When I was in the corporate world, I didn't give much thought to my business card. The design was the same for everybody, you were presented with a pack of them when you joined the business, and apart from handing them out at the occasional trade fair, or to new clients, they were pretty much a non-event. More than a few ended up as shopping lists, or as bookmarks.
When I first started my own business, I did everything very much 'on the cheap' and it was a few months before I got round to having business cards made. I went to a local printer, who looking back, did a less than average job, at an exorbitant rate. Well you live and learn.
But since then, I've noticed myself becoming increasingly interested in business cards as a tool for us small business owners.
What originally was simply a means to leave behind a note of your name and telephone number, has developed into a neat little marketing device, that you can set to work for you.
They're small and robust, so always carry a few in your purse. Hand them out liberally to all the people you know, and remind them to recommend you if anyone they know, ever needs your service. People give more credence to you if you've got a card, rather than scribbling your details on a scrap of paper.
Now here's the exciting bit. Although business cards are small - and don't be tempted to 'go large' on these - nobody wants a card that doesn't fit their holder, they are a great way communicate what sort of person you are.
Think about the image you want your prospective clients to have of you. No two businesses are the same, and this is especially true when you are your business, so it makes sense to make the most of your defining characteristics and help people get a quick feel for you.
If you're involved in a fairly conservative industry, it might be necessary to present yourself in a conservative manner. Avoid flashy graphics and colours. Keep it elegant and professional. But of course, sometimes bucking the trend might give you the differentiation that would get you noticed. So maybe you add an element from a less formal design to demonstrate that although you're a professional, you're able to add character to your service.
The opposite is also true. If you're involved in creative work, having a dull card might also single you out from the masses, but do it with wit and style.
What matters is that the card represents the real you. So it's very important to decide what your key values are and how to communicate them. Don't go for a massively whacky card, that presents you as a wild eccentric, if you're actually the sort who likes to be tucked up in bed with a hot milky drink at nine thirty every evening.
You don't have to be a creative genius these days to get a good design, and unless you're rolling in money, don't pay a designer to produce artwork. There's time for that when you're well established, but in the early days, value for money and flexibility are more important.
Look for an online site like Vistaprint and you'll have masses of options available and be able to build up a design that meets your needs at a really minimal cost. The process is simple, just be very careful to check all the details before you commit to buy.
Especially when your business if fairly new, using a low cost supplier means you're not tying up too much money in a design that you may very well want to change fairly soon. For example, although we set up our first business as a mini-marketing agency, it was copywriting that brought us most of our early customers. Changing the message on our cards to reflect this, made it much easier to communicate with potential clients.
The most important element to include - well after you contact details - is a message, or tag line. Think hard about this and try to make sure it says something meaningful. Bland or unintelligible messages will tell clients that you're bland or confused.
Instead, think about what benefit your service gives to your customers, and try to get that across. You want them to read it and think 'oh yes, that's what I need'. Put yourself in their shoes and test out your message.
In some markets, humour works well, but it's 'horses for courses', I wouldn't use a funeral director who had a pun on his business card - but maybe that's just me.
And a word about the back of the card. Don't waste this space. If your business involves appointments, the back can make a good alternative appointment card. Alternatively, you could advertise your website on the back, or you could show a simple list of the services you provide.
Give the back as much thought as the front. My tip is to leave a little space where you can write a personal message. This can be useful if you're doing a lot of networking and want to help contacts remember exactly who you are.
So, in a nutshell, business cards are useful, it's well worth having them, but don't pay loads for them, don't buy too many at a time and be prepared to change them as you go along. Allow some quality time to draft what you want to say so that it tells prospective clients who you are, a bit about your personality and what benefit you could give them.