Four tips for turning your business card into gold

That pile of business cards sitting unsorted in your desk drawer represents an untapped resource. David Coursey offers his four favorite ways to clear up your contacts list.

A stack of business cards---other people's, not your own--ought to be worth its weight in gold. Here is information about people you've spoken to or who have contacted you--important networking contacts and people you ought to stay in touch with. Some of them, anyway.

But if that's true, why do so many of us have a giant stack of business cards laying around becoming outdated, gathering dust, and no closer to being entered into our contact managers than they were when we received them?

The reason: Business cards are a pain to deal with and easy to cast aside. But I have four strategies for handling business cards and the exchange of contact information that have helped me and may help you as well.

    Delegate the task. The very best choice is to have your assistant manage your contact list, enter all the cards, and periodically call everyone on your list just to make sure they still exist. This is especially important in my business because people move around so much.
    Back when I had an assistant this method worked pretty well and I had a nicely up-to-date contact list, complete with notations of who was supposed to get a holiday card. You do use categories, don't you?

    But since I no longer have need for an assistant--except to enter business cards into Outlook, I suppose--this is no longer a viable option.

    Beam it up, Scotty. I can use my PDA to exchange business cards with other PDA users, saving me the trouble of entering the data manually. I hate entering business cards from the keyboard. Mind-numbing, especially for a hunt-and-peck (aka search-and-destroy) typist like me.
    Beaming cards seems better in concept than reality, where the physical process of using IR to trade cards looks like you're trying to use a Palm as a light saber (at best) or are pointing some sort of dopey remote control at someone who is pointing one back at you (at worst). If people in geekville Silicon Valley don't do this, I can't imagine it's common anyplace else. Just too limited and silly. And how do you ask someone to beam you a card? Is there etiquette for this that eludes me?

    Send a vCard. I usually send a vCard along with my outgoing e-mail. This is a small file attachment that includes all my contact information that Outlook and other contact managers know how to automatically import. I rarely, however, receive vCards, and sometimes people think I am trying to send them a virus, so this is not as effective as I'd like it to be.
    vCards are the electronic equivalent of business cards, and I wish more people would use them. (In Outlook you can turn on this feature in the same part of the program where you create the signature that can appear at the bottom of your messages).

    Use a card scanner.I need to tell my boss about my current best solution, since he is going to see the receipt anyway: I went out and bought Corex's CardScan Executive business card scanner--not the new color model but the older black-and-white scanner. Who needs a color business card scanner anyway? I paid US$149.95 for this (compared to US$299 for the new model) at an office supply superstore.
    This is a great way to get cards into my computer, and I had more than 100 done, including proofing and corrections, in less than an hour. The other 200 I will do next weekend, either while watching Iron Chef or the Tour de France.

    The CardScan software does an excellent job of recognizing information from business cards and dropping it into the proper fields in its contact manager, which will sync directly with Outlook, other software, and the most popular PDAs.

    I had used a CardScan device in the past, but that was back in the days when the only way to connect it was via the printer port on the computer. That was way too inconvenient. The newer models, which can also connect via USB, are easy to connect, disconnect, and move to another machine as need be. I highly recommend CardScan, and if you find a reason to pay double to get color, drop me a note.