How to Organize Your Networking

If there’s one thing I learned from years interning and then working in the Nation’s Capitol, it’s that Washington, DC is a city that’s hooked on binders.

When I interned on Capitol Hill, all the briefing books and itineraries for Members of Congress were presented neatly in small, white, 3-ring binders. In the advocacy organizations where I consulted and the companies where I cut my teeth in the training space, there were bookshelves full of binders. Perhaps it’s not so surprising, then, that I’m currently assembling binders for this weekend’s Bossed Up Trainer Team training here in Denver.

Now I know what you’re thinking: this is the most analog, old-school boss tip ever! And it is! As a bit of a digital nomad and scrappy entrepreneur myself, my whole company runs off of GoogleDocs, so I’m not exactly one to rely on printed papers and filing cabinets myself.

But there is one way that binders have become a HUGE life-saver for me: collecting business cards.

I go to LOTS of conferences, and I’m always networking and making new friends at events and happy hours. At the end of the night the same thing happens every time: I come home or back to my hotel room exhausted, empty my pockets of all the business cards I picked up and toss them on my desk before hitting the hay.

As you probably know, 99% of the networking game is all about the follow-up. Who cares if you made a new connection if you don’t follow up and follow through to nurture that budding relationship?

But it’s easy to miss that mark by pushing those business cards aside and forgetting about them. Most business cards exchanged at events wind up in the trash! And that’s especially true for those connections that don’t have an immediate next step. You thought they were cool, but don’t see an imminent opportunity for collaboration, so you justify tossing them out.

But over the past decade, I’ve found another way: I stash my business card collection in a binder that looks a lot like a baseball card collection. They sell those plastic page inserts at office supplies stores and each sheet holds about 20 business cards when you double-stuff each pocket, front and back.

I don’t waste time organizing them in any particular way, but rather, try to keep things mostly chronological. That way, when I’m wondering, “Ooh! Who was that person I met at my workshop at the University of Kentucky back in March?” I can flip through the pages and get my bearings by seeing a bunch of folks I’d met around the same time. It’s not a perfect science, but it’s saved me MANY times over when I’ve been struggling to recall someone’s now when all of sudden they come to mind as a valuable connection to follow up with NOW.

You may have seen that there are more 21st-century solutions to business card tracking: scanners that automatically upload your new business cards and turn them into contacts in your computer or CRM software. But I have to say: I really don’t find those as useful. While they are, admittedly, much easier to search when you have a specific name in mind, when you don’t, chronological browsing seems much harder. I like retaining the actual card itself and seeing my own handwritten scribbles on the back where I often take notes to remember about people when I first meet them.

Whichever route you go, I highly encourage every professional to be disciplined about your business card routine. Keeping tabs on your new connections is such a critically important key to ongoing success, even if that means you let those piles of cards stack up over the course of a week or month before organizing them and filing them away. I now have multiple binders in my office, chock full of folks I’ve met along my professional journey, that I can browse through and remember how far I’ve come, and how many amazing people I’ve crossed paths with along the way.

Do you have a business card best practice to share? Have binders served some other key purpose for you in your career and life? I’d love to hear about it on social media at @emiliearies and @bosseduporg, or in the comments section at below.

And as always, weigh in on the conversation in the Bossed Up Courage Community on Facebook. I can’t wait to hear what you think!

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