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Creating an Effective Business Card

The right business card will help you make a great first impression.
September 22, 2003

Q: Business cards are an important part of a first impression when networking. Do you have any recommendations on what makes an effective business card?

A: You're correct, business cards are very important, and they do have an effect on someone's first impression of you when networking. Therefore, it is important to tailor your card to the impression you're trying to make.

Have you ever tried on an article of one-size-fits-all clothing? It didn't fit you all that well, did it? That's why clothing manufacturers make different sizes, and if you want something that's absolutely perfect, you spring for some extra bucks and go to a tailor.

Business cards are part of your marketing materials. When you're designing your marketing materials, you certainly want them to be tailor-made. Using a generic approach in your ads, brochures and Web sites won't set you apart from the crowd; it won't tell people what's distinctive about you, your business, your products and services. It won't cause you to be remembered.

When you advertise your services or products, being specific marks you as an expert. Networkers know that the more you bring your unique personality, needs and capabilities into your business identity, the more referrals you're likely to receive. The same applies to your marketing materials. To get the kinds of customers you want, good marketing requires you to be specific about what you do and what makes you unique.

A business card is an integral part of a good marketing plan. For its size and cost, it is probably the most powerful part. So it's especially important that your card be one that is memorable and makes a favorable impression. Otherwise, it will probably get tossed into a drawer full of ancient, smudged, forgotten cards that keep accumulating long after the businesses they represent have faded away. That is, if it doesn't get dropped into the nearest circular file.

Your card should display the same design and basic information as your other marketing materials. But a business card is not a brochure or catalog; space is limited, so you must choose your words and images carefully. Which information is absolutely essential? What else can you include that will help persuade a prospect to contact you? Equally important, what should you leave out? Too much information can dilute or obscure your message.

How do you solve this space-vs.-content problem? A good approach is to break the essentials down into three areas: identity, credibility and clarity. Identity and credibility are concerned with what you should include on your card at a minimum; clarity is more about what to leave off.

Choose a card style that's appropriate for your business, industry and personal style. If you're a funeral director, you don't want to be caught handing out day-glow cards with cartoon figures on them. If you're a mechanic whose specialty is converting old Beetles into dune buggies, a formal, black-on-white engraved card will probably be drooped into the nearest circular file. Start with the style that best supports the business image you wish to project. Here are five different card styles for you to consider:

For more detailed descriptions of these and other types or categories of business cards, take a look at the book It's in the Cards . In it, my co-authors and I review more than 2,000 business cards from 10 countries and select more than 200 examples of some of the best, which are shown throughout the book in full-color.

I have one other recommendation about networking and business cards. If you collect cards by the dozens at conferences, trade shows, mixers or sales meetings, you may find that a card scanner is a huge timesaver. They generally come in palm-sized devices and can be used anywhere there's electricity. They make an image that can be downloaded onto your computer, where they can be read by your database software. We used CardScan by Corex to track the thousands of cards we reviewed for our book. It's a great type of device for any master networker who needs to manage his or her business cards.