How to Create an Effective Business Card

At the AWAI/ETR Bootcamp this year, I was given at least two dozen business cards. Most of them, I threw out. Why? Because, if there’s one thing I don’t need, it’s a stack of cards representing people I don’t remember and, therefore, wouldn’t do business with.

That’s the problem with handing out and accepting business cards at conventions, seminars, and trade shows. It seems to be productive, but is actually 90 percent ineffective. It’s a phony, lazy substitute for the real work you should be doing at such events:

  • Identifying people who can help you achieve your professional goals.
  • Finding out how you can help them achieve their goals.
  • Convincing them that you have the resources to help them.
  • Making them want to have a professional relationship with you.

Those are substantial, useful objectives that require you to be alert, aggressive, focused, and able to move on with alacrity. Successful networking takes all your best energy and intelligence. It can’t be done by sipping cocktails, chatting about sports, and swapping bits of cardboard.

For most of my business career I’ve had – but rarely used – business cards. For whatever reason, I almost never had the cards on my person when I needed them. Despite this Business 101 bad habit, I managed to succeed at networking. I did so by doing the hard work first (the four tasks listed above) and then, when numbers and names were needed, jotting them down on the back of cocktail napkins.

For the kind of work I do, business cards are not essential. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be useful for you … if, that is, you can remember to tote them around in your wallet or pocket. And if you do, it makes sense to design them so they help you accomplish the most important of your networking goals: conveying – as simply as possible – the idea that you can help the person to whom you give it.

One card I got at the Bootcamp did a pretty good job of that. It was a simple card laid out like a little space ad:

IGNITE YOUR ADS!

Writing That Launches Sales … Watch Your Profits Soar!

Greg Gitter – Copywriter & Sales Consultant

It’s not especially original – and it is in no way clever – but it does make a promise of benefit in an efficient, effective way. That’s about all you can accomplish with a business card. If your card tries to do more than that, it will probably fail.

I saved another card, but for very different reasons. Though it was given to me by a very smart and engaging person, it is badly designed. It reads:

CHICKEN-SCRATCH DESIGN STUDIO

The Complete Source

Graphic Design

Direct Marketing

Complete Packages

Logo/Layout Design

Airbrush Work

Web Design

Illustration

Fine Art

Photography

Of course, the name of the business isn’t really Chicken-Scratch Design Studio. I can’t tell you what it’s called, because the name is printed in some artsy, chicken-scratch type that I can’t interpret. The name of the proprietor is similarly artsy and illegible. Even if I wanted to contact him/her, I can’t figure out who I should ask for.

This card fails on two counts.

First is the question of credibility. I don’t believe that one person (even one “studio”) can provide expert service in all those areas.

Second is the card’s design. The copy is an interesting explosion of different shapes and figures and text going in three different directions. I have no idea what to read first, nor which copy is the most important.

In short, it’s a perfect example of the kind of design I wouldn’t want for my direct-response business.

When designing your business card, less is more. Here is my advice:

  1. Decide whether you are going to use your card for networking/identification purposes or as a lead-generating device. If it’s just the latter, make your card as simple as possible. Your name in all caps, top and center. And below that, with initial caps only, your contact information. The card stock should be white or beige on moderate- to excellent-quality stock, depending on how you want to project the image of your business. (It should be consistent. High quality isn’t always better.) And the type should be in some dark color.
  2. If you want to use your card for networking/identification purposes, design it like a tiny direct-response space ad that sells one and only one benefit or skill. This promise should be conveyed in one or two lines of copy, each with no more than 10 words.
  3. And always keep the graphics simple. The purpose of color and design is to emphasize the copy, not to show how creative you are.

If I had to rewrite and redesign the Chicken-Scratch Design Studio card, it would look something like this (but properly centered, which can’t be done in text emails like The Golden Thread):

DIRECT RESPONSE ART THAT SELLS

Design That Doubles Response Rates

Name … … Address … … Phone Number … … Email

It took me 2.6 minutes to come up with that – likely far less time than was spent on the Chicken-Scratch card with all the fancy frills on it. But it gets the job done, don’t you think?

Remember, the main thing is to do the selling yourself … and then use the card to reinforce your main message.

Good networking!

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: December 18, 2006

1 Response to “How to Create an Effective Business Card”

  1. Hi Michael,

    I couldn't agree more. I am a firm believer in clean, clear, legible copy in almost all cases, but especially in business cards.

    One question: I was a sole proprietor for a business several years ago, and designed my own cards.

    Can I use that as an example of my work in a portfolio?

    The reason I ask is that I have a lead with a major utilities company here in Colorado and they've asked me for a resume and/or portfolio.

    I'm new here-don't have anything to show them yet!

    Help!

    Alex DominickJune 24, 2014 at 3:27 pm


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