Let’s exchange cards

Isn’t this one of the most used and misused sentences at networking events?

Try visualising the following scene: you are at a business networking meeting.  Whether the event is managed by a facilitator or more informal, the typical elements are usually as follows:

  • a room  with several people talking to each other in pairs or small groups
  • some “expert networkers”, those who are visiting any available event in the area and know most of the attendees; they are usually “working the room“, moving from person to person greeting and asking how it is going
  • others, a bit more focussed on meeting new people and find out who is that new face
  • there is always at least one person that is a total beginner to the concept of networking and perhaps a bit insecure about who to talk to and what topics to discuss
  • depending on the type networking event, you can expect some kind of personal introduction or pitch while in other cases simply chatting with people as you “work the room”

Whether this is happening at silly o’clock in the morning for a breakfast meeting, at lunch time or even at an after-work gathering, the scene above describes the typical networking event that covers probably 80% or more of the events I get invited to.

As people meet for the first time it seems a common etiquette to exchange business cards, a kind of ritual that most people seem to be doing for no specific reason; that is the reason I felt inspired to write this article.

In my opinion offering your business card is a good way of providing your details on a neat, well designed and printed piece of good quality paper. The details usually include your phone number, Email address and, in more recent years, some of the available social networking sites.

Now if the purpose of networking is to enlarge your network, you would expect that those spending their time, money and energy to attend such event would plan their visit as part of a strategy that is well aligned and thought within their “marketing mix”.  I am really wondering why most people bother to ask for a card when they meet you; to some extent I am wondering why some people actually bother to go to networking events at all.

If I analyse my personal experience from the beginning of this year I can state that numbers are pretty staggering: having attended approximately 50 networking events between the ones I organise and the ones I have been invited to, I can easily estimate that I have met and exchanged cards with no less than 100 new people.  My usual strategy when I am back from an event is to file each card into my database and send a short Email message where I simply state how nice was to meet the person I am writing to, follow up to the eventual topic we discussed and manifest my willingness to meet again.  In some cases I add a sentence that invites the person to connect with me on LinkedIn. The quite astonishing statistic is that just about 20 of those 100 have even bothered to write back, while 2 of them managed to follow up faster than I did 🙂

So here are my few conclusive questions:

  • Why are people attending a networking event if not to build relationships that could lead to future businesses?
  • What is the value of going to a networking event and collecting business cards?
  • If it’s fine to attend the whole event that is 1 or 2 hours long, why there is no time to allocate 10 minutes and properly follow up the new acquaintances?

When I first started my own business in late 2008 I realised to have a very small business network in Cambridge and realised how important it was for me to go out and meet many people.  Having spent the following 30 months attending no less than 2 networking events per week I managed to built a network of hundreds of people. In fact the first time I organised my first own networking event I had  more than 20 people attending; this event is now Profit Dojo Networking.  It attracts an average of 20+ people every month.  Join us at our next event and please follow up the cards you collect.

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