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Networking Tips: Why I Might Trash Your Business Card

Heidi Thorne is a business author with 25 years of experience in marketing/sales, including a decade in the hotel and trade show industries.

Here are some reasons why you may want to rethink your card design.

Here are some reasons why you may want to rethink your card design.

Since it's spring, I decided to do some spring cleaning on my business card file. That and because the file was getting packed to the point where I couldn't add even one . . . more . . . card.

So as I reviewed each card to see which ones I wanted to keep and which would make their way to the recycle bin, I noticed that there are some distinct reasons why I trashed certain cards.

And in case you're wondering, I am not making up these examples.

Business Card Size Does Matter

Odd-sized—especially larger than normal—business cards are a pet peeve of mine. I really have to decide whether it's worth my time and effort to cut down an outsize card to fit in my business card holders or files. You have to be someone pretty special or offer something extraordinary for me to invest in that busywork. Plus, there's the chance I'll cut off some important info. The most recent pitch (pun intended) was one that was designed in the size and style of a standard baseball card.

The theory behind the bigger-is-better business card is that it will visually stand out from others in the pile . . . and so will the business. Think about this: Is the only thing that makes your business stand out is that your business card stands taller than those of your peers and competitors? Sad if that's all that separates you from your competition.

And here's a problem I've observed on the opposite side of the size spectrum: Itty bitty business cards. For those of you in networking circles, you've likely seen the ones I'm talking about. They're maybe around 1 inch high and an inch or two wide. Cute, right? Indeed, they are "cute" and they do fit in the standard business card sleeves. But here are the problems with them:

  • Itty Bitty Info, Too. Usually, these itty bitty cards have an itty bitty amount of info on them, too, making them less than useful.
  • Born to Lose. Also, these mini-cards are easy to lose in piles of paper and other standard business cards. In business card files, they can be easily missed.

Being creative means being able to work effectively within limitations. Would you want to hire someone who can't understand that?

What Your Card Says: "I must have attention at all costs and I can't work within stated parameters."

Being creative means being able to work effectively within limitations. Would you want to hire someone who can't understand that?

— Heidi Thorne

Your Brochure Is NOT Your Business Card

Worse than the business cards that are larger than standard size are the "brochures posing as business cards." Here's what's happening:

  • Too Cheap to Buy Both Business Cards AND Brochures. Folks, business cards are cheap these days. I'm talking sometimes less than $20 cheap. If given the choice, get your cards first, then invest in brochures. Brochures can be a major investment, especially if you're just starting a small business. Focus on business cards and your website first since they can be much more effective, versatile, and portable marketing tools.
  • Tell All, Sell Nothing. As discussed in Marketing Strategy: Avoiding the "I Can Also Do That" Problem, small business people often are praying that potential customers will be sooooooo impressed with EVERYTHING the company does, that they're bound to buy something. This "see what sticks" strategy is usually not a winning one. Those who substitute using their full brochures for business cards could have fallen into this sales trap.

What Your Card (Oops! Brochure) Says: "I'm cheap and am keeping my fingers crossed that I'll make some kind of sale . . . any sale (PLEASE!)."

"But I Paid a Lot of Money for 'Em"

Another "too cheap" story is when people are using old business cards they bought years ago. And I mean yearrrrrrrrrrs ago, like maybe even 10 to 20 or more years ago when business cards were ultra-expensive.

How do I know the cards are that old? The clues:

  • Old Area Codes. Within my lifetime, the Chicago metropolitan area has had multiple area code additions to accommodate the influx of mobile phone numbers and businesses with direct-dial phones. On old cards, you'll see people crossing out their old area code and handwriting in the new one. Exceptionally sad when the area code changed more than 10 to 20 years ago.
  • Email. Like the new area codes, you'll see an old business card with the email address handwritten in. So email likely wasn't in use when they printed these cards. That is so 1994.
  • Grainy Headshot Photos. Digital photography and printing have now been available for several years. So a business card with a grainy photo is a telltale sign that this was probably done "back in the day" before digital became the way we did things. Back then, people would often give some inkjet or laser printed picture of themselves (because real photos were expensive then, too) to a print shop and hope for the best.
  • Labels. What's worse? Handwriting new info or putting a desktop printed label on the back (or front—yikes!) of a business card with updated contact information? Labels are as tacky as their adhesive backing.

What Your Card Says: "I'm cheap, out of date, out of touch and out of money."

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Cryptic Cards

Business cards should not be as difficult to decipher as tarot cards. Unfortunately, many people cloud their cards in mystery, requiring divine intervention to decode their cryptic job titles and company mission messages. Try some of these (names and text slightly altered to protect those that need to rethink their branding):

  • XYZ or Some Obscure Term followed by "Associates." Um, what does your company do?
  • Job Title of (Insert Buzzword Here)-ologist or Chief (Insert Buzzword Here) Officer. Again, what do you do?
  • "Specializing in Success" or "Solutions for Success" or Other Non-Specific Success-Theme Tagline. Success defined as . . . ? Who and how do you help?

What Your Card Says: "I wanna be cool and hip. Don't you get it?"

These are as bad some as some of the mysterious trade show booths I've seen!

Electronic Business Cards or Apps Will Solve All This, Right?

Wrong! As I discussed in Business Card Tips for Sales and Networking, connectivity and technology challenges may reduce the ability to share contact info electronically. But here's why I might trash even electronic "cards" I collect: I may not want to bog down my mobile device's memory storage with contact information from every one of the hundreds of people I meet through networking in even just one year.

As well, although some may be amenable to it, it can be socially awkward and presumptuous to expect someone you just met to put your information into their cell phone's contact list or a contact management app. That's usually done when the relationship moves to the next level.

Show you're a professional by having a supply of paper business cards ready to politely share. And don't forget, networking events usually have some sort of business card drawing for a prize. Your business e-card keeps you out of the prize drawing fishbowl!

What Your (Electronic Only) Card Says: "Everyone else must be able and want to connect with ME."

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2015 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 26, 2015:

Hi lawrence01! You're right, word of mouth is the BEST form of advertising, hands down. And business cards are in a supporting role in those efforts. Thank you for your kind comments! Have a wonderful day!

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on May 26, 2015:


Really enjoyed this hub. I have used cards in the past but I'm not in a position that needs one now.

I still think the best form of advertising is word of mouth and the best thing is to do what you do so well that people want to do business with you.

Great hub


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 25, 2015:

Hey rockinjoe! Glad to hear your story from the frontlines. Yep, it seems kinda cool and, in truth, it can be a conversation starter. Unfortunately, it can also be a conversation non-starter, too. Thanks for adding your personal experience to the conversation! Have a fun rest of the Memorial Day holiday!

Joseph Addams from Standing right behind you! on May 25, 2015:

I was definitely guilty of "Job Title Buzzword" I thought it was pretty funny, but until more than one person asked me what a 'comediantologist' was, i quickly reordered new cards. Thanks for pointing it out.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 23, 2015:

Hi CMHypno! Yep, standard is standard for a reason. Glad to see I'm not the only one who's observed "cheap in action." :) Yikes! Thanks so much for adding your experience to the conversation! Have a beautiful weekend!

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on May 23, 2015:

Thanks for the great information Heidi. While thinking out of the box is great, there are usually good reasons for 'standard'. With business cards if they don't fit in a wallet they will usually get dumped or folded and crumpled.

On the cheap argument, I was seriously asked by one employer to print out a new address line and stick it on the old business cards when they moved so they wouldn't be wasted!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 20, 2015:

AliciaC, always striving to bring a little entertainment to enterprise. :) Glad you found it helpful for someday. Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful day!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 19, 2015:

This is both useful and entertaining, Heidi! I doubt whether I'll ever need business cards, but if I do, I'll definitely remember your advice.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 19, 2015:

Hi Jeannieinabottle! Oh, the dreaded business card pushers! I don't give 'em to someone I'm chatting with automatically. If they want mine, they can ask. Sends the right messages to potential customers: 1) I'm here if you need/want me and I'll let YOU be the judge of that; and, 2) I'm a known professional and I let customers come to me. Thanks for pointing out the common sense tip! Have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 19, 2015:

Hi FlourishAnyway! Glad you enjoy the "edgy" biz humor. Hey, we all need some chuckles in business. :) Thanks for your kind comments, as always! Have a wonderful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 19, 2015:

Hi melissae1963! Glad you liked 'em. Yep, we all need reminders now and again. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

Jeannie Marie from Baltimore, MD on May 19, 2015:

This is a really useful hub. I hate it when someone tries to force me to take a business card, too. If I know I am just going to trash it as I walk out the door, it just makes sense for someone to keep their business card instead of giving it to me.

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 18, 2015:

What great examples and no nonsense advice! I loved this! Voted way up and more plus G+ and sharing. I love your edgy biz humor.

Melissa Reese Etheridge from Tennessee, United States on May 18, 2015:

These tips are fantastic. We all need a reminder.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 18, 2015:

Hi poetryman6969! You certainly have company in the "no weird for me" department. :) Your business card file moving with you is testament to the power of these inexpensive marketing tools. Good luck with the move and have a wonderful week ahead!

poetryman6969 on May 18, 2015:

Weird does not sell with me. Every business card I have kept is regular size. I am moving and the business cards are moving with me. The brochures have long since hit the trash pile.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 18, 2015:

Oh yes, purl3agony, I've known many who have been in the position you were with being a successor and being in that transition mode. Tough to know what to do. One strategy for those tricky times is to ask the other person for their card and then follow up with them by email or by mail (with the new card enclosed) later on. I think people understand that. Where it's really a problem for branding is when the person has complete control over their materials and destiny and simply chooses to be cheap. Thanks for stopping by and adding your experience to the conversation! Have a beautiful week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 18, 2015:

Well, Blackspaniel1, it depends on your business and how you market it. Some businesses have less need for these marketing tools than others. But I think it's always good to have a small supply of them on hand for those serendipitous meetings that the Universe sends our way. Thanks for chiming in and have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 18, 2015:

Howdy, billybuc! I figured you would have seen some egregious examples along your path, too. At least they provide fodder for these posts and a chuckle or two. :) Thanks for stopping by, as always. You have a great work week, too!

Donna Herron from USA on May 18, 2015:

Great hub, Heidi! I've worked at a few non-profits where I had to "repurpose" my predecessor's business cards by putting a sticker with my name over their name. I never thought about the message that this practice sent, though it must have looked pretty shabby to the people receiving them. Great things to remember when making that first impression with a business card. Thanks, as always!

Blackspaniel1 on May 17, 2015:

I suppose you would really reject my idea of having no business card. You are right about things not being uniform. Some things have to fit in with the norm.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 17, 2015:

Another excellent tutorial and a funny one as a bonus. I have no doubt you were telling the truth. I've seen some doozies over the years. Makes you wonder how anyone succeeds in business.

Have a great work week, my friend.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 17, 2015:

Hi ArtDiva! Oh my... as a designer, I'm sure you could add a whole bunch more "fun" examples. :) I've been there, too, with some folks who are in love with their truly horrible art and marketing messages. Plus, they usually don't understand graphic design and print realities ("It looks good on the screen."). Thanks for chiming in on the conversation. Have a lovely week ahead!

ArtDiva on May 17, 2015:

This article made me laugh out loud. No, you are not making up examples. As a designer, can't begin to tell you how often clients want to "load" up their cards with bad art, bad photos, bad copy, and bad taglines. A recent client, getting a freebee, feelings hurt because I "cleaned up" his badly hand drawn art, his image. Good read, Heidi.

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