Well, first let's back up a bit. When you attend a networking function you will likely exchange cards with several people. Sometimes people will ask you for a card before even asking your name and will shove their own card into your hand. Other people will give you their card after the two of you have had a meaningful conversation. Those cards are your high value cards! Through your brief conversation you have begun to establish a relationship with that person. You want to nurture that!
Take Notes: When you get a card, make a note on the back. I typically write the event and date. I will also note something about the interaction. Did I promise to send them an article? Did they give me a lead on a great plumber? Did they mention a need that one of the people in my network could fill? Don't let too much time lapse before you jot down your notes. You'd be amazed at how quickly your memory fades!
Follow Up: The next day, send a follow-up email to the people you met. Use a subject like "Great to meet you!" In the body of the email, restate where you met the person and mention something about your interaction with them. This helps them recall who you are as well as shows that this is not a form letter. Then--and here is the most important part--invite them to keep the conversation going! Include a line such as, "I would be interested in learning more about your goals for your business and how we can best support one another. Would you be available for either a phone call or to meet for coffee?"
Maintain Their Contact Information: Add their contact information to your contact management database. You may want to hold on to the cards as a visual reminder of the person. Many people slip the cards into plastic binders.
Many people also add the contacts to their mailing list so that the new contact receives their newsletter, blog updates, and promotional offers. While I understand the value in doing this, I hesitate to add people to my mailing list without permission. I would much rather include an invitation to my mailing list in my initial email to my new contact.
I'd love to hear your strategies for dealing with your stack of business cards. Please share your tips in the comments.