Use Business Cards Effectively

by Russ Westcott

I’m shocked at the number of people who don’t carry a business card. Even more amazing are those who don’t even have cards. There is no excuse for not having a business card to offer when the situation calls for one.

Instead, always offer a card to anyone who gives you his or her card and, when appropriate, to anyone who doesn’t have one to give you. Carry a small notepad for recording contact information from people who have no card to offer. Don’t ask to use the back of another person’s card to record your information.

Don’t force your business card on someone who doesn’t seem to want it. Ask first if you may exchange cards. Never give out a damaged business card. Keep your cards in a business card holder. Cards kept in a person’s wallet often become bent or frayed.

Pick the appropriate time to exchange business cards, such as when another person offers you his or her card or suggests an exchange, when you sense it’s appropriate to suggest an exchange or when the conversation appears to be concluding.

Don’t just shove cards you receive into your pocket without looking at them. Make a point of commenting on something you read on them. Try to avoid writing on the face of cards given to you. If necessary, at a later time write pertinent data on the back of cards received.

After the Card Exchange

At your earliest convenience, retrieve all cards collected at an event or for the day. Review them and make notes, such as what was discussed and the date and place of the encounter.

Separate the cards into two categories: those you’ll keep for a short period in case you need them for reference and those you will use to make further contact.

If you are shy when meeting strangers in a social or business setting, exchanging business cards can trigger conversation. Networking is key to exposing others to your knowledge, experience, skills, aptitude and attitude (the KESAA factors), which can give you an advantage in advancing your career.

Special Situations

Get your own business cards in any of the following situations:

  • You have left your job and are currently unemployed. (It’s misrepresentation to use business cards from a former job.)
  • Your organization will not provide cards for you.
  • Cards furnished by your employer don’t reflect the work you actually do.

Note that you’ll probably need permission to use your organization’s logo or design. If you can’t get permission, don’t use it.

Professionally printed cards, with features such as raised printing and heavy card stock, are fairly expensive but provide a quality impression. Don’t use these cards after they’ve become obsolete just because they were expensive.

Double-sided and four-sided folded cards can be professionally designed to include résumé highlights or product lines represented on the back or inside. People expecting to work in an environment where another language is prevalent often have a translation of their information on the reverse side of the card. Commercially printed cards on which information is oriented vertically can attract attention but could annoy the recipient when the card is filed.

Print Your Own

Printing your own business cards is an option if you have a decent color printer connected to your computer. You can choose business card stock from office supply retailers and purchase an inexpensive, easy-to-use software program to create attractive cards.

In this case, the card stock will not be quite as heavy as commercially printed cards, and the printing won’t be raised. But, the big advantage is flexibility. You can experiment with several designs, type styles, colors and layouts on a variety of stock—all at very little cost. (I have five different cards I use for different purposes. I can make changes almost instantly.)

An added advantage is that you don’t need to produce 500 cards—a typical minimum order for commercially printed cards.

Here are some tips when printing cards or having them printed:

  • Use easy-to-read fonts that are large enough to not require magnification.
  • Avoid excessive bolding, italicizing and underlining.
  • Avoid printing in colors that are difficult to read.
  • Be sure contact information is clear and readable.

Unemployed people might balk at showing a title on their temporary business cards. If you can’t invent a title with which you are comfortable, don’t use one. Be sure any title you use reflects your competency and the organizational level to which you aspire.

Don’t use “consultant” unless you are actually soliciting or doing consulting work. The title could provoke an inquiry, and you will want to tell the truth. Avoid using a company name, unless you are currently consulting under that name.

If and how you present your business card tells a lot about your professional image, respect for others and networking competence. Having your business card available at all times is a reciprocal action, a thoughtful gesture, a professional courtesy and a worthwhile investment.

RUSSELL T. WESTCOTT is an ASQ fellow, certified quality auditor and certified manager of quality/organizational excellence (CMQ/OE). He is editor of the third edition of the CMQ/OE Handbook, co-editor of the Quality Improvement Handbook and author of Simplified Project Management for Quality Professionals and Stepping Up to ISO 9004:2000. Westcott is also a co-instructor of the ASQ CMQ/OE refresher course. Based in Old Saybrook, CT, he owns the Offerjost-Westcott Group, a work-life planning and career coaching firm.

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