Networking Tips: Why I Might Trash Your Business Card

Updated on December 30, 2017
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a business author with 25 years experience in marketing and sales including a decade in the hotel and trade show industries.


Since it's spring, I decided to do some spring cleaning on my business card file. That and because the file was getting packed to the point where I couldn't add even one... more... card.

So as I reviewed each card to see which ones I wanted to keep and which would make their way to the recycle bin, I noticed that there are some distinct reasons why I trashed certain cards.

And in case you're wondering, I am not making up these examples.

Business Card Size Does Matter

Odd-sized—especially larger than normal—business cards are a pet peeve of mine. I really have to decide whether it's worth my time and effort to cut down a outsize card to fit in my business card holders or files. You have to be someone pretty special or offer something extraordinary for me to invest in that busywork. Plus, there's the chance I'll cut off some important info. The most recent pitch (pun intended) was one that was designed in the size and style of a standard baseball card.

The theory behind the bigger-is-better business card is that it will visually stand out from others in the pile... and so will the business. Think about this: Is the only thing that makes your business stand out is that your business card stands taller than those of your peers and competitors? Sad if that's all that separates you from your competition.

And here's a problem I've observed on the opposite side of the size spectrum: Itty bitty business cards. For those of you in networking circles, you've likely seen the ones I'm talking about. They're maybe around 1 inch high and an inch or two wide. Cute, right? Indeed, they are "cute" and they do fit in the standard business card sleeves. But here are the problems with them:

  • Itty Bitty Info, Too. Usually, these itty bitty cards have an itty bitty amount of info on them, too, making them less than useful.
  • Born to Lose. Also, these mini-cards are easy to lose in piles of paper and other standard business cards. In business card files, they can be easily missed.

The standard business card size is 3-1/2 inches wide by 2 inches high for horizontal or landscape orientation. For vertical or portrait orientation, it is 2 inches wide by 3-1/2 inches high.

Being creative means being able to work effectively within limitations. Would you want to hire someone who can't understand that?

What Your Card Says: "I must have attention at all costs and I can't work within stated parameters."

Being creative means being able to work effectively within limitations. Would you want to hire someone who can't understand that?

— Heidi Thorne

Business Card Size Standard

The standard business card size is 3-1/2 inches wide by 2 inches high for horizontal or landscape orientation. For vertical or portrait orientation, it is 2 inches wide by 3-1/2 inches high.

Your Brochure is NOT Your Business Card

Worse than the business cards that are larger than standard size are the "brochures posing as business cards." Here's what's happening:

  • Too Cheap to Buy Both Business Cards AND Brochures. Folks, business cards are cheap these days. I'm talking sometimes less than $20 cheap. If given the choice, get your cards first, then invest in brochures. Brochures can be a major investment, especially if you're just starting a small business. Focus on business cards and your website first since they can be much more effective, versatile and portable marketing tools.
  • Tell All, Sell Nothing. As discussed in Marketing Strategy: Avoiding the "I Can Also Do That" Problem, small business people often are praying that potential customers will be sooooooo impressed with EVERYTHING the company does, that they're bound to buy something. This "see what sticks" strategy is usually not a winning one. Those who substitute using their full brochures for business cards could have fallen into this sales trap.

What Your Card (Oops! Brochure) Says: "I'm cheap and am keeping my fingers crossed that I'll make some kind of sale... any sale (PLEASE!)."

"But I Paid a Lot of Money for 'Em"

Another "too cheap" story is when people are using old business cards they bought years ago. And I mean yearrrrrrrrrrs ago, like maybe even 10 to 20 or more years ago when business cards were ultra expensive.

How do I know the cards are that old? The clues:

  • Old Area Codes. Within my lifetime, the Chicago metropolitan area has had multiple area code additions to accommodate the influx of mobile phone numbers and businesses with direct dial phones. On old cards, you'll see people crossing out their old area code and handwriting in the new one. Exceptionally sad when the area code changed more than 10 to 20 years ago.
  • Email. Like the new area codes, you'll see an old business card with the email address handwritten in. So email likely wasn't in use when they printed these cards. That is so 1994.
  • Grainy Headshot Photos. Digital photography and printing have now been available for several years. So a business card with a grainy photo is a telltale sign that this was probably done "back in the day" before digital became the way we did things. Back then, people would often give some ink jet or laser printed picture of themselves (because real photos were expensive then, too) to a print shop and hope for the best.
  • Labels. What's worse? Handwriting new info or putting a desktop printed label on the back (or front - yikes!) of a business card with updated contact information? Labels are as tacky as their adhesive backing.

What Your Card Says: "I'm cheap, out of date, out of touch and out of money."

Cryptic Cards

Business cards should not be as difficult to decipher as tarot cards. Unfortunately, many people cloud their cards in mystery, requiring divine intervention to decode their cryptic job titles and company mission messages. Try some of these (names and text slightly altered to protect those that need to rethink their branding):

  • XYZ or Some Obscure Term followed by "Associates." Um, what does your company do?
  • Job Title of (Insert Buzzword Here)-ologist or Chief (Insert Buzzword Here) Officer. Again, what do you do?
  • "Specializing in Success" or "Solutions for Success" or Other Non-Specific Success-Theme Tagline. Success defined as... ? Who and how do you help?

What Your Card Says: "I wanna be cool and hip. Don't you get it?"

These are as bad some as some of the mysterious trade show booths I've seen!

Electronic Business Cards or Apps Will Solve All This, Right?

Wrong! As I discussed in Business Card Tips for Sales and Networking, connectivity and technology challenges may reduce the ability to share contact info electronically. But here's why I might trash even electronic "cards" I collect: I may not want to bog down my mobile device's memory storage with contact information from every one of the hundreds of people I meet through networking in even just one year.

As well, although some may be amenable to it, it can be socially awkward and presumptuous to expect someone you just met to put your information into their cell phone's contact list or a contact management app. That's usually done when the relationship moves to the next level.

Show you're a professional by having a supply of paper business cards ready to politely share. And don't forget, networking events usually have some sort of business card drawing for a prize. Your business e-card keeps you out of the prize drawing fishbowl!

What Your (Electronic Only) Card Says: "Everyone else must be able and want to connect with ME."

Disclaimer: Any examples used are for illustrative purposes only and do not suggest affiliation or endorsement. The author/publisher has used best efforts in preparation of this article. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and all parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice, strategies and recommendations presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional adviser where and when appropriate. The author/publisher shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. So by reading and using this information, you accept this risk.

© 2015 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi lawrence01! You're right, word of mouth is the BEST form of advertising, hands down. And business cards are in a supporting role in those efforts. Thank you for your kind comments! Have a wonderful day!

  • lawrence01 profile image

    Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


    Really enjoyed this hub. I have used cards in the past but I'm not in a position that needs one now.

    I still think the best form of advertising is word of mouth and the best thing is to do what you do so well that people want to do business with you.

    Great hub


  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hey rockinjoe! Glad to hear your story from the frontlines. Yep, it seems kinda cool and, in truth, it can be a conversation starter. Unfortunately, it can also be a conversation non-starter, too. Thanks for adding your personal experience to the conversation! Have a fun rest of the Memorial Day holiday!

  • rockinjoe profile image

    Joseph Addams 2 years ago from Standing right behind you!

    I was definitely guilty of "Job Title Buzzword" I thought it was pretty funny, but until more than one person asked me what a 'comediantologist' was, i quickly reordered new cards. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi CMHypno! Yep, standard is standard for a reason. Glad to see I'm not the only one who's observed "cheap in action." :) Yikes! Thanks so much for adding your experience to the conversation! Have a beautiful weekend!

  • CMHypno profile image

    CMHypno 2 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

    Thanks for the great information Heidi. While thinking out of the box is great, there are usually good reasons for 'standard'. With business cards if they don't fit in a wallet they will usually get dumped or folded and crumpled.

    On the cheap argument, I was seriously asked by one employer to print out a new address line and stick it on the old business cards when they moved so they wouldn't be wasted!

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

    AliciaC, always striving to bring a little entertainment to enterprise. :) Glad you found it helpful for someday. Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful day!

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    This is both useful and entertaining, Heidi! I doubt whether I'll ever need business cards, but if I do, I'll definitely remember your advice.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Jeannieinabottle! Oh, the dreaded business card pushers! I don't give 'em to someone I'm chatting with automatically. If they want mine, they can ask. Sends the right messages to potential customers: 1) I'm here if you need/want me and I'll let YOU be the judge of that; and, 2) I'm a known professional and I let customers come to me. Thanks for pointing out the common sense tip! Have a great day!

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi melissae1963! Glad you liked 'em. Yep, we all need reminders now and again. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

  • Jeannieinabottle profile image

    Jeannie InABottle 2 years ago from Baltimore, MD

    This is a really useful hub. I hate it when someone tries to force me to take a business card, too. If I know I am just going to trash it as I walk out the door, it just makes sense for someone to keep their business card instead of giving it to me.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

    What great examples and no nonsense advice! I loved this! Voted way up and more plus G+ and sharing. I love your edgy biz humor.

  • melissae1963 profile image

    Melissa Reese Etheridge 2 years ago from Tennessee, United States

    These tips are fantastic. We all need a reminder.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi poetryman6969! You certainly have company in the "no weird for me" department. :) Your business card file moving with you is testament to the power of these inexpensive marketing tools. Good luck with the move and have a wonderful week ahead!

  • poetryman6969 profile image

    poetryman6969 2 years ago

    Weird does not sell with me. Every business card I have kept is regular size. I am moving and the business cards are moving with me. The brochures have long since hit the trash pile.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Oh yes, purl3agony, I've known many who have been in the position you were with being a successor and being in that transition mode. Tough to know what to do. One strategy for those tricky times is to ask the other person for their card and then follow up with them by email or by mail (with the new card enclosed) later on. I think people understand that. Where it's really a problem for branding is when the person has complete control over their materials and destiny and simply chooses to be cheap. Thanks for stopping by and adding your experience to the conversation! Have a beautiful week!

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Well, Blackspaniel1, it depends on your business and how you market it. Some businesses have less need for these marketing tools than others. But I think it's always good to have a small supply of them on hand for those serendipitous meetings that the Universe sends our way. Thanks for chiming in and have a great week!

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Howdy, billybuc! I figured you would have seen some egregious examples along your path, too. At least they provide fodder for these posts and a chuckle or two. :) Thanks for stopping by, as always. You have a great work week, too!

  • purl3agony profile image

    Donna Herron 2 years ago from USA

    Great hub, Heidi! I've worked at a few non-profits where I had to "repurpose" my predecessor's business cards by putting a sticker with my name over their name. I never thought about the message that this practice sent, though it must have looked pretty shabby to the people receiving them. Great things to remember when making that first impression with a business card. Thanks, as always!

  • Blackspaniel1 profile image

    Blackspaniel1 2 years ago

    I suppose you would really reject my idea of having no business card. You are right about things not being uniform. Some things have to fit in with the norm.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Another excellent tutorial and a funny one as a bonus. I have no doubt you were telling the truth. I've seen some doozies over the years. Makes you wonder how anyone succeeds in business.

    Have a great work week, my friend.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi ArtDiva! Oh my... as a designer, I'm sure you could add a whole bunch more "fun" examples. :) I've been there, too, with some folks who are in love with their truly horrible art and marketing messages. Plus, they usually don't understand graphic design and print realities ("It looks good on the screen."). Thanks for chiming in on the conversation. Have a lovely week ahead!

  • profile image

    ArtDiva 2 years ago

    This article made me laugh out loud. No, you are not making up examples. As a designer, can't begin to tell you how often clients want to "load" up their cards with bad art, bad photos, bad copy, and bad taglines. A recent client, getting a freebee, feelings hurt because I "cleaned up" his badly hand drawn art, his image. Good read, Heidi.