Just as with every other business situation, giving and receiving business cards has its own etiquette. It can be surprising how many people adept at networking or working a room don’t realize when they have crossed over the unspoken lines into bad business card manners. Ignoring the proper etiquette is a good way to negate your other good business skills.

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What Should Your Business Card Say?

There are a number of obvious prerequisites for your business card. Obviously, the purpose is getting the recipient in contact with you, so your name and contact information is a must. Remember that business cards are small, so you can’t fit everything about yourself on this little card. Go for vital information that will help the other person remember you, your company and what you do. Use the space wisely, but don’t clutter it up.

Your name, phone number and email address are essentials. Whether you put a physical address would depend on how likely it is that most people will need it. Fax numbers, cell phone numbers and corporate websites are items that may not always be necessary. Think about how you want people to get in touch with you, and then provide them with that information.

Always make sure your cards are up to date. If your information has changed, get rid of the old cards and get a fresh supply. Cards with phone numbers or other information scratched out and rewritten by hand fairly scream unprofessional.

One good way to judge your card is to look at the cards you receive. Do they help you quickly and easily get in touch with the other person? What works well, and what is annoyance? You can use these details to critique your own card.

Keep a Supply of Good Cards with You

Nothing says unprofessional more quickly than ragged, dog-eared business cards. Think about purchasing a business card case or something that protects them from wear and tear. You should also be sure to have a sufficient supply with you at all times that you may need them. You look unprofessional or unprepared when you have to say, “I forgot my cards,” or, “I’m sorry, I just handed the last one out.” It is also a good idea to keep them in the same place. Again, it looks awkward if someone has to dig through a briefcase or check every pocket in their jacket to try to figure out where the business cards have been stuck.

How to Hand Someone a Business Card

If you walk through a crowded room and slip a business card to 100 people, that does not mean you have just made 100 contacts. Handing them to people as you walk past is the business equivalent of receiving a big stack of junk mail. Also, if the other person is engaged in conversation, slipping the card to them is a very rude interruption.

Giving someone a business card should generally be a deliberate action. Always hand it face up so the other person can read it without having to flip it over or turn it.

Don’t be overly aggressive with your cards. Many times, it is polite to wait until you are asked for a card. If that doesn’t seem to be happening, you can always ask for the other person’s card. They will generally reciprocate.

Writing on the Back

If you are in a conversation with someone who asks for a card, it isn’t a bad idea to jot a quick note on the back of what you were talking about. This might help to jog their memory later, especially if they are at an event where they receive many cards.

On the other hand, be judicious of writing on the back of a card you receive. If you have agreed to do something for the other person, a quick note would be appropriate. If it is simply information for you, write it down later, in private. Developing professional business etiquette is as easy as knowing when, where and to whom you should market your personal brand.

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Alex Faubel enjoys writing about business and technology in career-focused education programs, as well as the benefits of a well-rounded education in preparing students for a bright future.