Business cards are an essential networking tool.

While style and design are important, so too is understanding the etiquette that goes into the presentation of that small, but impactful piece of paper.

Just like giving a proper handshake, the presentation of a business card can create a negative or positive impression on you and your business.

Here are some quick pointers on what to do and what not to do with your business card:

Here’s what to do:

  • Have professionally designed and printed cards if at all possible. The paper quality and design are a reflection of you and your business.  Your cards should complement all of your marketing materials.
  • Plan ahead before attending any networking event. Your business card is a “forwarding agent.”  In other words, the presentation of your business card can assist with your marketing (especially when attached to something relevant to your business, such as newspaper or magazine articles, an annual report, or brochure).
  • Be selective and discreet.  When networking, you are selling yourself, not your business card.  Your business card is a valuable extension of yourself and should be treated as such.  Exchanging cards should be conducted inconspicuously and not in a grandiose fashion.  And for both social and business settings, always carry your business cards with you.  You never know what kind of opportunity awaits!
  • Show interest. When you receive someone’s card, quickly review it and ask a question about the person’s business, services, product or even the design itself.

Here’s what not to do:

  • Don’t be “pushy” – always wait until you are asked for your card before giving it to someone.
  • Don’t be “overly eager” – Your eagerness to promote yourself and your business may come across to others as irritating and naïve.
  • Don’t “scatter” – Spreading your card around makes it appear as if you are trying too hard or selling something.
  • Don’t be “sloppy” – Remember, you want to make a positive first impression.  Presenting a faded, stained, out-of-date, or dog-eared business card will be considered a negative reflection of the kind of business you conduct. A business card holder can help keep them clean and crisp.
  • Don’t “eat with your card in hand” –  Never present a business card during a meal (in any kind of establishment, formal or informal).
  • Don’t ask for someone’s card if you don’t intend on following up with them at some point.

Pro Tip: The United States and Great Britain are more relaxed than some other countries about business card etiquette. Before traveling for business, let us know if you have questions about the proper etiquette for your destination. In some countries, it’s extremely rude to write on a business card. In other countries, such as Japan, following protocol is very important (such as using both hands when giving or receiving a business card).