Business Cards: 5 Smart Tricks

Last Updated Apr 15, 2011 4:12 PM EDT

What does your business card say about you? It should be an extension of your professional image -- not something that says, "I got this bargain on Vistaprint." Whether you get your cards from your employer or design your own to represent your small business, your cards speak for you long after a face-to-face conversation has ended.

Yet author and 27-year Allstate veteran Don Hurzeler contends that business cards are one of the most underutilized career tools people have available to them. Many people don't ask a new contact for one because they feel presumptuous doing so. Others collect cards, then dump them into an unorganized desk drawer - essentially throwing them into the trash. Big mistake, says Hurzeler: "I have every business card ever handed to me. A contact is a contact and it is impossible to tell up front which ones will become the most important to you," says Hurzeler, whose new book, The Way Up: How to Keep Your Career Moving in the Right Direction, hits bookstores March 1.

Here are his five tips for making sure your business cards - and your contacts' cards - are doing their job for you:

1. Define Your Brand
As much as your sharp suit or charming conversation, your business card is an instant way to convey your brand to someone you've just met. "This is no place to go cheap. They are really inexpensive to have printed professionally," says Hurzeler. Start with good heavy card stock, make sure there isn't any odd advertising on the back - and check that your design elements will scan easily. "I have loads of cards from people with cool-looking designs that my scanning software thinks is some kind of secret code. It makes it unreadable," says Hurzeler.

2. Don't Be Indiscriminate
There's no need to be stingy with your cards, but do avoid aggressively shoving them in the face of every person you meet. If you make a connection and have any desire to stay in touch, say goodbye with it. Just make sure your new friend knows you're not a networking numbers guy: "If I am meeting someone for the first time, I might say, 'I don't usually bother people with my contact information, but I would like to stay in touch with you,'" says Hurzeler.

3. Follow Up
Already handing them out like they're the new hot ticket in town? Great - but now, start attaching cards to important emails and in packages with corporate holiday gifts or cards, says Hurzeler. Also send around your new card every time you change jobs, using the VCF file format so your contacts can automatically update their files.

4. Upgrade Your Card Storage
Speaking of your contacts: You have a BlackBerry that is glued to your hand from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and an iPad for the other 12 hours. So why the heck are you using a clunky plastic Rolodex to store your (likely outdated) contacts? Jump into the 21st century with an electronic model like the Cardscan Executive v8, which scans up to 40 cards a minute and is compatible with Outlook, Palm and Windows. If the thought of scanning cards seems as overwhelming as making a one-man mission to the moon, at least keep your old-school Rolodex up to date: "It doesn't matter how you keep them ... it only matters that you do keep them," says Hurzeler.

5. Pack Your Contacts' Cards
Of course, if you've taken our advice and uploaded your business cards to your smartphone, you're already good to go. But otherwise, make sure that you pack your Cleveland-area contacts when you're planning to be in Cleveland -- and put them in your carry-on bag, so they don't go missing. "If I am traveling to an area that is not well known to me, I look up my contacts, find someone in that area and reconnect with them. I'll ask for a restaurant recommendation, about a local attraction or arrange to meet them for an adult beverage," says Hurzeler. This is networking done in the most natural -- and effective -- way.

What makes your business card effective? Please sign in below and share your recommendations. And for more, follow @MWOnTheJob on Twitter.
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    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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