Monday, October 1, 2007

Organizing Contacts & Clients

Here's my low-tech tip for how to organize all those business cards you (should!) have been getting at all the networking events you have been going to (you HAVE been networking, right????!?). I have an address book in my computer, I have a Palm, I have considered whether or not to enter "ALL" business cards I collect into an electronic medium, but so far I've found an easier (for me) way to keep business cards at my fingertips.

It involves several 1.5 & 2 inch 3-ring binders, and Avery (or similar) business card sheets -- these sheets hold 10-up -- putting cards back-to-back to display on 2 sides makes it 20 cards per page... There also are tabbed business card sheets so you can use some of the sheets as dividers. I also get 100% post-consumer recycled college-ruled 3-ring binder paper, which I keep in clipboards on my desk, normal section dividers, and a set of A-Z section dividers I had laying around for years.

Here's how I set them up:

One binder (about 1.5 inch right now) is the "Business Cards" binder and that has a section for the Orange County Chamber, Sullivan County Chamber, Orange Networking Alliance, each BNI chapter I visited, Toastmasters, etc. When I meet someone at an event by a specific group, their card goes into that group's section. Later, when I'm trying to connect people together, all I have to do is remember which group I met someone at to find their card. Within sections, I'm not terribly picky about the order I put them in: most of those groups don't have enough people/cards in them to get too anal about how to organize the section.

I keep a 2" binder for warm/hot prospects, a 2" ring binder for current clients, and a 1.5" binder for clients "in support."

Prospect book: I set up the book with a few business card sheets, a plain piece of filler paper for an index, then the A-Z dividers. When a prospect calls, I grab a clipboard and start taking notes on the filler paper (or on 1-sided scrap, more on that later). Then it's time to file their information. If I have their business card, I slip it into the business card sheet in the front of the book. I write their name & business name, perhaps how they were referred to me, on the index in pencil, underline the letter in their name or business name that I'm filing them under, and file them in the binder in that section. Now when I need to touch base with that prospect, I can easily take the binder off the shelf, start dialing or emailing them just from their card, then turn to the divider section and have my hand-written notes at my fingertips.

If that person becomes a client, their information gets moved to my client book, and their name gets erased from the index in the prospect book. Their business card goes in the front of the client book, and I now use a complete divider section for the client. I still use an index in pencil for the front of the book, but these sections are numbered. I file notes on phone calls, timesheets, contracts, and other documentation in their section. Once the client's job is finished, they migrate to the In Support book.

All the books are labeled and sit in the hutch of my desk.

This works best for people who aren't trying to cold-call every business they've ever contacted -- and people who can remember where they met someone but not their name or business name, although some electronic systems allow you to track when and where you met someone. However, if you are going to cold-call everyone, I'd recommend adding small post-its to your collection. Why add people to an electronic database if they're not interested, and probably will never be interested, in your product? Keep a notepad nearby, a small post-it pad, make the initial call off the business card, and if they're not interested now, put the post-it on the card with the date you called and that they weren't interested. ... or a date they said to call back. You might only manage 10 business cards per sheet, but you could take some notes on paper, fold them up and stick them behind the card in question. Now you can try them again later, but don't have to spend much time on someone who is not making you money.

Another person I know writes the event & date on the cards when she brings them home. She's going to start using my binder system, rather than have the cards in piles, but I like the idea of putting a date on them. I'm not going to, but I like it :)

Even if I had a business card scanner, I would want to hold on to the business cards themselves. I find they give me important clues to who the person is -- the style of card often helps me remember who the person behind the card was. If I only had the information, I might not remember the person. Also it's easier to pass along a business card if you have it than if you scanned it. I have been known to bring the whole business card binder with me to speed networking events.

Now, there are some cards you should not have in this system. These are your preferred vendors, other members of your own referral group, cards from terrific places to bring a client for lunch or dinner, and the people you feel most comfortable referring to others. If you're in a larger organization you might include your colleagues in this category. For these types of cards, I have a small portable business card book, because I'm most likely to need these cards on-hand at any event. I can leave the big binder at the office and bring along my smaller binder.

When buying your supplies, shop local! Please find the nearest mom & pop stationery store and open a business account with them. I use Charles B. Merrill Office Products in Newburgh, NY -- they deliver the next day.

Another thing I do is keep a stack of half-used paper, usually Chamber flyers that were printed only on one side, folded in half. These make great notepaper that I grab when I get a phone call and start taking notes on. Until I know someone is going into a binder, why use the virgin paper? They still fit in the book with 2 holes from a 3-hole-punch. It's a great way to re-use before recycling. With a stick of re-stickable glue, I can quickly make any note into a post-it.

Phew. Good luck!! :)


  1. Hi Criss,

    I have been networking as you know, at the O.C. Chamber functions and events. I collect many business cards and want to invite these contacts to events I am participating in. I am thinking about entering them all in Outlook Mail (I am on Vista now - ugh! another learning curve and dead ends)so I can send a blast email invitation to others to hopefully share my knowledge. Your low-tech filing system is much more helpful then the rubber bands, envelopes and 2 pocket portfolios that I am usung. Not really using - just storing until I think of digging one up in particular like I did today to send you snail mail. Arnie

  2. Thanks, Arnie!

    If you're thinking of entering business cards electronically take a look at Cindy Marsh-Croll's scanner -- -- I shared a booth with her at the Expo and I was very impressed. If I were going to enter all my business cards, I would want her scanner. It saves an image of the card, and it scans-to-text for the contact information. You scan it, proof that it's correct, save.

    See you soon and thanks for commenting!