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Home  > Article

Business Cards: An Owner's Manual

By Nancy R. Mitchell

In the middle of a particularly challenging day at work, have you ever found yourself wishing that certain things in your professional life came with operating instructions? Well, we can help out with one of those conundrums - business cards.

Getting Started

The basic role of a business card is to provide a quick and effective method for distributing your professional contact information. A closer study reveals a higher purpose they serve in your professional life-they are an extension of who you are, and they help you to send signals about your industry, employer, product or service. But, many of us have a love/hate relationship with our business cards because they raise more questions than they answer: how should they look and feel; what information should be included; when do we use them; how many should be distributed??

In today's fast-paced, and often informal, business environments, much of the protocol associated with business cards may seem out-dated or unnecessary, but learning the basics will help you to feel more confident and comfortable whenever you reach for your card. In order to show that you are a polished professional, you must learn the rituals and nuances of the business card exchange.? When armed with that knowledge, you may then begin to adapt the rituals to fit your industry and personal style.


Make & Model

A business card should project the image that you want for yourself and for your industry, company, product or service. If you work in a field where tradition, regulation and a conservative philosophy are mainstays of the corporate culture, then a conservative card-black lettering printed or engraved on a heavy, white card stock-will help you to reinforce that image. If art, design or cutting-edge technology is your #1 product, the use of color, graphics or die-cut shapes may help you to get your message across.

But a word of caution before allowing your creativity to run wild. The standard size for business cards in most North American, Latin American and European business communities is 3 1/2 x 2 inches.? When you deviate from this standard, you run the risk that your card will be incompatible with scanning and vCard technology and that it won't fit into the card wallets, folders and binders that many people use to organize the cards they receive. Odd-shaped, over-sized or folded cards may attract attention, but they can be a nuisance to manage.

The standard information to include on your card is your name, title, company name, address, contact numbers (telephone, fax, mobile) and email address. Many business professionals choose to include their logo and web site address, as well. You may want to consider printing a social card or an alternate business card to present in circumstances when it would be undesirable or inappropriate to give your office contact information. This idea also allows you to explore a more creative look for your card, one that showcases your personality or your interests more than a traditional business card can do.?

If you want to stand out in some way when presenting your business card, think about the method as much as the message--extracting your card from a show-stopper card case that is handsome, unique or colorful or saying your name or your company's name in such a way that it will be remembered.


Care and Maintenance

Business cards have a shelf life.? Examine your cards periodically and weed out the ones that look tired.

  • Never present a card that is soiled, dog-eared, creased or looks as if it has ??? been hibernating in the bottom of your briefcase for months.
  • Keep your card information up to date, and never present a card with hand-?? written corrections. If your contact information or title has changed recently and?you must use the old card while waiting for the new, say to the recipient, "My ? email address has changed. May I give you my address?" and then write on the card. This makes it appear as if the change has just occurred.?
  • Keep your cards handy. You do not look professional if you have to search your handbag or briefcase or turn your pockets inside out when you need one.
  • Place the cards you receive from others separate from your cards so there are no mix ups when reaching for your card.
  • Avoid using computer-produced cards, unless they are printed on high-quality?paper and the edges are smooth, not perforated.


Tips and Techniques

  • Present your business card with the text facing the recipient.
  • Present a card to a receptionist when you visit an office.
  • In most instances, you should allow a superior to initiate the exchange of ???????? business cards. When one person clearly outranks another, the junior should not?extend a card until the senior has done so. Also, the junior should not ask the?senior for a business card, but should wait until it is offered.
  • Look at a business card when it is presented to you, thank the presenter and carefully put the card away. Write pertinent notes on it later, not in the presence of the card's owner.
  • Show respect for your own card.? If you follow some of the rituals in presenting?your card, others will treat it with respect.
  • Ask before taking a card from someone?s desk during or after a meeting or?interview.
  • Establish rapport before presenting a card or asking for a card. In most cases, it is not the first thing you do when meeting others.
  • Stop, look and listen to what is happening around you. In some industries, the?exchange is at the beginning of a meeting with many people participating. When?this happens and you have collected several cards, you may want to arrange them?in front of you on the conference table in the order that people are seated, as a?handy reference to names, titles and responsibilities.
  • Never present a business card in a receiving line.
  • Don't present a business card at a social function, unless it is the only method for conveying your contact information when it is requested. You may want to ??????? have a social card printed to use in non-business-related occasions and functions.


International Translation

Look around you on a typical business day in North America, and you will observe that the use of business cards has become a very relaxed and informal practice. In other parts of the world, there is a great deal more ritual and nuance to the exchange. If you plan to travel to foreign lands on business, do some homework before leaving town and familiarize yourself with some of the customs and courtesies that all card-carrying globetrotters should observe.

Included here are a few cross-cultural, business card guidelines to launch the savvy traveler on his or her study of international business card protocol:


  • Present and receive cards with two hands and a nod of the head or slight bow.
  • Make eye contact briefly, then drop your gaze.
  • When meeting someone who is clearly your superior, try to place your card under his/hers, if exchanging simultaneously.
  • Take a moment to silently read and appreciate the card that is presented to you, looking back and forth between the card and the presenter several times.
  • Carefully place the card in a card holder or other safe place, never into a pocket or the deep well of a handbag or briefcase.
  • Give a business card to each new individual you meet.


Middle East?

  • Present your business card with your right hand only and receive cards with ? your right hand.? The left hand is considered unclean, as it is the hand reserved for?personal hygiene.
  • Pay attention to the card; comment about it.
  • Put the card away carefully or place it carefully in front of you on a conference?table during a meeting.

Latin America?

  • Cards are normally presented at the beginning of an initial meeting with a? business colleague.?
  • Present a card with one hand with the type facing recipient.
  • Study the card, acknowledge the presenter.
  • Treat the card with a great deal of respect.

If you will be working on a regular basis with colleagues in another country or traveling to a country on a regular basis, print a two-sided business card with English on one side and the appropriate language of your foreign clients or colleagues on the other. When distributing the cards, be certain that the side presented is the one with the language of the recipient.


Product Warning

What is the difference between a business card and an advertising flyer?? If you don't know, please continue reading. A business card is not an overt advertisement for you or your business and is not distributed in the manner of a flyer. The primary purpose of a business card is to present your contact information and, ideally, that is done after you have made a connection with the recipient. Don't confuse yourself with a Texas Hold 'Em dealer when you attend meetings, conferences, receptions, or other networking events. It is not your goal to place your card in every outstretched hand within close proximity. When you do so, you are perceived as someone who is trying too hard and is desperate for business, contacts or attention.?And, steer clear of promotional gimmicks disguised as business cards. I recently saw an ad for cards that included a teeny, tiny resume printed on the back. Don't get me started...

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