• What Does Your Business Card Say?



    Attitudes to business cards differ, especially in Europe, the Americas and Asia. In Europe, for example, it is simply a point of follow-up contact. It has no other importance. In designing a business card the most important thing is to make the information clear and, if you wish, create a design that is attractive and will stand out in a pile of different business cards.

    In Asia a business card has an entirely different significance. It is a record of your network and a symbol of you and your company. As such, it deserves to be treated with respect.

    I’ve noted that some professions are not ‘business card heavy’. Teaching is one example. Most teachers don’t carry business cards. They may carry a school or training centre card when they are on public duty or a personal card if they have their own business or website to promote. Otherwise they tend to be ‘cardless’.

    Maybe this is an error. Maybe we should regard our teachers in the adult training sector as our ambassadors. Maybe we should allow them to represent their organisations with a business card if they wish.


    To me we need to consider three things in international business cards: -

    • Information

    • Design

    • Delivery

    For each market you deal with, it is worth studying the local conventions and deciding what you will do.

    INFORMATION – What will you write?

    Obviously, name, job title and company name and contact details. But do you add your personal educational qualifications? In Germany you might and in Central and Eastern Europe you probably will. It adds to your credibility. In Asia your company, department and job title may even come before your name.

    Translation is an important issue. Look at your business cards. How many are with no English on? How many of those, if you are of a different nationality, do you read? Imagine you receive a business card with just Arabic, Cyrillic, Chinese, Japanese or Korean writing on it. What will you do with it? OK. So why do we assume a business card in English will communicate what we need? The answer is if you are serious about doing business in a different market, translate your cards into their language. That is the side they will look at first.

    DESIGN – How will you say it?

    You have decided what you will say on your business card. You have decided whether to translate it. How will you design your card?

    Company logo and maybe a strap line indicating its core business is fairly obvious. However, some companies use a whole page for their company name, like my favourite local deli, La Bottega.

    Or the top half of their card, like the Apple Store in Covent Garden.

    A fashion photographer friend, uses one side of his card for a full colour picture.

    Even on the printed part, the typeface you use and even the colour of the paper you use can be important. In Italy, in higher business circles, a simple name and single point contact (email or phone) on a neat white card printed in upper and lower case black type indicates your status and your taste. In China, gold print embossed on a bright red card is symbolic of wealth and good fortune.

    Cards do more than give information. They also create impressions. It may be worth researching if your business card will create the right or wrong impression in new markets.

    DELIVERY – How will you present It?

    I’ve noticed that in Europe we tend to present cards in a meeting like dealing a hand of poker. People throw their cards on the table in the general direction of the recipient. In Asia and especially in Japan, China and Korea, this will not do. It is a ritual that is performed for each person in the group. Here are the steps.

    1 Present the card ceremoniously to each individual. Use both hands. Make sure the information faces the recipient so that he or she can read it.

    2 The card is taken with both hands and studied by the recipient.

    3 The card is then put on the table or in a cardholder. The other person presents his or her card in the same way.

    4 It is appropriate to make a polite comment on the card presenter’s company or position when you read their card. This shows respect.

    5 You may shake hands after the card has been presented. However, it is fair to say that protocol is not always clear on this point.

    6 There are two taboos. First, never write on a business card. Secondly, never fold it, snap it in your fingers or stick it in a pocket. If your company doesn’t have cardholders, buy one at the airport. In Japan it is especially respectful to put the card you have received on top of your cardholder.

    How you treat a business colleague’s business card in Asia gives respect to them and their company. It is an important way of making a good first impression. Even in countries without such a strong business card protocol, you may want to be careful. Present business cards with your right hand rather than your left, for reasons of perceived hygiene.


    Inevitably, you run out of cards or leave them at home or in the hotel or just don’t have one. What should you do? Receive the other’s card graciously. Apologise politely and promise to email them your own co-ordinates. And DON’T FORGET TO DO SO. A simple message such as:

    Dear ……

    It was a great pleasure to meet you today at ……

    I promised to send you my co-ordinates. Here they are.


    Best wishes


    This way you have observed protocol and given and maintained face with your interlocutor.


    The message? Don’t ignore getting the business card ritual right. It is an important way of making a good first impression and, as we know, FIRST IMPRESSIONS COUNT!

    You can read more about business card etiquette in the NETWORKING section of KEY BUSINESS SKILLS – International presentations, meetings, negotiations and networking, published by HARPER COLLINS in December 2012. See the FLYER in NEWS on my home page.


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