What's on Your Card?

How to create business cards that are “actionable marketing documents.”

by Donald Cooper, CSP

     Over the years, I have judged a number of business card competitions, and I’ve discovered that many business cards completely miss the mark when it comes to accomplishing the very purpose for which they were created! Here are my thoughts on how you can create a more effective business card.

     Your objective is simple—to create a business card that’s an actionable marketing document. The card should clearly communicate who you are and what you do in a way that creates confidence and gets you more business. Let’s look at the basic elements of an effective card to see how yours might be improved. Take out your business card right now, and check it out as you read on.

your message
     Ideally, to be an actionable marketing document, your card should communicate the following. 

  The name of your business, your name and your title or position 

  What you do and for whom you do it (your target customers)   

  How you do it wonderfully or differently 

  How to contact you.   

     More than 80 percent of the cards I see leave out some of this critical information. Many of them offer no clue as to what the company actually does.  
     Include your job title! This one is controversial, but it shouldn’t be. People want to know who you are and what your position is. Lots of folks tell me that titles aren’t important or that “everyone in our company is equal” so they leave this important information off their card. This is a big mistake! Everybody in your company is not equal. People want to know if they’re dealing with a salesperson, a marketing VP or the company founder. 

     The “for whom you do it and how you do it wonderfully or differently” part can be communicated through a slogan, positioning statement or even a well-thought-out company name. For example, when the name of your business is “Speedy Muffler King” you’ve already communicated a lot of information, whereas “International Digital Enterprises” probably needs some clarification.

     Your logo, slogan or positioning statement should be included. They’re an important part of your brand positioning. If you’re a member of an important industry association, its logo should be on your card. This makes you an “insider.” If you have earned a degree that’s relevant to what you do, or if you’ve won an important industry or company award, include that. If you’ve been in business for 100 years, add that. These things all create confidence.

     Make sure that your phone, fax, address, e-mail and Web site info are all included and big enough to be read by people older than 50. Include your area code with your phone and fax numbers and, if you do business internationally, also include your country code. Make it easy for people to find you and do business with you. 

     You’d also be amazed at how many cards I get that have no street address on them. These are most often folks who operate home-based businesses and they’re so ashamed of that fact that they leave off their addresses. Big mistake! When I do business with companies and they screw up, I want to know where to find them, and if they don’t give me their addresses, I think that they’re actually planning to screw up and that they’re trying to hide. Every time I hear on the radio that the police are looking for some murder suspect, it seems that these people have “no fixed address.” Don’t be a “no fixed address.” 

     Some folks in sales and service positions (especially real-estate agents) have their picture on their cards to make a more personal and memorable connection with people, and it seems to work. Management and executive cards, on the other hand, never have photos. If you are going to use a photo, pick one that was taken in the last few years so that recipients of your business cards don’t get a big shock when they actually meet you!   

     How on earth do you get all this information on a business card? Use both sides. The front of my card states who I am and how to reach me, and the back states exactly what I do, including our registered trademark, Human Marketing®; our most requested titles; and the logo of my industry association, The International Federation for Professional Speakers. 

     Folks who disagree with me on this tell me, “I leave the back of my card blank for people to write on.” But if you write on the back what they need to know to do business with you, they don’t have to write anything. And, trust me, if you put a little thought into it, you can write better stuff about you than they can. 

the design
     Have your corporate name, logo, business cards, fax cover page and letterhead all congruently designed by an experienced graphic designer. Each of these elements is an important part of your brand communication, and getting them right doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Ask friends who have neat looking stuff who they used. Most printers have graphic designers on staff or know where to find them. Note: The nice girl behind the photocopy counter at Business Depot is NOT a graphic designer! 

     Grossly oversized or tiny little business cards may be cute, but, mostly, they don’t work. My cards are 1⁄16 of an inch bigger in both directions than most cards to subtly make impact and create a little more space for my message, but they still fit in everyone’s card storage systems.

the card stock
     Choose the best, heaviest card stock available, with a nice, soft sheen to it. If your printer offers only the standard flimsy card stock, find another printer. It’s your reputation that’s at stake. The extra cost is worth it. If you buy 1,000 business cards for $30, printed on inferior embossed paper, you didn’t save money—you just wasted $30! Let’s be blunt here. When you hand someone one of those awful thin cards, what you’re saying is, “Here’s a cheap piece of crap to remember me by!”

     There you have it—the basics for creating a better business card that is an actionable marketing document. Evaluate your business card, and make changes to ensure that it effectively communicates and gets you more business.

     Donald Cooper, CSP (Certified Speaking Professional), is respected by clients in more than 40 industries as both a “thought leader” and a passionate visionary in the areas of marketing, service and business excellence. Drawing from his real-life experience as a world-class manufacturer, award-winning retailer and business speaker, he has helped thousands of businesses throughout the world to add more real value to their customers’ lives and more dollars to their bottom lines. 

     To subscribe to Mr. Cooper’s free monthly electronic newsletter, send an e-mail to His Web site,, also offers free articles and business tools.

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