If you own a business - and you probably are or want to be if you are reading this article - then you probably have business cards. You have your own of course, but you also have been collecting cards. Business cards are the world's smallest billboard. They are chock full of information and insight into a company and an individual. They also start to take over desks, counter tops, wallets, desk drawers, the center console of your car, and once in a while the washing machine (Oops!).
As I've tried to get more organized I've created an elaborate chain of command for business cards. You don't have to have a long process - probably just a few different boxes or bins. These are the names on my bins.
BNI Members (1st 3 cards) - If you are a member of my BNI chapter I'm carrying three of your business cards in my BNI card wallet. When I talk to someone who expresses an interest in your service or if they have a need that you can fulfill then I pass them a card. I'll let you know that I'm promoting you and if they give consent I'll pass you a written referral in BNI with their phone number.
BNI Members (overflow cards) - Sometimes I end up with extra cards of yours. I keep a small box of overflow cards of active Ithaca Thumbs Up BNI Members.
Top 10 Referral Source - If you and I have developed a relationship and we are both at a high level of credibility with each other - then I put 1 of your cards in my wallet. I usually carry cards for my top 10 sources, 5 of my own, and 5 of Arjan's. I keep 5 of each card for each of my top 10 sources in the center console of my car. All of the rest I keep on a Top 10 Referral Source table in my office. When clients come to visit - the top 10 Referral Sources are displayed.
Certified Networker Students at Credibility - My business is about helping people grow their business by referral. A Referral Institute client doesn't get automatic credibility with me - it takes time. For all of my Certified Networker clients where our relationship is at Credibility - I have a special box for your cards. I bring them to our Certified Networker classes and my Referral Success 101 classes to share with other Referral Institute clients.
Credibility Rolodex - For members of the business community where we have a credibility relationship (and you aren't one of my top 10 sources or an active BNI member) I keep a Credibility Rolodex. I use this to refer non-contact sphere professionals to clients, family, and friends. I try to keep one of your cards in this rolodex and the remainder in a Credibility Box.
Visibility Drawer - If we've met, but we aren't yet at Credibility, then your card goes in the visibility drawer. It isn't a dungeon - its just a holding place. I can't refer people to you (because I really don't know you yet or I'm not sure if we can trust each other yet). Ask me if you are in my visibility drawer - if I say yes - maybe we should spend some time together moving our relationship from Visibility to Credibility. I try to sort this drawer alphabetically - just in case I want to find your card to hand to someone. This hand off is not a referral - it is probably given with a little warning that I can't really vouch for your service or product.
Invisibility Drawer - I'm not sure who you are and I'm pretty sure you really don't know who I am. How did I get your card? Maybe I picked it up because I thought you had a business that I might need to use (possible vendor) or because one of my referral partners or clients was looking to meet someone in your profession or because your card looks really nice.
It only took me about 7 years in business to realize that I needed to do something proactive to control the flow of business cards coming into my life. When I'm ready to refer someone I know just where to look. My goal is to revisit these bins, boxes, and drawers at least 3 times a year to move cards into their proper location. Ideally all relationships would go from Invisibility to Visibility to Credibility, but they may go in the other direction too!
What do you do with the business cards you receive? How much more powerful would your referral activity be if you could pass the card of your referral partner to the prospect or potential client? What is someone was able to do that for you?