Everyone in business needs a business card. It' s the most important marketing item you have. It' s also the smallest, typically the least expensive, and, unfortunately, often given the least amount of thought.

Most of us think of our business card as just a reference tool, with just the information people need to know to reach us. If you work with a graphic designer, or have a sense of design yourself, you' ll also focus on the " look and feel" of the card but perhaps overlook some of the business aspects of what your card can accomplish.

  • How to print your cards. How you print your cards influences many other decisions because it affects how many versions of your card you can afford and whether you' ll use color.

    I have a strong opinion about this: use Kinko' s or another good copy shop. It' s much faster and much cheaper for both small quantities and four-color cards than a commercial printer, and it gives you the ability to produce different versions of your card or create cards specifically for particular events. Ask your graphic designer (or the designer at Kinko' s) to create a " ten-up" lay-out for business cards with crop marks and to give you the disk. You can then make changes whenever you need.

    You can also buy perforated business card templates to run through your own printer. This is relatively inexpensive, but the card stock is relatively flimsy and the edges of the cards never look completely crisp.
  • What information do you need? Once upon a time, people only put their name, their company name, address, and one phone number on a business card. Then came fax numbers, e-mail addresses, cell phone numbers, Web sites. The response has been to use smaller and smaller typefaces. But your business card has to be readable, and not only are there a lot of baby boomers out there with aging eyes, but you' ll often hand out your card at Chamber of Commerce after-hour mixers in poorly-lit hotel ballrooms, and that tiny typeface is going to be very hard to read.

    Remember that your business card is a marketing piece. You don' t have to have the same card for every situation. You could have one for handing out to prospects or at networking events, with more space devoted to describing your business specialty, e.g., " Travel Agent - specializing in leisure travel," and only essential contact information. And you could have another to give your customers with more detailed information, such as your cell phone or home phone number.
  • Color. Adding color makes a big impact, and it' s not that expensive, especially if you print your business cards at a copy shop. Be careful with color to make certain your information remains clearly readable. Light colored ink on dark paper is very difficult to read, as is pale colored ink, even on white paper. Choose colors that are appropriate to your line of business and to you. A lawyer probably wouldn' t want to have any pink to their card--a florist or childcare center might.
  • Reverse side. I used to have beautiful cards with my logo printed against a complete black background on the reverse side. But people were frustrated that they couldn' t write notes on the back, such as where they met me. That doesn' t mean the back side of your card has to remain blank. Use it to print more information about your business or even to give a discount. Just remember, once someone has put your card in a file or a drawer, they' ll probably never see the reverse side again.
  • Logo. If you have a logo, use it! If you don' t, consider designing one or using typeface in such a way as to make a " logotype." Visual elements help people remember things better. Think of those golden arches or that swoosh.

As much as your business card is a marketing device, it' s also a representation of you and your company. Take a little time to design one you like but that can be modified to meet different situations. You want to feel proud of it every time you hand it out.

Copyright © Rhonda Abrams, 2001

Rhonda Abrams writes the nation' s most widely-read small business column and is the author of " The Successful Business Plan: Secrets and Strategies" and " Wear Clean Underwear: Business Wisdom from Mom." Her newest book, " The Successful Business Organizer" has just been released. Register for free business tips from Rhonda at www.RhondaWorks.com.