Is Your Business Card Cheating on You?

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(names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers have been blurred to protect the innocent)

If you suspect your business card may be masquerading as another company, well, you just might be onto something. The following is a cautionary tale of two business cards that both look exactly the same, but advertise two very different small businesses.

The one on the left sells pre-assembled dry food mixes, like cake mix, meatloaf seasoning mix, and so forth. The one on the right sells handmade drink coasters.

So why do both cards look the same? I suspect (okay, I know) that they both took advantage of a free business card offer, and both chose the same template. The worst part is, I found them both at the same craft fair, on the same day. And they both have an ad on the back for the printing company, which begs the question: Who is getting more business from these cards — the two small businesses, or the large company that printed them?

I generally advice against ordering mass-produced cards like these, but if you feel the need to go this route, at least follow these rules so you’re less likely to be burned:

  1. Don’t fall for “FREE”. It’s just an excuse for the printer to get free ad space on the back of YOUR card, not to mention you have less templates and customization options than if you opt for the paid version.
  2. Don’t pick the first template you see. The most popular ones are shown first, and just like déjà vu, I’ve seen multiple business owners carrying the same top three cards. I think “Wait a minute, I saw this card last week, but the business itself is different.” If the design that you really want just happens to be one of the top ten, just be aware that there are lots of other business owners walking around with a card exactly like yours.
  3. Once you pick a template, don’t just accept it as-is. Change the colors, the font, or other options to better suit your company’s identity. That way, even if you’re competitor down the street decides to use the same card, at least yours would be a little bit different from theirs.

Wondering why all this matters? Why sharing the same card design with the business down the street is so counter-productive? Here is a crash course in the importance of a unique identity:

  • Your business is one-of-a-kind: even in a crowded industry, no one can offer the same exact products or services that you provide. Don’t believe me? Look at your favorite restaurant chain or fast food establishment: The franchise on Main Street might do everything well, so the food tastes great (to you) and the service is amazing. But the franchise on 29th street might do things their way, so the food tastes a bit different, but the service is still great. So you frequent the one on Main because their food is more to your liking. With every company being unique, it pays to have an equally unique [business card, website, etc.] to differentiate the business in the eyes of consumers.
  • When your business card ends up in someone’s binder next to an identical card from another company, what will happen? Three months later, both cards would appear the same, and the person would have to think to remember what made each company unique. They may even hastily throw your card out, thinking they already have a card from that company.
  • When you look exactly like the company next door, it would be easy for someone to discount you as being a copycat. With the resurgence of demand for unique goods and services as opposed to mass-produced things, it doesn’t do you any favors to be seen as just another clone.
  • On the other hand, when your business card is the only one of it’s kind in existence, it screams “Hey, this is our company, and we do/sell things that are unlike anything else on the planet! No other company can compare!”. It’s a simple way to set your company apart, and show people why they should do business with you.
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About Barbara Austin

As the graphic designer & founder of Sweet Dreamz Design, Barbara loves working with women entrepreneurs to brand their businesses. She shares a variety of small business advice and anecdotes here on the blog. Check back every week for new tips, inspirations, and how-to articles, or subscribe to get regular updates in your inbox each week!

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