Yes, Business Card Etiquette Matters

Exchange of business cards at a function in Japan.

Exchange of business cards at a function in Japan.

Handing Out Your Business Cards Is About Etiquette

Whether you are in business and aspire to succeed or you are hoping to have a successful and lucrative career, chances are you have a business card. It is not a luxury, it is essential.

Believe it or not, using a business card successfully is not just about reaching in your pocket and pulling out a grubby, dog-eared card. Rather,  getting the most milage from that small 3.5”x 2” piece of real estate requires a little bit of finesse. It requires that you learn proper business card etiquette, not just for the US, but keeping other countries in mind, as well.

The truth is, it doesn’t take much to learn the proper way to move the business card from your hand to that of a prospective customer or business colleague.

Here are a few pieces of essential information to keep in mind as you proceed to exchange cards:

  • Your business card is about your personal brand and your business brand. Cards today can be inexpensively made, but still make a positive impact. Just be sure your design makes a statement about your business and accurately reflects the industry you are in.  At a minimum it should contain your name, your business address, email address and phone number.
  • Store your card in an elegantly designed, yet serviceable business card holder. Keeping your cards in a holder prevents you from passing out dirty, smudged cards – a definite no-no.
  • When you first receive a business card from someone, be interested in the design and information on the card. Make a comment about the card. The exception to this is if you are in Korea where it is considered impolite to study the business card. Rather you accept the card and put it away.
  • Wait for someone in a superior  position to yours  to offer his or her card before you offer yours.
  • Don’t break into a conversation between two or more people to give someone your business card. That is rude and pushy.
  • Respect the power of your card and be selective about when and where you give it out. Social events are not usually the place to hand out business cards. If someone is insistent, find a way to discreetly hand it over. Definitely don’t give out your cards at any religious ceremonies, funerals or weddings and don’t include them in sympathy cards or celebratory cards.
  • Do not pull business cards out of a back pocket or fumble in your purse to come up with a card. Both actions are distracting and shows a lack of respect for the card. Remember, you have a business card holder for that.
  • When handing over that elegantly designed card, use your right hand. In Japan and Korea you will actually use both hands.
  • Give the cards out with the front side up. If you have translation on the card and you are in another country, hand over your card with the translated side face up. That shows interest and respect for the country you are trying to do business in.
  • Be selective when giving out your cards. Don’t just willy, nilly pass out cards. Your goal is really to get the information about the other person so that you are able to follow-up.
  • In many cultures the exchange of business cards kicks off the meeting. In the US, passing out business cards can happen at the beginning or the end of a meeting.

Business card etiquette matters because it reinforces the fact that you are the best person to do business with. Not only does your card reflect your brand, the way you handle that card is a reflection on your business.

Ultimately, business card etiquette does matter, so much so that in Japan they have a word for passing out cards – meishi. While the US doesn’t have a name or treat it is as a ceremony, it is still important to use proper business card etiquette when interacting with the prospective customer or business. And if you are in a foreign country, respect the customs of the country you are in. Know the proper business card etiquette.

I invite you to leave comments about what you have experienced as you hand out your business cards, particularly if you have international experiences to share.

As always…

Be Exceptional!


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