I need a new business card and I’m thinking through what I need to have on it and what the basic look will be. My existing one is a 2007 quick adaptation I did online of a professionally designed card which was originally done about four years ago.

The old card is pictured here.
Des Walsh's old business card

With a few offline events coming up I really do need something more up to date.

I’m taking this opportunity to figure out just what role I see the card as playing in my marketing and what I want the card to communicate about me and what I do.

That process is making me do some serious questioning of the whole business of business cards.

I’m by no stretch of the imagination a graphic designer, but for reasons outlined below I’m casting caution to the winds and designing this card myself, with the help of a couple of basic tools, Microsoft Publisher (part of Microsoft Office) the free, downloadable Irfanview image software and online tools provided by business card printers (details below).

This is a longer post than I’d orginally intended. Its length is partly due to its reflecting over 20 years experience of using a variety of business cards, with at best mixed results. I’m hoping the post might be helpful to someone, sometime, although as it’s about a DIY exercise I’m pretty sure it won’t win me any friends in the business card design game!

Memories of cards past

I’ve had a lot of business cards in my time, first in the public service once I reached a level of seniority where it was deemed appropriate for me to have a card, and then in business. In the public service I think it was a status thing, kind of a right to show off my title once I reached the executive level.

When I started in business, getting a business card was one of the things  you did. And you went to networking functions or meetings and exchanged cards with the other people there. I think the theory was that this was a way to attract business, although as I reflect on that now there is no single instance that springs to mind where I could say my business card did in fact ever play a key role in attracting new business.

That reminds me of the gag I heard a few years ago: “Did you hear about the consultants’ Christmas party? They all had a drink and exchanged business cards.”

I didn’t have or need a business card when I was a school teacher or when I drove a taxi. No point. I believe I needed one as a consultant and coach. I am pretty sure I still need one.

But what kind of card am I going to have? What words and other information will it have on it?

I’ve done some online searching for ideas, with mixed results (some links at the end of this post) and the realization that I have to figure out what will work for me, rather than rely on others’ ideas of what “should” be done. My ideas on that have changed in recent years and in fact my thoughts on the subject are still changing (evolving I hope).

My pre-conceived notions challenged: Bob Burg on the uses of cards

My ideas about business cards and their value for business started to change when I read master networker Bob Burg’s book Endless Referrals. Bob is not big on cards, or at least on how cards often get used.

He certainly doesn’t have time for the way they get used often at networking functions. If you have ever been to a networking breakfast where a person you’ve never met arrives and sprays their cards around the table like a dealer at a casino you will get the idea. Waste of time.

Bob says there are three uses for a business card: 1) you could win something (you know, the fishbowl thing at the local restaurant, or some other “email address catcher” receptacle at an expo); 2) you could get a lead (he is less than enthusiastic about this one); 3) you can get others’ cards. This third reason – to get others’ cards – is, Bob says, the only one that matters. “As far as I’m concerned” he writes “this is the one truly valuable benefit of business cards…”.

Although he is not what you would call an enthusiast, he’s not completely down on the idea of business cards:

Although I make light of business cards, and generally find they are not worth much more than the paper stock on which they are printed, they can have some value when used correctly.

Another challenge: The Case of the Disappearing Cards

I’ve started asking myself and the occasional person who will listen “Why do so many people not have cards any more?”

Because increasingly I’m noticing that people don’t have them, especially people in Internet/social media related business, with the notable exception of people who are in that arena but more in design, advertising and marketing fields.

Is it because business cards are so 20th century, so analog, so uncool? Is it a sign of a quiet revolution against the tide of newsletters, promos, last chance offers, exciting news that flood our email boxes in response to all those cards we’ve given out at breakfasts, in the bowls at expos, at business gatherings?

Or is it because a lot of us feel that we and our contact details are now so findable online that we don’t need the expense and inconvenience of having cards designed and printed and then having to carry them around, against the moment when someone at a function says “Do you have a card?” Or say we meet a business person from Japan.

Awkward thought: am I at risk,  if I fall in with a bunch of geeks, of looking like a real doofus if I ask for or produce business cards? Oh the embarrassment!

And what about the planet?

No doubt because I work mostly online, I always seem to have these days more business cards than I need. And the ones I have are now out of date, using a title I no longer use. And with that thing of it being only marginally more expensive to have a thousand printed than five hundred, I hate that moment when, sooner or later, I have to ditch about 600 cards I’ll never have use for again because the information on them is out of date.

Not to mention the speed of change in technology and business

Business cards, it seems to me, used to have a longer life than they are likely to have now. Twitter didn’t exist when the first version of my current card emerged and when I updated it in 2007 it did not occur to me to put my Twitter handle on the card, whereas now I’m doing so with my next card.

I also used then the title “Blogging Evangelist” which I don’t use now, not because I don’t promote blogging for business – I decidedly do – but because it’s not the focus of my business in the way it was back then.

The new card project

Taking all those considerations aboard, I do believe that, for the time being at least, I still need a card. But I’m going with temporary and home-built design, using some basic tools to get a result which I believe will work for me.

These are the principles I’ve applied:

Front of card

  • include photo (a feature of the older and current card commented on positively, many times)
  • my name in a font size easy to read at a glance
  • my preferred contact details: mobile (cell) number | Twitter @ handle | email address
  • primary web/blog address
  • tagline
  • no title (I find using titles triggers pigeonholing)

Back of card

  • what I do in social media – strategy
  • a quote about the importance of strategy
  • room for recipient to jot a note
  • matt finish (current card I had foolishly made gloss – no one could write on it!)

What’s not there

  • other blog/web sites (potentially confusing)
  • landline number (not always at base but usually have mobile)
  • fax number (no discernible usefulness)
  • coaching information (again, potentially confusing – thinking about a separate card)
new business card new business card

Design and printing I’ve used Microsoft Publisher for the card design, Irfanview to adjust the picture, Click Business Cards (based in North Sydney, Australia) for the printing.

My intention is to do another version before my next overseas trip, with the international phone number (country code etc). In the US, I’ve found the people at Overnight Prints really helpful: but I had to learn the hard way that “Overnight” was a brand, not a literal promise – it was still speedy by the standards then (and perhaps still) prevailing in Australia and very economical.

Both Click Business Cards and Overnight Prints provide really helpful online tools. With each, you can use one of their templates or use their blank format and upload your own image/text, as I’m doing with the new card.

My new cards will not be certainly not as elegant as the old ones, but I am confident they will be more practical in helping communicate what I do in the social media space.

I quite liked the old black background but it was never part of an overall branding and in fact the card I’m producing now is more aligned with the very plain style of my main web/blog sites.

Some links for stimulating card design ideas (some fairly zany, which could work for some businesses):

I welcome any suggestions as to how, within the parameters I’ve indicated above, I could improve on my new design or comments on how I’m proceeding with this project. As there is no cost other than my time in any re-design, and a fairly modest cost for another print run, I’m quite open to practical suggestions. And anyway I’ll be doing a new run when I’m next planning to travel internationally.

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