The origin of business cards
The business cards you carry in your pocket today evolved from visiting cards that go back as far as the 17th century. During the 18th and 19th centuries, a visiting card would be given to a servant at the door and carried to the lady or master of the house on a silver platter. Thus avoiding Chinese whispers "this king bloke at the door would that be Mr King the Baker or his Royal Highness George IV" and providing the ability to be out to people trying to save you money on your gas and electricity supply. If no one was at home the card would be left to say who had called, thus avoiding the need for teenagers to take and forget a message.
Why do you need them
Whilst no longer carried around on silver platters, even in today's electronic world, business cards are still an essential tool for any serious businessman or trades person. We still expect to be able to ask for a business card and phrases like "I've just changed jobs and have not got the new ones printed yet" do not leave one with a warm feeling about the organisational ability of a potential new supplier. If you do not intend to have business cards, think of your response now to a potential customer requesting one, would you be delighted to hear this response from a potential supplier? If so, stop reading now and find a more useful way to spend your time.
Glad to see your still with us, now before rushing off to your nearest printer for an urgent run of business cards give a little thought to how they will be used and what is the best design for you and your company rather than what's the most convenient design for the printer.
How will you use them
Many organisations use business cards as an advertising medium. Plumbers frequently ask their favourite builders merchant to keep a supply of their cards on the counter in a suitable business card dispenser. On the third visit for parts, even the most diehard DIY'er consider screaming for help. If you're likely to use your cards in this way, keep in mind they may end up in a multi pocket business card stand with only the top part of the card visible, keep this in mind when designing the layout.
Taxi firms place a plastic business card holder full of cards in pubs or restaurants to encourage people to get a ride home instead of walking. When out and about in the evening, you're more likely to have a wallet or purse with you than a desktop card holder, so the smart taxi firm would have cards about the same size as a credit card. Slightly smaller than the standard but much more likely to be carried around and be easily to hand when needed in the future.
If you're an oven cleaner, consider cards made as fridge magnets. Magnetic cards also attach to metal filing cabinets and are a excellent way of separating your cards from the herd.
Consider printing a map of your location on the back of the card. Many people use sat navs to get to places, but in these days of virtual companies it's reassuring to see you exist outside of cyberspace.
Inserting a card into a single business card holder makes for an ideal place card setting at a business meeting or training course, eliminating the embarrassment of not being able to remember someone name after talking to them all morning.
Passing a card to the receptionist improves your chances of being announced as "Mr Smith from ACME Inc" rather than "some salesman here to see you". Also useful if your name is difficult to pronounce or spell.
If you're attending a networking meeting have a thick pile in the breast pocket of your suit or the outside pocket of your handbag and practice taking one out until you're the fastest draw in the west. Be sure not to put received business cards in the same pocket, as this will slow down the draw and make you look disorganized.
Keep a small quantity of cards on you at all times as you never know when a marketing opportunity may present itself. Keep these in a pocket business card holder to avoid them becoming dog eared.
Size and style
Portrait business card holders exist, but the majority are in landscape format. One school of thought has it that this makes your cards stand out and by making people turn your cards to read the details are more likely to stay in medium term memory. The other school of thought is it's better to stay with the standard and it's easier to fit long items like email address onto a landscape card.
Landscape business card holders are typically made for cards 93mm wide, with a portrait business stand made for cards 56mm wide.
Business card files can be a mm or two smaller. It's better to err on the smaller side as card that do not fit in a file are likely to end up in the bin sooner or later.
Even people who store cards in a pile, like a pack of playing cards are apt to trash ones that poke out of the sides.
Do not use italics or small fonts on your business cards, not everyone has 20/20 vision and quickly dispose of what is difficult to read. Try not to use more than 2 different font sizes and remember it's the empty spaces on a page that make it readable.
If you're a salesman for multi million pound yachts, you might want to consider gold plated cards; if you're a surfing instructor laminated cards are useful for the rest of us standard quality board is fine.
What to put on your business card
Now you have decided on a format and a size, what information needs to be on the card.
As with everything there is not a one size fits all answer.
In Europe and America people start from the top of the page and read from left to right. It follows that the thing you most want to get across and stay with the recipient should be at the top, either across the whole card or in the top left hand corner.
If you're an actor this will probably be your name but for everyone else, it's what you do, your unique selling point. If you're a taxi driver or a plumber then its "Taxi or" Plumber "or better still" super fast taxi "or" reliable plumber ". An image will stay in the mind longer than text, if you're a dog grooming service a cartoon of a dirty dog will help your card stand out and even remind people the dog needs a perm when searching for "that cardboard box supplier we used last year".
The bottom of the card and particularly the bottom right is usually reserved for contact information, physical address, telephone number, fax, mobile and email address, web site as required.
Now you have everything on your card, remind yourself that a business card is a form of advertising and all advertising should be kept as simple as possible.