Business networking

The surprising networking event hack that got me 5 new leads

- November 3, 2015 3 MIN READ

You’ve rushed off to a networking event and forgotten your business cards. Don’t freak out. It might be the best thing that ever happened to you!

The exchange of business cards has been a staple of every networking event since the dawn of the modern era. Whenever and wherever two professionals meet, whether at a conference, business lunch, or by chance at a social event, it’s a sure bet they’ll exchange cards and promise to keep in touch.

If you’ve ever been part of one of these exchanges, you already know it’s almost a sure bet that they won’t keep in touch at all. Every one of us has a drawer – or a wastepaper bin – full of business cards we’ve collected here and there and then never followed up on.

So it was with mixed feelings that I realised one day, having rushed out the door to a networking event and short on time, that I had left my business cards at home. By the time I realised what I had done, I was already at the event and being introduced to others.

In a near-panic at being the one person in the building who didn’t have a stack of cards to hand out, I hit on an idea: I asked the person I was speaking with to enter her email address directly into my phone, then I sent her a quick personal message:

Hey Janet,

It was great to meet you at the [insert event] last night! Best of luck with the marathon next week.

I’d love to continue our conversation on how you’re looking to develop more content over the next quarter. How does a catch up sound [insert proposed date]


I did this four more times before the evening was over and, over the next two days, all five people followed up with me.

I’ve never had this type of success with business cards, and it got me thinking about why this method of on-the-spot emails had done so well.

It cut clutter

Nothing saps productivity like clutter, and nothing clutters up a desk like business cards. By collecting business cards from every colleague and potential partner you meet, as if you’re trying to build a whole set, all you’re really doing is accumulating piles of paper until the three or four really important ones are lost in the shuffle.

This is bad enough when it’s your desk being crowded, but if your business card is the one winding up as just one of hundreds on the desk of a potential client or job lead, there’s no reason to expect to hear from that contact ever again.

A personal email, however, goes right to the person’s inbox. Unlike cards, emails don’t fall between the cracks and get lost (most of the time anyway), so your friendly message is going to be one of the first things the other person sees when they’re next at their desk.

It makes you stand out in the recipient’s memory

Just about everybody has business cards, but virtually nobody takes the time to compose a personal note on the spot while memories of the conversation are still fresh. This fact alone makes you stand out from the numberless others at the networking event/trade show/seminar.

In addition, when composing my emails I made sure to adhere to the timeless words of Leo Burnett:

“Make it simple, make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.”

The people I emailed from the networking event all remembered me well enough to pick up our conversations pretty much where we had left off a day or two before. Nothing like that has ever happened with people I’ve given cards to.

It encourages follow-through

Ultimately, you aren’t networking with others just because you like to meet people. The purpose of making professional connections is to broaden your horizons and open up opportunities in your field. That only happens when the connections you make follow through and give you a call, or at least keep the dialogue going between you.

The emails I sent out were short and personal, but they were also direct. Each had a distinct call to action, such as giving me a call for a consultation or emailing me for a white paper we discussed. Every one of the five recipients followed through with my request, some the very next day.

Business cards, on the other hand, are passive tools. Not only are they necessarily impersonal, they usually don’t have a call to action and replying to them takes special effort. When used correctly, an email has none of these problems. And getting back in touch with me is as simple as clicking the reply button.

So my first night without business cards may have been an accident, but the results emboldened me to try it at every event I’ve attended since. While the follow-through hasn’t stayed at quite the 100% level I got on that first night, it’s been successful enough that today that I hardly exchange business cards unless someone asks for it.