While the information that goes on a business card may have changed over time, replacing fax numbers with Twitter handles, the card itself is still a critical part of a real-world networking strategy. You can't squander face-to-face opportunities to strengthen professional bonds. And as with your website or Facebook page, when you're meeting contacts in person, your business card is both the first thing they see and the impression you leave after your first meeting. A thoughtfully designed, compelling business card can help you make a real connection and bring more business in the door.
But you don't need to hire a professional designer or spend a fortune to get a business card that makes you memorable. Want to design a card that helps you make -- and keep -- valuable connections? Here are five things you need to know.
1. Dress for the occasion.
Image is everything -- and your business card is no exception. You need to make sure that like you and all the other vital elements of your business, it's dressed for success. According to ZoeTennesen, creative services manager and art director for Dallas-based PR firm HCK2 Partners, "You wouldn't go to a meeting at a Fortune 500 company in shorts and flip flops. Make your business card 'dresses appropriately' for the kind of customers you want to attract." Like it or not, a potential customer will form an opinion about who you are and what your company is based on specific visual attributes of your card: Paper thickness (which should always be 120 pound and higher), typography choice and color scheme. These days, we even see variations on size, shape and orientation.
"That's asking a lot from a 3.5" x 2" piece of cardstock, so it's important to use everything available to you -- the paper, the type, the feel, the shape -- to help tell your story," Tennesen adds. She recommends thinking beyond traditional shapes and types of business cards and using examples like these for inspiration.
2. Never use clip art.
Clip art is the number-one design element that can ruin a business card, according to Lolo Siderman, founder of Santa Monica, Calif.-based design company Gypsywing Media. "For the love of all things holy and sacred, never use clip art," she warns. "It looks cheap and diminishes the image of any company." In fact, you should only add graphics to your business card if you are 100 percent sure it will help reinforce your branding rather than confuse it. Even one little piece of bad clip art on your business card will make your business seem small, inexperienced and devoid of marketing savvy. To illustrate the "no clip art" rule, Tennesen says, consider these scenarios:
- What would you think if a fancy restaurant served on paper plates?
- What would you think if your hairstylist wore a baseball cap?
- What would you think if the car wash was located on a dirt road?
That's the kind of pain your contacts will feel when you use clip art. It doesn't help your card communicate anything and, in most cases, makes it worse. People will assume you take a "good enough" approach to business and will be less likely to choose to work with you.
3. Consider including a QR code.
A QR code is a matrix barcode that is readable by smartphones and can be a great way to make a connection between your real life and online marketing materials. You can use this code to create special, memorable features on your website and reward those you meet in person for reaching out to you. "A quick Google search for a QR Code Generator will turn up a lot of cheap or free options for creating and downloading a QR code," says Erik Wolf, marketing expert and founder of Atlanta-based online marketing firm Zero-G Creative. The reason I recommend this is because QRs make for great conversation starters and gives you an opportunity for a clever marketing moment if your code leads to a special landing page on your website." For example, the QR code on the back of Wolf's business card takes users to a special landing page on his site that reads, "We've met before, haven't we?" The BarCode News provides an easy-to-use, free QR generator that can be linked to your phone number, contact information, email address, a special URL, SMS or a simple line of text. Just make sure to test your QR code with as many smartphones as possible before you go to print.
4. Resist clutter.
Entrepreneurs trying to create compelling business cards that acknowledge all their many points of contact online can blur their overall message and actually confuse potential customers. The two most important pieces of information on an effective business card have remained the same for almost two decades: your phone number and email address. "The best business card I ever saw was while I was a student at Art Center," Tennesen says. "Our professor was constantly grinding us about simplifying, removing clutter and getting to the heart of the message we were trying to communicate. So many business cards over-communicate and end up making you look needy. His business card consisted of four simple elements: His name, his phone number, black text, white paper. And it was powerful. When is the last time you saw a card like that? It shouted, 'I'm not desperate, I don't beg for work, and I am exclusive.'" This very simple card might not work for everyone, and including elements like a personal cell phone number and company website address is often smart. However, Tennesen says when you're considering adding Twitter handles, Skype aliases, LinkedIn profile links and IM nicknames to a card, remember these are extras you can introduce to the relationship once it is solidified, but don't a relationship make.
5. Don't be cheap.
Everyone knows where to get 1,000 business cards online for 99 cents -- or even for free (if you don't mind sharing precious card real estate with the Vistaprint logo). And with the economy still shaky, you may find this a tempting cost to cut. But, if you don't want your card to get shoved into a wallet, a desk drawer or tossed into the recycling bin, you need it to stand out, and 99 cents won't be enough to cover the cost of true distinctiveness. As is true with any other component of your business, you need to invest time and money into producing a quality business card that has a chance of remaining on someone's desk, and better yet, a chance of making someone check out your website, send an email, pick up the phone or visit you in person. "I have never made a decision to work with someone based solely on a business card," Tennesen says. "But I have made the decision not to work with many people for the same reason. Invest some dollars upfront into creating the kind of image that will appeal to the kind of customers you want to attract. Partner with a designer or agency who understands your business and knows how to communicate your unique selling proposition through the print medium."