At the end of the first post in this short series on putting your business cards to work I promised some thoughts on:

  • why it is a good idea to have your card designed professionally and
  • why you should not leave it all to the designer

Getting your card designed professionally

Over the years I’ve been in business I have used professionally designed cards and ones I’ve designed myself. I’m not a designer, so guess what? The professionally designed cards looked better.

One reason for that would be the fact that people who design business stationery professionally have probably had some sort of training as well as having a good “eye” for design. Another is that they probably have more appropriate software than I. A third is that they know how to lay out the artwork so that the printer can produce what is desired.

The exercise does not need to be expensive. Where it can get expensive is when you decide you want letterhead and other stationery items, which require more design and a bigger budget for printing.

As most of my correspondence is done these days via email and as I have used a lot of professionally designed stationery for general notetaking once the address or phone number or other details became out of date, I don’t bother getting those “nice to have but not essential for my business” items done any more.

The one exception is that I have experimented with some 8 inch x 3 1/2 inch thank-you cards, as a tool for networking follow up, as recommended by networking expert Bob Burg in his excellent book Endless Referrals.

As you can see from the picture above of one of Bob’s own cards, he goes for plain black and white. If you can’t set this up on your computer, your local printer should be able to set it up and print it, without your needing any elaborate design work.

Back to the business cards and design.

There was a time, early in my business career, when it seemed very hard to find a designer who would simply do a business card design: everyone seemed stuck in the mode of designing the “whole package”. Perhaps there is more competition these days, because I have found there are firms which are happy to provide an individually designed card and a respectable initial run, for a relatively modest cost.

I believe anyone wanting to be taken seriously as being in business is not well served by the kind of flimsy, “did-it-myself and only cost me $10” card I’ve sometimes been handed at networking events. What that kind of card says is something like: “Please hire me because I have no capital and so little business I can’t even afford a decent business card”.

Ditto for the “free” cards: I doubt that everyone will agree with me on that, especially the people who provide them! But ask yourself, how effective will you be in negotiating professional fees if your card is one of those free ones? What message does that send?

On the other side of the coin there will be people – especially professional design firms – who say you should get a whole design package that integrates your offline, business card brand with the design of your website, blog and so on. Great, if that’s in your budget and you believe it will bring you extra business or help keep your existing clients.

But for what it’s worth – and thinking particularly about people just starting out with their home based business – I know from my own experience and the experience of others I’ve observed that it is quite easy to spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars on the design and printing aspect of your brand without that necessarily being immediately helpful in getting or keeping business.

Why not to leave the design of your business card completely to your designer

French statesman George Clemenceau once made an observation that morphed into the expression, in English, that “war is too important to be left to generals”. My adaptation is that design is too important to be left to designers. And while that comment might annoy some people, I suspect that smart designers will prefer an intelligent interaction with the client to the alternative of having a totally free hand.

The key point here is that it is your business and your brand. A designer can help you present that more impressively and more effectively, but it is ultimately your responsibility and mine to ensure that we present our businesses in the best way possible.

And while a very professional designer will be thinking about how your business card is going to be used to best effect, that should not be taken for granted. For example, will the key information on your card – your name at least – be able to be read easily when you hand it to someone at the beginning of a business meeting or at a networking function? And will anyone who does not have 20/20 vision be able to read it easily? I have seen more than one card with the details in such a tiny font size as to be hard to read, especially under not so bright lights, as is often the case in business or networking venues.

In such circumstances, given a choice of whether to peer at the card, trying to decipher what it says, or just pocketing it to study later, I’ll choose the latter. How much better to be able to say “Ah, I see you specialize in……… Just the person I’m looking for!”

It’s essential to have the discussion with the designer before she or he has done any work on the project. I’ve supervised a lot of design jobs over the years and found it next to impossible to get a designer to change their concept once they have presented it to you. The creative work has been done and the opportunity for detailed briefing on what you wanted has passed.

Of course, if you are just getting a business card done and as economically as you can, it is unrealistic to expect the designer to spend a lot of time on the briefing. My suggestion is to get the designer to show you other work they’ve done, pick what you think is closest to your idea of your own brand and then indicate what you would want that is different. If the designer doesn’t want to do that and tells you not to worry, they’ll come up with something, be concerned. Be very concerned.

What’s your experience with business cards?

Do you have a story to share about how you managed the process of getting your business cards right? Or wrong? A story about how a good designer helped you get what you wanted? Any tips to share for getting a design that works? Nothing potentially litigious and not just promo links please!

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