Putting Business Cards to Work: Part 1

Is a business card an essential tool for doing business these days?

I certainly find them handy, both for giving people a way to contact me and for helping me learn more about people I meet in the course of business and, if appropriate, follow up with them.

But I’ve noticed lately that quite a few people I meet in a business context are not carrying business cards.

That has even happened when I’ve attended “networking events”. When there’s been a conversation that seems mutually interesting and there’s some indication it would be of mutual interest to stay in touch I’ve been given to handing them a card and saying, “email me”. Guess what? They don’t.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if someone said, “Look, don’t give me your card because I won’t follow up”?

Not that I take it personally – the whole thing just intrigues me, because for a long time I’ve thought of having a good looking and informative business card as an essential business tool.

Today I had a clue as to why some people, especially people who identify as “creative”, might not want to have a business card to give out, even though they are in business.

Singer-songwriter, public speaker and creativity consultant Christine Kane in her post The Reluctant Networker’s Guide to Business Cards says that for a long time she did not have a card.

I didn’t see the need for them. After all, I’m an artist. I have CD’s. I have a website. Isn’t that enough?

Eventually she decided it was a good idea to have cards as well.

Christine provides a set of ten tips on business cards. All ten are well worth the read.

Three that leaped out at me were:

  • “use your photo”,
  • “write notes on the back” and the related tip,
  • “one-sided cards”

Use your photo

I’ve had plenty of cards without a photo over the years, until about five years ago. On the basis of my experience I am convinced that having a photo is a better way to go. Otherwise we are expecting people to remember us just from our name and title or tagline.

Christine makes a particular point about the importance of having your photo on your card if you are networking with women:

Women remember faces and expressions. They relate to photos. If you’re networking with women, they’ll appreciate the extra touch.

It’s a good idea also to use a photo taken by a professional – or at least a skilled amateur! I was fortunate that my photo was taken by a top photographer who, no doubt because he is a friend of a friend and I had given him some paid corporate work in the past agreed to take some pictures even though, as he told me, he didn’t do “that sort of thing”, and nominated “a bottle of red” for reimbursement.

Write notes on the back

The advice to write notes on the back is not about our own cards but about how to ensure that cards we collect are more useful to us. The notes don’t have to be lengthy, just a memory prompt.

For example, riffling through some cards today I noticed one from someone I couldn’t immediately remember meeting. When I turned the card over I found I’d scribbled on the back “at BWE – session with Merv Danziger and Toby Bloomfield”. So it was at BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas last year at a specific session: if I wanted to check back on the program I could even pin down the exact time of day as well as the date.

On another card I’d written just “Byron 05/07” which told me that I’d met the owner of the card at a presentation on business blogging which I gave in May 2007 at Byron Bay.

I’ve done this note-scribbling exercise too at “networking events” such as breakfasts: it only takes a few seconds and I’ve never known anyone to complain. Even if you have to ask someone to pause in their conversation with you, they are hardly likely to object. After all, you are treating them as being important enough to deserve a special note to remind you about them. If they do take exception, my advice would be to quickly find someone else to talk to who is more interested in genuine business networking.

One-sided cards

The related tip, to use “one-sided cards”, is offered by Christine for two nominated reasons, firstly that no one will read all the guff we are often encouraged by experts to put on the back of our cards (guilty as charged, your honour) and secondly to leave room for others to write their little memory-prompting notes.

Other tips

Christine advises also to use a matte finish, not a lacquered one, again so that people can write on the card.

I’m painfully aware of how a high gloss card can look good but work against you in a practical business sense.

Last year, getting some cards done for BlogWorld Expo and loving a bargain as we all do, I thought it would be smart to check the box that offered a gloss finish on both sides at no extra cost. Dumb move!

Even though people admired the card, I don’t think there is a ball point pen or other standard writing implement that can carve through that stuff for someone to be able to write a memory prompt about meeting me.

I don’t see a problem with gloss on the front but from now on I’m ensuring that the back of the card is more conducive to being written on.

Oh, and just one more tip from Christine that I endorse wholeheartedly, “Don’t add people to your newsletter list just because they give you their card”. Hear, hear!

It’s just not cool to assume that because someone shares their card they are implicitly asking you to send them, for the rest of your life unless you unsubscribe, your scintillating newsletter on holistic health, or accounting tips, or whatever your specialty is.

Another option, which I find more acceptable and which avoids being tagged as a spammer, is to send the person a “good to meet you” email and if you wish to include a link which they can use to subscribe to your newsletter.

In the next post in this series I’ll share some thoughts about why it’s a smart idea to have your card designed professionally and why you should not leave it all to the designer.

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About Des Walsh

I show business owners and other professionals how to navigate the social media maze and use LinkedIn effectively. I'm an author, speaker, business coach, social media strategist and LinkedIn specialist. Connect with me on LinkedIn, Google Plus and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get my weekly Social Business Bites.


  1. ldonovan says:

    The catch phrase on the business card, traditional or digital, is what will sell. Personally I prefer Glyphius for such purpose.

  2. I have got to admit you are right Julie digital e-cards are the thing of the future as most things are done on the internet now.

  3. ldonovan says:

    I totally agree with Julie! The e-card is totally the way to go. The people I meet hardly carry pens anymore it’s all digital and I guess it’s something else we have to get used to!

  4. Business cards are an essential tool for networking. I would have never thought that a photo on the card would help. I always thought photos were a little inappropriate but it does make sense. When I come back from a conference and look at the business cards collected, I have a hard time putting a name with a face. If anyone is looking for an inexpensive way to print business cards with their photo, then take a look at http://www.giggleprint.com. They offer one-sided, matte finish cards with your photo. If you look for their page on MySpace or Facebook you can get 80% off.

    Good luck to all of you networkers!

  5. Julie: I understand the appeal of your solution for people more technically savvy and comfortable with reliance on electronic solutions, although personally I would not like to restrict myself just to that mode and I suspect printed business cards will be around for a long time.

    Louise: I’ve tried both approaches and I am much more comfortable professionally and personally when the exchange of business cards is a natural progression of conversations, i.e. you have established you both want to keep in touch or at least be able to reach one or the other and the card is the logical way of facilitating that.

    David-Gerrard: I understand the argument about using the back of the card, but I don’t agree it should be “filled with extra info” – as I said in the post, echoing Christine Kane, it’s better to leave space for the other person to write a note about you and how you met; there is a compromise, which I’ve used, namely to have some info on half of the back and leave the other half blank for people to write on.

  6. Business cards can be a great source for generating leads as many people expect one if you are a small business of any kind.Photos are a great trust builder and should be used to your advantage, and don’t forget the back of the card which is normally empty should be filled with extra info or even a mini calender.

  7. Business cards are essential to networking. Sure, there are some circumstances where it may be socially inappropriate to offer your card before someone asks. But at a business networking event, don’t hesitate to offer your card or ask for someone else’s card.

    Louises last blog post..Layered Cold Crab Dip Appetizer Recipe

  8. I think I have the solution for the “I don’t want to carry around business cards” crowd. Out company offers a free service where anyone can create their own personal digital business card that can be shared via mobile phone, email or posted to the web.

    It includes the opportunity to include photos (one of your points I whole-heartedly agree with), personal text and active links to websites, emails and phone numbers. You always have it on you – as you can share it from your mobile phone or computer. And, it can be changed in a moment’s notice, so you never have to wait for a graphic designer or printer to finish up work on new changes to your contact information, company or title.

    It is very easy to use and works with 100% of the mobile phones in the US.

    Check it out on mobile too at m.211me.com

    I would love feedback on your thoughts on the service – I can be reached at julie@211me-inc.com



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