Hello SOTGC Community,
Among the top ten things that help you make a great first impression in business is the presentation of your business card. By presentation, I mean the way your card looks as well as how it is handed to the receiver.
Business cards (or “calling cards” as they were once referred to) have long been a part of business and social society. They are an integral part of first impressions beginning with design. The quality of a business card begins with the use of sturdy cardstock, clean lines, fonts that are easy to read (not too fancy or too small), and a company logo appropriately sized – meaning not more prominent than your contact information. I’ve noticed that some independent consultants and entrepreneurs like to be fancy with their cards. Unless you are in the food, art, or other aesthetically driven industry, it’s best to stay away from fancy fonts, colors, images or unusual sizes; save that for your other business collaterals (i.e. marketing pieces) and website. Business cards should be easy to read at a quick glance. Not only that, some people have an emotional response to non-standardized cards. You don’t want to risk someone taking away a negative impression of your business card and therefore not take you or your business seriously.
Exchanging cards with a new acquaintance, business associate, or potential client is an important activity that must not be taken for granted or haphazardly executed. Learning the finer points of business card etiquette (yes, there is such a thing) gives you a distinctive advantage over so many others who encounter that same person during a business event, for example. But please, do not hand out your cards like a casino dealer! More on that in a moment.
One of the fine distinctions a professional can make is in how he or she presents a business card. Here are a few tips to help you become a little more confident and savvy with this business ritual.
Be prepared. One of the first rules of business card etiquette is to always have them on hand. You never know when you will be asked for a card and it is certainly a faux pas to be without. How many times have you run into someone during your “off time” and you didn’t have a card on you? If you switch purses or workbags often, it’s helpful to put cards in multiple places. Start by using a card case (or two), which helps keep your cards in good shape. Fishing cards out of a purse or pocket (even worse, a stuffed wallet) can look disheveled. Think ahead and load your business card holder with plenty of cards but don’t pack it too tightly, which makes them hard to get out. Decide where you will put the cards you receive. It is a good idea to keep them in a separate place (a pocket is okay here) or in your card case if it has a divider.
Keep cards in pristine order. The second rule of business card etiquette (my perceived order) is to have them neatly stowed away so that they are neatly presented – again, cardholders are great. No one likes to receive a tattered or smudged card. If you have to apologize for your cards as you hand them out, you should not hand them out! Check the cards you have on hand before giving them out. You don’t want to give out cards with frayed corners or stains or one that you previously marked up with notes.
Never cross out old information and handwrite the new on your own cards. It looks sloppy and unprofessional. If you didn’t have time to get new cards printed (oops!), simply inform the recipient of any changes and allow that person to make the correction. This is also preferred over not giving a card at all, which is equally unprofessional – not to mention it makes for an awkward moment when you have to say you don’t have any. The one exception to writing on your own business card in someone’s presence would be to add your personal mobile number, which adds a personal touch and sends the sincere message that you really do wish to keep in touch.
Use discretion and follow protocol. Give and request cards only if there is a clearly expressed mutual interest. It is in poor taste to do otherwise, much like the “ambulance chaser” stereotype. Don’t be guilty of the hit-and-run approach. Unless you are attending a speed-date style networking event, it is both a professional and social blunder to pass out cards indiscriminately to every person you encounter. The only time to give out a stack of cards at once is if you are the presenter for a meeting or event. Likewise, giving an individual more than one business card, unless prompted to do so, can come off as pushy (silently asking them to promote and refer your business to others). The value is not in the business card but in the potential relationship.
Another rule of business card etiquette is that you should not give or ask for a card from someone who outranks you as it is considered offensive and presumptuous. Just because you had an opportunity to rub elbows and share small talk with a higher-up in your organization or affiliate company does not mean they want further engagement (perhaps they were just being gracious). It is best to wait for that person to initiate any business card exchanges. If so, as in any case, be sure to follow up promptly with an email or handwritten note (always impressive!) within a couple of days, thanking him or her for the conversation. Include a reference to something in particular that was discussed. Avoid asking for additional engagement if it was not already offered during your initial exchange.
Give and receive graciously. Pay attention to timing. Know when it is appropriate to give or request a card. For example, business cards are exchanged with visiting guests or new contacts at the beginning of a business meeting or at the very end, but never during proceedings. When talking informally with an individual, you must decide if you sincerely want to keep in touch; if not, simply shake hands before departing and add a pleasant closing – “pleasure to meet you.” Don’t feel obligated to give a card as it will establish a false expectation.
A few additional etiquette tips for business card exchanges:
- Always present cards with the writing facing the person receiving it.
- Never ask for a card from someone you don’t intend to follow up with; but accept it graciously if offered.
- Ask permission before writing on someone’s card in their presence (though try to avoid).
- Look at cards received before putting them away to show respect and to confirm name pronunciation, etc. The information may also be useful for conversation.
- Remember that receiving additional information not printed on the card is considered a privilege and should be used sparingly (e.g. a personal cell phone, email or home address).
- Learn proper etiquette for card exchanges when traveling abroad or hosting foreign guests; in some cultures, it is quite ceremonial and timing is critical.
Following the rules of etiquette for business cards distinguishes the sophisticated businessman or woman from the average person. If you found this post helpful, please share it with others by email, tweet, pin, Facebook or LinkedIn post.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned there are ten things that make a great first impression. I only addressed business cards. Curious about the other nine? Click here to request the complete list. It’s free!