My Anti-Business-Card Approach to Self-Promotion

Michael Masterson has often pointed out in ETR how much of the conventional wisdom you read about business and entrepreneurship is pure nonsense. Much of this pap, as Michael has noted, is produced by misguided consultants, ignorant marketing advisors, and business journalists who have never run a successful business in their lives.

Take, for example, the nonsensical advice given on the subject of business cards.

One writer suggests giving everyone TWO business cards instead of one … the logic being that the recipient will then have an extra card to pass on. Yet, you never hear a Steve Jobs or Donald Trump say, “Yes, I built a billion-dollar business. And I used the ‘hand out two cards instead of one strategy’ to do it, too.”

We’re also told how to transform a business card from its conventional form (name, company, and contact information only) to a powerful “billboard” by adding unconventional elements such as a strong positioning statement, a list of services, and clever graphics or slogans.

But the truth is, spending any significant effort worrying or thinking about business cards … or strategizing their use … is an absolute waste of time. That’s because most people who receive your business card throw it away without a second glance.

(In fact, most of the self-made millionaires I know don’t even have business cards. Or, if they have them, they don’t carry them.)

In the “good old days,” before the PC, most people actually had Rolodexes into which they would copy the information on your business card or insert the card itself. But now, your prospects keep their “Rolodexes” in Outlook or some other computer application.

Yes, I know that there are devices that scan business cards and import them into your PC database. But their use is far from widespread. Do you use one? Have you seen one on a prospect’s desk lately?

That’s what I thought.

So … what should you put on your business card? And how do you get it into people’s hands so they pay attention and file it for future reference? My answer may surprise you:

1. Don’t worry about what you put on your business card. It doesn’t matter.

2. Don’t carry business cards or hand them out to people.

Instead, do the following …

When a prospect asks you, “Do you have a business card?” say, “I don’t have any on me. But give me yours, and I will put one of mine in the mail to you.”

Then, in conversation, qualify the prospect and find out his needs. When you get back to your office, send him the appropriate catalog, brochure, or other relevant literature on your products or services. Enclose one of your business cards with these marketing materials – fulfilling the promise you made to send it.

But what if your prospect does not carry a business card? (As I said, many busy people don’t.) In that case, have him write his contact information on a piece of paper. (You should always carry paper and pen for this purpose.)

You see, if you readily give your card to the prospect, you eliminate the need for him to give you his contact information … which means you have not captured a lead and have no way of following up. But by strategically withholding a business card, you almost “force” the prospect to give you his contact information. (Almost no one will refuse you.)

So you can capture him in your database … follow up to qualify him further … and convert him into a buyer. Result: Instead of swapping little pieces of paper (business cards), you convert contacts into sales and revenue.

But there’s one extra step I left out …

After you get the prospect’s business card or contact information written on a piece of paper, say, “We also publish a monthly online newsletter on … . Would you like a free subscription?”

When he says “yes” (and most will), you can now communicate with him, virtually at no cost, as often as you like – both with your monthly online newsletter and with e-mail marketing messages sent to your newsletter subscriber list.

You can send the e-mail marketing messages because, as subscribers, they have “opted in.” They know you … have agreed to receive e-mail from you … and so it’s perfectly legal to send promotional e-mails to them.

Of course, to use this strategy, you must actually publish an e-newsletter related to your product, service, or area of expertise. If you’re not sure how to do it, you’ll find my “formula” in Message #1005.

“It’s not your customer’s job to remember you. It is your obligation and responsibility to make sure they don’t have the chance to forget you.”- Patricia Fripp

[Ed. Note: Bob Bly is a popular Early to Rise columnist, self-made multi-millionaire, and the author of more than 60 books, including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing and The Copywriter’s Handbook.

He is also the editor of ETR’s Direct Marketing University: The Masters Edition – a program to help you start your own successful direct-mail business.]