Did You Just Ruin a Great First Impression?

Nice suit, smart shoes…carefully cultivated corporate casual…entrepreneur chic. No matter what style fits you best, we all know first impressions matter and we want to make them count.
So why did you just hand me

Now, you may be of the school that believes business cards are passe. An anachronism of days gone by. You’re wrong. Ok, I can hear some of you arguing right now, “In this high tech world, who needs cards?” The answer is, “You do.”

Why? Because there is no faster, more tangible way to turn a chance meeting into a lasting first impression. You meet, you talk, you leave. Gracefully.

Do you really want to muck that up by trying to get your iPhone to Bump his Android and looking like a fool because your can’t get that blasted app to work? No. You want to exit with polish and professionalism, leaving a the door open to future conversations. If all goes well, that little card could lead to new business, partnerships or referrals.

I network. A lot. That means I collect lots of business cards. As a perennial student of image and branding, I’m often amazed by what people slip into my hand. It’s scary.

Your business card is a little window into your corporate soul.

If you are a solopreneur, the founder of a start-up or are running a small but growing business, give that idea a few minutes to sink in. What do those cards you’re handing out say about you? About your business? About your future? If the answer isn’t what you’d hoped, read on.

Never Show Up Empty-handed

No, your dog didn’t eat your homework. Don’t tell me you don’t have a card. Even if you are in the VERY early days of your business, you can spend a few bucks at the office supply store and print your own cards. This works in emergencies, too, but self-printing your cards is a temporary solution, not be a long-term strategy.

Always have a fresh supply of professionally printed cards on hand. Keep some in your car, a few in your wallet, purse or computer bag. Just don’t run out. When you get down to about 50 cards, order more.

Quality is NOT Expensive

If you think you can’t afford a nice card, here’s a surprise. You can have 500 beautiful, high quality cards printed on both sides in full color for less than $25. I love PrintPlace for online card orders. They have wonderful, thick card stock, consistent print quality and fast delivery.

Some people also like Vistaprint which offers free business cards. Personally, I would never hand out a card that said “Printed free by Vistaprint” on the back, but that’s your call.

These days, cards are so affordable that you can have cards printed for everyone on your staff, or for special situations like a new product launch or a promotional event. Don’t hesitate to change up your cards whenever you want. They’re a tool for marketing your business and won’t do you any good sitting in a drawer.

Get It Right

I’ll save my “best and worst business cards” gallery for another post, but I do want to share a few tips for making the best of that little piece of paper real estate. Here are a few things to keep in mind so your business cards can work as hard as you do.

What, No Website?

Yes, social media is where it’s at. And I encourage you to include your Twitter handle or LinkedIn profile on your card so people can connect with you in a variety of ways. But if you are running a real business, you need a website. Even if it’s a few pages of info about your business, you must have a digital footprint.

Domain names are now going for under $10 a year. Register using a discount coupon via Go Daddy and you can have your URL in minutes. Then go to WordPress or one of many other places you can set up a site for free, and stake out your digital territory.

Hotmail Isn’t Hot

AOL is so last century. You might get away with Gmail (not Yahoo), but if you really want to look professional, get your own email address. If you set up your website (see above) and chose a hosting provider like BlueHost or GreenGeeks (two of my favorites), you can have unlimited – yes, unlimited – email addresses with your own domain name for as little as $5/month ($60/a year!).

So instead of just-joe123@hotmail.com you can be Joe.Smart@MyCompany.com. Sweet.

Size Matters

Don’t get cute with size. You will stand out, but your card will also be trashed quickly when it doesn’t fit with the others in someone’s stack. I’ve been handed cards that are an octagon and a square, and one that was 1/4 the size of a normal card, as well as over-sized cards. Despite the novelty factor that caught my attention, these cards did not stay in my collection.

In the U.S. the standard business card size is 2″ x 3.5.” In the rest of this world, sizes are slightly different and may vary from one area to another. If you are doing business internationally, check the local customs before ordering your cards.

How Does It Feel?

For many people, the way your card feels in their fingers means a lot. Those of us who value tactile impressions will appreciate the paper your card is printed on, whether it’s smooth, glossy or linen finish. If you want to stand out, cards that are metal, wood or plastic can be interesting, but expensive.

If you decide to mix it up a bit and try a different material, be sure the size and thickness of your cards conforms to standards. That way your card can be easily stored for reference.

Black and White is NOT Read All Over

Ugly business card

Sorry for dredging up an old joke, but it’s true. Unless it is flawlessly designed, if your card is simple black and white like you typed it out on an old Smith Coronaâ„¢ you need something better. It is not retro cool and it’s not “good enough.”

Face it, if your card looks like this (and I swear I was given a card just like this, although I changed the data to protect the guilty party), your card is lame.

Seriously, show a little effort. If you’re not good with design, try a predesigned template or spend a little money to have a designer lay out your card. (They can do letterhead, envelopes, labels and note cards at the same time for a few dollars more.)

Can You Read That?

Tiny type on a card is not a good thing. There is no competition to see how much information you can squeeze onto your card. The goal is to provide the right information so people can reach you in a memorable and engaging way.

Use a font size that is at least 8 points (10 is better) and arrange information neatly and logically. If your card has a dark background, the type should be larger or bold to make it easier to read. I don’t recommend reverse text (light type on a dark field) because it is harder to read, but sometimes that fits with your brand image. If that is the case, just be aware of legibility issues.

Also keep in mind that many people are scanning cards into their contact systems. You might love that funky design, but if the scanner can’t read it, you could lose out on a good contact.

Cards Have Two Sides

Two sided printing is so affordable that it only makes sense to use both sides of your card. Keep essential contact information on the front, and use the back as you see fit. Some good ideas for the back of a card are space for notes, a mission statement or value proposition, or special offer.

I have a QR code on the back of my cards, which people can scan with their smartphones to instantly access more information and free online resources. This is a great way to encourage people to connect right away or to provide a digital link to an ecard.

Mug Shots

Should you put your picture on your card? That depends. In a few industries, like real estate, insurance and financial services, this is a common and expected practice. Anywhere else and you might want to think twice. If you do include a photo, use a professional photographer and keep it current.

The photo you choose should reflect your personal brand. It can and should be the same image you use on your LinkedIn profile and other social media sites, and it should be professional but not stiff or stuffy. Let your personality show through, without being too quirky.

What Do You Think?

Do you have more suggestions on making the most of business cards? Do share in the comments below.

Image by Henk L. on sxc.hu.

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