01 Dec Are You Your Business Card?
CHICAGO – When I meet a businessperson, one of the first rituals after shaking hands is to take my other hand and reach out for his or her card. In the business world, it is a reflex reaction. In Japan, the practice is even more ritualistic.
When I visited Japan a few years ago, I had to understand that the proper handling of the business card was so important to the Japanese that it actually has a name: meishi (pronounced “may-shee”). I learned to take a card carefully with both my hands and bow.
I also needed to hold the card for a moment and examine it carefully. I would then make a favorable comment about the card and his or her title. Finally, unlike in the U.S., I would never write on the front or back of the card.
Since the card is a tangible representation of the person offering it, writing on a card would be like taking a magic marker and writing on the person. If I failed in this initial ritual with a new Japanese business partner, it would affect my relationship with that person forever.
It is much different in the U.S. You shake hands firmly and thrust out your business card to the other person.
When I do this, I am continually amazed about what people put in my hand. I have received cards of all shapes, colors, textures and sizes. I also have received miniature CDs, slabs of metal and micro booklets. Sometimes, these variations are interesting and appropriate, but many times, they are patently absurd.
Unlike in Japan, I wonder whether the American business card really matters and if it profoundly affects the beginning of a relationship. So many of us these days are “free agents” (working for ourselves or are between job opportunities) that we face the choice of having to print our own cards instead of having them magically appear on our desks when we start at a new job.
Many of us have even printed multiple cards to fit the many businesses and roles we may be pursuing at a particular point in time.
Laura Allen of 15 Second Pitch believes that she has come up with the perfect solution. Her company prints cards that present not only your name and contact information but also your picture and a concise paragraph about what you do. It is not fancy, but according to Allen, this makes it a lot easier for the person who has your card to remember what you actually do so he or she can make an appropriate follow up with you.
John Waupsh at AdSalon thinks business cards are a very important marketing tool when you are starting out.
He believes an important rule is that they should not look like they came off your home printer with 50-pound Office Depot perforated templates. This is cheesy. He suggests for you to get them printed professionally. Unlike the Japanese example, he recommends that one side has a matte finish so people can take notes on your card.
What information should be on your card? The Japanese usually list the company name first, the person’s title and then the person’s name. Americans do it differently. The name and title are usually first with the company name further down the card.
I once received a card at a networking event where the person’s title was misspelled as “principle” instead of “principal”. This is a fatal mistake especially since this person’s company was business consulting.
Waupsh adds that he never likes to see CEO or president on a card especially if you are a one-man band.
“If you’re Charles Jandy and your company is Jandy Industries, I would expect you to be the CEO,” he said. “Putting CEO on your card makes you look ridiculously like a start-up. Of course, if you are Charles Koch of Koch Industries [the largest privately held energy company in the world], I’d reckon you can put CEO on your card.”
What about other details?
Slogans. Yes, add a slogan if you have something unique. I need to assume that a company is committed to excellence. You need to think harder or leave it off the card.
E-mail addresses. These are mandatory. Make sure to get a good one. It’s fine to use a free service like Yahoo! as a back-end mail server but spend some money to get an account that looks more professional. While email@example.com may be functional, it is very amateurish. Get an address with your name and your company’s name and forward it to your Yahoo! address. That’s what I do.
Home numbers. I am against the practice of including your home phone number especially with cell phones and e-mail these days. It begins a bad 24/7 precedent. If you are starting out, use your cell number as your office number or install a second line.
Pagers. Unless you are a doctor or a bicycle messenger, I don’t need to have your pager number. Leave it off the card. It’s easier to call your cell phone.
Finally, Waupsh reminds us that a business card is not an art installation: “It is a means to getting a call back, which is a means to getting business. The key here is not to reinvent the wheel.”
He suggests grabbing 10 of your favorite business cards that you’ve gathered over the years. Study them by noticing their font choices including type size and color combinations. You’ll soon discover that although the logos and paper stocks vary, good business cards are very simple.
My advice is to forget the gimmicks. Simple usually works. Remember, you are selling a product or service. You are not selling a business card. Put your creative energy there. It typically works.
Barry Moltz, a Prairie Angels co-founder, has been running small businesses with a great deal of success and failure for 15 years. His first book, “You Need To Be A Little Crazy: The Truth About Starting And Growing A Business,” can be purchased here. Enter “EP” in the “coupon code” box during check out for a 10 percent discount. Moltz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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