By Amanda Bowman
Business cards have been a part of any entrepreneur’s self-promotion toolkit for a long time. 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 soon after.
You can chalk up their longevity 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.
But before you rush down to your local print shop to get a box of five hundred, here are some essential tips to make sure you get the best results.
Hire a professional
When you hand your card to someone, you give them a proxy for you and your company. That small piece of card stock 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.
Keep it 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.
Choose your information 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.
Information must-haves include your 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 with a select amount of contact options.
When in doubt, stick with the standard
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 card is problematic if they’re not a light color. Make sure your card is optimized for readability.
Use the space well
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.
Choose your paper carefully
The quality of the paper you choose reflects on your business or products. If you have printed them on cheap card stock, 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 from an introductory conversation on the cards they give out or receive. This type of in-the-moment note-taking becomes much harder if your card is printed on both sides on glossy paper.
Think of other uses for your card
Your card is a physical object, and as such, it can potentially have some interesting extra features.
A landscaping company could print their cards or 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. 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.
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.