I once worked for someone who wouldn’t print business cards for employees, not even on a case-by-case basis. The reason—I was told—was that no one did it anymore. Everyone used LinkedIn.
The thing is, this employer still had their own business card and still regularly handed it out when meeting potential clients. Clearly, they didn’t really think business cards were dead.
Given that my colleagues and I were meeting people who might be interested in our company and the services we offered, it was a most peculiar refusal.
Surely you wanted to maximize your potential for bringing in new business?
This incident had four outcomes:
- It stopped me wanting to refer new business
- It showed me how important good communication is
- It gave me insight into my employer’s mind
- It made me realize the importance of giving employees business cards
The first outcome was obviously emotional, and easy enough to quell if I wanted to. The truth is, without a genuine explanation of why I could not be entrusted with my own company business card, I didn’t feel particularly willing to refer new business.
An honest explanation would have stopped my thinking in its tracks. If I were told it was a budgeting issue I’d have understood and still probably continued to refer business. But, without a reason that made sense, I was forced to find my own and the reasons I came up with didn’t make me want to discuss work outside of work!
The Importance of Good Communication
Many of us have excellent “bullshit detectors.” We can tell when people are not being honest or upfront. We may not know why but, given that our minds are constantly trying to make sense of the world, no matter our education or intellect, we tend not to stop until we find a reason that makes sense to us.
When someone has to interpret your words in order to figure out what you really mean, they are far more likely to find a negative reason, mainly because if the reason were positive, you would have been open with them in the first place.
This is why as an employer, when communicating with employees, your best bet is honesty.
If the reality is that you do not trust your employee to represent your company outside of the office, why did you hire them in the first place? This is something my employer may previously have had trouble with, hence the reluctance. However, this too could have been explained.
What my employer did not realize was how much this refusal and the poor justification of it revealed about their own mind and their opinion of employees.
A business card is a symbol of agency.
What Is a Business Card, Really?
A business card is instant contact details, it’s branding in action, and it’s advertising. It puts you on the map and it makes an impression. Why else would household names like Coca-Cola still continue to advertise? It’s a reminder to others that you still exist. It’s improving the chance someone will think of you when they need help in that particular area of their life, even if it’s two years down the line.
Beyond advertising, a business card is a symbol of agency. It says you have the power to do something. You are entitled to represent the company. We expect and hope you will bring in new business. We trust you.
This refusal sent the opposite message. It said:
- I am scared. I am scared you will steal my business. I am scared people will remember you and not me. I am scared that if you do something wrong it will reflect badly on me. I fear not being able to control who you refer.
- I do not believe in my own hiring choices. I do not trust you to represent the company the way I want it represented. I do not think you are a suitable representative of my company.
- I have my own interests at heart, not yours. I do not care to give you agency. I haven’t included you in plans for the future. Any success is my own and not thanks to you.
Unfortunately, once your employees know you are not looking out for their best interests, good luck getting them to refer to your company in any positive light, let alone to refer new business.
If not handing out business cards is a matter of money, that’s an easy explanation and one I don’t think you should be afraid to share with employees. After all, how are they going to be able to help you improve things if they don’t know you need help?
Who Should Have a Business Card?
I’m not saying that everyone within your company should have a business card, I’m simply saying that those people with the potential to bring in new business or who could use the card to benefit the company in some way should be given a chance to do so.
If you really are in the “business cards no longer matter camp,” I’m sorry for you. They do matter and they’re still as relevant today as they were 20 years ago.
Without them, your employees will be far more likely to:
- Not pass out your contact details/refer new business your way
- Use the opportunity to network for their own purposes
- Write your company contact details on scraps of paper which is a.) not professional and b.) something that is likely to be thrown away.
This is why it’s important to provide business cards to those employees with the means to help you succeed. And, it’s important to consider for yourself why you are afraid to do so. If you do not trust your employees, it may be time to rethink who you hire.
Remember: When you give someone a business card, you are giving them agency. Not only will this improve your business’s exposure, but it will create a positive feeling between you and your employees.
It will send a message that says, I trust you, I consider you a valuable part of this company, I am pleased you will be representing the company, and I believe in you.
Can you really afford not to spend the money?