At a recent writing group meeting, one of the members asked me, “Do I need to get business cards?” It’s a good question, and it deserves a good answer. And that answer is not, necessarily, “Yes.”
The first question to ask ourselves is, “Do I want business cards?” If the answer is, “Yes,” then my answer is, “Then go get them.” If we really want them, then why not get them? That would imply there’s something wrong with having them, or a worry that we might not be important enough to have them. That’s nothing to be concerned with, because there’s nothing bad that will happen if we have a business card. There are no Business Card Police that will come and arrest we if we have one.
The next question to ask ourselves is, “Why do I want business cards?” What do we want to use them for? This leads to a philosophical question, what is a business card to be used for? It’s something we can give to others so they can contact us. The minimum we’d have on a card is our name and either a phone number or an email address, or maybe just a website. But it’s unlikely we’d give someone a card with no way to contact us and just a pretty picture and a quote (though if that’s what we want on our cards, then go for it).
Once we know why we want them, for networking or to promote ourselves, the next question is easier: “What do I want on my business cards?” Here are the obvious ones:
1. Our name
2. How to contact us (be it a phone or an email address)
Here’s the less obvious string attached to those two questions: do we want to protect our “real” identity and use a pen name? If we want to protect our identity and don’t yet want to do the work required to launch a pen name, then it’s perfectly permissible to put only our first name on the card. Be prepared for folks to be curious, but all we need to tell them is “This is what I’m comfortable sharing on a business card right now.” Most folks will accept that answer. Using whatever name they were given when they met us will lessen confusion. If we go by “Bob,” then using our internet handle of “Wicked Dog 41” will confuse people. Putting “Bob” and then “wickeddog41@yahoo” works, but make sure that folks can figure out who the heck gave them the card. Otherwise, it loses its effectiveness as a way for them to contact us – which is the whole point of the card to begin with.
The less obvious question is a little trickier: “What else do I want on my business cards?” These can include:
1. Our website, if we have one
2. Our blog(s)
3. Our Facebook or Facebook page (if we do this, get a unique username and use that instead of the alphabet soup Facebook uses in the beginning)
4. Our Twitter name or names
5. Our LinkedIn profile
6. Any other online presence that we’re part of
7. A description of who we are an what we do; for example, “Writer,” “Author,” “Creative Designer,” “Web Programmer,” etc.
8. Some folks I’ve seen use #7 as an opportunity to put something funny or offbeat, such as “Cat Wrangler” or, simply, “Geek.” If that fits with the image we’re trying to project, then by all means, put that too.
The next question is, “What happens if I have these cool cards and then change my mind about what’s on them?” No problem. We can print up just a few cards, if we decide to do them ourselves with templates from Avery or another similar provider; we can also get cards from somewhere like Vista Print and that’s only 250. Worst case scenario, they go into a drawer or we get creative about changing them (handwriting the changes or even printing up labels to paste over the parts that have changed).
And the big question: “What if I’m not published yet? Can I still have cards?” Of COURSE we can. What’s the purpose of a business card? So people can contact us. We will make friends and connections on the journey to being published, and presumably, those folks would like to continue to contact us. Giving them a way to do so just makes good sense socially – otherwise we have to handwrite it, and maybe on the back of one of THEIR cards (how embarrassing, no?) Plus, if our handwriting is out of practice because of all the internet usage and typing that we do these days, it’s probably safer to give them a nicely-prepared card rather than an illegible scrawl.
There’s no reason not to get ourselves business cards and, with a little thought, we can have fun and create a card that reflects ourselves and becomes part of the entire presentation of ourselves. Like resumes, clothing, websites, and blogs, they are simply a reflection of ourselves to the world. The more thought we put into how we want to do that, the better.
So, the next logical question, now that we’ve cleared out the “why’s,” is “How do we get business cards?” The next thing to decide is, “Do we want to do them ourselves, or buy them?” We’ll take them one at a time.
If we want to make them ourselves, we can use Microsoft Word or a similar program, or something like Adobe InDesign. I’m going to make the assumption that Word is the software most of us have available, so I’ll explain how to use it. Inside Word, there are templates for Labels; inside that list are a number of pre-made templates for popular business card manufacturers. The ones I use are Avery; 3M and other manufacturers have them as well. Under older versions of word, go to the “Tools” menu to get to the label function; under the new version go to the “Mailings” tab and click on Labels.
The labels you purchase will have a number associated with them; find that number in the list and select it. Create a new document and edit it from there. We can add graphics or fancy type if we want to; however, remember that it’s more important that it’s legible than fancy. If we use a fancy font for the name, then make sure we use a simple font for the email addresses, phone numbers, etc. Make sure the person to whom we give the card can easily get a hold of us.
If we prefer to buy cards, a great place to start is Vistaprint. If we keep our eyes peeled, Vistaprint runs regular specials for 250 cards for free. They offer a number of color schemes and graphics. There’s less flexibility than doing your own designs, but they offer a good way of designing the cards and coming up with a quality product. If we choose to, we can also load up our own graphics instead of using the free templates; doing that will cost a little more can simplify the process.
Whatever we ultimately decide, remember that all of this is to support our writing process. As we make contacts in the industry, and make new friends, business cards can help us build our network. The more thought we put into that, the better off we are. Don’t be afraid to experiment and change cards as time goes on. Nothing is set in stone; it’s okay to have trial runs. After all, the card is simply a tool to facilitate communication.