5 Creative Ways to Use Your Business Cards

The business card seems like an ancient meet-and-greet strategy, almost as old as the handshake. Despite this grandfatherly aura, business cards are actually one of the most crucial tools in the modern self-promotion toolbox, and should be treated accordingly.

That said, the days of personally handing out business cards are behind us. Most people simply don’t meet enough potential contacts in a day to make this strategy effective enough. While personalized contact does still have a place in today’s work world, if you really want to get your name out there, you’ll have to be a bit more creative. Here are five ideas to get you going.

1. Leave them with places as well as people

Leaving your card at a location as opposed to simply with a person has one crucial advantage: You reach a much higher number of people. Start by approaching businesses near your work or, if you’re a freelancer, in your neighborhood. Ask proprietors or managers if you can leave a small stack of cards on a counter. Coffee shops and delis are an excellent place to start, but galleries, bookstores and specialty shops are all good spots to paper as well. Go for businesses with which you have something in common. If you’re a caterer, leave them at artisanal food joints; designers should hit up antiques stores and boutiques. And don’t forget to leverage your personal relationships as well. Your hair salon, favorite coffee shop and child’s daycare are potential launching points too. If you’re feeling really bold, attach them to comment cards with suggestions on how the business could use your services.

2. Use them to showcase your work

Business cards are often plain, with a few basic stats and a blank backside. That’s a lot of wasted canvas. Instead, use the back to showcase your work. Writers might choose a quote they’re particularly fond of, artists an example of their latest piece, designers a freshly minted logo. A pretty photo can do wonders for wedding planners, bed and breakfast owners or pet groomers. Whatever you’re showcasing, target the picture toward your moneymaking market or a niche into which you’d like to expand. Above all, always give potential clients a glimpse of your very best work.

3. Mail them out

If you’re the crafty type, perhaps a boutique shop-owner or Etsy aficionado, then you’ve no doubt already mastered the art of mailing out your business card with product. But really, anyone who sends anything to a customer can use this approach. If you sell books, for instance, slip a business card inside the front cover. Even if you provide a less artisanal product such as insurance or dental services, you can still use this technique. Mailing someone a business card with your information rather than, say, a lengthy pamphlet, ups the chances you digits will make it into their wallet or that they’ll pass you on to a friend. This in turn gives you a free marketing opportunity and makes it more likely you’ll hear from them when they have need for your services again.

4. Order them in small batches

Generally, people design a business card, then leave it at that for five or 10 years. This approach, while efficient, leaves very little room for innovation or demonstration of what you’re capable of. More to the point, business cards in today’s world must stand out or they won’t get noticed at all. Ordering your cards in small batches, 50 to 100 at a time, allows you to change up the look or the focus depending on what you’ll use them for. When headed to a conference, for example, bring cards that reflect that conference’s angle. When handing them out at coffee shops, tailor your emphasis toward the individuals and small businesses that most likely frequent them. If you provide mural painting and web design services, create a card for each.

5. Let them double as coupons

The friend discount is a tried-and-true strategy for growing your business. When you make a connection at a conference or finish up with a client, pull out a card and scribble a discount on the back. Tell them that if they give your card to a friend and that person signs up, you’ll both get a discount. The best part? The handwritten coupon on the back makes it far more likely that the person you’ve given it to will hang onto your card.

Next time you're tempted to dismiss the business card as an antiquated throwback, think again. Your cards can mesh seamlessly with the modern world, and can bring you prospects you might not be able to find through digital media. Put them to work for you and reap the benefits of a truly well-rounded approach to self-promotion.