Business Card Etiquette: What to Know
Author: Nick Kakolowski
Similar to many other forms of etiquette, proper manners when dealing with business cards are common sense at their core. However, these common sense responses surprisingly need to be learned by a good amount of the public. Very few individuals have the natural aptitude to follow rules of etiquette without being told what they are, and most of us wallow in a bit of helpless ignorance until somebody comes along and shows us the light. In order to conduct yourself in a professional manner, a quick rundown of proper business card protocol may help.
For many, a typical caricature of the networking businessperson is somebody who goes to a party, and walks around handing out business cards to everybody: friends, relatives and even complete strangers. Individuals who fit this description hurt the reputation of those who use business cards well. In order to avoid reminding any potential customers of an exaggerated stereotype, one must follow the rules of etiquette impeccably. There are a few sure fire ways to have success, and avoid creating social awkwardness which can hurt business relationships.
Most importantly, avoid giving out a business card to an individual unless you know that he or she wants one. Do not simply meet somebody, then as part of the introduction give them a card. It gives the appearance of shameless self promotion and in a society where people are so frequently in competition, one needs to be more subtle. Gradually drive the conversation in the direction of work, or get into conversations about businesses and see if your acquaintance asks if you have a card. You can give a card away tactfully if someone does not ask, but it must be accomplished with great care, and only if the conversation is about business and the recipient seems interested. It is a waste of your time and money, and the time and money of the person you give the card to if you hand out a card that is unwanted. It will simply be thrown away.
Since it can be acceptable to give out a business card at just about any moment, it is important to have presentable cards on hand at all times. Never hand out a damaged card. If it is torn, wrinkled, stained or even bent you are better of throwing it away yourself rather than looking unprofessional and having a potential customer throw it away for you. Make sure that the information is up to date on all cards. Do not bother handing out cards with numbers crossed off and rewritten, or new website addresses. Just have new cards printed, it is more professional.
It can be very easy to get into a good conversation with an individual and eventually exchange cards. Not only is it important to have a quality card available, it is important to know how to receive a card well. Never just take the card and shuffle it away to a wallet or bag. First off, take some time to look at the card, check that you can pronounce the name correctly, make a few observations about the card, do whatever you need to do to express genuine interest in the item you have just been given. This is absolutely crucial. Exchanging business cards with another person is almost like an agreement to watch out for each other to a certain degree, and if you give the appearance that the other person's card is simply an afterthought, then your card will become an afterthought as well.
Also, make sure you have a good place to put the card. A non-professional storage location will make the person who is giving you the card think that you are just tossing it aside. Put it in a briefcase, date book or business card holder, not just your pocket.
Another major rule of good business card etiquette is to take advantage of opportunities to advertise for free. Since it can be tricky to give your business card out under social circumstances, it is imperative that you place your cards in places where people will see them. Many restaurants and local businesses will have bulletin boards near the entrance. Putting a card on these will allow for significant visibility, without any potential for offense. Indeed, people will take the time to read your card just to pass the time as they wait in line to be served, and you will make contacts effortlessly.
Do not fall into the temptation of abusing free ways to give your card away. Do not include a card in notes or letters of a non-professional nature; very simply, it is poor taste to send somebody a get well soon card that has your professional assets attached to it. A business card will often put the focus on you, which in advertising is what you want, but when you are doing something for another person, looking for personal gain can be viewed negatively. It may be easy, it may be free but it can affect your endeavors negatively.
Along the same lines, do not hand out multiple business cards to one person unless they have asked for more than one. This gives them the impression that you expect them to make contacts for you, and really, that is asking a lot.
Good business card etiquette is within your grasp. Many common mistakes can be easily fixed and avoided completely with a bit of forethought and knowledge of the rules. Proper manners will help to ensure a good reputation for your company, and only serve to further your aims in advertising. Doing the little things right is crucial to the success of any company, and details like etiquette are too often overlooked, be sure not to make the mistake for yourself.
About the author: Nick Kakolowski is a freelance writer who writes about business and networking, often describing is specific aspect of networking such as business cards.
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