Business card kaizen

I’m nearly out of business cards, so it’s time to think about how I want to redesign them. Business cards are nowhere near the heart of a business (sales! service!), but I like paying attention to the little things that can help me connect better with other people.

What do I use my business cards for? What do I want my business cards to do? Business cards are ostensibly so that people can get in touch with you. Many people tell me they’re terrible at following up with people after events. The only ones who seem to do so are the ones who collect business cards so that they can add you to their mailing list! I find it helpful to completely ignore the original purpose of business cards and take the initiative of following up with people myself. This works out much better than trusting that people will e-mail me or call me afterwards.

If I’m not giving people business cards in order for them to follow up with me, what benefit do I get from carrying around and giving out these little pieces of paper?

People usually exchange business cards in the middle or towards the end of a conversation. My business cards are good at adding an extra "bump" to the conversation – an additional spark of interest. People often remark on my picture and the keywords I use ("Tell me more about what an Enterprise 2.0 consultant does…" "Oh, what have you written?" "Ooh, storyteller. What’s with that?" "Oh, look, geek! Me too!"). Here’s where those conversations go:

  • Picture: This helps me communicate that I care about helping people remember. I usually commiserate about the post-conference blur of going through a stack of business cards and not remembering who’s who. Some people recognize me better from the picture, because it’s the same avatar I use on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I sometimes point out that one of the reasons I cropped that picture so tightly is that the picture will always be current even if I change hairstyles, which makes people laugh — and communicates that I think about little details like that. Because most people see photos only on business cards for real estate agents, I also joke about that. (Hmm, maybe I should play with that some more – a real estate agent, but for the brain!)
  • Keywords: This is excellent for helping people remember and for expanding the conversation topics. The keywords trigger memories of the conversation. Because I’m interested in diverse things, keywords also help me find other topics of common interest. My current card reads "Enterprise 2.0 consultant, author, storyteller, geek." I’m thinking of changing this to "Entrepreneurial experimenter, sketchnote artist, tech geek." Or maybe "Experimental entrepreneur, sketchnote communicator, tech geek"? Visual communicator? What do you think?
    Hmm – if I leave it blank and use a matte surface, or use a carefully-positioned sticker instead of printing the title, I can change the title easily as I try things out. Maybe I can even ask for feedback!

I want my next set of business cards to continue sending those messages: I care about helping you remember me and continue the conversation, and I’m sure that conversation will be interesting.

Elements for the business card:

Possible additions: 2D barcode? Maybe – handy way to encode e-mail address, maybe vCard information. Takes up space, not sure if people use them.

I’d like to add a sketchnote similar to the one I have on my Twitter profile, but with a white background and more colours. This might be a good use of the back of the business card. It’ll be pretty sparse, so people can still use the back of the business card to write notes. My goal there would be to have an instant, portable demonstration of what I do, instead of fiddling with my smartphone or waiting for people to check out my website. Hmm, even maybe Moo’s Printfinity – I think that having unique designs on each card would make it even more fun to give out cards. I should try converting my sketchnotes to 1039×697 and printing them at 300dpi to see what they look like at that scale.

Frills: Raised print? Foil accents? Don’t need them. A heavier card stock would be nice. Rounded corners are tempting – they feel more modern, and the business card doesn’t get as worn in the pocket. It does break some people’s hack of dog-earing various corners of the business cards in order to remember to follow-up, though. Still possible, just harder.


Layout: I’ll continue with the horizontal layout, standard US business card size. I noticed that when I’m scanning business cards, vertical ones make me frown a little. Since I can’t stash oversized business cards and postcards in my business card holder, they’re harder to keep track of, and I don’t want other people to deal with the same issues. I’m definitely going with my own design. Like stock photography, template business cards are obviously template business cards, and I want to hack my cards so much more. =)

Number: I ordered 500 cards on March 25, 2008, which was around 4 years ago. I’d been using them more than IBM business cards even when I was at IBM, so it’s not like they were sitting in drawers. I’ve also used print-your-own business cards in order to test different concepts, such as putting networking tips on the back of the card or recommending favourite networking-related books for cards to give out after a presentation.

I’d like to replace my business cards in one year, because I’ll learn even more about business card design by then. I might even know more about what kind of business I’d like to explore! I should probably order 100 or 250 cards. I’ll be paying slightly more per card and more in shipping, so I should make sure that I’m learning a lot of things that I can fold into a my next design.

Slowly growing!

  • eugene litang

    hi ms.sacha! i really thank you for your great and amazing tips & concerns about many things, i particularly find this topic also essential for me.. im curious on how can i add a 2D barcode to my business card? all the best! :)

  • http://livinganawesomelife.com Sacha Chua

    I haven’t tried either of these services, but you can check out http://qrcode.kaywa.com/ or http://businesscards.tec-it.com/

  • http://blog.fastfedora.com/ Trevor Lohrbeer

    I like the idea of business cards being used to spark conversation, not merely as an avenue for exchanging contact information.

    My latest experiment was to add prompts on the back of my business card to encourage people to take notes. The fields I used were:

    – Met At
    – Notes
    – To Do
    o Connect on LinkedIn
    o Subscribe to Blog
    o Follow on Twitter
    o Send Followup E-mail
    o Other:

    You can see the full layout at:

    So far the back has definitely generated discussion. The jury is still out on whether it’s increased engagement from the people I’ve given it to. I’m not sure how to measure this.

  • http://blog.fastfedora.com/ Trevor Lohrbeer
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