I have a four inch high stack of business cards sitting in my office from my first few months working here at Tower Hill. I must have somewhere in the range of 150-180 business cards from independent agents I had the pleasure of meeting during my tour of the state earlier this year.

Question is: shred or not to shred?

What is the purpose of a business card these days? Like many, I’ve got Outlook, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and all of the other forms of communication one person could ask for. What on earth do I need this stack of wood byproduct for anyway?

I can sum it up in one word: “bridge.”

No…not like building a tower or a bridge out of a deck of Bicycle® Playing Cards.

I’ll give you an example of how business cards can come in handy. A few years back, I started out as the Director of Sales and Marketing for a new company in North Central Florida. I doled out business cards like they were candy, to clients and potential clients, wherever I traveled. And, if I couldn’t meet with a client or potential clients personally, I’d leave a card in their chair…or on their desk…or propped up on their computer keyboard…or pinned to their corkboard…or stuck in the crevice of their door. You name it; my card was somewhere in their office letting them know that I missed meeting with them that day. The purpose of leaving my card was to market myself and to inform the client of my visit.

I wanted to be remembered…and, I needed a bridge.

There was an instance where, after distributing thousands of cards over about a two-year period, one of my clients I was visiting indicated that she had a sales lead for me. “Perfect!” I said. And, as I motioned to my folder to provide my client yet another card, she held up her hand as if to say “no.” Initially I was stunned, but then I was pleasantly surprised. With a chuckle, my client said to me, “Don’t need a card, I have plenty.” She extended the top drawer of her desk, which exposed a one inch stack of my own business cards that she had in her possession.

My client had kept every single card I had ever tacked to her door, placed in her chair, and stuck to her corkboard. Why, though? What was the importance of keeping these cards instead of casting them into the circular file?

When questioned, my client said, “You never know when you might need to refer a friend.”

From that day forward, my relationship with that person transcended the term “client.”

She understood my “leave-behinds” and took it to heart for that special someday when she’d be asked for a referral. And, from that point forward, she ended up being my greatest cheerleader, advocate, and promoter. She comprehended the meaning of a bridge.

Business cards are indeed a bridge to further communication between two parties. When handed out in person to your first-time contacts, they are a verbal indication that “we need to connect further” and “I hope the discussion will continue.” Additionally, business cards passed on by a strategic alliance are an invitation to connect that prospect with the cardholder in the very near future.

Conversely, acquired business cards are a friendly reminder. They beckon a call, an email, or beseech a response. They never whine and never complain. They sit on your desk imploring you silently to think about the connection. They are a bridge to action.

Will giving out printed business cards ever go away with the likes of LinkedIn and Facebook staring the practice down? I certainly hope not, for it is the power of a card in hand that exceeds all types of digital introductions. Business cards are a visual, tactile reminder that we, the cardholder, desire to have continuing conversation with the recipient. They also are a reminder that we, as strategic alliances, have contacts that we can someday endorse.

Outlook’s vCard is an easy transformation of information…a simple click of a button connects you to several thousand LinkedIn professionals…there’s Facebook’s BranchOut, Google+’s +1, and so on and so on. However, next time you’re thinking about ordering another set of business cards…just remember, there might just be a day where you’ll need to hand out some cards at a special event. Moreover, the day may come when your friend might need to pull that one card out of his or her desk drawer to give to someone in need of your services.

Business cards are a bridge…they are palpable…and, factual. They are a tangible conduit between you and the clients you want to serve.