The Elements

By Judith Bowman   |   October 4, 2016

9 Powerful Tips on Using Business Cards with Purpose

Categories: Marketing, Prospecting

We all meet and exchange cards at meetings, in restaurants, attending industry functions, while traveling and at social events. Absently handing someone our card is a missed opportunity to convey valuable information. The everyday practice of business card exchange is time-honored.

Honing this seemingly innocuous gesture demonstrates respect, shows you know the difference, portrays you as professional and will help set you apart. The business card itself casts an important first impression that cannot be discarded…pun intended.

Consider your business card your ticket “in” and discard any thoughts that the paper card may becoming obsolete in an increasingly paperless world.

business card tips

The Japanese word make, literally translated means “my face” and the timeless, traditional business card represents one’s life. The business card you present and receive speaks volumes about you and the (quality) firm you represent. Therefore, the quality of paper stock is important, as well as where the card is kept, how it is presented, received, acknowledged and ultimately placed.

Presenting a Card

Resist the urge to treat your business cards as a deck of playing cards. The most formal practice involves a thumb on either corner presented readable side up or, one thumb on one corner; receive the card in-kind. Most importantly, acknowledge the card. Look at the card, read it, study it… caress it. Look back at the other person and acknowledge their quality card, impressive title, life. Place their card someplace respectful i.e. your inner breast pocket (gentlemen) or portfolio.

You honor the most important person by leaving their card on top of your portfolio. Exchange cards before the meeting as you introduce yourself and shake hands. Subtly yet strategically, align cards around your portfolio to coincide with seating and easily access names as you address individuals; using names is powerful.

If you are serious about conducting business in your target country, the same information should be printed in their native language presented readable side up.

Important Business Card “Don’ts”
  • Do not ask a very senior executive for their business card; they won’t have one. You know how to find them and follow up.
  • Do not assume anyone wants your card or wants to give you theirs. Ask, “May I offer you my card?” or “May I ask for your card?”
  • Never automatically write on a business card in the presence of that person. This may be misinterpreted as you are technically defacing their life. Always ask, “May I write that on the back of your card?”
  • If someone asks for your card and your only remaining card is bent, frayed or damaged in any way, don’t hand it over. The poor condition of the card will reflect poorly on you.
The Resurgence of Calling Cards

Calling Cards have made a resounding comeback socially and professionally. Until recently, it was expected that individuals in business would always use their company card when making business connections and reaching out socially. But life is cyclical and times have changed.

In today’s fast-paced, competitive, global business climate, many expect to change jobs frequently. Individuals in rapidly emerging industries change jobs often and there are many more in transition, entering, re-entering the job market, or moving between various fields.

When we job interview we represent ourselves – not our current employer. Therefore, having our own calling cards – not our employer’s card – is appropriate. Those actively engaged in transition, quietly transitioning, those with a side business and yes, singles … should all have calling cards.

Scores of individuals are freelancing, consulting, etc., and need cards as a conduit. Having a quality calling card today is impressive and speaks to credibility.

Here are 9 important tips when creating your business card for maximum impact:

1. Choose quality card paper stock – as close to 100% cotton is recommended.

2. Be sure your name is prominent and not over-whelmed by other information.

3. Ensure the color of your card reflects your professional brand. White is most professional, ecru is rich. Bright colors and pastels should be avoided unless your business is one which uses color such as an artist, designer or involves children, certainly liberal use of color and graphics would be appropriate.

4. The font you choose should be consistent with your firm’s branding efforts and desired image. For example, a serious financial services firm would probably not want to use a dainty script or flowery font.

5. Some firms use business cards to convey rank or status by i.e. superimposing gold, silver, bronze status symbols.

6. Avoid cheap, flimsy or laminated cards (tacky.)

7. Avoid odd-size business cards so yours will “stand out.” It will, however, not in a positive way because it will not typically “fit in” to standard business card systems and may well end up getting folded or bent, mutilated.

8. Invest in a quality business card case. The vinyl cases which accompany most business card orders should be tossed; vinyl is appropriate when dealing with individuals from India, for example, where the use of leather and suede products are frowned upon as the cow is sacred.

9. Resist the urge to keep business cards in wallets, gentlemen, as wallets are usually found in back pockets where cards tend to get bent.

Follow these key tips and your business card will literally be your ticket to success!


Judith Bowman
Business Protocol

Judith Bowman founded Protocol Consultants International in 1993 and has prospered to become an established Business Protocol expert, educator, corporate speaker, and renowned authority in the field of Professional Presence, Dining Savvy, International Protocol Awareness, and personal and professional development. Ms. Bowman also provides Protocol Certification. She is a graduate of Boston College and has pursued studies in Effective Business Communication at Harvard University.

Ms. Bowman speaks to critical interpersonal communication skills and shares specific nuances advantageous to exemplary conduct in today’s fast-paced and highly competitive global work environment. She showcases everyday business situations and shows professionals how to leverage these as opportunities to demonstrate respect while earning respect – while showing you know “the difference” while making a difference to stand apart and outclass the competition!

Ms. Bowman has authored two business protocol books: “Don’t Take the Last Donut…” (Career Press) presently sold in 16 countries, translated in 14 languages, and her new book, “How to Stand Apart @ Work …” She has authored a weekly Everyday Etiquette column syndicated throughout New England for ten years by the Pulitzer Prize winning Eagle Tribune Publishing Company. Internationally, she authored a Business Protocol column for the prestigious Noblesse Magazine, China. She presently writes a weekly Business Protocol column for Boston Herald newspapers and has a coordinating weekly radio segment, “A Protocol Moment” on Herald Radio.
She also writes a monthly Fabulous Woman series which features truly fabulous women who have shattered the glass ceiling and has been featured in Leader to Leader, March, 2015.

Bowman has produced a series of support products which include: Executive Etiquette/First Impressions DVD, DINING 101 DVD and Protocol Training DVD – from her on-line How to Stand Apart series.

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