Building a better business card

Friday, December 3rd, 02010 at 11:11 UTC

Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door. The often mis-attributed quote of Ralph Waldo Emerson, tries to exemplify the ideas that innovation will bring you customers, riches, glory and fame. I’m not sure about mousetraps, but building a better business card can certainly help.

The business card stems from earlier visiting card. These were cards that preceded you to your host. Possibly a servant sent the day before would bring your card asking for a meeting. The card was also presented upon arrival. The one answering the door would take it to the host on your behalf requesting an appearance. If the host did not want to speak, they could decline you without having to do so face-to-face. These were the rules of social, polite circles. On a side note, when the phone first arrived, it by past this vetting by card and you could get to the source quicker without going through all of the social steps.

Having spent plenty of times around start-ups and technical companies, they sometimes miss the point of old fashion business cards. Companies have created physical tokens which exchange contact details, one is called Poken. While these seem cool and interesting, they quickly run out of batteries and are worthless. Other technologies such as “bumping” your phones to exchange contact details, Bluetooth, Infrared and others never seemed to take off. I think there are several reasons for this. Paper is simply superior in many situations and people are attempting to replace it with other technologies that aren’t as flexible.

Over the years, I have collected plenty of business cards, given away plenty and through out that time, seen some excellent examples as well as horrible ones.

Rule #1: Always have business cards with you. If someone asks you and you can’t produce something with your name, email, website or phone, then you have lost a lead. That person is interested enough in you, your company and your product to ask to follow-up and you don’t have anything. Your response shouldn’t be: just “Google me”. The act of giving someone something means that they owe you in return. Reciprocity dictates that now you have given the gift of a business card, it is their turn to return some sort of favor.

Rule #2: Never apologize for your business card. These are cheap to print, so why are you saying “Sorry, this is the old address?” or “Sorry, the paper isn’t as nice” or “My phone number has changed”. These are just excuses for why you haven’t made the effort to correct any mistakes. Even if you aren’t sure what your phone number will be or new job title, you can get a limited run of cards printed for a low cost. Your business card is a reflection of you and your company. If the first think you are doing is apologizing, it doesn’t look good for future cooperations.

Tips and Tricks

Some of the good business cards that I have seen through the years are probably the work of many iterations. Their design might not be immediately apparent, but much thought and care has gone into these cards.

Leave room to write. Having the back of your card blank or with space makes it much easier for people to write on. You could even have a set area that simply says: notes. This makes it OK for others to write on your cards. Maybe someone doesn’t want to do so infront of you incase it offends, but by marking off an area explicitly labeled to do so makes it OK for them to write on it. The more notes and metadata they get about you now, it will transfer to more data when they get back and a better lead.

Glossy cards might look nicer, but they are a pain to write on. Plenty of people take notes on business cards. This follows directly from the previous point. If you give people space to write, makes sure they can do so!

Short-run cards. I have seen people make 50-100 card that say something like “Hello, my name is Brian Suda, we met at _______” where the blank is the event. A week or two later when that person is going through the stack of cards they collected and are typing the info into the computer, having WHERE they collected this card increases the chances they will remember you and the conversation which lead to business cards being exchanged.

Have your photo on your card. A picture makes it much more likely they will do business with you. Also, it is a great aid to memory.

Things to consider

Paper quality is certainly something to consider. Buy the best paper stock you can afford. If they are flimsy, it reflects poorly on your company

Printing in multiple colors. I’m indifferent to this. There might be some research out there that claims more colors are better or vice versa. A big thing to consider is will it rub off? I keep a stack of cards in my wallet. One set I used to have was a single color back with the logo. Having them all in my wallet, front-to-back meant that the ink was being rubbed off the back of one card onto the front of another. Giving a card away sometime meant that the front was actually a faded version of the back of the previous card. Had they NOT been inked-up so heavily (or I didn’t carry them in my wallet) this would be less of a problem.

With the rounded corner phenomenon in the world of web 2.0 sites translated business cards too. Having a die cut card means that parts are stamped out after they are printed on a normal rectangular card. There were plenty of companies selling little boxes that you put your business cards into, pressed down, and it would trim the corners into a nice round shape. Having a die cut doesn’t just mean rounded corners, you could easily punch out your logo or any other shape around the edge or right in the middle. Changing the shape does make an impact, but can also make it harder to write on and take notes. It also means that you need to take extra care in not beat-up your corners so they stay crisp and give a good impression.

For awhile there was a craze of having business card CD-ROMs. These were small CDs, only containing 40 MB or so of data, in the shape of a business card. The idea being that you could hand them out as regular cards with information printed on one side. Then the customer could put them into their computer for more information. Luckily, these died out. The idea was there, but execution was poor. A URL now can achieve the same thing, while making it easier to update and keep current. (This is known in the programming world as pass-by-reference as opposed to pass-by-value). Once you burn that CD and give it away, you can’t change the contents. It will slow bit-rot, the data will go out of date, just like the software to play it. Giving a URL means that you control the message and can keep it up-to-date much better. Not to mention that the shape of these business card CD-ROMs didn’t work in slot-loading CD drives. If there wasn’t a tray, then you could never line them up correctly!

The infamous pitch man, Joel Bauer was part of a documentary called “The Pitch, Poker and the Public” in which he reviews a business cards. The clip went viral as Your business card is crap. While he is over the top, he does make a few interesting point, not all I would agree with, but others I do.

If you are reading this and we happen to meet-up some day, you know what I’ll ask for, so be sure you are carrying some sort of business card that I can take away.