened long ago.

  10. I don’t get that many but use the email contacts, in my case Outlook. However I just capture name, company, email, web and mobile with a “reminder” where/when we met, why the contact mattered.

    I don’t bother inputting stuff like street address, even title. If they are on LinkedIn I use that as the master, syncing outlook tto it to capture changes.

  11. Entourage and notes for me. Then it all gets synced with my iPhone. I hate the gmail gui. Then the cards get tossed in the recycle bin.

    I’m not with it enough to know what the heck CueCat is. I use my fingers.

  12. Write notes on the business card of a reason to follow up with person. Get home and no notes, probably ditch the card.

    Use LinkedIn as the first follow up — write a custom message (i.e. basically write your first email to them in LinkedIn). If they’re on LinkedIn (probably if they’re any good), you’re also connected to the rest of their network, and you’ll have updated contact info.

    Also, at Bootup, we’re currently using Batchbook. Send email, BCC Batchbook to get new contacts into the system. Annotate with tags. We do this because we need to keep track of a lot of startups, founders, service providers, etc., and the capture of contacts just happens automatically by BCC’ing via email. As one (or two) people, you likely don’t need this.

    You can use Apple address book notes field as “Tags”, and sync the whole thing with Google Contacts. Google Apps has a new “contact manager” that lets you share with your domain.

    And yes, the cards get ditched.

  13. My filtering method is similar to Boris’s, but without the criteria of added notes. If I recall enough about the person when looking at the card to still be interested after meeting, they go into the Address Book and the paper gets recycled. I do miss the visual tie-in, though, and like Kate I sometimes do recall someone more strongly from a well-designed card.

    If I need a bit of extra context as I enter a person into Address Book, I make some notes there.

    I’m glad to see so many mentioning synching as part of their contact management. Entering date more than once is not how I like to spend my time.

    1. I watch them slowly grow into an orderly tower on my desk. I can remember the order in which the tower was assembled and quickly find the one I need if I need it. When the tower collapses, I start another one. And move the collapsed tower to a filing box.

      Business cards may also be inspirational, sometimes. And mark the passage of time.

  14. You can use services such as CloudContact to turn them into a digital address book and sync it with your Gmail, Linkeding, PLaxo etc….

  15. I have one of those IKEA boxes with 6 little drawers in them and a pile of cards on my desk.
    Once a year or so, I take the cards out of my IKEA box and go through them. If I can’t remember the person, the card goes in the bin, otherwise they go back in the box and the cards on my desk now get to go in the box…

    Like Kate, I also have another very small stack for inspiration.

  16. Cuecat?! The presence of a CueCat barcode on a business card would immediately denote that a loser still stuck in the year 2000 (with an irrational fondness for anti-privacy data-mining tech), providing immediate grounds for shredding the card instantly.

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