By Cat Lam, CPA, CMA,
In the past few weeks, I attended an extraordinary number of networking events. One thing that is synonymous with networking is, of course, the exchange of business cards. Now, you might as well know. Ask me what I do with these business cards afterwards, and I’ll show you the top left corner of my desk where a pile of them sit collecting dust. At one point in time, I had honourable intentions of taking a picture of all these business cards and attaching them to their respective v-card entry on my phone. But like all things of lower priority, life gets in the way. Hence they sit like a pylon on my desk marking territory. In this digital age where you’re a nobody unless you’re on LinkedIn, or have a Twitter and Instagram following, are business cards now a thing of the past?
Here’s the rub. Business cards arose from a time before there was any social media, or online anything really. Back in the day, the only way you can give someone your phone number was to have it written down on a piece of paper. Now that there are so many other forms of communication, physical cards are only one medium in which your contact points can be transferred. Hence armed with this philosophy, my phone and a good data plan, I knew that I could easily connect with people via LinkedIn.
Let’s examine the point of giving out business cards in the first place. The sole purpose of business cards is to exchange contact information. The very purpose of exchanging contact points is that you intend on potentially building a relationship with that individual. Getting the guy’s business card enables you to have a point of connection so that you can continue that conversation beyond the networking event. With that in mind, it turned out that I serendipitously conducted a social experiment. Here’s what I discovered.
Do you Need Business Cards to Connect and Build Your Network?
Using LinkedIn Profile as Your ‘Business Card’
Joe invited me as one of his guests to the Synergy Network for a breakfast event one morning. I quite honestly didn’t even think of bringing my business cards. I am so used to using my LinkedIn profile to connect. I started chatting with a number of pretty notable people there: owners of multi-million dollar businesses, employees of multi-national accounting firms, and, of course, the guest speaker himself.
(Shawn Kanungo presenting at the Synergy Network, April 26, 2017)
At the end of the breakfast, I connected with a few folks in my immediate vicinity. After some pleasantries and receiving their business cards, I proceeded to corner the guest speaker. I chatted with him on his very insightful presentation. It turns out that he too didn’t use business cards. We connected to each other on LinkedIn. Over the next couple days, we chatted over DM (direct messaging on LinkedIn) and set up a time to get together. All was well.
A couple weeks later, I was invited to a dinner seminar for accredited investors. There I met more folks who owned oil and gas, and construction companies alike. This time, I again connected with a few people after dinner. I received a number of business cards from the notables I met. This time, however, I did not have the chance to connect on LinkedIn. I left the event with a mental note to find those folks online. Turns out, they weren’t even on social media. Now the only way left to connect with them was to either pick up the phone and call them, or send them a follow up email. Neither of which I have done yet. Joke’s on me.
Whether or not you have business cards is beside the point. The magic is not in the card itself. The magic is what you do afterwards to continue the conversation.
Reviewing my experience from the two events, it would occur to me that LinkedIn makes it easy for you to connect and follow up the conversation. It honestly takes more mental energy to retrieve that card from the dusty pile on your desk, open up Outlook and click New Message. Then look for their email address that is likely in 6 pt font, try to enter it correctly, and craft a polite and enthusiastic message. Hopefully, you’ll set a date to meet again at some point in the future. Compare that to the power of LinkedIn, where you’d simply click ‘New Message,’ enter a short note, and hit Enter. Done. I vote LinkedIn.
Will people take you seriously if you don’t have business cards?
Most people are supplied business cards by their company. But if you’re on your own you can get a respectable looking card for under $20 with any garden variety print shop online.
If you don’t have business cards, you are relying on LinkedIn, which obviously is the only acceptable social media platform in a corporate setting (Instagram is a remote second). You better be absolutely sure that your LinkedIn profile is solid. By solid, I mean your profile has the following attributes:
The Bare Minimums That Make a Solid LinkedIn Profile
1. A professional looking profile picture.
This is a must. It should be a respectable looking headshot of yourself, hopefully smiling, wearing something casual or business casual. You in a swimsuit, or showing off your beer belly on a houseboat does not work. Leave that for Facebook. Mark it private.
Whatever image you choose, the important point is to select one. Leaving the profile picture blank doesn’t show that you’re shy and private about social media. It shows that you’re sketchy. For the love of all things good in the world, put on a profile picture already. No one’s going to be able to stalk you at your house just because they know what you look like on LinkedIn. In fact, people who cyberstalk you don’t need to know what you look like at all. They can still find you.
2. An updated summary of your resume.
LinkedIn should not be a complete rendition of your technical resume. No one cares about all 50 million tasks you did in each of your jobs. Not even your mom. Be concise. Give people an idea of your expertise. If they’re interested in finding out more, they’ll click New Message and DM you.
3. Shares of industry or profession relevant material
Most people will do the first two points mentioned. Not many will take it one step further and actively share articles and resources of interest on LinkedIn. I think this is a huge opportunity to showcase yourself, which is severely under-utilized. I’m not saying that you have to blog every week. But sharing articles relevant to your industry or profession shows that you are a thought leader, or aspiring to be one. Ok, well, at the very least, it tells people that you think.
4. Endorsements of your skills from your peers
In the last few years, LinkedIn revamped its entire endorsement process. It used to be that you could write mini-reference letters for your peers. It occurs to me that LinkedIn clued in that most people are too lazy to string a few words together, let alone words that compliment someone other than themselves. Hence the new endorsement process is super simple, and resembles a voting system. If you have any sort of network, you’ll likely have a number of endorsements for various skillsets, which always helps to create social proof for how legit you are.
Anything less than that, you look like a hack.
Are business cards a thing of the past? Maybe. I think that’s not the question to ask though. The presence of business cards isn’t going to make or break your network and connections. It’s what you do with them to continue the conversation that counts.
Catherine (Cat) Lam, CPA-CMA is the founder of ITsolopreneurs.com, a leadership and professional development blog. Energetic, ultra-positive, and having a genuine approach to people are three attributes that are frequently used to describe Cat. She is a seasoned CPA-CMA, systems consultant, fitness instructor, wife, and mother of a spirited pre-schooler. Her passion is to bring together these seemingly independent (yet very related) disciplines and create new ideas and perspectives to super-charge your life, career, business. See what the buzz is all about, and learn more about how you can get success tools to amp up your career and life HERE.