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.