Optimizing Your Business Card

Whether you’re a business owner, executive or staff member, business cards continue to play a leading role at events, in business and in the marketplace. Take a look at your business card. Have you ever stopped to consider it, other than to make sure all your information is correct? That little card markets your brand, builds credibility and initiates relationships.

Business cards were developed in China in the 1400s to present the credentials of nobles and dignitaries. They made their way to Europe via trade routes where, by the time of Louis IV of France, calling cards were in prevalent use in upper class society as a means of introduction, to request meetings and to announce arrivals. Rules of etiquette surrounded their use, and cards were collected and prominently displayed by households and merchants.

It was in London during the 1600s that calling cards morphed into trade cards, which were distributed by merchants as a form of advertising. Now, professionals in all fields use business cards, and giving someone your card is the beginning of a relationship.

Despite our use of smartphones and digital contact lists, printed business cards are an essential tool. Printed cards have an appeal that digital data cannot match: they have personality. They’re a small but mighty vehicle for branding and marketing.

The offer of a printed business card makes a quicker transaction that sharing contact information digitally. Conversations can be maintained over the exchange of cards, and they serve as ready surfaces to record reminders and notes to be followed up on later. A card can be scanned and added to a digital address book.

Business cards are inherently interactive. We hold them, flip them, write on them, fold them, crimp their corners and sometimes fling them. They are lasting reminders of the people we meet and prompt us to stay in touch. Another thing to note is that we associate a business card with a specific individual. When you give someone your card, you invite them to connect with you.

The right combination of paper stock, excellent design and quality printing make a card timelessly relevant, something people will value well enough to hold onto.

What makes for an effective card? Here are some pointers:

Keep it simple. Business cards are not brochures. They’re more useful when they’re uncluttered. They’re an introduction; they should not be expected to close the deal.

Include only necessary information: name, title, company, and phone  number, web site and e-mail. Make
tag lines and vision statements secondary. Thing like special offers, disclaimers, bullet points and photos
of yourself should be omitted unless your profession requires it. Labels such as “e-mail” and “web site” are no longer necessary. People to understand what those bits of information are.

Keep your information current. Did you change your phone number or address? Get new cards.

Make information legible and scannable. Use colors that contrast with the background and be sure the type is large enough by read without squinting or stretching, and dark enough to be picked up by a scanner. Legibility, by the way, is enhanced by white space.

QR codes link the card to a trackable online presence. Be cautious with them, since the codes add clutter, and not everyone has scanning capability on their phones – yet.

Two-sided cards printed in multiple colors are generally more memorable than one-sided, single-color cards.

Avoid gimmicks and special offers. Folds, die-cuts and off-size cards help differentiate, they may not be practical in the long run. Put special offers and sales copy in a brochure or web site, not on a business card.

Size it right. The standard 3.5” x 2” format remains the most prevalent size in the USA.

Use paper stock that accepts ballpoint, felt tip and roller ball inks, and design the card so that there’s white space where people can jot notes. Avoid plastic, vinyl, leather and wood.

Cards that are thoughtfully designed are a cost-effective form of marketing. They make an impression for good or bad, so be sure to invest in the best quality you can afford. A final tip: always, always, always carry a stack of business cards with you. You never know when you’ll have the opportunity to give one away.

Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and principal of Alvalyn Creative, an independent consultancy providing brand strategy design and bespoke illustration for more than 30 years. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business school and podcast for creative freelancers. She teaches design and design practice on the college level with design schools and programs.