Navigating networking events is hard enough, but what the heck are you supposed to do with all of those cards? I literally collected cards for 30 days straight, and this is what I've decided to do to maximize my impact...
1. Categorize before you follow up
After the first few events I attended, I started noticing that there were 2 types of people at most networking events - people that could help grow my business and people that could use my help growing their business or career. And it's not always easy to remember who is who after you leave the event. So, assign a pocket for each category, or keep them stacked back-to-back, so you know who belongs in each category at the end of the night.
2. Have an email template for each group, then customize
In other words, streamline! Stop trying to use completely different emails for every single follow up - decide what you'd like to accomplish with your follow ups to each group, and take a few minutes to craft a general email to send that will allow you to reach out without wasting too much time. Of course you've got to customize your email based on the individual conversations you've had, but having 75% of an email done, and then customizing 25% of it is MUCH quicker than trying to craft a fresh email for each contact.
3. Send emails within 48 hours
Just like you are likely to forget people once you get home, it's easy for people to forget you after a day or two. Since you've got your templates, get in the habit of setting up email drafts the night before and then send them all off the next morning - it's the quick-and-easy way to make sure you don't forget who people are, and that they don't forget you!
4. Find ways to develop relationships
If you're REALLY interested in learning more about someone's company, invite them for coffee and meet with the intention of finding a way to help them achieve their goals. You can't expect to get help from others without offering to assist them as well! Set reminders for yourself to follow up with anyone you've met with or want to stay in touch with.
5. Find an app to organize your contacts, then decide which cards you want to keep
Most of us still keep this HUGE stack of cards at our desk, and assume that we'll remember the exact card we'll need at the exact time we'll need it - and the fact is, that's not the case!! Do a quick Google search to find the best apps that will help you digitize and organize your contacts. If you must, ONLY keep cards for people that have responded to your follow up or that you want to target as a potential client.
The biggest thing I learned about collecting cards is you have to learn to love the slow churn - BUT you can speed the process up by taking immediate action. Don't wait to follow up with people that you make a connection with - these are the people that will ultimately help you move forward in your career if you play your cards right (pun intended!).