Career Essentials: Business cards

What works – and what doesn’t

Overheard at the 2016 CIPD Learning and Development Show at Olympia:

‘Business cards … SO last year …’

We’ve been using them for centuries, so are they still relevant – or have they had their day?

I’ve exchanged thousands of the things at exhibitions, fairs, conferences, networking events and chance meetings, so here’s my take – other opinions are available.

Get some

I always advise career development clients, young actors and anyone starting their own business that whatever the field, we’re all a one person business, with one service and one product to sell – ourselves.

The business card is an essential part of your personal brand and marketing kit. If you’re new to them, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a business or a job yet – they’re about you, what you have to offer and how they can get it from you. Everyone’s thinking ‘what’s in it for me’, and your business card should answer that question, grab their attention and interest and spur them into contacting you.

You don’t have to spend a fortune – online printers can supply cheap or even free cards which may have the printer’s name on the back, but look better than a scribble on a scrap. They’ll make you look better too and start you on the road to better things.

Be readable

Remember that people can get long-sighted with time – use writing big enough to be read. Having to squint at tiny numbers and email addresses as I try to enter them into my phone or computer does not endear. So no tiny tiny writing, pale grey writing, coloured writing on coloured backgrounds … it may look pretty but it has a job to do and it has to be easy to read.

Be right

Check it before it goes to print. Spelling mistakes, wrong numbers and missing bits of your email address can be disastrous for your personal brand.

Be usable

I like to write little notes on a card to remind me when we met and what we discussed with follow-up memory joggers. I understand it’s considered rude in some cultures but it’s OK here, and so helpful. So make sure you have plenty of white space on matt card that can take a biro. Shiny laminate, dark coloured backgrounds and lots of decoration can make your card less useful.

Be you

Having your photo on your card may feel rather pushy and un-British, but your face as well as your name and business are part of Brand You, and a photo makes it so easy for people to remember you.

Use them

The first time you give someone your card is a great feeling – you’re real. The first person you need to convince of this is you and seeing your details on your new card does great things for your confidence and self belief, especially if they’ve taken a few knocks. Ask for theirs too – it’s fine if they say no, they may have run out or just not be as together as you are.

A growing pile of business cards you never look at is no use, and can become a guilt-inducing trial. Transfer the details to your database and follow up as quickly as possible. I’ve Tweeted greetings immediately during events, emailed personalised messages the next day and sent detailed follow-ups over the week, and find something mutually useful often happens.

So are business cards still relevant today? For me, that’s a yes, business cards are a great piece of kit.