Ethiopian Business Review

Business Cards: No Insignificant Matter

Consider the first impression in businesses like your first love-you rarely forget them. And most of the time it boils down to simple,  yet very important gestures. Business cards are at the pinnacle of this first impression because that is the first personification of you and your company.

Knowing how to properly mingle and connect with people is an important part of the professional presence and business etiquette. Business card is about business networking and making connections. Some of the worst mistakes at networking events happen to people that don’t understand how to use their business cards.

Business card though small in size is becoming very vital. That’s why currently we see water-proof business cards so that business cards can be exchanged even in swimming pools or wherever else. The old saying - ‘you may not take your business card to the bath room’ - seems obsolete now.

As an article by PSOW (Protocol School of Washington) shows; the history of Business cards dates back to the 15th century ‘Visiting card’ practices of the Chinese elite. The visiting cards were used to show the desire for a meeting between two individuals. The cards were also very popular and essential among traders and businesspeople for self-promotion. They could even be delivered to the doorsteps of prominent people where a servant would receive and organize all of the cards delivered to the house for the review by the master.

It was introduced to Europe in the 17th century and came with a different name in the 19th century, referred to as “calling card”, more used in social settings with strict and complex set of protocols. Finally, this revolutionary business tool made its way to America. Now the business card has become a globalized business tool.

Business card protocol and etiquette

Some consider business card as the first exchange of gift between two people and must be delivered with respect. Cheaper is seldom a winner when it comes to first impressions. Give clients a great first impression with nice Business card and the proper etiquette and protocol associated with it.

Whether you design it yourself or hire a professional, make sure the design of your business card matches the feel of your other marketing materials. When following business card protocol and creating a solid brand image, consistency is the key.

Balance the content of the logo and fonts. Branding Scholar John Williams provides valuable insight for business card protocol by saying "the bigger the company, the smaller its logo appears on business cards." Make sure your business card is balanced and not overcrowded by huge logos or font sizes.

Then if you are in business, always have business card with you in abundance and be ready to deliver when asked or to give while provided with one by others. Business card etiquette is that you should always respond with one when given one. So ensure, you have a plentiful supply. It is always embarrassing to be caught without any to give.

Don’t put personal picture on the Business card. Once, I have seen a Business card with picture of a person which is not common and frowned up on by protocol and etiquette consultants. I raised the issue to the person in charge and he told me he did this only on the business cards of sales and marketing personnel, to create familiarity with customers. But still it is recommended not to put pictures on the business card.

The business card may include one’s name along with the name of the company or logo, rank and title, office or section, business address, telephone and fax numbers, and e-mail and website address. If there is enough space you can add your personal address, if desired. Business cards should not have prefixes like Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Dr. (MD or PhD can come following the name when appropriate). Military ranks and Ambassador do precede the name. Don’t clutter things up too much and congest the design; simpler and cleaner is always better.

The size of the Business Card is also very important. Many printers now offer a variety of shapes and sizes for business cards, but most business experts recommend keeping it close to standard (3.5 x 2 inches) to avoid miss-fitting the business card albums of the recipient.

Normally it is better to keep the back blank, or use it for non-critical information. How often do people see the back of your business card? Traditional business card albums assume that the back side is blank. If you do wish to put characters on it, be sure the information is of a supplemental nature: like the mission of the company. While business cards promote your company’s brand identity, they shouldn't be confused with advertising.

And try to keep your cards up-to-date. The cost of making business cards is so inexpensive these days that it is inexcusable to write corrections on the card, or verbally tell everyone you give the card to that the phone number or address has changed. Business card can be prepared simply by oneself or if one affords can use the printing houses for better quality and image. Businesses normally compete through branding and business card has become one of the ways used to convey the company’s creativity and innovation.

If you are leaving for Business to other country with different language, you can use the back for the translated version of the information. For example, if you are travelling to Saudi Arabia, the business card may be prepared in Arabic and English. This    shows that you are serious about doing business there, and makes a good impression on your counter parts. Good business etiquette requires you to present the card so that the recipient’s language is face up. Try to learn the basics of foreign customs regarding the exchange of business cards before traveling abroad. It's very easy to make a bad first impression if you're not prepared.

Unlike the North America or Europe where the business card has little meaning other than a convenient form of capturing essential personal details, in other parts of the world the business card has very different meanings. For example, in Japan the business card is viewed as a representation of the owner. Therefore, proper business etiquette demands one to treat the business card with respect and honour.

Always treat the business card you receive as you would the person. Don’t abuse or mishandle it. Never leave another person's business card out in the open and start playing around with it in front of him. Avoid writing on the Business card especially when the guy who gave you is around, it may convey a message that the business card is not given the due attention and value.

Keep your business cards nice, clean and crisp and use a specific container for business cards in order to preserve and organize them. There are nice business card albums in town, visit one of the stationeries.
Business Card is a tool that allows you to network and contact people, so don’t sit around and wait for someone else to contact you. Be the first to network!

Abebe Mulu

Abebe Mulu holds an MA in International Relations from AAU. He had attended various certification training on Protocol and Etiquette. He is currently sernior Business Promotion and Communication Officer at Development Bank of Ethiopia and Amharic News Caster on Ethiopian Television. Abebe has recently started a radio show on Protocol & Etiquette on FM 98.1

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