Guide on the Side – What Does Your Business Card Say About You

(Archived March 1, 1999)

Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O’Melveny & Myers. She is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries’ highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute’s programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).

Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms “Life in Progress,” which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art. She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters Internationaland is active with the American Society for Training Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her “free” time to various non-profit and civic activities. Always open to new ideas, Marie can be reached at: [email protected].

Business cards are little and quiet but at the same time very powerful communicators. What does yours communicate about you? Chances are the only time you look at it is when you make a job change. And even then, you scan it with a proof reader’s eye. Pull out your card and really look at it. Is it memorable? Does it tell who you are and what you do? Does it look like a clone of your professional colleagues except for the name and address? What are its hidden messages?

If these questions raise some queasy feelings or you already sense you could use a better “silent ambassador,” here is where to find out about a business card make-over:

The Business Card Book: What Your Business Card Reveals about You…and How To Fix It, by Lynella Grant, Off the Page Press, 1998, $17.95.

This is a book that reveals everything there is to know about business cards. Readers may discover that they are business-card-impaired, a form of myopia that sees the medium but not the message. If your card is a “turn-off,” a “vanilla pudding” or a “Frankenstein,” Lynella Grant will show you how to involve all your senses and create a card that leaves a “lasting impression.”

Hundreds of actual cards are reproduced as examples. There is “quick and painless” advice on each stage of the business card life cycle: the message, elements, design, design team, production, costs, and uses. A whole chapter deals with international issues, including how to avoid international blunders.

The highly visual and practical chapters are divided into four sections:

  • Body Language of Your Card
  • Build a Better Card
  • Put Your Card to Work
  • References and Resources (including where to find Braille, holographic and pop-up cards)

Many law professionals don’t give much thought to business cards because their cards are designed and provided by their parent institution. The attorney, judge, professor or librarian simply add their name and title to an already existing format for a law firm, court, or law school. The Business Card Book provides tips on how to personalize a card within this type of fixed environment without offending at the decision-making level. Where all the employees of a company use a common card, she shows how it is possible to embellish the card for executives by subtle enhancements that suggest status and power but retain the company identity.

There are many reasons why it is important to be business card literate. These days most professionals have more than one professional identity. For instance, Lynella Grant’s background includes attorney, psychologist, personnel director, real estate sales, author, publisher, college teacher, professional speaker, inventor and professional cook. Each identity is likely to require its own card.

How about you? Do you run a business on the side–consult, write, teach, edit, publish or design Web sites? Do you have a notable hobby–play cello in a quartet, hold a world record in an amateur athletic event, build sets for a small theater company, do stand-up comedy for small parties, restore antique furniture, or prepare genealogies?

For people in transition to a new career, how about a transition card? A resume or networking card? According to a December 22 article in the Wall Street Journal, people in the Internet-media industry go to parties with copies of their resumes. A card is less bulky and can serve the same function. Business cards are relatively inexpensive so you can easily afford more than one. “Your card(s) should grow and evolve as you do.”

The Business Card Book includes many non-business applications of cards which add a fun dimension to your life and forward personal goals. Things like:

“Provide social identity, like family cards
Inform about your non-career or retired pursuits
Make statements, support a cause, or show membership
Educate, admonish, and advise
Promote an event or a special purpose
Promote networking and job hunting.”

Ms. Grant provides for post-book contact with her. Unsure about your card design? You can get a diagnosis of your card from the Business Card Clinic for a small fee. You will get an objective evaluation of the message(s) your card sends to strangers. There is more information at or call for the Business Card Clinic Questionnaire at 602-874-0050 or fax 602-970-3925.

Are you a history buff? Readers living in the Philadelphia vicinity may want to visit the Business Card Museum in Erdenheim in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood. It was created by Ken Erdman who founded it to honor the business card, a marketing tool he calls “one of the most effective but least exploited.” There are cards made of glass, leather, china and mouse pads. Mr. Erdman wants the museum to be more than a curiosity and hopes business students and marketing firms will use the collection for ideas.

The Business Card Book is a fun read and a great reference tool. It should be part of all law library collections to help legal professionals promote their business and life goals. “Business cards are the handshake you leave behind.” Make it a firm one.

Posted in: Business Cards, Guide on the Side