Surviving the Business Card Avalanche

Photo from Flickr by Jay Cross.

Photo from Flickr by Jay Cross.

I've developed a weird quirk over the last few years.

With some careful nurturing and cultivation, I've developed a "I don't like to be handed paper" eccentricity that rivals Tony Stark's overall dread of people handing him anything.

The biggest reason is because I carry my entire office around in a briefcase or backpack, and I don't want a bunch of papers crammed in there, getting all wrinkled up. Also, I just don't want lumber-thick stack of business cards in my home office.

I've had plenty of practice in developing this quirk, because I go to a lot of networking events and can easily get 10 - 20 business cards each month. At the end of the year, I could choke a beaver with what I've collected.

So how do I keep from cluttering up my house or my bag with a bunch of business cards?

Technology to the rescue! Rather than collecting cards, or throwing them away when I get home, I try to save the other person a little money (some cards cost $.50 apiece) as well as help the environment.

Apps To Save The Day

I use my iPhone and a couple apps to help me scan the information, save it to my contacts list, and then give the card back to the recipient. Best of all, I don't have to risk losing the cards. Here's how I manage my cards.

1) Evernote: You should already know what Evernote is since you can't read a single "10 Must Have Business Apps" article without it cracking the #1 or #2 slot (along with Dropbox and Google Drive).

In addition to saving interesting articles and scanning business receipts and forms, Evernote will also store audio reminders, take photos, and scan business cards. Just put the card on a contrasting surface, and choose the camera. Evernote will figure out what you're doing, and automatically scan the card, OCR the text (render the image to text), and save the information plus a photo of the card to a notebook. (Create a notebook called Business Cards to store them; you'll need that for Step 2. Then, for your post-event followup, just open up your Evernote, and there's all your cards.)

Once you've scanned the card, Evernote will connect to LinkedIn, and pull in any other necessary information. Evernote can also email your contact information directly to the other person. And you can automatically push the information to your iOS Contacts or Android Contacts list.

One drawback is that Evernote sometimes struggles with unusual card designs. If a card is glossy, square, or doesn't follow traditional phone number formats — seriously, people! Dashes between area code and prefix. Not periods, DASHES! Also, get off my lawn! — Evernote may not capture the image completely. So fix any problems before you save the information.

Unfortunately, you can't push your iOS Contacts to your Google Contacts, so I use a little automation to get all my new Evernote contacts to my Google list.

2) Zapier or IFTTT: With automation tools like Zapier and IFTTT (If This, Then That), I'm able to complete a lot of different automation tasks — tweeting new blog posts from Blogger, save all Google Calendar meetings to a spreadsheet, and even activating a smart thermostat at a specific time of day.

(Seriously, if you've never played around with either of these tools, give one of them a whirl. It's staggering what you can do with them. You can even connect your Alexa or Siri to smart home technology like light bulbs, a thermostat, or a smart refrigerator.)

In this case, I use IFTTT.com to send my new iOS contacts to my Google Contacts, because Evernote doesn't offer that feature, at least on iPhones. Also, IFTTT's integration with Evernote is seriously lacking.

So if you want to automatically push your Evernote contacts to Google Contacts, you'll need Zapier because they have more Evernote-based actions to choose from. I used to use Zapier for this purpose, but it quit working properly a few weeks ago, and I can't get it to go again.

(I've even tried turning it off and on again.)

However, IFTTT only pushes iOS contacts to Google, not the other way around. I can't get them to sync and match up. I do have one other option though, and that's a third-party contacts app that works both on my iPhone and my Mac: FullContact.

3) FullContact: My digital life is so heavily invested in Google that I use it for all communication. But, I have an iPhone, and it doesn't integrate smoothly with Google. When I had an Android, everything worked perfectly — my phone used my Google Contacts, so I was able to keep everything in Gmail, and life was grand.

But my Androids never worked properly after a year, and my wife grew tired of me grousing about it for three phones in a row, so she made me buy an iPhone. It's been great, but my only complaint is that it doesn't work with Google as well as the Android did. (In all fairness, my iPhone is over two years old, and it's still running fine.)

Enter FullContact. If nothing else, the app helps keep everything synced up between Google and Contacts. It syncs both directions, finds duplicates and updates, and pushes that new information to both iOS Contacts and Google Contacts. Also, the premium version ($9.99 per month) will pull contact information from email footers, rather than me filling in all that information by hand.

Plus if that person ever changes their contact details in their footer, FullContact will catch it and update their record based on the new information.

Finally, I can scan business cards with FullContact, but I spent so long getting Evernote working that I don't want to mess with it. Also, I like Evernote better in general, so I'm going to stay with what I know.

While my methods may seem a little more complicated than just taking the cards and doing everything by hand, it's ultimately a major time saver and you don't have to enter everyone's cards by hand, or worse, never get around to doing it at all.


Erik Deckers is the president of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing agency in Orlando, FL, with clients all over the U.S. He is also the co-author of No Bullshit Social Media and Branding Yourself, which should see its third edition released in October.