What to write to make your business card sing

A few weeks ago I wrote about the braided career. The idea is that in order to create stability in a world where career change is frequent and job security is non-existent, you need to be managing three things at all times: your personal life, what you are doing for work now, and what you might want to do next. These things are intertwined, and make for an interesting, stable, but complicated life. If you consciously braid then you keep things in order.

But how do you translate that to a business card? What do you call yourself?

The answer is that your business card should directly reflect the story you are telling about yourself in the moment. And in fact, the issue of what to put on your business card is actually a very fundamental question.

The best way to get a clear sense of who you are is not to philosophize with your head in the clouds, but rather, to describe yourself in sentences. Sometimes this means writing a lot, sometimes this means talking a lot. This is why keeping a diary keeps some people feeling centered and talk therapy keeps other people centered. It’s also why when you are working on your elevator pitch about yourself, you get better and better with practice, because you understand yourself better each time you talk about yourself.

When you meet someone new, and they ask you “what do you do?” Blogger Pam Slim gives a great answer: She says to answer what you want to be doing. That is, you are under no obligation to tell people your day job. And you don’t need to confess that you want to be a designer but the only thing you’ve designed is the web page that says you’re a designer. Everyone starts somewhere. Bill Gates sold his first computer before he had manufactured one. He did that by saying that he does it and then someone hired him to do it. This is fair play – even expected play – in business.

So you need a business card that says what you want to be doing, if you are ready to start doing it. If you are doing two things and they are related, like designer and illustrator, you can put a slash on the card. If you are doing things that are unrelated, like designer and travel agent, then have two separate cards. This way, when someone is going on a trip, you can give them the travel agent card. If designer is also on the card then it looks like you are less focused on travel, whether or not it’s true, so leave it off. In this sense the card is like a resume – it’s not your life story; just put on the card what you want to get hired to do.

You can do fine with a very basic business card, and there are plenty of places to order these online. But here is a site with really incredible business cards, that I spent way too much time looking at. (Thanks, Marina.) But before you go there, a word of caution: The wrong font can ruin your image in one second. So don’t get fancy unless you know how.

And hey, if you still have a corporate day job as well, don’t forget to carry around cards for that, too – until you can quit.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, No image, Promoting yourself
20 comments on “What to write to make your business card sing
  1. Erin says:

    I spent hours on that site, too. Makes me wish I was one of those designer/illustrators you reference in your post.

    While I’m not in complete agreement about the braided career, I do agree — and like — the idea you’ve mentioned here.

    I’m not working my dream job yet, but I will be. Now if only I could find someone in need of a chief creative officer…

  2. michael holley smith says:

    The problem is, nobody is interested in your business card until they know you. To know you, they need the introduction of another (larger) business card: a bioblog, whose raised lettering is hidden in the subliminal signs of your potential.

  3. Quasar9 says:

    Hi Penelope, great advice
    Of course you don’t quite need a card if you are a barista or work for starbucks …
    so many places now give you a corporate chemilaco (from chemise-lacoste); Fred Perry sports wear still around? I guess now days it’ll be chemilanike – you know just do it.

    But definitely, if driving a taxi or sorting the mail is just your job between jobs, there is nothing wrong about talking yourself up – after all life is about where you are headed or going to. After all, ‘now’ is just a memory to be treasured or trashed in the memory bin, depending on how we remember the moment.

    You’ll be surprised how many people fail to realise that, parents or teachers who do not encourage the skills and talents of students.
    However rarely can one be accused of over – boosting the confidence of others, those who have been encoraged will always reach higher.
    Of course some parents can set the bar too high for their offspring (but that is because they are trying to fulfill their expectations rather than those of their offspring).

  4. Frank Fullard says:

    Perhaps you should also look beyond the business card. There are two good reasons for this. Firstly, a half century ago it took the best part of a lifetime for technology to make a job obsolete. It can happen now in 4 or 5 years, sometimes less. The result is that today the average length of a job is 3.2 years. The second reason is that jobs are being lost at an unprecedented rate. However, at the same time, new jobs are also being created at an unprecedented rate. The essential difference is that most of the job losses are from large businesses, while most of the new jobs are being created in smaller businesses.
    The growing reality is that, at some stage, the vast majority of us will work in a small business. It just might be better to do so as the boss rather than the employee! So the next time you redesign your business card, think about putting the word: Entrepreneur somewhere in there.

  5. Chuck Westbrook says:

    When I give someone a card with “I Hate Your Job” on it in big black letters, I mostly want them to laugh and remember me right then and there for that moment. Then when they find it again in their wallet or purse, they’ll probably go to my site just to see what I’m about.

    Granted, that’s not my main gig right now, but it’s the one that gets the most attention and gets me remembered.

    I forget where I read it, but I recall an author saying that he uses business cards that are twice as tall as standard ones. This allows people to use the extra space for notes (the primary purpose of business cards anyway, according to him).

    That’s my two cents!

    -Chuck

  6. Brad Maier says:

    It’d be interesting to see what has the biggest impact on making a business card memorable: unique colors and writing or dimensions/shapes that are slightly different than the “traditional” business card.

    I know in the stack of cards I have on my desk from contacts, the ones that are different sizes are the ones I remember. No matter the color or writing the cards that are the “traditional” size don’t stand out, in fact they kind of run together and get lost in the pile.

  7. Keith Porterfield says:

    I once had a business card that simply said, “CMC Social Events” and had my cell phone number on it. I still have quite a FEW of them in a box somewhere. I will admit I became a little too creative about what I’d like to be doing when I had a FEW too many drinks! I also met my ex-wife with one of those cards…anyway, I digress.

    I agree with the concept of presenting yourself in terms of who you want to be. I started consuming material on the art of Salesnamship a year or so ago. I tailored my Resume to portary this “GIFT” and !wala!…I’m an independent salesman. Who knows if it is a life long gig? I just wanted to jump in and see. I now set my own schedule and control my own income.

    What more I can ask for is now 2-3 years down the road.

    Great post as usual Penelope! You’re one of my BLOGIDOLS.

  8. Greg says:

    “…answer what you want to be doing.”
    Beyond business cards and elevator pitches, go out and get experience! Do you want to be a web designer? Find some local non-profits that spend all their money on their mission and do it for free. The same goes with CEO, CFO, interior designer, cook, etc. There are many organizations that would welcome help (as well as provide a real reference). In addition to real-world experience, it clearly communicates to potential employers good citizenship and involvement in the community.

  9. deannie says:

    I am surprised you didn’t mention this website for business card fodder: http://gapingvoid.streetcards.com/.

    Hugh MacLeod is pure genius.

  10. Helen says:

    I agree with Micheal. Most people don’t care about the things we put in business cards. They are more concerned with the real you which they want to observe.

  11. Fran says:

    I agree that it will make an impact to most people. We can’t avoid that there are people who don’t appreciate little things. We’ll just have to deal with them through other means.

  12. Persuasion says:

    My cards always had the banner “Make Life Magic” on it.

    And a telephone number.

    Sometimes I just leave it on a desk or a restaurant and a curious fellow picks it up and calls out of curiosity.

    I retails self-help products and this had given me great leads!

  13. Bryon says:

    You mentioned that:

    you need a business card that says what you want to be doing

    I agree whole heartedly, especially if your line of work falls into anything that could be considered “freelance”

    More than just telling people what you do, I think that the design of the card can tell your contacts what kind of person you are and what kind of business you represent. Conservative design with official titles inspire the vision of an industry stalwart. Whimsical designs and content are better suited for the up-and-coming business that wants to get noticed.

    One of the best “out-there” designs that I’ve seen is the Growing Business Card that actually sprouts an alfalfa plant.

    -Bryon

  14. Dave says:

    The visual aspects of business cards are very important as well. Like Bryon stated, the design of your card can tell individuals what kind of person you are. People in the business world usually are better off with high quality business cards that don’t have a lot of color to them. Using high quality paper and raised printing will enhance the card. If you are designer or something of that nature, a full-color business card is a good choice. If you’re a designer and you don’t have a “cool” or “colorful” looking business card people will unconsciously view you as being poor at your profession (this might sound extreme, but its true).

  15. Kathy Mead says:

    hey, i don’t know if it really work? Can it attract more sight?

  16. Craig says:

    Great article. Other people describe the braiding thing as “slashing.” The art of having multiple vocations.

    See the heymarci.com blog and one of her posts on slashing here:

    http://heymarci.com/2009/01/06/thoughts-on-slashing-from-aristotle/

    Good stuff, all around.

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