Business card best practices

I just organized my 1,011 business cards. I realized that is my most valuable asset from my career so far. The people I’ve met. The cards really don’t matter much anymore in the age of Google, but they do serve a purpose of reminding you about memories of meeting people.

Anyway, I realized that many business cards really sucked, so here’s best practices for making your next business card.

1) A good business card starts a conversation. My last ones at Microsoft, for instance, were imprinted with my info in braille. Now, I’ve actually handed my card to one person who was blind, but I found that always started a conversation when I handed my card to someone. Why? It felt different than any other card. Out of the 1,011 cards, by the way only two were imprinted in Braille (both were from Microsoft which offers that as an option on business cards). Another way to start a conversation? Make your card feel different. One of mine were made out of a rubbery material. I remember that made so much of an impression on people that some asked for two so they could show their boss.

2) Make sure your card can be scanned. I bought a business card scanner so that I could get my computers into computer form. This is probably the most important rule, if you want geeks to get ahold of you sometime in the future.

3) Don’t make non-standard sizes or shapes. Why? They can’t fit into binders. I bought Avery’s Business Card Pages and a binder to hold them all, that makes it easier to look through them and find cards. It’s amazing how many business cards can’t fit into those pages (I folded about 100 and couldn’t use about 10 at all).

4) Make sure the basics are on there. You know, your name, title, company, address, phone and fax numbers, email, URL of both your company’s Web site and your blog. A logo.

5) Include a line about what you do. So many cards don’t have any information about what either the company or you, personally, do. Now, Google can get away with that (its cards are among the worst of the big company cards, by the way, cause many of its employees’ titles don’t tell you a thing about what that person does. At least one Google card, from Jenifer Austin, doesn’t have any title. I guess Jenifer has a really secret job that no one is supposed to figure out) but your small company can’t get away with that. If you want, think about me. How will I remember you two years after meeting you at a geek dinner? Why would I write or call you? If you tell me your business and what you do, that’ll really help.

6) Break the rules, particularly corporate ones (but don’t get fired). I had two cards that weren’t approved by the corporate branding department. They always got conversations started (one had a drawing done by Hugh Macleod — I made those specifically for speaking at Google’s Zeitgeist conference. The cards matched my slides I used at that talk. The business cards were so popular that people came and asked for them cause someone else showed them mine).

7) Be different. One of my favorite cards? Matt Mullenweg’s. It says simply “1. Go to google.com. 2. Type in “Matt.” 3. Press “I’m feeling lucky.” (It also has his phone number on it). Or, Kelly Goto’s card looks like a BART ticket (subway in San Francisco).

8) Put your picture on it. Ben McConnell has one on his and it helped me remember him. It also stood out when I was just paging through the book.

9) Put your corporate tag line on the back. Alan Cooper’s has a logo and says “product design for a digital world.” But also includes lots of space to write notes on.

10) If you do business in two countries, include both languages. Liang Lu, Vice President of Blogchina, has English on one side, Chinese on the other. Ellen K. Pao, partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, has English on one, Japanese on the other.

11) If you don’t put anything on your card other than your name, at least make sure you show up in Google/MSN and Yahoo. I got one from Thomas Michael Winningham that doesn’t have anything other than his name and a picture of a drink on it. I can’t remember anything about him. It definitely is the most interesting card, though, cause it’s so minimalist and breaks all the rules above except for “starts a conversation.”

Do you have any tips for making a great business card?

Update: John Tokash says he carries two of my cards around with him everywhere he goes. Yikes, I wonder what I’ll do for my third card. Hey, Hugh, can you do me another card?

213 thoughts on “Business card best practices

  1. I've heard it said that content is king, and this should hold true for business cards as well. I think the people you give your card to should be a factor in determining the content of your card. My cards have my name, contact info, website and logo http://www.tube34.net on one side and a tag cloud I created on the other side. I usually give my cards to people who don't know what a tag cloud is and so that generates conversation. People who don't know what a tag cloud is might not be clued in to everything that is happening on the Internet. These are the people I'm looking for.

  2. When it comes to breaking the rules, printing your own cards provides a lot of freedom. Certainly the less you spend on paper, the more obvious your parsimony will be, but the ability to customize cards for different purposes, occasions and audiences is very amenable to design ingenuity.

  3. #10. Cards in China are very often bilingual with one side in Chinese and one side in English. If you plan to do business in China, it's best to have such kind of card.

  4. Thank you for your helpful reminders. I found a design that's been very effective for me. It's everything we look for; it's alluring, it's seductive, it's persuasive. Check it out at http://www.mlmflyer.com. I hope your results are as good as mine

  5. To expand on ur Biz Cards Best Practices #9, I redesigned my cards to replace all black (trendy) with very light gray specifically so recipients can write notes. I also keep 2 cards in my wallet for emergencies!

  6. To expand on ur Biz Cards Best Practices #9, I redesigned my cards to replace all black (trendy) with very light gray specifically so recipients can write notes. I also keep 2 cards in my wallet for emergencies!

  7. Here’s some advice on business cards.

    Cards you plan to hand out:

    If you’re in a creative position, flaunt it. Stay away from ordinary. Use a bit of drama. If you’re just looking for attention, and want people to talk about you, design your card to look as crappy as you can. Seriously! A wise man in the art of marketing once said “talk about me good… talk about me bad… just talk about me!”. A crappy card will always out perform a clean design. (though no one may take you seriously, you’ll be the talk fo the town!)

    Cards you’ve collected:

    Sell them! There’s people on ebay selling miscellaneous business cards right now at the tune of $25 or more per 300 different cards. That’s more than it cost to print these days. These are leads, people, and businesses need all the leads they can get. Cheers!

  8. Here’s some advice on business cards.

    Cards you plan to hand out:

    If you’re in a creative position, flaunt it. Stay away from ordinary. Use a bit of drama. If you’re just looking for attention, and want people to talk about you, design your card to look as crappy as you can. Seriously! A wise man in the art of marketing once said “talk about me good… talk about me bad… just talk about me!”. A crappy card will always out perform a clean design. (though no one may take you seriously, you’ll be the talk fo the town!)

    Cards you’ve collected:

    Sell them! There’s people on ebay selling miscellaneous business cards right now at the tune of $25 or more per 300 different cards. That’s more than it cost to print these days. These are leads, people, and businesses need all the leads they can get. Cheers!

  9. Great post!

    I love #1 on your list…

    “A good business card STARTS A CONVERSATION!”

    So true, and yet it’s so rare that you find one that actually does. Most, in fact, leave very little impression at all.

    If you want your business card to be more memorable here’s something else you should definitely read. It’s a great resource…

    http://www.BusinessCardProfits.com

  10. Great post!

    I love #1 on your list…

    “A good business card STARTS A CONVERSATION!”

    So true, and yet it’s so rare that you find one that actually does. Most, in fact, leave very little impression at all.

    If you want your business card to be more memorable here’s something else you should definitely read. It’s a great resource…

    http://www.BusinessCardProfits.com

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