Networking is tough and not for reasons that anyone’s wiling to admit. Scrolling through my RSS feed right now, I see blog after blog answering questions like “how to make a good impression when first connecting with someone” or “6 tips for the perfect follow-up” and, sure, these elements are important to address, but answering them doesn’t exactly clear up the larger ambiguities of networking, like “in this day and age, with dozens of social channels to use for networking, should I carry business cards?” or “how soon after making a contact is it appropriate to try and leverage them?”

The reason, it seems, topics like these aren’t addressed is because they’re a bit too ambiguous for comfort. In a world of plug-and-play solutions, professionals want to read blog posts that give clear answers, not frameworks for further thought. But, if we want to address the hard stuff, the really important stuff, we have to accept that ambiguity and situational analysis are the tools we have to work with. There aren’t analytics for in-person networking to look to, and, in these cases, we need to trust ourselves.

Should I Carry Business Cards

The short answer is yes, you should. But even that is not so simple. People are really of two minds about business cards today, during this real proliferation of networking technology. The first camp, the one I’m most inclined to agree with, is the LifeHacker camp who so elegantly addresses the issue by saying:

“Business cards still matter because our memory sucks.”

They go on to explain that, despite all of our digital connection abilities, in-person meetings can be ruined by something as simple as forgetting a name. And think on the alternatives: do you really want to scribble your info on a napkin for someone, someone who you really want to do business with? No, you don’t.

The other camp, those far-forward-thinkers, disagree. Many feel that business cards have “lost their edge” and actually paint a negative picture of card carriers. Forbes writer Ilya Pozin claims “I make a point to have my new contacts email me… it’s normal to see people using phones to collect contacts.”

But is it personal enough? Does it make the right impression?

Really, I think it’s a question of audience. The business card issue straddles a line between business traditions and the inevitability of a technological future of networking. Your best bet, most likely, is to try and please everyone. Get business cards, yes, but have them beautifully designed, decked out in QR codes for the tech-heads, and use mobile card-scanning technology like ScanBizCards to show that, just because you’re committed to tradition doesn’t mean you’re not in the loop.

How Soon After Making a Contact Is It Appropriate to Try and Leverage Them

Ah, another question of audience. It seems like there’s a lot of that going around with few people (marketers excluded) really paying attention to it. We need to get back to our Aristotle, y’all, but that’s for another day.

The truth is that, while there’s never a right time to try and leverage a new contact, there are definitely wrong times. It’s all about reading the situation. Don’t try to immediately leverage a contact if:

  • They don’t stand to gain anything from your deal
  • They were hesitant to meet you or seemed distracted during your chat
  • They are much further along in their career than you
  • You met them somewhere other than a networking event

The fact of the matter is that, with new contacts, you need to be delicate. Yes, you’re connected now, but did they connect with you out of decorum or enthusiasm? Feel them out, send your initial contact connection follow-up and see how they respond. They may be rearing to go on your new idea, but they really, truly, may not. Even though we tend to connect to facilitate current or future business, never forget that connection, fundamentally, is a human thing, and if a human feels he/she is being used, it’s over before it starts.

 

Remember to always think about your audience when approaching networking situations. Whether you’re debating a new business card order or preparing to leverage a new contact, thinking beyond yourself to their expectations, their traditions, their needs can be the difference between success and failure.

And, whenever networking, be sure you have the free CircleBack app handy. In addition to a great business card scanner, CircleBack offers automatic updates to ensure that you always have the correct contact info for everyone in your professional address book.

 

 

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