R.I.P. Business Cards? How a 17th Century Invention is Still Around and Thriving

Have you used your business card lately?

There was a time when I would proudly hand out my IBM marketing representative card every time I met someone.  It was supposed to say it all: my name, my title, address, logo, and imply it all: my background, my studies, my friends, my tastes. You name it!


Not true anymore.

The last time I attended a conference, I tried something new.

I didn’t hand out my business card until I was asked to. And then, when I was

asked, I replied I’d rather connect through LinkedIn or some other electronic medium such as my smartphone.


The outcome was surprising:


  1. People would hand me their card anyway.
  2. A whole new discussion would emerge about the benefits of staying in touch by using technology such as mobile phone, applications, social media, QR code, Bump and so on.
  3. I’d learn more about who was the person in front of me in the last minutes of my conversation than in all the previous minutes.
  4. When I came home the onus was on me to follow up (which is exactly the position I want to be in) by sending out an electronic invitation to the people I had met hours or days before.


How relevant are business cards today?


So,I came back questioning myself about how relevant business cards are in today’s highly mobile, digital, and technology-oriented world.  Being an entrepreneur at heart, I wondered how this could possibly be the next BIG idea to be invented. (Yes, I heard about the killer apps such as Bump, Pingtags, contxts, CardMunch … of this world)


The paper business card market is huge.


Roger Bennett wrote an article on business cards in Bloomberg Businessweek.  He quotes Sid Viswanathan, product manager at LinkedIn:  “ CardMunch began with the pragmatic realization that the paper business card is not going away any time soon. “We understand that business cards still exist,” he says. “They’re still used out in the field when you’re attending conferences.” Viswanathan says that 10 billion business cards are printed annually — that’s more than one for every person on Earth.”

LinkedIn acquired CardMunch in January 2011, an app designed to instantly scan and store the information on a business card, creating digital contact details.

So I launched a few group discussions on LinkedIn to find out how people felt about using their business card.

The reactions were diverse and polarized:


  • “I prefer my Smartphone because it allows me to access more in depth information via LinkedIn.  It’s also less expensive and more ecological.  I can also make changes to my profile in a timely fashion and it’s less expensive than printing new cards.”


  • “Nothing can beat a real handshake and the human exchange of a business card.  I have more confidence in the people who’ve exchanged a business card with me in person.  I will call them more easily if I have a need than people who’ve sent me their business card electronically.  Maybe I’m just old fashioned!

Moo is a phenomenal success

Moo.com “enables the speedy creation of giddy, customizable cards in tiny batches, marrying rapid advances in modern printing with the explosive growth of small, entrepreneurial businesses. The company, based in London and Rhode Island, printed 50 million business cards in 2011 and expects to double that in 2012. “This is a large, profitable sector,” Moross claims. “Forty-five percent of our business is in the U.S., and we estimate our sector as a $3 billion market, which despite its size is extremely fragmented, lacking a lot of dominant players.”

I’ve tweaked two different sets of business cards for myself and they’ve been quite successful because they were highly personalized.

One set had a different Seth Godin‘s quote and a different color on every card I handed out:

The resistance will help find the thing you most need to because it is the thing the resistance most wants to stop.”

Or another:

The art of challenging the resistance is doing something when you’re not certain it’s going to work”


“It’s the perfect problems that keep us stuck”


I would actually ask my potential clients to choose the quote they liked best.  Then as you can imagine we’d have a chance to discuss about their choice and I’d find out more about who they were.


After all, isn’t this the backbone of any future relationship? Aren’t business cards about the relationship, the connecting, the self expression business?


The need for the other set of business cards came about when I started working as a volunteer with Femmessor-Montreal, an organization supporting and financing women entrepreneurs.  I actually needed to explain my two jobs, as a coach, and as a board administrator.  So I ordered beautiful stickers on MOO.com with all my information and my picture and stuck them right on the other side of my Femmessor business card.  Sounds very arts and crafts, but believe me, it works.  People notice, pay attention, and go to MOO to get the same!   I’m just happy not to have to dig in my purse for the two business cards.


Because personally there’s one thing I really dislike about business cards: having to fish into my bag for the business card holder and freeing up that hand holding the glass of wine or the « bouchée » just to hand out my card.

Has this ever happened to you?  And I know, it happens to women more often than to men.

So maybe this whole business card or no business card question is more of an issue for women than for men! Is it?


The Social Object

« Souls Need To Be Touched «   and a business card is what Hugh MacLeod from GapingVoid calls a social object:

« The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else. Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize. But if you think about it, there needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place. That reason, that “node” in the social net­work, is what we call the Social Object »

What we’re essentially doing is sharing meaning with one another.

So what’s in a business card?


Relationships. Connections. Meaning.  If that’s what you’re looking for when you do business than deciding which medium is the best, the paper card or the digital card, is really up to you and how you are more comfortable building relationships.  We’re in a world where we have lots of choices.


Personally, I’m beyond business cards.  I carry a few that I’ve custom made because some clients I meet just want a paper business card but I strive to establish the relationship first and foremost.


As long as I’ve got the permission to link with them in one way or another after our initial talk, then following up the next day with an invitation to be a contact on LinkedIn is the next step to building a relationship.


And I happen to think that with the technology available to us in this era of Social Media whether it’s a blog, a Facebook page, Twitter, LinkedIn it’s easier than ever to build meaningful relationships.

For now, electronic handshakes and the 17th century invention of the business card still go hand in hand.


Now, would you tell me how you use your business cards?  I think there is still lots to say on this topic!

Let me know!


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