Logo Business
Basics for
Engineers by
Mike Volker

The Business Card

It's a common business practice to exchange business cards with people that we meet. Indeed, it is even considered rude by many when a card is not offered. The business card is a great way for people to remember you (and vice-versa) as well as to have contact information especially telephone number and email. In some countries, such as Japan, there is a formal ritual involved in how cards are presented and how they are received. In Canada and the USA, the ritual is a little more casual. It doesn't reflect well on you if you do not offer a card to new people that you meet.

You should always carry a small supply with you - keep a few tucked in your backpack or briefcase, laptop case, wallet, suit coat inside pocket, glove box, etc. Avoid embarrassment! 

What to Include?

At the very minimum, you should include your full name (and preferred name or nickname), complete address (including Country - not everyone may know where Salmon Arm, B.C. is), affiliation (if you so choose), telephone, fax, and email information. Some people also include some information about themselves such as a professional designation (e.g. Harry Chong, P.Eng) or education background (e.g. Peter Doaks, P.Eng., BASc (Electronics), MASc (Physics, PhD (Business)). You may even want to include a saying or a brief message (e.g. "Web Design Specialist"). Photographs are sometimes used as well - this may help people remember you (especially if you are good-looking!). Finally, a corporate logo or symbol can add some color and flare to a card as long as it doesn't take up too much real estate or make the card appear tacky. However, it's a good idea not to make a business card too busy. 

If you want to cram extra information (additional affiliations, clubs, interests, addresses, etc) on a card, you might consider putting this on the reverse side. The reverse side can also be used for translations of your name into Japanese or Chinese - this is a welcomed by your foreign hosts. 

The Personal Name Card

In the event that you are not fully engaged with a company or other organization, it's a good idea to have a personal "name card". Actually, this is a good idea even if you have a regular business card. It can come in handy if you meet new people or just want to let old friends keep in touch. In addition to your name, address and contact information, you might wish to say something about yourself, e.g. SFU Engineering Student, Professional Snowboarder, Amateur Photographer or something like that - but don't get too carried away with silly things like "handsomest dude in town" unless you really believe that it'll get you somewhere.

Appearance & Style

Some computer software, e.g. Microsoft's WORD, allows you to design your own business card. This can be a low-cost way of getting a few cards quickly. It's especially useful if you're not sure about the design or layout - it let's you try a few different ones and make frequent changes. A word of caution - use a laser quality printer and good quality paper stock. Many ink-jet printers may produce a card that fads or runs - especially if it gets wet (like someone spilling coffee or a networker with very sweaty hands). Many office retailers (e.g. Office Depot, Staples) carry paper that's designed just for business cards. There's nothing worse than a flimsy card with faded printing that was cut out with scissors! If you use many cards, eventually it's worth getting a professional printer to make them for you.

The most important item on a card is YOUR NAME. This should be in a large font that's easy to read without the recipient having to don reading glasses. Other information can be in a smaller font size but should be clearly legible and machine-readable (e.g. by one of those fancy new Business Card scanners). I've received cards in which it is difficult to read the email address or phone number. 

As for colors, it's best to stick with a dark font on a light background (again, for readability - by the recipient or a machine). Dark, rich colors can add a touch of class!

Regarding size, the North American standard is 2.0" X 3.5". In Europe there is less of a standard and most cards are slightly smaller. Some are quite large and these are a pain to stuff in one's pocket or card holder. Stick with the norm in your country - and use these even when visiting another country.

Electronic Cards

In today's high tech world, electronic cards are becoming more popular. Small CD readable cards with a short video and other information (e.g. product brochures, corporate data) are nice but they should also include some basic printed information (not everyone has a CD reader - really!). Such cards may also be bulky and breakable so it's always a good idea to use these in addition to - not instead of - a regular card. 

Palm Pilots and Pocket PCs have a neat feature that allows you to beam contact information from one device to another. You should store your own name and contact information so that when you do encounter someone with such a device you can beam each other to avoid having to type in each other's information. Again, this should not replace the traditional card exchange.

How Many?

How many cards should you order and how many should you carry with you? Always order an ample supply so that you don't run out. It's always better to have too many than to run out of them. Always carry two or three times as many with you than what you think you really need. And, stash them in different spots so that if you decide to change clothing, you won't inadvertently be without a few in reach. 

The Frog and The Prince

The book by Darcy Rezak of the Vancouver Board of Trade titled, "The Frog and Prince" has a great section on business cards (indeed, I "stole" some of his ideas here) as well as being a good guide for networking. 

I love it when students (hint, hint) stop me in the hallways or at the coffee bar and introduce themselves and give me their cards. It's easy for me to remember these students.

Finally, just remember - a good, clean, simple card is hard to beat!

Mike Volker is the Director of the University/Industry Liaison Office at Simon Fraser University, Past-Chairman of the Vancouver Enterprise Forum, President of WUTIF Capital and a technology entrepreneur. 

Copyright 2003-2007 Michael C. Volker
Email: mike@volker.org - Comments, suggestions and corrections will be appreciated!
Updated: 20070911


Basics for
Mike Volker

The Business Card (draft)

Contact: Mike Volker, Cell:(604)644-1926, Email: mike@volker.org

Copyright 2003, Michael C. Volker
Email:mike@volker.org - Comments and suggestions will be appreciated!
Updated: 030516
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