BUSINESS CARDS: Stock in trade

Business cards are an important tool in promoting a company, individual


Sunday, February 03, 2002
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

Kelly Douglas still recalls the worst business card ever pressed to her palm.

Douglas, the national director of marketing for Resources Connection, a Costa Mesa, Calif., professional services firm with offices in Las Vegas, said awhile back she met someone interested in taking over the company’s Web design. His proposition began and ended with his card.

“The card was punched out. It was perforated around the edges and ragged. It was on thin stock and had bad texture and was smeared,” she said. “It was like a guarantee of failure, almost worse than a misspelled word on résumé.”

Cards are basic business equipment, like offices and telephones. In Las Vegas, with its convention-packed calendar and networking-minded locals, hundreds of cards trade hands every day. Authors of business card books say business cards should reflect a business’ spirit and match its media color scheme. Experts say cards should also be personal and individual, and need not be expensive.

“When it comes down to it, one of the first things a person is going to see when they meet you is your card,” said Dale Sprague, president of Canyon Creative, a Las Vegas design studio designing business cards. “New people get an impression of your company based on what you show.”

Cards on white stock remain the most popular because they’re the cheapest, said Becky Watson of Watson Creative, another graphic design studio. But, she said, many cards go beyond the traditional white, one-sided, one-color-ink card. There are colored stocks, colored inks. Horizontal designs, vertical designs. Coated stock and uncoated stock. Glossy finish and matte.

Cheryl Cullen, author of “Best of Business Card Design 5,” said some companies issue workers sets of cards of several different colors, one red, one blue, one orange, as if they were a series.

“That way,” she said. “people might try to collect them all.”

Douglas said the cards-as-series tactic worked well for Nike, where she once worked. The sporting goods giant put different athlete clients on different cards, making them trading-card popular. Someone who corralled Michael Jordan might try to add Andre Agassi, she said.

Just as not all cards are white, not all are rectangular. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, for example, XM Satellite Radio, a Washington company, handed out cards with two straight sides and two rounded sides.

Sprague, who said he always designs both sides of a business card, said B-sides supplement standard-information A sides.

“You can use the back for positioning statements like `The best tires in town,’ ” he said. “Or you can use them to list your business’s services.”

Watson uses her card as a work sample. The front features a star casting its shadow in a watercolorlike cloud. Red and teal pastels on the cloud’s periphery give way to deep purples on the outside edge. The card’s flip side is blue and features two slogans in white letters: “Explore the edge,” and “Flexibility is the genesis of creativity.”

“I don’t go out and buy ad space, I put my designs on my card,” Watson said. “People have said when they flip through their Rolodexes, my card keeps popping up, and it’s that way for a reason. A potential client may not remember my name, but may remember the image they see.”

Dinyari Inc., a Freedom, Calif., company selling waterproof roofing to commercial building owners, uses not one, but two cards, fused into a foldout. The card tells a story. On the leaf opposite the employee’s name and phone number is a thermographic chart, colored in burnt orange, lime green and forest green. Debbie Simpson, Dinyari’s Nevada marketing manager, said the chart illustrates how the roofing the company sells can lower building temperatures.

“Our card is terribly specific to what we do,” Simpson said. “Most people who get the card are in the business and know immediately what the information means.”

Because a goal of any card is to end up in someone’s Rolodex, not their waste can, said Diana Ratliff, author of “Business Card Breakthroughs,” advises making them valuable.

Value could be information, she said. A real estate agent might put an amortization schedule on one side of his card. Or, one businessperson might offer a reference to a complementary business. If a hairdresser refers clients to a manicurist, the manicurist might return the favor, Ratliff said.

Value could be monetary, Ratliff said. A college student who cuts lawns might have his card double as a coupon: $5 off with redemption.

Value may be a personal touch, Cullen said. Someone can add a signature in ballpoint pen, or a stripe or sketch in crayon or colored pencil.

“A gardener might draw blades of grass on his card,” she said.

People could try a rubber stamp from a craft store, or cheap a job-specific doodad, Cullen said. A tailor, for example, could glue a button on his card.

Catherine Bell, a Kingston, Ontario, image consultant, said businesspeople can add the allure of value to a card just by how they hand it out. Although the American custom is the single-handed swap, the Japanese always use both hands.

“By taking more care in handing it to someone,” Bell said, “it may be more valued by the person who gets it.”

Cullen doesn’t expect paper cards to go out of style. In this age of ephemeral e-mail correspondence, they’re tangible, keepsake communiqués. And, added Bell, even with high-tech CD-ROM business cards growing popular, paper cards are cheaper (production on a CD card usually starts at around $1,500). And they are always computer virus-free.

Rodney Beckwith, president of Beckwith Printing, a Las Vegas print shop, said cards lend legitimacy to startups, giving entrepreneurs a sense of accomplishment and credibility.

“People who have yet to start a business, the first thing they do is run out and get a business card,” he said. “They don’t have an address yet, they don’t have a phone number, but they want a card. I know I felt great when I got my first one.”

And, said Bell, as Douglas’ story illustrates, a well designed card can make the difference between a work offer and a wave goodbye.

“We’re very visual people,” Bell said. “And if we’re leaving something in (potential clients’) hands that’s well designed and elegant, it’s in a sense saying to them, `I’m a very astute businessperson.’ “