Business Card Etiquette Still Counts

I recently attended an international conference in the UK where a few of the attendess I met intentionally did not bring business cards. Why? “They arent relevant anymore,” was the sentiment expressed. With social media and the development of business being done online, their argument was that the business card is no longer needed – it’s all in the digital cloud.

I disagree. The business card, especially when thinking about export and doing business internationally, is very relevant and the etiquette that surrounds it even more so.

In some cultures, offering a business card is perceived quite neutrally, where as in many others you can create much offence by offering a business card in the wrong circumstances and, or at the wrong time.

In Japan for example business card etiquette is very regimented. Accepting a business card and pocketing it without looking at it and reading the information on the card is perceived as very rude, crass in fact, and is a big faux pas in Japan. Equally, not expressing gratitude on acceptance of a business card is seen as rude as is writing on a business card! In Japan, it is also best to avoid shaking hands when receiving or offering a business card as handshakes are rare in business situations in Japan.

The Austrians do it quite differently when it comes to business cards. In Austria, having a business card translated into German as well as having it in English, or your mother tongue, is seen as vital. Austrians appreciate clear delineation of contact information and large font; conservatively structured business cards are generally well received. In Austria you should offer your business card to a professional, and also to their staff for example administrative staff, if any are present or available.

In China, you could easily insult someone by offering a business card at the wrong moment, because in China seniority is seen as very important so a perceived subordinate offering a business card to a senior executive is seen as inappropriate or even rude. Also if you really want to make an impression get the cards translated into Chinese and splash out on some gold and red colouring as these are seen as lucky colours.

In the Middle East where Arabic is widely spoken, it is a good idea not only to have your business card designed in English on one side and Arabic on another, but to present your business card Arabic side up. Also make sure your translator pays special attention to how your job title is Arabized. If it sounds wrong or comes across as too junior, you will be judged accordingly. Try and also mention qualifications and use any fancy letters after your name as this gives you professional gravitas.

Whatever culture you expect to use your business card in it is a good idea to invest in a good quality business card. Choose thick, quality card and proper embossing. Also, a double-sided business card looks much more professional and it will stop people using your business card as an impromptu notepad to be discarded when it is no longer needed. If creating foreign language versions of your business card make sure you use professional translators; don’t rely on your neighbour’s son who did GCSE French.

Here’s some points to bear in mind when it comes to translating your business card:

Try and have business cards printed only on one side and in one language. However this isnt always practical due to cost so a double sided card isn’t to be discounted.

Keep it simple. All someone needs to know is who you are, your title, your company and how to contact you. Keeping the text light keeps the cost of translating that text light.

Ensure your translator translates your title properly. In some cases it can be impossible to translate a title as no local equivalent exists – work with the translator to find a good alternative or make suggestions.

Do not translate your address. This is silly. How would any post arrive if its in a foreign language – unless you have been giving your postman lessons?

Think about transliterating names including company names. This helps foreigners or non-native speakers of English pronouce names correctly.

Make sure you understand what language is needed. For example in China you have two scripts – simplified and traditional – and which you use is dependent on where you are doing business.

So, there you are – the age old business card is still important, despite its relative antiquity compared to the likes of Facebook and Linkedin. It still pays to pay attention to business cards – make them look good, learn to present and receive them and then make that great first impression.

Topics: Sales & Marketing and Winning Global Contracts
Export Action Plan