They’re usually small, printed in bulk, portable and undeniable aids to businesses everywhere. What are they? They’re your business cards. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because they’re ubiquitous, their design is unimportant, though. Think of them as an echo of your handshake. Are your business cards strong, assertive and confident? They should be. Ideally you want a business card that’s a keeper: distinctive, easy to read, classy, compelling and inexpensive to produce. Your business card should reflect your brand, and do it with a minimum of fuss. How do you achieve this feat in a handout smaller than the average retail receipt? Your best bet is to employ some careful planning.

How to Design a Business Card

Start the way you intend to go on. You need an approach to marketing your company that will carry over into your business card design. The more together your style is now, the better you’ll be able to leverage your “look” in the future. This includes your logo, the colors you choose, print style, and size. If you don’t have all the elements together from the start, try a small no-frills business card print run until you get your design ducks in a row.

Make it clear and complete. Business cards have to include more information now than ever before, but from your company’s web address to your zip code, make sure of two important things: Remember to provide all the important information a prospect may need, and make your card easy to read and understand. A big problem with business cards these days is that the information they’re tasked to include has grown, but their overall size, about 3.5 inches by 2 inches hasn’t. Don’t make the mistake of going for a larger card (it won’t fit in the average card carrier or wallet), but do sacrifice style for readability if you have to.

Choose a good template. The specifics of your industry may have an impact on the type of information you want on your card, like a contractor’s number. We don’t know your industry, but we do know that there are probably some great business card examples in your wallet or desk drawer. Check out a few dozen business cards unique to your industry to get a feel for what’s necessary, fashionable or neat, and what doesn’t quite work. You can take these to a designer or use them as a jumping off point for putting together a card template in a graphic design software program. Graphics and even dedicated card design programs can be inexpensive (even free) and have impressive functionality. Even if you’re using a professional design firm, preparing a few mockups on your own will help you get your ideas on paper in a way creative types will understand.

Stand out. Your business card should look unique but still reflect good taste (usually) and a sense of style. This can be a tall order. Steer clear of colors, font styles and logo outlines that are too close to those of your competitors. Recognize that a red card with yellow lettering may be an attention grabber, but it might be the wrong attention if you aren’t selling egg rolls and fortune cookies. A lot of what goes on in graphic design has to do with unconscious preferences and expectations. If you want the perfect card for the niche you have in mind, consider hiring a designer to prepare and integrate all of your branding materials.

Things to keep in mind:

  • A little blank space on your card is a good thing. It will give the eye a place to rest.
  • Provide good contrast between the paper color and the ink shade you use.
  • Square and even oval cards are becoming more popular, but use caution. Fads are in briefly and then way, way out.
  • If your company name doesn’t provide a hint about what you do, state your industry on your card.
  • Opt for heavier rather than lighter weight paper, even if you have to sacrifice somewhere else.

Give it a final check. Don’t be that entrepreneur who printed a room full of business cards only to discover that the area code  was incorrect. Before you submit anything to a printer, have at least three people you consider detail oriented check the copy. Better safe than sorry.