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Business Cards Should Have One Phone Number

by in Random

Part of our business mating ritual involves the business card exchange. We don’t take it as seriously as the Japanese with the ceremonial bow, but generally business introductions involve a business card exchange ritual. The business card performs a number of functions. But at its heart, the business card has one purpose. That is to provide contact information. I think people get carried away with this – stop it.

In the good ol days, we had one number on our cards. Then we started adding more. We added fax, sometimes even Telex. We added direct numbers vs. main numbers and then our mobile numbers. That’s just numbers – we also add email addresses and now Facebook and Twitter ids too. Even with font size 8, white space is becoming extinct on cards.

This is all nonsense. A business card should have your postal address and a single phone number. That’s it.

  • Main number vs. DID: The number on the card should be a direct number or include an extension number. There is no reason to include the main number. For one, I can always obtain that through a directory service, and two I should be able to get there by pressing zero at the voice mail.
  • Fax Number: No. Fax is dead. If someone really wants to send a fax, make them call and ask for the number.
  • Mobile Number: For multiple reasons, the mobile number should not be on the card. There are a few solutions; call forwarding, simultaneous ring, and mobile extension. Call forwarding is simple, but manual. If you don’t want to miss a call while away from your desk, call forward your phone to your mobile (or home) number. The downside on most systems is you can’t cancel call forwarding from a remote location. Simultaneous ring is common on IP systems and allows for multiple phones to ring, it has the downside of messages potentially ending up in different messaging systems, but that’s only if you miss the call. Mobile Extension is a Mitel term, but many manufacturers offer a similar solution, it allows your desk phone to ring on your mobile – but unlike call forwarding the PBX doesn’t drop the call. This means the user can still transfer calls back within the PBX and unanswered calls end up in the corporate voice mail box.
  • Pager: No. Even if you have one, do you really want to admit it?
  • Home: Never. See Mobile number above.
  • Email: It was “cool” to include email in the 90s as most organizations still didn’t have it. But now, keeping your email private is more cool. The overwhelming amount of Spammers have put the email address on a need to know basis.
  • Facebook: No, facebook is more personal than business. Lines get blurring, but I suggest keeping it off. Send the information if you like to folks via email.
  • Twitter: Unsure on this one. Twitter is still too new. I don’t see a lot of risk assuming your tweets are primarily business oriented. I lean toward not including it unless it is a company Twitter account.

For small business, I have a few other opinions about cards. Don’t go so cheap. I am always surprised when I get a card that was clearly made on a home inkjet or has a Vistaprint logo on the back (means it was free). I really dislike business cards so thin they don’t even lie flat on a table. Professionally printed thick cards are not that expensive any more. Vistaprint offers them for about $25.

Business cards have changed over time. Not long ago the quantity of numbers on a card could (sorta) equate to status; “look ma four numbers”. Today, I think lots of numbers is the opposite – the person is either desperate for sales or their company can’t afford a decent phone system. I think realtors (as a class) are the worse – they tend to put 3-5 numbers on their cards…I’ve got a better chance of calling another realtor than making 5 attempts to reach one.

So consider one number on your next round of cards.



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  • John F. Ervin

    I think I somewhat disagree, I think the purpose of the Business Card is to facility communication. I have some customers that like to Fax, some (like me) that like to email, and some who like that personal touch and like to voice call. And since I’m attempting to encourage the business/person to communicate, I don’t want to limit it.

  • Dave Michels

    Thanks for the perspective John. I see your point, but one problem we have in our business communications is maintaining an acceptable signal to noise ratio.

    Email is the real culprit since it is free. I find myself unwilling to hand out cards to potential spammers – like a fishbowl at a tradeshow. The quick fix is to remove the email address from the card.

    For that personal touch, I think it is acceptable to hand write an email address on the card as you hand it out – it communicates you really do care.

    Fax spam seems to be decreasing, but handing that number out manually still seems better to me than getting on those awful lists.

  • Dave Michels

    Another comment came in about SIP URIs on business cards. That “number” I will actually support on the card. But only because it is so new and cool (like email in the 90s) that it communicates more about you and your company and so few can actually “dial” it that there is little to no risk for abuse.

  • Shayna

    Here I was coming to leave a comment in defense of the email address and you beat me to the punch. Writing it in for specific people is a good fix, but in general I think I’d prefer to have it on there. In so many cases it may be a hassle to grab a pen, find a surface to write on, etc.
    Perhaps I have just gotten lucky by not receiving business card related spam. More often than not I have people send me article they think I specifically would find interesting or respond to our company news articles.
    In the end many people, life our friend John Ervin, like to communicate through email. Its my preferred form of communication for someone I only met long enough to hand a business card to.

  • JDB

    I’ll second (third?) the SIP URI thing. Phone = Video = Email = Twitter = Facebook = FAX. The URI also indicates the company, where DID can confuse (if you follow that phreaking stuff :-).

    I get more SPAM (SPam over Internet Telephone – SPIT?) from the DID than I do from the FAX, but with both of them starting with letters (and an @ sign) makes it a lot less noisy initially. I still answer the DID, but only if I know the OSID.

    So card has two lines: Name and URI. And I’ll write my DID on there if you ask me nicely. :-)

  • kencamp

    I have mixed feelings aboutr some of this Dave.

    The one number idea is nice. Our onw number is our mobile, which you say not to put. I disagree because for us a huge amount of our communications is SMS messages. For us it’s important that business associates, even those just met, have the ability to text message.

    We used GrandCentral as a single number, easily forwarded to mobile and such. That’s a great single number solution, but doesn’t get past the texting issue.

    I disagree with email. Sure you’re right about spammers, but almost everyone I meet and swap cards with will get a “nice to meet you, let’s see what we can do together” sort of message. Or they’ll get dropped in Outlook and the card pitched. If there’s no email address, I won’t bother with saving it in Outlook unless I already have other connections with the person. I’d never call without email prelude. I see it as a courtesy and just don’t cold call on business potential quite that way.

    The truth is, I mostly don’t want a phone call without a text message or something setting context. “Can we talk about X?” sets the stage. My phone just rining sets up a demand and I don’t like being interrupt driven that way. I’m inclined to hit ignore and send whoever it is to voice mail if I don’t either know them well or have some prior context for why we’re spending time on the phone.

    Just a late thought to add.

  • Nickname unavailable

    What format do you think should be used for phone numbers?

    +1 (334) 444-1212

    or something more traditional?

    (334) 444-1212


  • Dave Michels

    A few thoughts, but this is mostly up to personal preference.

    I prefer: 303-555-1212, but (303) 555-1212 is fine too.

    The idea behind the () is it isn't always needed – local calls can ignore it. However, this is no longer the case in many metro areas. Denver, for example, uses 10 dialing. The () makes no sense, which is why I prefer the whole number with – for readability.

    I don't like the 1+ because that isn't always true. You don't need a 1 on cell phones. 1+ makes as much sense as 9+ assuming you need to dial a 9 to get out. Those rules are based on the caller's set up – they aren't really part of the number.

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