Should I Keep This Person’s Business Card or Toss It? Who Should Be In My Network?

business-card-pile-2To keep or to toss, that is the question! It seems like a very simple question – maybe even unimportant. But how you answer it can have a significant effect on how successful you are in networking – and in ways you might not have thought of.

Now just to be clear, this doesn’t only apply to physical cards. I’m talking about any time you get someone’s contact info. But talking about business cards, and what we do with them, is simply the most illustrative way to discuss this subject.

Two Common Approaches That Stink, and Why

I find that most networkers tend to make the mistake of going to one of two extremes when it comes to choosing what to do with someone’s contact info. They either suffer from TUNNEL VISION or HOARDING.

Tunnel Vision

This approach is practiced normally by those who do not really understand what networking is. To them, the word networking is merely a euphemism for “prospecting” – just another sales tactic. Very simply, when they get back to the office after an event, they go through the business cards and ONLY keep the ones who might be good prospects to sell their product or service too. The other cards they toss (or worse, they add them to their mailing list without permission).

The point is, their vision is limited to only getting their next customer, not building real relationships. They don’t think too much about the long-term value of building a relationship with the person, the possibility of being referral partners, or the other person’s extended network of contacts. And because of this they are missing out on MOST of the benefits of REAL networking.

Hoarding

The fact of having a growing mound of business cards in itself is not hoarding – it can simply mean the person needs to improve their organization habits or time management so they stop putting off handling that pile. True “hoarding” (when it comes to business cards) is an issue of MINDSET. This person has often had some degree of education in networking – maybe they attended an afternoon lunch and learn or they were a part of a business networking group (e.g. BNI, LeTip). They had some rudimentary training on the importance of networking and of the fact that “You never know who someone else knows”.

The problem comes in when they start to keep EVERYONE’S cards “just in case”. This mindset leads them down the road of wanting to have relationships with ALL of these people because of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Unfortunately, this approach usually leads to networking overwhelm, and rather than building relationships with everybody, you end up building relationships with practically nobody.

A Balanced Approach: Interest Level and Goals

So what kind of “filters” can you put on that list of networking contacts or pile of business cards that will bring you the best results in growing your network?

Quite simply, the two questions you should ask yourself are: 1) Does knowing that person align with any of my goals? or 2) Do I find them interesting?

I can feel some of you bristling or being confused by #2, but bear with me a little longer and it will all make sense.

The first one is quite obvious. First and foremost you have goals to grow your business, nonprofit activity, etc. If the person is a potential customer of yours, if they deal with people who are potential customers for you or if they have some other connections you know you want or need, then clearly there is value of having them in your network.

But the other factor is INTEREST. Maybe there is no clear goal of yours that they align with, but you just really hit it off!  Maybe you have common hobbies or passions. Maybe you see in this other person a version of YOU from years ago and you’d like to help them along somehow. There could be many different reasons for your interest. In fact, even the first point (aligning with your goals) is just another specific “interest” of yours.

The point is: IF YOU CAN’T FIND ANY REASON TO BE INTERESTED, THROW THE CARD AWAY! Believe me, if you’ve been hoarding cards, throwing away some of them will be a real load off! Seriously, hoarding comes from a SCARCITY mindset and there’s no need for it. And hey, just because you’re not interested in them this time doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind if you encounter them again.  Over time circumstances change and so do your interests, goals and what you know about the person.

It may be true that “you never know who someone knows”, but if that contact can’t at least pass the smell test of “Do I like them?” or “Am I at all interested in them?” then interacting with that person will be a SLOG, will feel like a CHORE and chances are nothing will come of it anyway. And if the contact list you have for your network is peppered with lots of people like that, then the value of your WHOLE LIST diminishes to a degree (just like your LinkedIn connections, I bet).

A Quick Checklist for Deciding

Here’s a quick list you might use for deciding whether to keep someone’s contact info:

  1. Are they a potential customer?
  2. Are they potentially a good referral partner, investor, etc.?
  3. Do they have connections I might find beneficial?
  4. Do I enjoy their company?
  5. Is this someone I might learn from? (possible adviser/mentor)
  6. Do we share common interests, passions, hobbies?
  7. Is this someone I could help/would like to mentor, etc.?
  8. Is this someone who might benefit someone else in my network?

Your own list may vary, but the point is to figure out what that list is and create it based on a balance of alignment with your goals and plain old “interest”.

Making this one switch will do wonders for your motivation and productivity in this wonderful game of networking.