In the world of business and networking, the business card is the one dinosaur that just won’t die. Technology keeps improving, making paper nearly irrelevant, but there still has yet to be an invention that beats the simple, quick effectiveness of taking a card out of your pocket and handing it to a new contact.
However, simply having a card is not enough. The more advanced and inexpensive digital illustration becomes, the easier it gets for you to screw up your business card and turn it into something beautiful, but ineffective.
Here are some ways to make sure your business card does its job and gets you new clients and contacts.
1. Make sure you pay for it
Many printing companies have been running a promotion for free business cards, in which you get a nice stack of cards and pay nothing but shipping. The only catch is that the back of your card will say, “Get free business cards at VistaPrint!” or something like that. You have become a walking billboard for the company, which wouldn’t be so horrible in itself if it didn’t communicate so many bad things about you to the people you meet.
If you have an obviously ”free” business card, you’re saying one or more of these things to your new contacts:
"My business is really just a glorified hobby, so I don’t bother investing in it.”
Business cards are so inexpensive, that there’s no reason not to drop the $30 to get a stack. If even that is a bit too much for you, sign up for the e-mail lists of vistaprint.com, iprint.com, and printsmadeeasy.com. They all run deals, on and off, so there’s bound to be an offer that fits your budget within a month or so.
2. Say what you do, even if it's boring
How do you describe your business or occupation on your business card?
There are different schools of thought on this one. People want to stand out from the crowd, which is fine, and often necessary. The problem comes when people want to stand out so much that they almost completely obscure their service or profession.
Someone who’s a computer repairman might call himself a “Computer Therapist.” It’s cute and probably will stand out. And if he puts underneath that title, “Sanford Computer Repair,” he probably has the best of both worlds because it’s memorable and people will instantly know what he provides.
Now what if you’re a Web designer and take it even further by putting on your card, “Binary Code Picasso”? Now you’re pushing it. One thing that entrepreneurs often forget is that the outside world is far, far less familiar with your vocabulary than you would expect. This is doubly true if you have specialized skills, such as computer programming or estate planning.
So when in doubt, stick to what you actually do, even if it is “Accountant.” You can always dress it up to “Tax-Slashing Accountant” in your next card order when your creativity hits you.
And I really shouldn’t have to say this, but please make sure you have all of your basic contact information on the card. I see way too many cards where there’s just a name and website address. At a minimum, have your name, e-mail address, phone number and website. A nice optional addition is to have your Facebook URL on the card as well, if your industry networks that way.
3. Put your photo on the card
I don’t care how ugly you are. If you’re presentable enough to shake someone’s hand in person, you are almost guaranteed to make more money from having your face on your card.
Why is this? If you’ve been networking for any length of time, you probably know by now that most business cards, for whatever reason, end up in the trash. Often times, the person was never going to contact you anyway, but a lot of the time, the person honestly forgets who you are.
Contrary to popular belief, this is not solved by making a business card in the shape of a folded hundred dollar bill or making it so oversized that it can’t fit into someone’s pocket. There is room for flair, but practicality comes first.
When you go to a seminar or convention, you’re bound to come home with dozens of cards. Have you ever gone through a stack a week later and can’t, for the life of you, remember who’s who? Maybe there was a Karen in real estate you wanted to talk to, but there are three Karens in your stack, all in the mortgage or housing industry.
Your face is the easiest memory refresh you could possibly give a new contact. For anyone you meet with a poor memory, it will cut out 90 percent of the “How do I know you?” thoughts in someone’s head when they look at your card or receive an e-mail from you the next day.
Take a nice-looking photo, but remember that it’s more important that it look like your “normal self” than anything else. Always go on the side of recognizability over handsomeness or beauty.
4. Make it easy to write on
One time, I was at a convention where I met a very well known potential client. It turned out that we had a mutual friend named Eric, who would be the bridge that would help me stand out from everyone else this person had met that day.
When I handed him my card, the first thing he did was take out a pen and write on the back, “Friend of Eric. Call to discuss new project.” I was glad he wasn’t leaving it to chance that he would remember me.
The next person I met was an AdWords expert who was experienced in my niche, so after I got her card, I took out a pen to write down a few details about her. The sad part was, it was impossible to write on. Her card was so glossy that no ink from the pen would stay on. I had to practically carve through the card to write any notes on it.
Now I’m not saying never get a glossy card; A little shine can make a card look better and some glossy finishes let you write without a problem. However, to be safe, make the back of the card non-glossy if you can.
This is also a reason to not get an all-black card with white letters. Anything that would be difficult to jot a note on will make networking that much more difficult.
You may notice that most of this article is about making it easy for people already interested in you to remember and contact you for business. If you’re wondering how you can design your card to convince an uninterested seminar or convention attendee to give you a call, you’re looking at all of this the wrong way.
You make your mark with your presence, your behavior and your promotion of yourself when you meet a new contact. The card, flashy or not, is just a way to reliably extend the conversation.