Are Business Cards Dead?


My dear friend Steve (who is 70), called me from a hospital he got admitted to and said: "I asked the doctor for a business card, he said, he doesn’t use any! Can you believe it?! He said - Just put my number in your phone. Isn’t that funny?!” - I could picture Steve’s eyes widening from amazement and a hint of disapproval.  

My response: “Steve, you know what’s funny-er? I’m writing an article called- Are Business Cards Dead? as we speak”. Steve chuckled. He patiently explained how “impersonal” just putting someone's number in your phone is without handing them something tangible. I told him: "I understand". 

 And I do. 

 A few days before this conversation, in a Facebook post I said: "Business cards are dead”. I got quite a few e-glares. May be I'm getting them right now too, while you read. 

Some said I was “wrong.” Some expressed surprise in not finding the usual inspirational message on my wall. Someone debated: "how else can I pass out my info?!” My instant offline eye-roll suggested: “ Umm, you shouldn’t just “pass out” your info! And, do you remember vinyl records and rotary phones? Business cards were invented 600 years before that. We have iPhones now. You're holding one in your hand, right now!” 

 I e-bit my tongue. 

 I am not here to convince you against business cards. I get that business cards are a quick way to exchange information, promote ourselves and our business. We use them as an advertising tool. Some people may even think you’re unprofessional or unprepared if you don’t have a business card. 

I just think there are more effective ways to direct market, promote ourselves, and create genuine connections.  

 First, let me tell you how business cards were conceived. 

 If you think business cards were invented in the 80s, I won’t hold that against you. They actually date back to 15th century China. They were called “visiting cards.” Visiting Cards were used by the upper class to announce an intention of meeting someone. Visiting Cards were also presented at the door of elite establishments. The owner then could decide if the meeting would even take place. Visiting Cards were used as self promotion tools and to forge introductions. 

 In the 17th century, business cards became even more popular. One’s success or failure in society truly depended on how well he promoted himself. Gentlemen even used “calling cards” to call on a lady. His card would have to first make it through her servant. The servant would present the card to the lady. If the gentleman received no acknowledgement of his card, it meant there would be no “Netflix n’ chill.” Kind of reminds me of middle school (minus the servant, and "Netflix n'chill"). 

 Later in the 17th century London, merchants began to use “trade cards.” Trade cards informed customers of the business' location and services offered. These cards were also used to make trades. A signed card would be considered a legally binding contract. 

The earliest business cards were made using wood-cut and letter press techniques. In the 18th century, copperplate and color became a new standard. 

After the industrial revolution, "trade cards” and “visiting cards” merged. The cards started being used on all occasions, by everyone. 

 Now that you have a little history, think with me. And "thinking” suggests having an open mind. Emily Post is famous for bringing the idea of etiquette to America in 1922. Remember that word, “etiquette”? In her book The Etiquette Advantage In Business, Post wrote: "Once you’ve had your business cards printed, put a few in each coat or suit pocket, handbag, briefcase, wallet, or card case so that you’ll have one handy when needed.” 

Pheew… I am a big fan of Emily Post. I read her Etiquette in Georgian at 12 years old. But girl, let's update that etiquette!And I don’t mean just replacing a briefcase with an iPad case. 

With the global tech shift and its daily mind-blowing inventions, carrying business cards just feels like a step backwards to me. Our phones can hold entire libraries, teach us Mandarin and replace a leveling tool; but we need business cards to exchange our phone numbers and websites?  

Seems that we still carry with us the industrialism-ingrained thinking. We feel we won’t be perceived professional and prepared minus a card with our name on it. As a business coach, I often hear new business owners or aspiring entrepreneurs say that their business cards haven’t yet arrived. I used to be that entrepreneur.  

I thought my business depended on how elaborate and prestigious my business cards looked and felt. I even considered ordering metal cards, for $8 a pop! I spent a whole month looking for the right printer and the right design for brass finish engraved cards that could have blinded someone from 100 feet away. I don’t know what stopped me. Maybe I decided I didn’t want to blind people. Maybe I spent $800 on shoes instead (and that's a separate blog post). 

Having business cards makes you a professional just as much as a brand new jersey with your name on it makes you a baseball player.  

 So, we the uncoachables, finally get our business cards and go networking. And today's networking often goes something like this: 

You finally “step out of your comfort zone” and drag yourself to a networking event. Before one of the attendees even shakes your hand, you get handed a - guess what - a business card! Naturally, you look down at the card, while the person in front of you scans you up and down, and says: “What do you do?” You blurt out a short version while they wait for the “keywords” that fit in to their agenda. You fiddle their card in your hand and politely return the question. At this time, 1 of 2 things happen: 1) they verbally vomit on you (if you used the right “keywords”), and without even letting you speak, ask: "do you have a card??" (I'm cringing right now). Or 2) they give you "the elevator speech" (yuck), and maybe a couple of forced pleasantries before they walk away, aiming at another newbie. 

 Aaand, here comes the next Card-zilla. And another one.. 

 By the end of the event you've got 20 business cards in your purse. Your energy is sucked out of you, and you don’t remember where you parked. 

 Arduous, artificial, and sleazy, if you ask me. 

I dont do the "Card-zilla" thing. I am not a "predator networker". There are ways to connect with people and grow your network without being fake or sleazy. Work is still involved, but it doesn’t have to be onerous. And it does NOT have to involve business cards.Here are few Dont's, and Dos for you. 

 Having a business card doesn’t mean you’re in business, having a customer does. Customers are created from genuine conversations and inherent authenticity in all you do. People have to like you and trust you. Then, maybe they will they do business with you. All of that has nothing to do with a 2"x3" piece of stock paper (or engraved brass metal in my case). 

Don’t be a Card-zilla. You can certainly grow your network and business through networking events. Just remember: It’s not about how many cards you get and give out, it’s all about creating genuine connections. One “real" conversation will get you further than a hundred cards you pass out or collect. 

Don’t talk business; just connect. Be curious about the person you’re meeting, and ask about their business later. If you only care about their business, why should they care about you? And if they don’t care - they don’t buy. Be interested, and only then you’ll become interesting, card or no card. 

Card or crutch? Sometimes we rely on our business cards to do the talking, explaining and selling. It doesn’t work. Even the most impressive branding won’t matter if you’re an ineffective communicator. Don’t use your card as a crutch. Work on your communication skills. You must sell YOU first before you sell a service or a product. And nothing sells better than your energy, enthusiasm and genuine interest in another person. 

Slow it down. The quicker you pass out cards, the less meaningful your connections. Take time to get to know people. Learn what they like, what matters to them, and what makes them feel special. Keep them in your attention spotlight. You do this by asking questions about them, staying engaged and listening. What's a card got to do with that?! 

Personally I am a minimalist, always de-clutterring my environment (my closets, my social profiles, my laptop). To me, business cards are clutter and novelty items. I already have a mini computer in my hand 24-7. 

When I meet people I never ask for a card, just in case the person doesn’t have any. It avoids the whole uncomfortable pocket-patting thing, and their apology as to why they don't have any. I just get curious about people, find things in common with them, and look for something to praise them for. Then I ask: “how can I connect with you again?" If they hand me a card, I scan it in to my iPhone and discard.So, for you: card or no card?  

I still have a few business cards left from my days of un-coachable entrepreneurship. We’ll see if I have any left by the time You and I meet.