There are few statements as widespread in business as “Here’s my card.”
Business cards have been a part of any entrepreneur’s self-promotion toolkit for a long time. And, they’re an important part of your company’s brand identity.
Hundreds of years ago, the Chinese handed out calling cards (in the 15th century) to let people know they planned to visit.
The French in the 17th century swapped cards as a way of introduction, and this spread to the British and eventually America.
The exchanging of cards is one of the most ubiquitous traditions in the business world. This institution endures even in a world dominated by e-signatures and digital address books.
You can chalk up the longevity of business cards to many reasons, but one of the biggest is that exchanging information digitally still feels impersonal and cold. Business cards are tangible reminders of your business (and the fact that you have to be there to hand them out) and can’t be beaten for memorability.
Business cards are also a cheap and effective way to ensure people have accurate contact information.
More importantly, they serve as a physical reminder that you met someone. That can become a trigger for reflection and often leads to more business or a renewed connection.
Now, while generic business cards are inexpensive, some business owners worry that the cost of custom business cards can be prohibitively high.
It’s true that many design companies and agencies charge thousands of dollars for their services. But this isn’t universally true (crowdspring’s custom business card design projects start at just $299, including all fees).
Here are 7 essential tips to make sure you get the best results from your professional business card design.
1. Hire a professional to design your business card
When you hand your card to someone, you give them a proxy for you and your company.
That small piece of cardstock is not just a way to hand someone your contact information. It’s a reminder of who you are, and what your company represents.
If you don’t have the skills to create them yourself, make sure your card captures the essence of your brand: hire a professional.
Business cards are the first layer of a company’s brand.
A skilled designer ideally creates your cards as well as the rest of your branding collateral (letterhead, brochures, etc.). This creates consistency and boosts your organization’s professionalism.
2. Keep the design of the business card simple
Ultimately, your card should have accurate, easy-to-read contact information. If people can’t find that quickly and easily, your cards have failed. Make sure your business cards have the most essential information and keep the design elements minimal.
Many people scan business cards they’ve received (often with an app on their phone like Adobe’s free Scan). If the design is complicated or cluttered, scanned cards may not be legible.
3. Choose the information you put on your card wisely
Standard business cards are just 3.5 by 2 inches. That’s not a lot of space to work with, and you want to make your cards as easy to read as possible.
What information should there be? Must-haves include your business name, company logo, your role or position, and the best way to contact you. Whether that’s via email, social media, chat, or the good old telephone, you should have a preferred method.
If you have extra space, you can add other ways to reach you, a headshot, or some other info, but try and keep whatever you choose brief. Don’t offer too many contact options, even if you’re a member of every social network on the planet.
4. When in doubt, stick with the standard business card format
You may be tempted to make cards with unusual sizes or shapes. Unless you can find a compelling reason to use something different, stick with the standards.
Most wallets are designed for regular card sizes, and ones with different dimensions or shapes can end up more frustrating than they’re worth (and end up in the circular file cabinet – aka the trash).
Think long and hard about what colors you choose for your card. Your brand’s primary colors may not translate to a card’s small size. Also, as we already mentioned, scanning cards is problematic if they’re not a light color. Make sure your card is optimized for readability.
5. Use the space on your business card properly
To go two-sided, or to not do two-sided? Careful planning of how you use your card’s limited space is necessary.
Your card is a fundamental part of your brand, so it should be clean and well-structured. Two-sided cards might work well for your brand, or it may be better to stick to one side only. In general, when in doubt err on the side of simplicity.
6. Choose your business card paper carefully
Flimsy cards are like limp handshakes: they feel terrible in your hand and leave a poor first impression.
The quality of the paper you choose reflects on your business or products. If you’ve picked fragile paper or have printed them on cheap cardstock, you may make people feel like they’re dealing with an unreliable or low-quality company.
The type of paper you choose is also important.
Glossy paper is usually hard to write on, and people often write notes or other information on the cards they give out or receive.
Mitchel Freidman recommends writing on cards as a way of remembering the person you just met:
When you meet a person at a business event, get their business card. Perhaps even write a note or two on the reverse side of the card to capture the key points of your conversation while they’re still fresh in your mind. The bottom line here is to have a physical record of contacts you make so you can follow up as appropriate in conjunction with your broader job search/career development efforts.
This type of in-the-moment note-taking becomes much harder if your card is printed on both sides on glossy paper. This may not be important to you, but it’s one more thing to consider when choosing paper.
7. Think of other uses for your business card
Once you have your information planned out, it’s fun to try and think of interesting ways to make your card more useful to the recipient. Your card is a physical object, and as such, it can potentially have some interesting extra features.
A landscaping company could print their cards on small envelopes that contain seeds.
A bike repair shop might have a card that doubles as a multi-tool. A brewery’s card could include a bottle opener.
Some more strategic ideas include adding promo codes or other coupons to your cards.
Companies that book a lot of appointments might hand clients business cards that have the date and time written on the back. Or if it makes sense, create custom cards that include a free sample of your product.
Cards with added functionality may not work for all companies, and their added cost could make them a non-starter. The added delight and brand recall that specially designed cards can have, however, may be worth the expense.
Many companies have tried to create “business card killer” apps, but the tenacity of these little low-tech bits of cardboard endures. The Economist credited this persistence to cards being a fundamental part of doing business that has grown even more important as our lives become more “connected”:
That business cards are thriving in a digital age is a forceful reminder that there is much about business that is timeless. Take, for instance, the eternal and inescapable question of whether you can trust someone. A good deal of business life will always be about building social bonds… And the more that machines take over the quantitative stuff the more human beings will have to focus on the touchy-feely.
Your card can be the first volley in a long and fruitful relationship. It serves as a stand-in for you and your business and can be a powerful initial contact point for your brand.
Invest a little time to make sure yours is attractive, accurate, and on-brand, so that handing someone your card is the first step in creating the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
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