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3 Tips for Mastering Business Card Etiquette Rules

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Read Time: 5 min

One of the most important aspects of professional networking events is the exchange of business cards. Yet, many entrepreneurs and freelancers don’t know how to give out business cards in a way that leaves a positive impression.

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Learn about business card etiquette in this tutorial. Image source: Envato Elements

If you’ve ever gotten that sunken feeling in your stomach after handing out a business card that told you you’ve messed up the interaction, and then had it confirmed when your new contact didn’t follow up on your conversation with a call, worry no more.

There are three simple yet effective rules of business card etiquette that when mastered will take your business card exchange practices to a whole new class of professionalism and increase your call-backs from interested prospects.

1. Keep It Neat and Tidy

Would you ever walk into a high-stakes networking event wearing a creased suit or a ripped dress? Of course not! And by the same token, you should never, ever hand a new contact a business card that’s creased, dirty, or bent.

A business card is not just a piece of paper; it’s an extension of your professional self and your personal brand. Once the conference or networking event is over, your business card is the only thing left representing you and your work to potential clients. What does that card say about you when you’re not present?

Besides choosing a stunning template design or having an awesome designer create a unique design for you, you also need to take care of your cards after you have them delivered to your office.

Don’t just throw your cards in your bag or your suit pockets loosey goosey. Desperately searching through your pockets for ten minutes to finally produce a misshapen and dirty card that your potential connection won’t even want to touch is not the way to impress new contacts. It’s simply bad business etiquette.

Carry your business cards in a business card holder that will keep them neat and tidy and help you easily find them at a moment’s notice. You should also place any new cards you receive at the back of the same holder. There’s no faster way to insult a new connection than by throwing their card into your bag as if it were your gum wrapper. Show new contacts that you care about having their information.

2. Give Your Cards Out Selectively

Your business cards are not a gateway drug to your business. Handing out a thousand business cards at a networking event doesn’t mean you’ll get a thousand calls. In fact, it probably means you’ll get zero calls because you haven’t taken the time to get to know and connect with any of the recipients of your cards.

When attending networking events, take the time to build personal connections with potential clients and prospects. The purpose of a business card is not to replace you, but only to give out to a point of contact after a true, real, and personal connection has been made. Focus on making that connection!

With the connection formed, you’ll have a reason for exchanging business cards with the other person. But beware: only hand your business card out when and if you have been asked for it. Don’t offer it yourself, and definitely don’t force it on the other person by cunningly slipping it into the palm of their hand.

What if your new connection doesn’t ask for your card? Ask for theirs! That way you have control over contacting them if you think there’s potential in the relationship, rather than hoping and waiting that they’ll call you. 

What’s more, proper business card etiquette dictates a reciprocity of exchange. When you ask to receive a business card, it’s likely you’ll be asked to give yours as well.

3. Scribble Not. Except When.

A good business card should contain all the necessary information someone needs to remember who you are, what you do, why they should contact you, and how. A good business card template or designer can guide you provide the right information. But if you have no idea what information to include on your business cards and why, you’ll also want to check out the article on business card essentials here.

The general business card rule is not to scribble offhand information on business cards. Especially on business cards you receive from others because it may appear disrespectful. Remember that you should keep business cards (both yours and those of others) clean, tidy, and professional. 

But what if you end up having a long conversation with a prospect about a particular topic that you’d like them to remember when they get home? For example, you may be organizing a conference in the future that the new prospect is interested in but may not remember just by looking at your card. In those specific instances, it’s OK to make a note on your card before handing it over to remind your contact why they asked for your information. A personal note goes a long way.

But never scribble on the business card of someone else. If you need to make a note on somebody’s card, so you don’t forget why you should contact them, do so discreetly and only after the conversation has ended and you’ve walked away from the field of vision of that person. Keep your personal notes personal.

Master these three tips of how to exchange business cards and you’ll appear much more professional and “serious” about your business to new contacts at your next networking event.

Editorial Note: This content was originally published in 2015. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.

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