The origins of the humble business card can be traced back to 17th century Europe, where the wealthy and aristocratic would get their servants to deliver ‘calling’ or ‘visiting’ cards to their fellow elite, as an announcement of their intention to visit. As they became more popular, rules started to govern the etiquette of the dispensing of these cards, and the more elite the individual, the more ornate the card. Fast-forward 300 years, and the calling card has morphed into what we now universally recognize as the business card. Although time has eroded some of the etiquette and elitism that surrounded them, individuals, and businesses are still judged on them. Fortunately, the practice of having servants dispensing of business cards has mostly fallen away, although there are sure to be a few beleaguered assistants who would disagree. Whether you chose to go traditional, get creative, or break the mold completely – remember, they are a representation of you and your business. They can make or break a potential client’s impression of you, as much as your personal appearance can. And for their size and cost, they are probably the most cost-effective marketing tool you have. So what are the elements you need to keep in mind when creating the perfect card?
Your contact information
Contact information is, after all, a business card’s primary purpose. However, when it comes to contact information, be careful not to overdo it. Limit the card to your name, and two or three ways to contact you. Email address, phone number, and website is all you need. If you are going to include a social media platform, keep it to the one most appropriate to your business. And if the card is looking too cramped, think about using the back. Everything else should be found on your website.
Get the practical stuff right
Make sure the typeface is easily readable. Does the font color stand out against the background color? Is the font size large enough that it’s clearly visible? Does the font read easily in the setting of a business card? Although a beautiful sweeping company bio in Edwardian Script might look fantastic on your website, how easy would it be to read on your business card? People don’t have time to scrutinize your card to read the basic details. The harder it is to read, the more likely it will end up in the trashcan.
When creating your design, think of the business image you wish to project. Choose a style of card that is suitable for your business, your industry and the clients that you wish to attract. As a rule, tax attorneys shouldn’t have cartoon characters and childish fonts, and clowns shouldn’t have depressing colors and macabre themes.
Make it stand out
Business cards are an incredible business-marketing tool, yet your card is just one of thousands of marketing tools handed out by your competitors everyday. Make it stand out! As an experiment, take all the business cards you have been given, and place them face-up on your desk. Take a few moments to skim over them, and then close your eyes. Which ones do you remember, and why? Is it coloring, pictures, font, paper quality, shape? Learn from others – their mistakes, and what they got right.
Is it consistent with your brand?
No matter the size of your business, your card needs to integrate with your brand as a whole. It needs to be instantly recognizable, so when your clients see any aspect of your business, whether it be your shop-front, website or product; they instantly associate the two together.
Stay ahead of the game with new technologies
Don’t be afraid to dabble in technology – especially if it is your industry. Business cards with 2D barcodes are becoming increasingly more common. Not only does it create an interest factor in your card, it also allows you to provide your potential client with a lot more information about your business than what you can typically fit on a normal card. It is important to remember though that not everyone who reads your card will be able to access the code, or even know what it is! Make sure that you still supply your basic details for these clients.
Can you get too creative?
In your mission to stand out from the crowd, can you take things too far? If you are aiming to create an unforgettable impression, then by all means hand out life-size cutouts of yourself, but bare in mind that practicality trumps novelty when comes to saving cards. If a person doesn’t know what to do with the unusual card, it will more than likely end up in the trashcan. And if you are going to get creative handing out chocolate business cards, think about the consequences if they get eaten or melt. Will the recipient have any way of contacting you? Business cards designed as glass water bottles – do you think they will keep your empty bottle on their desk as a reminder of you? Just ensure that the message is not lost in your desire to the trump the competition.
And the most important thing of all…
Imagine you attend a presentation, lead by the most charismatic of salesmen. Over the course of the hour, you are intrigued and entertained, sold on a product that you previously had no desire to purchase. So bowled over, you wait patiently to meet the salesman in person, ready to hand over your hard-earned dollars. When he walks up with his outstretched hand, the dried egg and spilt coffee on his shirt becomes visible. Dirty fingernails, yellowed teeth, and a whiff of stale cigarette smoke assault all your senses. Beating a hasty retreat, you make your excuses and run, wallet still firmly shut. Now imagine your business card being that salesman. Dragged out the bottom of your briefcase; crumpled, possibly torn, with markings of ink on it. How do you think your prospective client will react?
About the Author: Rosalyn Smith is a South African based consultant who specializes in social media, copywriting, and project management. Her happy place, however, is storytelling.