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First Contact

Technological tools to help you make the most of the business cards you gather

Technological tools to help you make the most of the business cards you gather

Networking is an important tool for any successful business. Participating in a trade show or attending a networking group are great ways for a small business to make contact with prospective customers. However, just shaking hands and collecting business cards is not enough. If you do not follow up in a timely fashion, the contacts you make may forget you. How can you make the most of the business cards you collect while networking?

By automating as much of the process as possible--using an electronic business-card reader and contact-management software.

The task of producing a punctual follow-up response for possibly hundreds of business cards can be overwhelming. Entering data for each business card carries a high probability of human error and is, of course, time-consuming--and the letters must still be printed, and the envelopes addressed. You can save time and eliminate human error by using a business-card reader to scan the information from your contacts' cards into your computer, and a contact manager to put that information to good use.

Peg Ostby of Sterling Heights, Michigan, an independent distributor of Enrich International, an herbal-nutrition network-marketing company, knows the value of automating her trade-show follow-up duties. In June of 1996 she participated, with several other Enrich salespeople, in an exhibit that was part of a motivational-speaker presentation. The group accumulated more than 200 business cards that needed to be sorted and distributed among themselves. Ostby volunteered to enter them into her computer, having already used GoldMine Software Corporation's contact-management program, GoldMine, for three years. She designed a customized information field and a code to indicate contacts gathered at that particular presentation, and was therefore able to sort the new contacts from others already in her contact-management system.

Once she had typed up and sorted the contacts in Goldmine, she printed labels and delivered them to the other salespeople in the group. To create a follow-up mailing for herself, she then "merged" her contacts' names and addresses with a postcard template she had already designed in a desktop publishing program (printing both the document and the contact's name and address through the computer simultaneously), and was able to go from trade show to post office in only three days, thus contacting people before they forgot who she was!

Ostby also scheduled follow-up telephone calls through the use of Goldmine (which also dialed the telephone for her through the use of a modem). She estimates she experienced a 30 percent sales growth from those contacts after only one month. "There was no way I could have been as efficient without the program," says Ostby. "The computer handles all the details for me. In today's marketplace, if you are not on top of the details, you are not going to survive."

Freelancer Ellen DePasquale writes about small-business technology from her home office in New York City.

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This article was originally published in the February 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: First Contact.

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