Thoughts on business cards

If I added up all the hours I’ve spent agonising over the design of my business cards, I could easily have taken another professional development course.



And perhaps I should have – it would have been a better use of my time.


I discovered Vistaprint early in my freelance career, and I’ve been through a few of their designs. I tend to lean towards a classic look, and this has served me well over the years. But now that I’ve narrowed the focus of my business, and with conference season coming up, I wanted something new. I went back to Vistaprint, made up a few samples and showed them to my husband and kids. I also sent them to a good friend who knows a thing or two about design. The verdict:


  • I really liked a pretty, pink floral design, but no one else did. My son pronounced it ‘too flowery/frilly’. My husband used the word ‘frou-frou’. My friend said I didn’t need Covent Garden on my business card. Ouch.


  • A blue-and-gold border met with similarly mixed reactions. My husband and daughter liked it, my son thought it was ‘Christmassy’, and my friend immediately thought ‘Spanish tiles’.


  • A very plain blue border was a hit with my friend, who deemed it the most professional. I thought it was blah. My husband said it looked like some country’s flag. Which one, I’m not sure.


Lesson learned: there is no design that appeals to everyone. In the end, I went with the blue-and-gold design, which I’ve used before – I liked it, and it was a close match with my website. In the process, though, I realised a few things about business cards. Here are my thoughts on the subject.


1. Think about whether you actually need business cards. I’ve heard about people who never use them, preferring to exchange contact details electronically. The annual IATEFL Conference, which I go to every year, now has a mechanism whereby you can use the conference app to create a digital card. Honestly, that’s too much work for me. Besides, I meet a lot of delegates from countries where cards are still de rigeur. Yes, this is 2020, but I would appear unprofessional if I didn’t have any.


2. Spend time thinking about your design – but not too much! Looking at business card designs can be a massive drain on your time, and quite honestly, whether you have a floral border or a geometric design makes little difference to anyone but yourself.


3. Choose a design that reflects the rest of your branding. My main website colour is dark blue, so it was important to me to have some dark blue in my card.


4. Stay with the standard rectangular shape. I am given a lot of business cards at IATEFL and other conferences, and I keep them all in a fabric-covered box that originally held note cards. The oddly shaped ones don’t fit. By the way, I do actually look through these cards once in a while; a while ago, I needed a writer for something in the magazine that I edit, and I flipped through my cards to see who might be interested.


5. If you’re ordering from a site like Vistaprint, find out what else is available in your chosen design. If you decide later to add marketing items like postcards or brochures, stationery or stickers, can you have them made in the same design? You may never need these things, but it doesn’t hurt to think ahead. One of the reasons I chose my blue-and-gold design is that I could order posters in the same design, which I did. I can also have brochures, postcards, notebooks, mousepads, folders, ballpoint pens and even t-shirts made in the same design, and I may well do so later (okay, maybe not t-shirts).


6. Choose good-quality paper. I once worked at a very environmentally aware university; my cards were made of recycled paper and featured a large recycling symbol. This is admirable, except that they felt cheap.


7. Use both sides. I’ve read many times that when someone hands you a card, you should jot down on the back who the person is and what they do. When handing someone your own card, why not save the other person the trouble? On the front of my card, I have the basics (name, job, email address). On the back, I have a bit more detail about my business. Using the back only cost me a few extra dollars.


8. Consider including a photo of yourself. At a big international conference like IATEFL, you talk to dozens of people for five days; it helps to be able to put a face to a name when you get home. If you do add a photo, make sure it’s the same one you have on your website, LinkedIn profile, Twitter, Facebook and all the rest. I’m very happy with my current photo, taken by my daughter Sophie, and I’ve used it everywhere, including on the back of my business card.


9. Be careful with your font. Vistaprint has a lot of highly stylised cursive fonts, which look nice but which can be hard to read. Remember, your card is small, and not everyone has great eyesight. I certainly don’t. I stick to Arial throughout, in various sizes. If I can read it, anyone can.


10. When you get your cards, think about how you’re going to distribute them. At IATEFL, I usually make cards available to anyone attending my talks, I hand them out to publishers, and I may give out a few to individual delegates that I end up in conversation with. Focus on building relationships, though, not just on throwing cards in people’s general direction.


Bonus tip: it goes without saying that you need to get someone other than yourself to check for typos. I got my former English teacher husband to look at mine, and he found a mistake!


Next: How getting my hair cut made me think about my pricing structure

Tania Pattison is an editor and proofreader specialising in English language teaching, education and related subjects. When not editing, she is an EAP textbook writer, curriculum designer and occasional university/college teacher.


Images by Tania; cards by Vistaprint.

Text and design © 2019–present by Tania Pattison. Header photo and photos of Tania by Sophie Milburn (www.sophiemilburn.com). All rights reserved.