Even if you are unemployed, you should have business cards and carry them with you. You never know when you are going to run into someone who is in your line of work, or who might be interested in hiring someone with your skills. Jotting your info down on a scrap piece of paper is awkward and time-consuming, and the promise of beaming our data via IR or wireless from one smartphone to another fails on a variety of levels. Even the trendy (and goofy) Poken don’t have a critical mass in most circles to replace a classic business card.
The subject of business cards always makes me think of the film American Psycho and the scene where Christian Bale’s character starts to burn with quiet hatred for a fellow Wall Streeter who, although a clearly inferior person, has a business card that is even more elegant and understated, yet demonstrating more confidence and refinement, than his own.
Yet, the business cards I see rarely look anything like the classic dark text on white or ivory card-stock. Real estate agents almost invariably have glossy business cards that contain a full-color headshot of themselves, along with their agency logo. Some printed on both sides with, frankly, more information than I care to read in such tiny type.
Elements of a good business card include your name, your professional position (or desired professional position, if you are between jobs) and contact info. Contact info can range from simple phone & e-mail address, to phone, address, e-mail address, portfolio and/or resume website URL, and even a twitter username, e.g. @foxsuit (assuming that social media is important to your line of work, you are a frequent twitter user, and you tweet things that are professionally relevant).
A Great Business Card
I recently came across what I think is a particularly great business card. A few weekends ago, I was at the local farmers market and overheard a woman ask one of the sellers if they had their website up yet. She mentioned she’d be happy to help them build it. Since I am in a very similar line of work, I introduced myself, and she had with her a business card.
Shirley’s business card is well-designed (particularly important for her since she does design work) and is not overly busy. It uses 4 colors: black, white, a pale orange, and a pale brown. It lists her full contact information, and on the back it lists some of her professional specialities. But the best part, in my opinion, is that it features a stylized image of a bicycle. That, combined with a bicycle-themed web address, velochicdesign.ca, gave me a pretty good clue that she is a cyclist. I asked her about cycling and we had a conversation about that as well.
That extra design element provided me an opening to ask her about something other than her professional interests, and gave me a chance to connect with her on a more personal level. You may not have the design skills to come up with such a concept, but you might be able to sneak something interesting and intriguing in a word or two: “Electrical Engineer & Pinball Wizard” might spark someone’s interest.
A Less-than-Great Business Card
I met a fellow at a recent conference who I think is a great guy, but his business card needs help! It is simply too busy to easily discern what it is he actually does. It contains 6 full-color logos, one for his company and several for software packages, and one for a professional organization. Everything about the card suggests that he is a software developer or provides software support, but underneath his name it says writer and blogger. I suppose I could find out more about him by visiting his web site, but he hasn’t provided me with a compelling reason to do so.
It also features a full-color photo of himself, which I would generally discourage. Sure, it puts a face to the name, but you want associates and potential employers or business partners to remember what you do more than what you look like. I think real estate agents put their pictures on their business cards to try to establish trust with their clients and future clients, but honestly–some of them have “faces for radio.”
Getting Business Cards
Most shops with print services, like FedEx Office (formerly Kinko’s) or OfficeMax, will print business cards. Online services like iPrint.com will also print business cards and ship them to you, generally for 6-7 cents if you order 250. (You may get a better rate, but I have yet to go through 250 business cards with my most up-to-date information).
I received a business card that was hand-stamped, which is clear from the variation of the ink. This is a nice touch–it feels more personal, although it clearly requires getting a custom rubber stamp made and spending the time to cut and stamp card-stock. That extra effort isn’t going to help, for example, a mortgage loan officer, but it may give an edge to someone in a crafty line of work such as cake decorating. I’ve also seen cards in irregular shapes and sizes, which may stand out among a stack of other business cards, but may also get lost by because they can’t be filed with traditional-sized cards.
I’ve read a variety of articles lately heralding the death of the paper business card, but I think they are wrong. It’s a simple, easy, and inexpensive solution to passing on your contact information to an associate.