Yes, You Still Need Business Cards

TheStreet.com

In these days of BlackBerrys (Nasdaq: RIMM - News) and e-mail contact lists, the humble paper business card may look like a relic. Does passing them out signal you as hopelessly behind the curve?

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Not at all. In a world where so much communication happens electronically, the business card remains a valuable, tangible way to promote yourself and your company. The key is to produce cards that are memorable and informative, ones that can instantly sum up your brand in a glance.

While social media may get all the press hype, the vast majority of business interaction in this country still takes place face to face. Most business owners still interact with potential customers and partners personally at Chamber of Commerce events, the local Rotary Club or informal social gatherings.

In all those instances, exchanging business cards remains a primary way to formalize your interaction. It helps the person you've met remember your name and the name of your business -- sealing the deal, if you will. (How often have you been introduced to someone, only to forget their name within minutes?)

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In the best-case scenario, the person you meet keeps your card and adds you to their list of contacts, either by putting the card in a Rolodex or scanning it into an electronic database (the card itself will probably get tossed, but by then it has served its purpose). Either way, the card helped cement you and your business in the mind of the person you met.

Business cards may be a tried-and-true marketing device, but that's not to say they haven't changed with the times. For a look at recent trends, browse The Business Card group on Flickr or go to Cardonizer, where users have posted stylish, creative examples.

The key is to keep your cards looking up-to-date but not overcrowded. Cards these days cram ever more information into a small space -- in addition to the company name, address, phone number and email address, some people are adding their company's website, Facebook fan page link and Twitter stream. The result? A visually confusing mess.

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If you are active in social media, a better bet is to simply list your website. Then, on your site, add prominent links to social-media sites visitors can quickly access if they're interested.

The days when your color choices were limited to white or cream are also long gone. Nowadays, cards come in full color, many with photographs -- and again, that leads many businesses to overcrowd their cards with logos and pictures. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL - News) co-founder Steve Wozniak even hands out custom-designed stainless steel cards, which fall into the memorable-but-not-exactly-practical category.

While it is easier than ever to design and print your own cards online, hiring a pro is the way to go if you want to project a professional image. With many talented designers laid off from jobs at ad agencies and magazines in recent years, you'll have your choice of freelancers willing to take on this kind of project.

When designing a business card, think of it as a miniature introduction to you and your business. Do you want to present yourself as innovative and forward-thinking? Then your card should be designed with a modern font and color palette.

By contrast, a simple, two-color business card sends its own message: that you and your company are traditional and no-frills. Even so, the card should include your e-mail address and website -- modern-day business necessities. A good designer can integrate that information with your company's logo and other details to make sure the card isn't overwhelmed with type.

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Although creative types may be tempted to make their cards stand out by using nontraditional materials or shapes, make sure the finished product still fits easily into a standard wallet pocket; otherwise they're more likely to get tossed. Also, avoid glossy paper, which makes it difficult for someone to scribble a note on the back.

And remember that business cards aren't meant to be hoarded and admired in private. Get in the habit of handing them out, which is easy if you have one you want to show off.

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