When I get back to my office after conferences, I invariably have a stack of business cards from people who I met, a stack that I dutifully try to enter into my contact database or at least invite to subscribe to one of my mailing lists. As a result, I get to see a lot of business cards in a typical year, probably thousands of them.
Having just gone through about forty this evening, let me make some observations about what makes a really good business card versus one that I think fails at its dual job of both supplying key contact information and piquing my curiosity or jogging my memory about that person. I realize that you might have different thoughts about the purpose of a business card but I invite you to spend a few minutes leafing through your own stack of cards and ask yourself: what works? Why?
Here then is my list of Business Card Best Practices:
- Have a Credible Email Address — Here’s one that constantly amazes me, actually. For example, I have a business card from a Realtor, from someone whom I am presumably going to engage in incredibly expensive transactions that might involve me assuming debt for 25 years or longer. Yet their address? Something very similar to firstname.lastname@example.org. Does that instill trust? Do you feel instantly that she’s a professional more than capable of handling my large business transactions? Or the chap who forgot the .com at the end of his email address. Not a huge error, but checking for typos is #2…
- Avoid Typos — Again, another basic one. Proof read, proof it again, and ask someone else to check for spelling mistakes, grammatical glitches, typos in email addresses or domain names, incorrectly use of punctuation, and whatever else can sneak up and ruin your business card. Remember, this card is a tiny little billboard and every time someone looks at it or pulls it out of their wallet / desk, you want to give the very best possible impression.
- Don’t Include Too Much Information — Most people get this one right, but one of the cards I received has a company name, a seven word slogan, then a thirty word paragraph explaining what the business is about! I love so-called elevator pitches as much as the next entrepreneur, but I’m just not sure that needs to take over the front of a business card. Oh, and sticking it on the back isn’t much better either.
- Add Some Color – I know, not everyone can afford color business cards, but it’s really hard to have an attractive card that’s just black mono-font material on a white background. If you’re just distributing contact data, that’s probably fine, but if you want to have it stand out, to really help convey your unique value to your potential client / customer / JV, then consider a color logo, color rule line, color fill, or photograph. There are lots of splendid – and remarkably inexpensive – choices for great color cards.
- Leave The Back Blank — I believe pretty strongly in having the back of business cards blank so they’re space for notes. People are going to write notes on ‘em anyway, why not give them some space? Further, this means that your fancy slick glossy finish is a problem (people can’t write on them) and that any color other than white or a very light yellow or grey for a quality paper stock is a real problem. For about a year I had a card with a lovely dark blue back color, until I realized that every time I gave someone a card they ended up writing on the front of the card since the back was essentially useless.
- Have Business Cards — Explain this one to me: four people paid the money and spent the time to come to a weekend conference about online business success, but had to write their name and contact info on a piece of scratch paper because they “didn’t have any business cards yet.” That’s no excuse at all, in my eyes. You can pop into somewhere like Kinko’s or use an online service and get a small box of even the most rudimentary business cards for $20. Everyone in business should have an up-to-date business card. Everyone. Yes, even you.
- And A Special Category For PR Folk… — There’s a special spot reserved for PR folk who think that we care about the name of their agency and its logo. We don’t. We care about the companies that they represent and work with, yet I have never seen a card from a public relations person that listed, on the card, the companies they rep. Or a card from the company they work with that lists them as “Public Relations, XYZ Agency” and has the appropriate contact info. Surely this can’t be too hard, but my stack of cards includes many, many PR cards that I’ve had to deface by scrawling “Phillips”, “Nintendo”, “Microsoft”, “Symantec” or whatever other company they work with…
I’ll think about this for a bit and invite you to add your own thoughts, at which point I ‘ll probably expand this list with another half-dozen obvious best practices. But meanwhile, what do you think?