How many business cards do you have lying around? When was the last time one of them caught your eye and reminded you of who it was from, or why you got it? I often transcribe business cards for people that want to eliminate their paper piles and instead have a functional method for contacting customers or business partners.
Going through all these business cards, I noticed some made it incredibly easy for me to tell why that person had connected with my client. I could not only see their name and at least one method for getting in contact with them but a job title or place of employment. Unfortunately, not all business cards are created equal, and many cards featured numerous design faux pas that made it harder for me to decipher who they were, what they did, or why my client would want to keep their contact information, never mind pick them out among a stack of potential vendors or partners to work with.
Here are the top mistakes I’ve seen small business owners make with their business cards:
Note: The business cards shown here are just examples, and not actual names of people, businesses, emails, or phone numbers.
Business cards with font overload
Fonts are one part of a company’s overall brand strategy. Size, weight (normal, bold, bolder, lighter), style (normal, italic, oblique), color, kerning, and case all factor into how your organization comes across: traditional or modern, serious or fun, organized or chaotic. Most brands have one or two fonts that they use for everything and apply variations of those fonts for use on different products.
If your small business is represented by a wordmark (that is, letters comprise part of your logo or identifying mark), then it’s important to be consistent with that wordmark’s font.
Similarly, it’s important to have fonts that are consistent with what you do. It wouldn’t make much sense to have flowing cursive script if you run a handyman business or to use a font where every letter is ornamented with stars for your grant-writing agency.
Your business card has a limited amount of space to communicate a great deal of information: who you are, what you do, how to get in touch with you, and the implicit message of why I should care. Why are you relevant to me? Bearing that in mind, it’s important that you don’t use more than two fonts on your business card, or you’ll risk coming across as disorganized.
This is not to say you can’t use multiple colors (but again, you should probably keep it to a minimum) or weights and styles (bolding important information is common), but you probably don’t want a veritable rainbow of fonts on a small business card.
Business cards made from poor material
Sometimes you have control over the paper (or other material) your business cards are printed on, and sometimes you don’t. If you have to get business cards at the last minute, as I recently did, you may be stuck with whatever paper or cardstock is on hand at your chosen print shop. Sometimes print shops can’t print a two-sided card on their best cardstock, and if you want to utilize both sides of a card, you’ll have to sacrifice paper quality.
A few basic tips for choosing the best material for your business cards:
- Don’t use regular paper or even résumé paper. Compared to most cardstocks, it’s very weak, prone to tearing as well as smearing, fading, or cracking.
- Does your business encourage repeat in-person visits? Consider a sturdier cardstock so that your business card can double as a loyalty or rewards card.
- Do you do business with clients on an appointment basis? Offer business cards printed on an uncoated material, so that clients can write notes on the card.
- Do people often forget that they need to come in and take advantage of your services? Consider getting your cards printed on magnetic paper so that people can easily affix them to their fridges, file cabinets, or other metal surfaces. Ideally, it should also have a glossy coating so that the image doesn’t fade with exposure to light or liquid.
- Are you in a business that deals with unique materials, such as plastics? Consider creating unique business cards on your material so that they stand out from the rest. You don’t even have to do a two-dimensional card! You can use all sorts of small items as your business card, especially if they tie into your business somehow. The important thing is to include your company name, contact information, and make it portable.
Business cards with too much information
Most business cards are 3.5 inches by 2 inches. That’s not a whole lot of space to communicate important information. But you have to resist the temptation to overload that small space with a ton of information or to cover every blank section of your card with something. Leave some whitespace. Let your information breathe.
Business cards with too little information
One of the business cards a client gave me had only a logo and a first name. No last name, no phone number, no website, no email. Nothing. I tried making sure the card wasn’t specialized in some way, and needed exposure to black light or would glow in the dark. Nope, it was just a plain black card, printed on pretty nice cardstock, with nothing but a logo on it. Needless to say, I couldn’t transcribe that card for her.
DON’T DO THAT.
As a bare minimum, make sure to list the following on your business card:
- Company/organization name (if not the same as your name)
- Your name
- Your job title/position/industry (or something that answers the question “Why do I have this person’s card?”)
- Two good methods for contacting you, e.g. phone and email
- Your website address (you don’t need to have the “http” or “www” parts most of the time)
If you have a brick-and-mortar location, having an address listed makes sense. Hours, too, if you have the room. If you have a social media presence and you have a consistent username across all channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.), then list the username once and use the appropriate icons for those outlets to indicate you have a presence there.
If you feel like you’re running out of space, don’t try and cram more things onto your card by cramming things close together or shrinking the font. Then you’ll just end up with a cluttered card that has too much information.
Business cards using poor quality art
I typically see poor quality art when people try to design their business cards themselves, without knowing how printing differs from creating something for the web, or how a basic document differs from something with a design (like a business card!).
You can’t just take any old image off the Internet and expect it to look nice on a printed business card. Never mind the fact that you shouldn’t be using a search engine to locate images for your business card anyway (you can very easily run into copyright issues, and it’s not very original, besides), but the way things look on a screen does not reflect how they will look printed. A few guidelines for any photos or artwork you do use for your business card:
- Make sure the dots-per-inch (DPI) resolution is at least 300.
- Make sure the color profile is set to CMYK. It stands for Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-blacK, and refers to the inks used in pretty much every color printer everywhere. If your image looks strange in CMYK, it will look strange when printed, too.
- Don’t use photos with busy backgrounds. If you are using a picture of yourself, go for a professional headshot. If you are using a photo as a background or part of your design, don’t use anything too busy (like clouds).
- Ideally, any logos you use should be vector images, which means they can be resized without losing any quality. If your artwork looks blurry if you make it bigger, it’s not a vector graphic. Pick a better quality image or don’t use that art.
Making your business cards yourself
The example card shown above is a combination of two poorly-designed business cards I had to transcribe. One had a gradient-based background with yellow text, a blurry cast over everything, and cut marks indicating it hadn’t been properly sized, while the other had a photo of a cloud as a background, a childish-looking font for the information, and a selfie with a busy background in one corner.
While ultimately both cards were readable, they didn’t give me a good impression of the people depicted on the cards. Yes, it’s cheaper to design a card yourself, but if it’s something you’re using for your business, shouldn’t you be proud of the result? Don’t accept “Well, it’s okay, I guess…” for your business cards. If designing nice-looking cards is too time-consuming or frustrating, either hire a designer or utilize some of the many amazing templates available on sites like Vistaprint.com, Moo.com, or Canva.com.
If you go the DIY route, calibrate your printer first. Print a test page in full color, with the print quality turned up as high as it’ll go. Make sure that the DIY card stock you buy is suitable for your type of printer (inkjet or laser, document tray or feeder). Make adjustments to your settings based on that test sheet. DIY cardstock usually comes with a template available for download; make sure that the file is compatible with your chosen design program, and when you choose to print, you select the “Paper Type” that matches your DIY cardstock.
Be careful not to hand out business cards that are cut unevenly, have smears, tears, or “ink bubbles” on them, or anything else that may reflect poorly on your company.
Other business card faux pas to avoid
Some of these other No-No’s are a matter of personal preference, but hear me out! If the point of business cards is to make a connection with others (and hopefully turn them into clients or business partners), then you don’t want to put something out there that could jeopardize that connection.
Whether it’s a design choice or a business decision, lots of factors go into whether someone will take that card and then act on it.
Using a free email address on your business cards
Everyone these days has a free email address, whether it’s from their Internet Service Provider (like Comcast, Sonic, AOL, or AT&T), or email service (like Google/Gmail, Yahoo, MSN/Outlook/Hotmail/Live.com). But the problem is, these services are meant for personal use, not business use. You can’t use those email addresses to send newsletters, and if you try, they’ll almost always get flagged as spam by the person on the receiving end.
Take a look at some of the email newsletters you’ve signed up for. Notice anything different about the email address they’re coming from? They’re usually coming from a website, e.g. email@example.com. When you purchase a domain name, you will usually get at least one free email address with it, if not more. Take advantage of this! Get yourself a custom email address with your website at the end, whether it’s in the format of firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or something similar.
Correction fluid or tape on your business cards
Did you design your cards yourself and make a mistake? Did you put your cards together in a rush, or rely on a non-professional designer for your cards? If you accidentally spelled something wrong, or if business needs have changed (say, a store manager has left, and a bunch of business cards has their name on it, but not a personalized email), that does NOT mean you should just use correction tape or fluid (a.k.a. Wite-Out®).
SEND THE CARDS BACK. Seriously. Designing and printing business cards are just as much a business as repairing cars, styling hair, organizing homes, or running an agency. You wouldn’t tolerate mistakes from any of those businesses, so why should you tolerate a typo that can make your business look bad?
You might feel like you NEED the cards now, but it’s better to get a small batch of corrected cards printed from your local print shop (if possible) than it is to try and run through a large batch of typo-ridden cards with your correction tape, permanent marker, or pen. You also don’t want to get put in the position of having to explain “corrections” to customers.
Listing affiliations or licenses on your business cards
Does your business require a license or certification of some sort to operate? Then definitely list your license number on your business card. If not… don’t bother! It just takes up space and is information that would be better put on your website, a flyer, postcard, or social media profiles, where you have more room.
If your license, certification, or degree has nothing to do with your business, then why put it? This goes for anybody working outside the discipline where they got their degree. I would rather not see word salad after your name (or anywhere on your card, really) and try and figure out what it means and why it might be relevant.
Did you get an amazing award for your business service recently? Great! Then limit yourself to a single line to highlight that achievement. Otherwise: save it for your website!
Using random punctuation marks on your business card
It can be tempting to be creative with your business card by using unique symbols or punctuation marks before or after your name, job title, and so forth. But if the average person isn’t going to understand what those marks mean (or why you have them on your card), then they just function as distractions.
Consider the common use of letters to abbreviate what phone number you are supplying: “O” for office, “C” for a cell phone, “H” for home… or maybe it’s “M” for a mobile phone, “B” for business, and “L” for a landline? Oh, and you can’t forget “F” for fax, that’s really important. Instead, ask yourself: how much business do you do from your home phone? Via fax? Can you eliminate the number of phone numbers on your card to just two? You can easily use small icons to differentiate between the two, or you can make one larger than the other, to indicate it should be the primary/main phone number people should use when contacting you. If you have a toll-free number and a local number, you can list them without any special symbols; people will recognize those on sight.
The same goes for using strange symbols to separate information, as shown in the “Font overload” example above. Don’t separate your services with ~ or * symbols. Use a space, a dash, or, if you must use a middle dot, which looks like this: • Not only does it look more professional, but it stands out without looking awkward.
Do you need help transcribing documents or designing business cards?
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