As an ongoing experiment, I’ve spent the last year without business cards to see whether I truly needed them or not. I work in digital marketing, which means most of my work and communication happens online, not on the phone.
And since nearly everyone in the digital marketing world knows how to get in touch with each other — we just follow each other on Twitter via our smartphones as we’re standing right there — we didn’t need to exchange little pieces of pasteboard. Or we had already been following each other online for months, and were just now meeting for the first time.
I rarely keep business cards myself (once a person’s name is in my Google Contacts, I don’t need the card). So I’ve often wondered if I could function without them.
No. No, I cannot.
While I do communicate with new people mostly online, more and more I’m meeting people who aren’t online as often as I am, and as such, don’t communicate beyond the occasional email.
When I met someone who asked for a business card, I made the excuse that I was out at the moment, but if they gave me their card, I would follow up with them.
While I always followed up within 48 hours, I began to realize that having a card would have helped with my networking. Rather than taking on the responsibility for following up with the other party, I could have let them contact me when it was convenient for them.
The final straw came when I found myself at an event with higher level executives who are rarely online, and my “I’m a big deal on Twitter” attitude wasn’t going to cut it.
So I decided to end my experiment and create some new cards. New look, new design, up-to-date information.
Turns Out You Always Need Business Cards
My big mistake was counting on the fact that other people thought about business cards the way I did — that they were unnecessary and a waste of time. But realized I was missing out on a couple of important opportunities:
- Out of sight, out of mind. I would often forget who I met until I saw their card again at follow up time. I’m sure that worked both ways.
- The difference between a freelancer and a business owner is a business card. I sometimes caught a vibe from people that I didn’t own a real business, since I didn’t have a card.
- A card is always working for you. I don’t really buy that whole “your ad is always working 24/7″ claim that magazine ad salespeople make. Rather I know I’ve looked up many people I’ve met via their business card because I kept it. There was always some little element — company name, logo, even the color — nagging the back of my brain, reminding me who they were. When I found the remembered element, I found the person.
- I couldn’t register for free lunches or free pounds of coffee. (Okay, that’s not nearly as important, but my wife won lunch at a nice Italian restaurant twice in three months, so why miss out on the chance?)
Even if you’re between jobs, you need a business card. Put the title of the job you want or last had. Make up a job title and call yourself a freelancer. Or, actually become a freelancer. It helps people find you later on when you network with them.
But, take it from my one year experiment, you need a business card, no matter what you do. Even if you don’t need one for your regular job, you should have one for your personal use. You never know when you might need it.
Especially if you want to win a free lunch.
Erik Deckers is the owner of Professional Blog Service, and the co-author of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing.