Rules for Entrepreneurs: Business Card FAIL

I have been to a lot of networking events in my life and I am sure you have as well. The one common element of going to these things is swapping business cards and collecting them for entry into the address book and then the trash…maybe you just skip to throwing them into the trash which is why I felt compelled to write this post.

When you work at a big company you are kind of trapped with the corporate standard they push upon you. As an entrepreneur, your business card is your brand, your elevator pitch and your first impression. So WHY OH WHY do people not take enough time or invest a little money in creating good ones.

Sure, some people think they have great business cards because they are more about creating memorable impact and not communicating any information but they have it all wrong. There are certain things you MUST HAVE on a business card and certain things you MUST NEVER HAVE. So here we go…

Have an Industry Relevant Design

Now I work in the tech industry and there are a broad spectrum of business card styles in just one sector. The design firms have more funky, fun designs because they have to communicate they are hip and creative. The startup firms are generally all over the board because some people spend money and others don’t which is just stupid since many people don’t know who you are. The big government contractors are boring cards but that is to be expected. Law firms and financial services companies should like clean and professional to show that they somewhat conservative and will treat you well. So the lesson here is keep within the expectations of what your competitors are doing but do it with a little flair if you want, just not overboard.

Branded/Corporate E-mail Address

Nothing says “amateur” than using a Yahoo/Hotmail/AOL/Gmail e-mail address as your main address. I mean come on, a domain name costs only $10 these days and usually a hosted e-mail account is $1.99 more. The biggest perpetrators are usually those trying to be “consultants” but have a day job and this is their side thing or they are just starting out and haven’t talked to one person about marketing.

What does your company do again?

Business cards are supposed to have the usually information – name, address, e-mail, title, phone, company name. To make some real impact, you should use the space on the front of the card to have a single statement below your company name that is your main marketing message. For example “Next Generation in Sales Software” let’s me know you are innovative, provide sales software and are a tech company. Simple.

You can also use the back of the card for this too but don’t jam it full of sentences or a big paragraph. 2-3 sentences at most and it should build on the marketing message you have on the front. You can also use the back for the marketing message itself to change it up a bit.

No Tiny Print

This links to “what do you do” section above. People try and put alot of information on a business card but for the love of something good and sweet, don’t try and think more is better by using a small font. We need to read it from first glance and not grab a magnifying glass. 11 point font at a minimum, 12 and 13 is better.

No Folded Cards

Yeah, they look neat but they are a bitch to scan. I find myself ripping that half off to get it through the scanner. If you need to say something else, use the back of the card.

No “Captain Obvious” Statements

As I stated above, we want a good marketing message to remember you and know what you do. That doesn’t mean putting stupid statements like some of my favorites – “I love leads” or “We sell real estate”. Really? I love leads too and if you have to tell me you are begging me and I won’t give them to you. Really, you sell real estate? I couldn’t gather that from your company name “XYZ Realtors” so you must think I am stupid. Into the trash you go.

No “Do-It-Yourself” Business Cards

Next to the AOL/Yahoo/MSN e-mail is doing the business card yourself on the laser printer or worse, the ink jet printer. Using those perforated cards that come in a sheet just look horrendous and screams “I DON’T CARE ABOUT MY IMAGE, BUT PLEASE HIRE ME ANYWAY”. Not. The worst offenders I have seen are the startup government contractor/outsourcing firms sucking off the GSA contracts as a sub of a sub of a sub.

No weird or stupid titles

I know, I know titles are boring and don’t matter much in the scheme of things when you are an entrepreneur. You are doing everything. Do you have to jam it my face that you are the founder? CEO is fine and enough. Chairman? Chairman of what? Your 1 person company? I am so impressed. Not.

Then there are the “I am so creative that no titles out there fit me”. I have seen “Code Ninja”, “Code Poet”, “Fearless Leader”, “Marketing Overlord”, “Marketing Evangelist”, and my favorite “Voice of Reason” — see Technosailor for that one. And don’t even get me started on the cards from people that work at Yahoo!

Get some focus dude…

Don’t jam three businesses into one card. We want to know what you do in VERY BRIEF statement or two for that specific company. If you have multiple ventures you should have multiple card. ‘Nuff said on this one.

I Can’t Write on Glossy or Weird Hippie Cards

When I meet you I am usually trying to understand what you do and how you might become a client, a partner or a vendor. After I finish talking with you I usually write a note on the back of the card so I can keep the e-mail to you in context and have something to discuss. The glossy cards, and I have been guilty of this one, don’t work for writing on and they usually cost you more anyway. The other side of the spectrum are what I call “the hippie cards” and are made of some weird “save the planet” material that is impossible to write on as well. Stick with normal paper, it will serve you well.

But you really want a wicked cool and weird card…

If you have an urge to create a funky business card, make it your second one to have impact or be gimmicky but have the main one as the one people will scan or save to contact you. They might save both but at least they have the one that they will scan and save for later.

So what are your “bad business card” experiences?

Since there are so many bad business cards out there I couldn’t capture the sum of things that you my reader have probably seen. Please use the comments as your place to be funny, trash bad business cards and most of all call people out on their bad business card protocol.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

29 thoughts on “Rules for Entrepreneurs: Business Card FAIL

  1. I once worked for a non-profit agency that used the male and female icons similar to the ones for restroom signs as part of the logo. I rarely gave out those business cards because they made me cringe. Every time I looked at them, it made me want to pee.

    So what do people who work for corporations do when they have to use the company business cards just know the design is all wrong?

  2. The last corporation I worked for had a not-too-bad looking business card on the front, but they printed the back in all black with their logo. Geeziz, where are you supposed to write notes about me? Stupid.

  3. Spot on!

    I use my gmail address when posting online – but on my cards? My domain name – b/c the first keeps me from having to reroute the email, but the second is all about image.

    This is really useful information – I’ll be tweeting it along!
    Great post!

  4. Dammit! I’ve been trying to get my boss to print me cards with the title “Dread Overlord of Information” for years now! That’s not professional?

    I personally like plain as you described, a little flair, but too much is too much.

  5. I think you’re being too critical. Maybe you run in upper echelon circles that require those strict SERIOUS BUSINESS cards. There’s nothing wrong with a VistaPrint business card. You do have some valid points about bcards, don’t get me wrong. But not everyone needs a herring bone colored business card with raised ink elite fonts and blah blah blah like you ;p Google Kevin Mitnicks business card if you want to see a sweet looking card.

  6. @Aaron Brazell – I couldn’t agree more. I would love to ditch the rest of mine and print up some new ones with my twitter id already included. However, I am not a wasteful person, so I started writing my social id on the back, works for not just twitter and I tell that to people when I hand it to them. I think my next move is to just get a stamp of my “web name”. I think that might make it even more memorable than just my writing on the back.

    Question to all: I haven’t fallen for the trap yet, because I do like scanning business cards in, especially since we have business software that works with our email discussions to track those contacts. So my question is… what does everyone think of “moo cards”. I haven’t tried scanning them, their cute, but … I dunno.

  7. Wow there is some good information here. I am always looking for Internet Marketing Information. I attended the Internet Marketing Main Event back in September. (San Francisco), The Internet Marketing Center 2 day workshop in Albuquerque last August, the BOA Boot Camp early this year in Orlando and The Capital Factor most recently in Denver. (last month)

    I collected many business cards at these events and made some pretty good contacts. Many of the tips below made some of the cards which I collected stand out.

    The big challenge for me is sitting through 30 hours of meetings over a 3 day period and then getting back home and contacting all of the people on the other end of the cards. Sometimes it takes me a month to get to the task.

  8. This is fantastic – as the last thing you leave with someone after a conversation or an introduction to someone, why wouldn’t you make extra sure it offers the best impression possible of you/your services?

    The overly glossy cards are the *worst* – especially at tradeshows when trying to scribble down notes about what you talked about. They look bad, make the card useless and there’s no excuse since a spot uv gloss can highlight aspects of the card individually at very little further cost.

    But the most obnoxious print I’ve ever seen was on a consulting firm’s card. About 20 trendy internet related buzz words (social network! web 2.0! viral! long tail!) all over the back…with the company name snuck in there too…blech. Gross.

  9. Hey Rachel- as a new b5’er, wait until you get your new cards. They’re glossy. :-)

    I think I might use my leftover cards to put a coat of wax on my car. :-)

  10. I’ve always been surprised at how difficult it is to get the more *ahem* “frugal” leads for those government contractors to splurge on nice cards. I usually end up designing them behind their backs and getting them printed on something nice before they fully buy into it.

    Self-printed, tear-off cards are the equivalent of crayon on construction paper in professional appearance.

    I’ve been considering a personal card to use for networking that isn’t done for the company I work for. Something very simple. I haven’t decided yet.

  11. Geekmommy,

    Using gmail on the backend is perfectly fine. You should set up the e-mail with the domain name to forward.

    I use my Yahoo address when filling out web forms and for many other things too.

    -Steve

  12. Mary W,

    When a corporation has terrible cards there is not much you can do there. Unless you have some say to get new cards done you are really trapped. The only other way to do it is ask for permission to get your own cards made but they probably won’t let you do that.

    -Steve

  13. Ryptide,

    I would totally get cards made for your own personal networking. This way you can have something that will keep things separate for your own use and not risk mixing side work or personal things with your primary job.

    Vistaprint.com is a great place to start and is affordable and has many tasteful choices.

    -Steve

  14. Rachel,

    Those type of buzzword cards are obnoxious. They don’t scan well and people don’t put the text in their notes. It seems like a stupid attempt to attract the people who have heard the buzzwords but don’t know what they are and might check the site out. Still if you don’t tell them what you do they will probably not go to your site or contact you in the future.

    -Steve

  15. A pet peave of mine is how people assume that I want to be on their mass email lists when they get a hold of my card at a networking event. It’s to the point where I don’t want to give out my card at these events anymore.

  16. My creative agency said my new card design would “Rock the World”. Funny, they won an award and people still ask me what I do. Stay away from firms who want to show off the awards they won from industry piers. Stay away from agencies that buy their way into award categories (Yes Virgina, you can do this without much trouble). See http://www.creativityawards.com/ You submit, they give you a plaque, and you get published. You can order extra awards to give to the unsuspecting clients who think their design is cutting edge.

    Before you begin your business day, start with the idea that mass majority (You know, the people we all want to buy our service or product – pay you money for what you do) are too busy to think or get interested. Give your company a simple name that connects the value of what you offer to the buyer and create a meaningful tag line. If you can manage that, you can fit your value proposition into the 140 character space provided by Twitter and create a business card that when they pick it up two weeks after the networking event, is still relevant.

    Insanely yours,

    Chief Innovation Artist

  17. You are so dead on with this post. I often run into the same thing with people’s business cards. Either they are on bad paper, have too much verbiage, have 3 businesses in one, are not clear and concise, have bad titles, or all of the above. Let’s keep it simple and professional folks!

  18. b5 cards definitely aren’t glossy…and you can write on them (yes, I just checked). When rubbed before it dries, it does smudge a little, but not so much you can’t read it.

    Biz Card Mythbusters to the rescue…! :-)

  19. Just for posterity, I’ll bring some of my cards to Toronto with me to test this myth. Because mine (second batch) are most definitely glossy. :)

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