If you are an active member of the music industry, you’re going to need business cards. Genuine and long-lasting relationships in business still happen by meeting in real life – and in those cases, asking the CEO to hand over his custom-made, diamond-encrusted iPhone X to a complete stranger so that you can type in your number is not going to fly.
So, without further ado, here are some tips for the next time you design business cards for your networking success.
DO use a professional card making service (or thick paper if printing at home).
When it comes to business cards, first impressions matter. People draw a lot of assumptions about your brand and the quality of your professional products/services based on your business card. One of the main assumptions industry folk have when handed an unevenly sliced strip of A4 printer paper is that the person is cheap and their products aren’t made with care. Not exactly a good way to convince others to work with you.
If you are determined to make your business cards at home, go to your local office supplies store and buy some thicker stock paper to print on. Alternatively, you can get your cards designed and printed online and sent to you in the mail – this is a great idea if you’re new to this, as almost every company (search up “business card printing”) has template options where you just fill in the personal info and choose the colour scheme. I used a template for my first run of Pop of Colour business cards, and my current design was created 100% from scratch in Photoshop before being uploaded to the online card company to print and ship. I currently use MOO (affiliate link) for my business cards, and get a lot of compliments on the smoothness of their paper.
DON’T print business cards in a shape that doesn’t fit the average wallet.
If you’re designing all by yourself, a good rule of thumb is to pull out a credit card, and work within that real estate. If you want to make your card an unconventional shape (such as a square, circle, or something even more creative), dip inwards, don’t make the overall dimensions bigger. After the exchange, most business cards get placed into a wallet or card-shaped tin. No matter how cool your card in the shape of an EPIC, FIRE-BREATHING DRAGON(!!!) is, if it doesn’t fit with other cards collected throughout the event, it will probably be abandoned or lost in a rarely used coat pocket.
DO use easy-to-read text (BUT obviously avoid the Comic Sans font).
Keep it simple. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the options, but legibility is your #1 priority. There are many apps nowadays that use recognition software in smartphone cameras to let people take pictures of business cards, and automatically add them to a contact list.
Please refrain from crashing the apps, may it be from tiny text size, colours that don’t contrast well enough, or from a font that’s so ornate and cursive that even a Sparkle Fairy Pony Princess would shake her royal head. While on the subject of fonts, avoid Comic Sans if you want to be taken seriously.
DON’T just list a generic job title – describe what you do!
Large bureaucratic organizations have their employees put down generic job titles, but that’s okay because they have enough people working there that everyone has a distinct hired role, and they’re at the point where it’s a safe assumption that everyone knows who they are when they attend an event.
As self-employed freelancers trying to network, our business cards double as a marketing tool. We want everyone who meets us to remember who we are, what we do, and consider us next time they need someone with that specialty. A way to jog their memory is to put a little bit more description into what we do. So, instead of saying “CEO of [Company Name],” you could write a one-sentence pitch about what your company does and who its target clients are. Instead of simply “vocalist,” describe your voice quality, genres you prefer to sing, your stage name and if you do session work.
We all collect way too many business cards at events; stand out and get follow-ups by being memorable.
DO put down an email, not just your social media handles and website.
Many of those trying to get started are more inclined to put down their social media handles than their email. Instagram DM’s are great and all, but it’s easier to receive attachments, forward contacts, and send invoices down the road by including an actual email address. It also looks more professional.
DON’T put down a temporary (or irrelevant, or unprofessional) email address.
The connections you’re making when exchanging business cards are ones that will hopefully last entire careers. Make sure you list an email address that will last you as long as you hope to be connected to these people. Students, don’t put down your academic email (especially if you plan on graduating soon). Weekday cubicle employees, don’t use the email provided by your current company if the boss would be less than thrilled with you quitting your desk job to pursue music full-time as soon as your band takes off. You also might want to create a new account if the only option you have is the Yahoo email address you made when you were 9 years old, and it contains more than your first and last name. “@gmail.com” is the widely accepted standard for independent musicians and small freelance companies, but as you grow, you’ll eventually level up to something that looks like “@band/company.com.” If you are not listing your everyday, personal email, make sure it’s an account you can check easily, such as with the multiple inbox management feature on smartphones, or by having desktop notifications set up for every new email. It takes a lot of discipline, organization, and patience to be constantly logging in and out of email accounts to never miss a message – make it easier for yourself in any way you can.
DO make sure you can legally use the photos/artwork/fonts from your card design.
If you’re using a professional headshot for the flip side of the card, make sure you own the rights to the image. Legally speaking, photographers own the copyright to every photo they take (even those of other people), so you need to ask their permission to make a mass reproduction of art they own, especially for commercial purposes. The simplest way to do this is to make sure you have those reproduction rights transferred to you when you buy the photo from them (or call them up and ask right now). Every photographer I’ve ever worked with has been super nice about this, but asking for permission is always the safe and respectful thing to do.
If you are using an picture you found online for a design element, check that it’s a stock image free for commercial use. Google Images search results don’t automatically mean you are allowed to use the artwork to represent your brand. Using your own original art is the best option, but if you have your heart set on a creation made by someone else that isn’t free for commercial use, your best bet is to reach out the the photographer/artist/copyright holder and ask for permission. You may be required to pay a small fee, or provide proper credit.
These same rules apply to rarer fonts created by web designers (you know, the ones that don’t come pre-installed with Microsoft Word). Yes for “free for commercial use,” or pay the fee with a smile. Don’t stoop down to pirate levels. Don’t get sued. Us creators in the art industry are all in this together.
DON’T feel obligated to provide your private cellphone number.
You’re handing out business cards left, right, and centre to complete strangers. While some contact information is sort of necessary (an email address, a website), don’t make yourself feel uncomfortable by listing your private cellphone number. You never know where these connections may lead – if a big-shot wants to meet up with you for coffee, you can email her your number if necessary (as a young female in the music industry, I have to deal with a lot of male musicians who don’t understand the concept of “not interested,” so I’d rather not give them an extra channel to contact me at 3 in the morning). Another important thing to note is that many of your contacts may be based internationally – a business proposal from the other side of the world is exciting and all, but not when your phone bill comes in.
DO pick your social media accounts carefully.
Social media accounts being listed are usually one of the main culprits of clutter and huge blocks of teeny-tiny text on your business cards. I don’t have any social media handles listed on my current cards; but sometimes, they can be worth adding. Just pick carefully. You can get away with listing quite a few if all your handles are identical (just line up each platform’s icons in a row in front), but if you have a website with a specific URL, and half your social media accounts have a different username than the other half, it’s best to keep things minimal. Your official website is guaranteed a spot, the rest are up to you though. I would recommend only choosing 2-3 platforms max where you are extremely active and engaged – in other words, don’t put your Twitter account if it’s a ghost town with one sign-in a month. Good first impressions matter, you want your new connections to know something cool is already happening on the platforms they visit first.
DON’T be afraid of blank spaces.
Don’t ever worry about not having enough information to “fill up” a business card. If arranged in an attractive manner, blank spaces are actually well received in the world of networking. Here’s an inside trick: bring a pen with you to every social event. When you meet someone, you will shake hands and talk about small stake, personal things before eventually exchanging business cards. The secret weapon comes in then follow-up.
After parting ways, take your pen and write down one personal thing they brought up during the conversation – do they have a dog? are they a big fan of a particular sports team? did the event serve their favourite wine? When you email them the next day, mention that one personal thing you two talked about. These professionals meet lots of people at events, and many industry amateurs only fawn over their surface career achievements. Getting personal and showing you took interest in them with take you a lot further, building a connection far beyond a cardboard rectangle.