Friday, November 09, 2012

SOP Friday: Business Cards . . . All the Details

I find business cards very frustrating. Maybe 75% of the people with business cards should never have them because 1) They never need them due to the nature of their job, 2) They don't know how to use them, or 3) Their cards are almost useless.

On the first point, there are lots of people who just go to the office and are never out meeting people or representing the company. Other than to show their parents, or pass out as "dating cards," these people never use their business cards. So get them 100 or so and don't worry about the cost per card because they'll never need another 100.

How To Use A Business Card (and Why Your Business Card Might be Useless)

At gatherings I sometimes collect business cards. Sometimes means only if I have a reason to. Believe it or not, I don't put everyone I've ever met on my mailing list. So when I collect a card I either intend to contact that person or (on occasion) I intend to add them to a list.

Here's an exercise:
- Take out your business card.
- Turn it over and write on the back. Here's what you write:
 1=Small Biz Mixer
 2=Kid is soccer league
 3=Send seminar invite

If you can't write this on the back of your card, neither can anyone else! If that's the case, order new business cards.

If the back of your cards is glossy, throw them away and order new business cards. If the back of your card is covered with advertising or something else, throw them away and order new business cards.

I hear this ridiculous advice over and over: "You should use the back of your business card (so it's not wasted)." Bullshit. You should leave the back of your card empty enough for me to write critical information on.

As someone who really uses the cards I collect, I want that space on the back of every card. You can use some of the space for YOU (info, logo, QR code, etc.), but leave most of the space for ME. I have databases totaling about 25,000 business cards I've collected over the years. These are for personal contacts, IT consultants, potential clients, authors and speakers, services I might buy, etc.

When I come back to the office with a fist full of business cards, they need to be processed. What does that mean? It means that I put them into piles. Some I throw away. Some are very important. Some I promised to send a link or an article. A few I promised an email. Some I want to pitch an idea to. All of the "keepers" are given to an admin to scan into a database.

You get the idea.
1) They need to be sorted into appropriate piles

2) Some of them require follow-up

ALL of them need a note about where I met them, the circumstances, and anything interesting about that connection. Where do I write those notes? On The Back of The Business Card!

Oh, but wait. There's crap all over the back of the card. It's dark colored, or has a graph, or a table, it's glossy, or it has a list of useless links. The point is: I can't write on the back of the card if there's no place to write!

Seriously. There are people who collect your business cards and people who don't. The people who don't collect cards don't matter. Period. They will never see the back of your card.

The people who DO collect business cards are pretty consistent in their behavior: They turn it over and write a note about where they met you, when they met you, notes about what they promised you, and other miscellaneous notes.

Now it's up to you: Will you give them a place to write the notes, or will you take it up with self-serving gimmicks that only take up space?

Business Card "Don'ts"

Do not print your business card sideways. I believe that 90% of the people who collect business cards will not take you seriously. Some (me included), will simply throw them away.

I guess people think the business card is an opportunity for self-expression, creativity, etc. That's fine. But you don't print your resume or your letterhead in landscape format. Why? Because it's just not done that way. We live in a society where business forms are determined by the norms set down by others.

Your marketing adviser might think that sideways printing makes you stand out and be unique. They're wrong. It's not unique. It's not clever. It's not different enough to make you look like a Maverick Brainiac. If you want to stand out, change your name to an unpronounceable symbol. But print your business cards like a business professional!

There are people who collect your business cards and people who don't. The people who don't collect cards don't matter. The people who collect business cards expect a normal card. Give it to them.

Do not use Laser Perf business cards. First, . . . It doesn't matter what's first. Don't do it! Second, let's say you are a professional. Professionals look professional. And they need to look particularly professional with the things that people might associate with your profession.

Computer-printed cards are 99.99% less professional than real business cards. "Free" cards from Vista Print with a logo on the back are better than laser perf. With shipping your cost is about $.04 per card. Laser perf cards are about $.04 per card.

A recent Google search returned "About 505,000,000" hits for Business Cards. And there are more places than that. Staples has in-house printing. 1,000 cards will cost you about $.03 per card - or less. The point is: Laser perf cards are not any cheaper than real, professional cards. AND they look cheap.

And they feel cheap.

If you use high volume, the cards get cheaper and cheaper. 505,999,999 of those online printers will also bargain with you to lower the price more, if you contact them directly or order cards for everyone in the office.

There are people who collect your business cards and people who don't. The people who don't collect cards don't matter. The people who collect business cards will make fun of you if you have a laser perf card.

Do not have a glossy back on your business cards. See the discussion above. Take it to heart. Most of the time when I am handed a glossy-backed card, I try to write on the back and can't. This does two things. First, it makes you fish around for some other way to give me a writing surface or pen that might work. Second, it totally derails the conversation. Now instead of listening to your elevator speech, we're talking about your stupid business cards.

The lesson: Glossy-backed cards are completely useless. Okay. To be fair, they're useful to people who only scan cards into a database. And completely useless to the other 95% of the people you hand a card to.

I recently was in a conversation where person one was giving a card to person two so he could send something they were talking about. Glossy back. We all brought out pens and pencils to see if anything worked. Finally, I brought out one of my business cards and he wrote the message on that. Then the two cards were folded together so the recipient would remember to send the item to the person whose card was with mine.

There are people who collect your business cards and people who don't. The people who don't collect cards don't matter. The people who collect business cards will be really disappointed that you have a glossy card.

Do not use reverse print or obnoxious color combinations on your business cards. You've seen it. Dark red background with lime green ink. Your eyes take a minute to focus. Then the type begins to move. Pretty soon you have vertigo. And invariably the business is something like "Creative Solutions."

Really? How about changing your company name to Stupid Decisions or Bad Examples?

Business cards should be functional. Think of the context. You hand your card to someone and they need to quickly get enough information off of it to engage you in a discussion. They might write a note on the back. Then it goes into their pocket until it is processed and scanned.

Unless you actually have black light-enabled cards and hand them out in bars, the reverse printing is just annoying. Our brains don't work like that. Make it readable. Make it useful.

Business Card Dos

Okay, enough complaining. How about a checklist that is useful for constructing and using business cards? Great. Start here.

1. Your Name (you personally) should be clear and visible and readable from arm's length.
That means it is also easy to find. Everyone hates a business card with strange font combinations so you have to scan all over the card to find the person's name. Where's Waldo? Or whoever I'm talking to.

2. Your Company name should be clear and easy to find.

3. Contact information is up to you.
Some cards only have email or only have a phone number. It depends on how you want to be contacted. If you want to give your entire mailing address, fax number, and extension that's fine. Decide WHY you would hand out this information and what you really need on that card to fulfill your needs.

4. Company logo and slogan.
If you have a nice logo or a slogan that really helps you differentiate yourself, then find a place for them on your card. Remember: They should contribute to the goal of making your card useful and easy to use. If they detract, get them out of the way, make them smaller, move them to the side, or drop them altogether.

5. Titles  . . .  hmmmmm.
Some people need titles. But most of us don't really need titles on our cards. They're just one more thing that needs to be changed if you change jobs. I tend to put titles on my Great Little Book cards. But over at America's Tech Support, Mike prefers no titles.

Does a title do something for you? If yes, put it on the card. If not, leave it off.

I once worked with a client who let everyone pick their own titles. So people had business cards that said "Goddess of the Third Order," "Grand Viseer," etc. It was all fun. Most of these people never met with a client and no one saw their cards except each other. So it was more of a team building exercise than a business decision.

Sometimes we feel obligated to put something on the card for a title. If so, make it descriptive and useful. Or bland and boring. But whatever you do, do it intentionally and not because you feel you need to put something there.

6. Other Information (QR Code, Facebook ID, Fan Pages, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, AIM, Pinterest, 4Square, Yelp, Flickr, Reddit, RSS, Technorati, StumbledUpon, Digg, Yahoo Instant Messenger, Jagg, blog, Klout, etc.).

I bet you know where this is going.

There is simply too much miscellaneous stuff to fit it all on a tiny little business card. So if you want to put something else on there, be picky. Choose a few things that don't take up much space AND that contribute to your marketing goals.

7. Use the back Wisely. Or leave it blank.
Remember, the back of the card is not for ten little tips, quotations, IP Subnet calculators, etc. The back is primarily for notes. You can use some of the back for links, logos, QR code, etc. But leave at lease half of it blank - or lined for notes.

8. Make your business card scan-able. You should have a business card scanner. If not, visit your more successful competition and borrow theirs. Make sure that your business card is clean and clear enough that it scans well.

This little tip will go a long way to making sure you've addressed several of the points in this article. The fonts and colors won't be crazy. The text is actually legible. The card is printed correctly (not sideways). And so forth.

The Strategic Use of Business Cards

Step back a minute and ask yourself: WHY do you have business cards? What will you do with them? How do you expect others to use them? What role do they play in your business? Here are two examples.

At America's Tech Support, we hand out business cards very freely to anyone who might be a potential client, partner, or be able to connect us with a potential client or partner. The office manager hardly ever uses them. The techs rarely use them. Mike and I are the primary users/distributors. These cards have full contact information because they appeal to a local audience (address, phone, email, etc.).

At Great Little Book / Small Biz Thoughts, I have several brands and some of them have business cards. My cards are intended to give someone a way to contact me. I mostly use them at conferences so that people have my email address and web site. No matter which web site they start at, my goal is to eventually get them to add themselves to my mailing list.

The card I hand out the most (Small Biz Thoughts) does not have a phone number. I don't want people to be irritated if they don't know that I never answer my phone. So it's email and web site. The other card is for authors and speakers, and people who might potentially hire me to speak. This card does have the phone number. These people still use voicemail as a primary means of communication. I still don't answer the phone, but they have a place to call. These cards have no address information. It's irrelevant.

You have to figure out why you need business cards, what role they plan in your business, and therefore what they should contain. And to be honest, if you hardly ever hand them out, the more basic the better. Don't spend a fortune with cards that no one will see.

Here's one big tip about business cards: Don't act like they cost $1 each! They are the cheapest advertising you can buy. At America's tech support we get ours 100 or 250 at a time. For Great Little Book, I buy them 1,000 at a time. I am the Johnny Appleseed of business cards - scattering them everywhere I go.

How To Buy Business Cards

If your local printer can compete with online digital printers, great. If not, go find an online place you like. I've had both good and bad experiences with Vista Print. I have to say that their cards are first rate with regard to paper. And I like the default "flat" finish. It can be hard to get printers to understand that you want a glossy front and a flat back.

I have used several times and been very pleased. Even if they do something wrong, they fix it no questions asked and super fast. They have a variety of downloadable templates (MS Word, Adobe Illustrator, etc.). I also like because they do a nice job with rounded corners and interesting die cuts. Just make sure you pick a shape that will successfully go through a business card scanner!

If you are not proficient enough to use Publisher, Illustrator, or some other program to design business cards, please hire someone who is.,, and a million other places can get this done for cheap. You might even hire an intern from the local design school for $10/hr. It's more than they would make working for McDonald's, and it builds their portfolio.

Many sites (most sites?) have wizards so you can create your cards online. Click-click-click and you're done. Upload your logo and away you go. Generally speaking, if you produce your own design, you will upload it as a PDF file. Be sure to embed the fonts so it doesn't get kicked back to you.

Organize Your Business Cards

I know this will shock you if you're a regular reader, but we have a standard location for all business cards and related files. On our primary drive, it's under \Marketing\Business Cards. That's where we keep copies of the source files, source graphics, QR codes, etc. Illustrator and PDF files are named after the person with a date embedded in the name. e.g., "Biz_Card_KarlP_20121130.pdf" We use the underscore in case spaces cause a problem with the machine we're uploading to.

Keeping all your cards in one place makes it easy to create new cards that are completely consistent with everyone else in the company. It also makes it easy to change formats for all cards if you make a company-wide change. If you have a generational change like that, you should put the old format into a sub-directory.

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I think that's it. If not, I'm sure someone will post questions.

Comments welcome.

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About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

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Next week's topic: DNS and DHCP Allocation - Server vs. Firewall


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  1. Great post, really interesting stuff here, although I have to say sort of disagree with the sideways point. I don't think there's anything wrong in that if it is done with style and with consideration to readability etc. I have seen some great designs that are sideways, and to be honest it can be a way to differentiate yourself from others. This one for example...

    Also, I don't know if its just me, but how many people actually write notes on the back of the card? I have never felt the need to do that but perhaps other people do.

    And lastly i personally use Print24 for my business cards and other printing, I've been using them for a while now and been very satisfied. But yea there are plenty of these now, I think local high street printers are slowly going away... Kind of a shame I think.

    Anyway great post thanks for that!

    — Adam

  2. Thanks for the extra resource Adam.

    BTW - lots of people disagree with me on the sideways printing or you wouldn't see it so often.

  3. My friend just posted a little video on scanning business cards:
    Thanks Todd!

  4. I would recommend checking out have some amazing products and also the best prices. You can request a sample kit and you will be amazed at their work. Example....get 1000 full color front only for $13.50 or two sided full color for $18.30

  5. Anonymous2:43 AM

    Completely agrees with your thought..if used wisely plastic business cards are very helpful...

  6. Thanks for sharing an informative post about business card in detail. These points are very helpful before going to get a business card.


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