How to organize business cards

Do you have a stash of business cards hanging around somewhere? Jon Carroll (a former columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle) has one, and he wrote:

I have a top drawer in my desk. It’s where I put important things. Alas, a lot of things have seemed important over the last 30 years. So the drawer is jammed full — you have to pat it down just to close it. …

I recently made an [sic] pathetic attempt to, uh, curate the drawer. I got no further than the large pile of business cards I had thrown in there over the years. A lot of them were entirely mysterious, people I had no memory of ever meeting. (I bet you have a similar stash of business cards somewhere; it might be amusing to try to cull them sometime).

Jon also found cards that were meaningful or delightful in one way or another, beyond those from people he does know. For example, there was the card from “Le Bar a Huitres, a restaurant in Paris I have no memory of entering. But I love the maps on the back, with appropriate landmarks and useful data, including Metro stops.”

If you have a collection like Jon’s, what do you do with it? If you just enjoy pulling them out and looking at them — as memorabilia, a source of cool design ideas, etc. — then saving them in a drawer or a box, in no particular order, may be just fine.

But if you actually want to make use of the information on the cards, you’ll want a more systematic approach to dealing with them. The first step would be uncluttering. Get rid of cards from people you don’t recognize, and vow that in the future you’ll make a note on such cards when you get them, to jog your memory. You can also discard cards from businesses that have closed or that you no longer choose to patronize, and cards from stores and restaurants in cities you’ll never visit again. If any of these qualify as memorabilia, you might want to hold onto them but keep them separate from those that have useful information.

Now, what do you do with the cards you’re keeping? If you’re someone who deals best with physical cards rather than digital information, you might keep them in a business card book or file. I’m pleased with the business card file sold by The Container Store.

Another tip: If you have phone numbers just jotted down on pieces of paper, you can tape those papers onto blank business cards (or rewrite the information on the blanks) and file them with the other cards.

The other option is to store the information electronically, and there are many ways to do that. I don’t deal with many cards at a time, so I just enter the information manually into my computer contact list, which syncs with my smartphone. Once I’ve done that, I recycle the physical card.

If you’d prefer to scan the cards, there are many ways to do that. You could use a scanner such as one in the Fujitsu ScanSnap family. Or you could use a business card scanning app on your smartphone; there are many to choose from. Evernote has its own free Scannable app, which may be ideal for Evernote fans. Currently, it’s only available for iPhones and iPads.

One nice thing about digital storage is that you can search and retrieve information in many ways. For example, when I enter cards for doctors, I’ll note their specialties and the names of the people who recommended them, so it’s always easy to search and find the doctors if I forget their names. I also create groups of contacts, which is another way to make them easier to find. If you’re using a paper filing system, consider whether filing by name or by category would make it easiest to find the right card when you want it.

12 Comments for “How to organize business cards”

  1. posted by J. on

    If you are discarding business cards from establishments that have closed in your community, consider donating them to your local historical society. Documenting the history of certain kinds of businesses (restaurants, etc.) in a community can be difficult; this sort of ephemera helps fill the gaps (see also: menus, pens, matchbooks, and similar promotional items).

  2. posted by Pwassonne À Pattes on

    Le Bar à Huîtres means the Oyster Bar, it must have been an oyster-themed concept restaurant. I suppose you would remember if you actually ate there. =)

  3. posted by Audrey Cupo - professional organizer on

    A few other ideas I would suggest are the Neat scanner which is very easy to use and for those that like the paper option, I use a three-ring binder with alphabet dividers and business card sheet protectors. This is an inexpensive way of accomplishing the same result as purchasing a business card holder. It takes up very little room on your desk and is organized alphabetically for easy access.

  4. posted by Lise Schleicher on

    I use old school business card sheets in notebooks. While I like the business card boxes, knock it over once and you are resorting cards…Hate that!

  5. posted by Pat Reble on

    I use the plastic sleeves desired to store baseball cards. I file them in a ring binder. It’s easy to see the fronts and the backs of the cards as the sleeves are clear.

  6. posted by liz on

    I use a card box for the old cards that I want to keep for memories.

    I use a binder with the plastic card sheets to stash current cards. However, I also organize them by purpose – medical, home repair, business, etc. I also have sheet protectors behind each section to hold info, such as the drug info sheets or menus.

    It’s very easy to grab and use.

  7. posted by Mary Johnson on

    I rarely take business cards, but when I need to I just scan them in as a pdf file. There are many freeware programs which allow one to scan and make a pdf. Most of the cards I have kept in this manner are related to our craft production business – I keep them in computer folders named “fabric” “lumber” “yarn” and so on and they are all in one folder named business cards on my USB drive that I use for data (never keep data on your hard drive of course, it is not if, but when it will crash and I backup extensively).

    I mostly use my all in one for scanning, although I also have a separate scanner from before I had the all in one, which I use now if I need to scan stuff when downstairs or if I am scanning a lot of things some of which are sheet feed and some of which cannot be sheet fed, so it is easier to use the other scanner on my desk for the single pages and the all in 1 for the sheet feeding, than run around the computer to the front of the all in one to do single pages.

  8. posted by Sue on

    I use CamCard (free) on my iPhone and iPad and like Mary Johnson, I’ve stopped accepting new cards but instead snap a quick pic of them in the app. It’s become such a conversation starter with folks that they ask me what I’m using and how well I like it.

    If you want to organize them based upon a certain category (also as Mary suggests) you can do this within the app as well. No need to purchase a separate scanner to generate the picture or PDF. I can’t say enough of this little gem of an app!

  9. posted by Mary Johnson on

    I can’t use any apps – I have an older type of cell phone.

  10. posted by Christine on

    I arrived here because I’m downsizing offices (again–8 moves in 9 years at the same company…each one in a smaller space. this time, it’s an “open” office concept with desks and little to no storage!) and looked at my boxes of cards thinking “why do I have these?” It’s not that I never use them, but they do seem silly to take up so much real estate. I started throwing ones away that I didn’t think I used. But I stopped, because I realized I might want some of them at some point. Thinking of electronically storing them–but haven’t decided yet. i don’t really want them imported to my contacts. I already have too many contacts on my phone that make it difficult to find who I need.

    I will say some of the other techniques I’ve used–I don’t store them alphabetically. If I have a card, it’s likely that I don’t know the person really and will likely forget their name. I am a consultant and have projects and/or clients, so that is how I store them–in relation to each project or client. I clip all the related ones with a binder clip and put a post it on them. I have also taken all the business cards from a particular project and scanned them into one PDF and stored it in the project folder. This also makes it available to others working with me.

  11. posted by Lauren on

    I had the same issues you guys all have, tons of paper business cards on my desk, I couldn’t recall any of these people and to whom I gave my card to. There’s a lot of good apps, I used to have Samcard but I discovered another one called Swapcard. There’s a scan functionality that works really great, it’s available for iOS and Android (I have both so it’s pretty handy) and it creates beautiful profiles once the card is scanned ! Plus it’s free

  12. posted by Minimalist Family on

    There are some amazing apps out there that let you scan photos of the cards and flick through them. All the info, all the art, none of the clutter.

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