Business Cards: The SUCCESS Primer

The song says “You got to know when to hold ’em,” but…

Pretty quickly in your career, every networking event starts to feel similar. “HELLO, my name is:” stickers emblazoned on their chests, veteran entrepreneurs and young professionals awkwardly juggle a free beer and a handful of chips while shaking hands. And any kind of meaningful interaction inevitably concludes with five words:

Do you have a card?

The resulting exchange is often equally clichéd in its ability to match the style and design of a card with the personality of its owner. Days or weeks later, as you clean out your wallet, the card may at least define your memory of the person.

We all seek to express ourselves. Perhaps that’s why the business card endures despite a litany of smartphone apps that promise a new paradigm. Mobile technology has indeed eviscerated phone books, paper maps, newspapers and calendars, but the business card remains ubiquitous even for the tech-savvy networker who is taking photos, texting and live-tweeting during events.

“There are a number of contributing factors that determine if you and your card will be remembered—size, quality of paper, design, finish—and of course what you say when you exchange cards,” says Teresa Pereira, a vice president at the online stationery store MOO.com.

Because your business card will leave an impression long after your name tag has been discarded, it’s important to put some thought into it.

Be Deliberate About Design

For this writer, any discussion of card design instantly conjures up memories of the scene from American Psycho in which Christian Bale’s character, a sociopathic murderer/investment banker, engages in a yuppie joust with colleagues, each attempting to one-up the others with their singularly refined tastes. (“Look at that subtle off-white coloring… the tasteful thickness of it…. Oh my God—it even has a  watermark!”)

Designs vary widely—and that’s the point. Those working at full-time jobs may have no choice in the cards given out by their employers, but freelancers, small-business owners, job-seekers and anyone with a “side hustle” should create their own concept and make a statement.

Your business card should be an extension of your brand. Incorporate the colors used in your website, logo and in your personal style. Starting from scratch? Check out a site such as 99designs.com, which offers “contest” packages priced from $299 to $1,995. Here’s how it works: You’ll receive around 30 to 90 custom designs from the site’s community of more than 300,000 designers, and you choose the one you like best.

Size Matters

The standard business card size in the United States is 2 inches by 3.5 inches, and the majority of people should probably stick to that.

You say you want to differentiate yourself by opting for something nontraditional? The question is, do you feel lucky? Potential clients often collect dozens of cards at once. Will yours stand out from the pack or be lost (too small) or tossed (too big for a wallet)?

Put it this way: Sporting a pink Mohawk will also make you more likely to be remembered, but it might not be the best tactic for your wealth management business.

Take Stock

The thickness of a card (known as card stock) is measured in points and generally ranges between 12 and 16. Shoot for the high end of the range and don’t skimp. Your business isn’t flimsy; do you want your business card to feel that way? At the other extreme, MOO offers a four-layer, 32-point “Luxe” line. It will certainly make an impression, although it might also make your wallet explode if you plan to carry more than a few.

Look Sharp

One option you might encounter is rounded corners, which have an air of being more modern or creative and can complement your design. Another plus: They’re likely to remain pristine, with no bending at the edges.

Almost Finished

You can’t go wrong with a crisp matte finish; it’s the best choice if your card contains mostly text. Cards with a glossy finish can give an eye-popping, stylish look, which is great if your design contains an image or photograph. One downside to glossy cards is they can be difficult to write on if someone wants to jot a quick note.

Start the Presses

Remember when you got your first inkjet printer and realized you could print your own business cards the same way you printed your own mailing labels? Well, it’s not the 1990s anymore, so don’t even think about it. Today, online sites offer the same advantages (low cost, fast turnaround) at much higher quality. Three sites to check out are those for MOO, Vistaprint and Overnight Prints. On each site you’ll find hundreds of design templates as well as the ability to upload your own.

If you’re looking for even more handholding, visit a local printer. The staff there will be able to show you a variety of card stock and design options, giving you a tangible feel of what you’ll be getting.

Making the Exchange

OK, so your box of gleaming new cards has arrived in the mail. How do you put them to good use?

First, don’t jump the gun in asking others for the personal information contained on a business card. Requesting those details should be the natural result of a forged connection at the end of a good conversation—anything sooner and you’ll come across as an email collector looking to build a sales database.

Next, make it mutual. If someone asks for your card, it’s only polite to ask for one in return. And by all means, take a moment to look it over before shoving it straight into your pocket or purse.

Finally, be strategic about follow-up. Some people secretly bend a corner of the card to remind themselves that this is a person worth contacting later, but a more straightforward move is to simply jot down a note on the card—“Introduce to Sarah” or “Send a press kit”—as a helpful reminder to yourself.

Know When to Fold ’Em

Of course, successful people have always known to zig when others zag. Parris Whittingham, a New York City photographer, opts out of the card game.

“For me, exchanging business cards feels a bit rigid,” Whittingham says. “Instead, I hand over my phone and ask them to enter their email address. We all feel a deep connection to our mobile devices, so handing it over to a stranger is an act of vulnerability and trust. Afterward I follow up with a personalized email based on our conversation and build the relationship from there.”

Today the true role of a business card is to serve as a path to your digital presence. The card offers its recipients the power to manage their networks in the way that works best for them—checking out your website, following up with an email, adding you as a connection on LinkedIn, or yes, in many cases, throwing it into a huge pile of other random cards in a desk drawer.

It’s all about knowing your environment. Gina Trapani, the founding editor of Lifehacker.com, once tweeted, “Business cards are irrelevant until the moment you’re at a meeting with important people exchanging them and you don’t have one.”

So… do you have a card?

Business cards can be important to the networking game—so how do you meet more potential contacts? Find out 8 unconventional ways to meet more people and expand your professional connections.

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