Going to a networking event armed with a set of brand new business cards and handing them out may seem very straightforward – and in some cases, it is. But there are some unwritten rules when it comes to exchanging business cards. Unfortunately, business card etiquette is often trivialized or just completely ignored by many which can often lead to missed opportunities.
Keep reading to see a list of the most crucial business card rules which you should be following (and some country-specific rules at the end).
Common Business Card Etiquette
1. Don’t Get Caught Empty-Handed
This is probably the single most important business card etiquette tip to remember as it alone dictates whether everything will go accordingly or not.
Forgetting to bring your business cards is a mistake that you should never do as it leads to some very awkward and disastrous moments. For example, imagine saying “I forgot them at the office” when a client asks for a business card – total failure. Worst yet, imagine reaching for your business cards then realizing you forgot them. How would that look in front of your client? Definitely not good.
Aside from this, always having your business cards with you would benefit not only you but your potential clients. It would make communication a lot smoother and will do away with any unnecessary back and forth.
2. Handle with Care
Business cards should always be kept in pristine condition as they are a direct reflection of their owner. Handing out clean and well-kept business cards to potential clients helps create a positive image of not just the person, but also the company they represent. In addition to this, it shows that the owner of the business card is tidy and responsible which will help in having any client trust them.
If nothing else, no one would want to disappoint their clients by handing them a business card in poor condition. Keeping them in a container specifically designed for business cards away from moisture or heat is always a good idea.
Another important thing to remember is to avoid writing on any business card unless completely necessary (unless they are appointment cards). And if you must write on a business card, it is best to do so away from your client and not in front of them. It can be viewed as unprofessional and maybe even be taken as an insult.
3. Always Have Them at The Ready
Having your business cards with you at all times is just the first step. Keeping them in “strategic” places on yourself goes above and beyond that.
Always keep your business cards in places that are easy to access and require minimal effort to bring out. These include jacket breast/chest pockets, shirt pockets, briefcases, handbags/purses, etc. Basically, the goal is to save time for you and your (potential) client and to eliminate any unnecessary actions.
Not only that, but it also makes the owner of the business card appear well-prepared and professional. It can even make men appear suave or women elegant in front of their clients. This will no doubt impress just about anyone and will leave a great impression. Who wouldn’t want that?
4. Be Picky When Handing Them Out
Although business cards are made to be handed out, that doesn’t mean they should be blindly given to just anybody. Unlike fliers that are made to be given out to everybody, business cards require a more selective approach. The main goal for handing out business cards is to get guaranteed opportunities whether directly or indirectly.
It’s important to keep in mind that any well-made business card is an investment and is therefore not “cheap”. This means that haphazardly giving them out may cost more than originally intended and can give a client the wrong idea (that the card and their time are not worth much). However, if it is given to the right person, it can easily turn that initial investment into profit while also making that person feel valued. Thus, being smart with the distribution of business cards is essential. Think of your ROI.
5. Always Face Up
When handing out business cards, the side with text should always be facing up. This makes it easier for the client to take the card and look at it without having to flip it over first. Not only that, it shows them that they are indeed being handed a business card and not just some piece of cardboard.
Furthermore, presenting a business card face up is also a sign of respect and will be greatly appreciated by the client.
6. When to Ask and When to Give
Business cards were created to be handed out to (potential) clients as a way of establishing a line of communication. However, one cannot simply just give business cards without a care in the world. There are certain “procedures” that need to be followed for the exchange to go smoothly.
A business card should not be imposed on anybody. This may send the wrong message to your potential client and could lead them to think that you’re pushy. Any business card must be given in a manner that is comfortable for both parties. So, if a client shows interest in the service offered, then handing them a business card is only natural.
Next, avoid asking for a person’s business card, at least not initially. Most of the time, any person who advertises their services will provide a business card. But there are cases when they forget to give their business card, this makes asking for one the right move.
And of course, under no circumstance should anyone ask for a business card from a superior or a colleague with whom one works closely. This may come as an insult as one should know who they are and how to contact them even without the business card.
7. Let Them Know Why You’re Giving Them the Business Card
It is important to clarify why business cards are being given to avoid any confusion and misinterpretation. This also expounds on the previous point about not imposing them on any person. By letting them know why they are being handed a business card, it helps disperse any feeling of obligation when receiving it.
Of course, this is just one part of the equation. The next part is how to go about telling them. Lines like “if you ever need our services, please feel free to contact us” can help ease a potential client of any discomfort they may feel about the exchange. It also places them in a position of power, so to speak. It gives them the choice of using your services which is something any client would feel great about.
8. Don’t Just Take It, Read It
Upon receiving a business card, it’s polite to give it a “quick” look. This simple act shows that you’re placing importance on the business card which can greatly impact any and all future interactions. No one wants to see something they offer given the “whatever” treatment. That would be discouraging and downright insulting.
It is also a good idea to notice elements of the business card and compliment them. These business cards were created with much time and effort, and noticing even the smallest details can be a reward in itself. And who knows, this small gesture may even start a great relationship between both parties which is always favorable.
The Not-So-Common Etiquette (Per Country)
Now that the common business card etiquette has been covered, it’s time to go to more country-specific etiquette that everyone should be aware of. Most of the things discussed above still apply but some of them might be different depending on which country is involved.
Normally, a business card is handed directly to the intended person. However, in the case of France, it is to be handed to their receptionist (or secretary) before the official meeting. This is to facilitate a smoother exchange between individuals and to ensure that the business card is received accordingly later on. In addition to this, try to stick to (strictly) business and be professional at all times. Being very detailed in your discussions is also ideal.
In Russia, including a Russian translation is very advantageous. It gives the impression that one is eager to work with their client. Also, it is important to keep in mind that Russians are quite formal when it comes to business so it would be best to lean towards formality in most cases. They prefer to be very direct when it comes to communication, so be prepared.
Informal business card exchanges are fairly common in the UK. So generally, you don’t need to worry about any preset rituals. Furthermore, one can keep a received business card in a pocket without being seen as unprofessional. However, do take note that business cards are rarely used in personal situations and should only be given out for business purposes.
Business card exchanges are usually done upon initial meet without considering any formal rituals. They are also mainly handed out for business purposes and nothing else, so keep that in mind. As a side note, not being given a business card may simply mean that one does not have one. Also, Australians are quite direct and straight to the point when it comes to business, so for them to not study a business card should not be taken as an insult.
Having a Portuguese translation for a business card becomes very handy as it will be much appreciated by any Brazilian client. It is also important to keep in mind that they will more likely stand close to you and be inclined to use physical contact when in discussion. This is their way of building trust and closeness.
United States of America
It is common to have informal business card exchanges in the USA similar to the UK. This usually starts off with some small talk before focusing on business. It is important to remember that the pace at which the exchange occurs will differ depending on what state it takes place. Generally, time is valuable in busy cities so being direct is often preferred.
Formality is quite important when exchanging business cards with Chinese. Both giving and receiving a business card should be done with both hands. The cards should also always be in pristine condition which is viewed as a sign of respect. Unlike other countries, it’s best to present your card first before asking for a client’s card. Once received, it is a common courtesy to study a card for a moment before putting it away.
Japan probably has the most formal (and respectful) business card exchanges of any country. Bowing is the most common greeting and there are cases when it is also part of a business card exchange. Giving and receiving a card is done with both hands, and the card should be in excellent condition. It is also important to note that business card exchanges are an essential part of Japanese business etiquette. It is part of all other social interactions including personal ones.
Including a Hindi translation for one’s business card is always welcome in India, but not necessary. The handing of a business card is always done with one’s right hand due to a cultural view of one’s left hand being seen as unclean. In fact, this is true when handing out anything so always keep that in mind. In addition to this, the word “no” is seen as impolite. Thus, it is common to see or hear someone being unsure of something.
United Arab Emirates
Business cards are always exchanged with one’s right hand for both giving and receiving. Using one’s left hand is seen as disrespectful so avoid doing so. It is also best to have an Arabic translation for your business cards. Also, don’t get offended if they answer calls or text during the exchange as this normal.
It’s easy to dismiss business card etiquette as being “non-essential”. Many may even completely forego it in favor of other steps and procedures. However, it is always wise to practice them despite how simple and obvious they may be. Every step, regardless of how small, can greatly contribute to creating and establishing a great business relationship.
Furthermore, great first impressions can often dictate whether a business proposal will succeed or not. It also shows that one values not only their clients and their practices but also themselves as well as who and what they represent. That gives any potential client the assurance that they are in good hands.