I attend a lot of networking events and I make sure I have business cards with me. After going to a few events, I want to share a few of the things I’ve learned about business card etiquette, because most people simply don’t know. Below are a few things to keep in mind in regard to the proper use of sharing, receiving, and using business cards.
Introduce yourself before you hand someone your card. Handing someone your card should be the last thing you do, not the first. When you begin a conversation by giving someone your business card, you give the impression that you’re too important to engage in a conversation. End the conversation by either providing your business card, or waiting on the person to whom you’re speaking to ask for it. If they don’t ask for yours, ask for theirs. It’s inappropriate to come up to someone and hand them your card without first engaging in small talk. If they remember you at all after an exchange like this, they will remember you for the wrong reasons.
When you receive a business card, take some time to review it. Never just put the business card in your pocket, it’s rude. In China, it’s custom to receive the card with two hands and stare intently at the business card to show the other person that you have a keen interest in who they are and what they do. We should take a page from their playbook. If you take the business card without reviewing it and quickly put it away, you communicate a sheer disinterest in the person and risk being offensive. If you’re in a business meeting, or interview, leave the other person’s card on the table and only put it away as you are leaving the meeting.
Your business card is not a flyer. When I first started networking, I never felt like I had enough business cards. My goal was to put my business card in the hands of as many people possible. Boy was I misinformed. After a few networking events of giving hundreds of cards away as if they were party flyers, I didn’t get any callbacks and it was heart wrenching to see my card on the ground after the room emptied. After a few of those failed experiments, I came to networking events with a different approach: quality over quantity. I would much rather have a few meaningful conversations and connections with individuals than briefly meet and greet hundreds of people as if I were running for public office. My true goal is to schedule a follow up meeting with connections before we leave one another’s presences. This way, I know I didn’t waste my time. Brief interactions don’t mean much and they are unlikely to turn into a relationship, unless you follow up properly. But if you could meet a few people per event, and build a meaningful relationship with them, they will be more likely to turn into professional or personal relationships, you never know.
Be the business card. Your business card is a formality after you’ve shown a person who you are and what you have to offer. Be likeable, be memorable, be interesting. When you make a great first impression, they will remember your business card because they will remember you, they will remember how you made them feel. Instead of having someone read your business card to figure out your name, your place of employment, and job title, introduce yourself by including the things listed on your business card. Your goal is to make them remember you notwithstanding your card.
Use the business card. The entire point in taking someone’s business card is to actually use it afterward. Follow up with your contacts by finding them on LinkedIn, or sending them a note letting them know that it was nice to meet them. Better yet, invite them out for coffee or lunch. You never know when you’ll need to connect with someone you met, keep their business cards as a subtle reminder. I have a stack of about 200 business cards in a rubber band. About 100 are former colleagues who I used to travel with, and another hundred are folks I met at networking events or through serendipitous interactions. They are organized by the general timeframe in which I met them and by industry. I recently went through this stack and emailed many of them to inform them of my new ventures. As a result, I have a ton of appointments in the coming weeks. If it weren’t for my business card etiquette, I’m sure as many people would have never responded to my request.
For your consideration. I’m a big fan of elaborate and creative business cards because it shows that you took time to develop something that most people don’t care about. However, they can be expensive and if you’re just starting out, you should make sure your card accurately represents your brand given your budget. As you grow and your business develops, understand that your business card and other marketing materials will change with time, so don’t try to do too much too soon. Of course you should apply general marketing and design principles to your business card, but it really doesn’t matter what you card looks like, because you should be more memorable than your card. Your card is an extension of your brand, but you are the brand.
Having good business card etiquette is a necessary pre-requisite to effective networking. Good luck, good people!