Business Etiquette / Sell Yourself / Selling Skills


In 2016, @ETIQhour will concentrate on the top 15 Business Etiquette Essentials every future leader will want to know. Each fortnight a new Essential has been released: Essential #14: Don’t be a business card pusher

Let’s pretend you’re out to lunch with a new business acquaintance or a client and when your food was delivered to the table, your lunch partner reaches over with her hand and sampled your meal.

What would you think? That they were rude – lacking proper social etiquette, right? You’d be offended and probably lose your appetite. Besides ranking their social grace at zero, you’d also seriously question their professional competence as well.

How many times have you been to a networking function and had people come up to you and literally push their cards into your hand or pocket?  Such behaviour is business card abuse, and it warrants a phone call to the business card police.

All it takes is one wrong move to jeopardise your professional image. At live networking events, where you only have 30 seconds to make a good first impression, you cannot afford to make the wrong move. Regardless of how shallow it may seem, the world first judges us on how we appear. It’s more than looks and clothes – it’s demeanor, presence, body language, how confident you appear engaging with others. And all of that can be picked up in a first glance or notice, or with the first handshake.

So let’s say you are dressed well, your confidence is high and your body language is clearly communicating you are a person worth knowing. You’re 50% there. I’ve seen well-dressed people still leave a bad impression (even if the first one was good) because of bad networking etiquette. Some of the worst mistakes I see at networking events are people not understanding how to use their business card.

Don’t become a “card pusher.”  This breed comes directly from the school of power networking, where they’ve been taught to “Sell! Sell! Sell!” and to do so at networking events by forcing their cards on every person they meet.  Their goal for each networking event is to get rid of as many cards as they can, under the illusion that simply having a card automatically makes you part of their network.  They make no real effort to develop relationships.  Being on the receiving end of such aggressive card mongering feels awkward; you are being directly sold to, with no consideration of your interests or needs.

Does this sound like a cold call to you?  It is–except for one thing.  The seller is not safely out of reach at the other end of the line–he’s breathing in your face and grabbing your hand.  It’s a situation you’d like to avoid, right?  Then make every effort not to impose it on anyone else.  Don’t hand out your business card unless someone asks for it.

Let’s talk Business Card Etiquette

Here are a few tips on what to do and what not to do with your business card at networking events.

#1: Keep your business card to yourself. DO NOT hand out your business card to everyone you see as if you are passing out $20 notes.

I’ve literally had someone come up to me, while I was deep in conversation with a prospective client and slip a business card into my hand and keep moving doing the same along the way too many others.

The Card-Pusher: not only is it distracting, especially if the two people are making a great connection, it is also annoying and rude. It’s the equivalent to receiving junk mail at your house. Unless you asked for information about who they work for, chances are you are not going to joyfully read the advertisement that came in the mail – especially if you are as busy as most of us are.

You ask: But shouldn’t the goal be to get my name and contact info in front of as many people as possible?

Answer: Yes, and that is what advertising is for. Get a billboard, take out an ad, get a web page. Do not fool yourself into thinking that you successfully networked with a hundred people because you handed out a hundred business cards.

Quality vs Quantity

One of the goals of networking is to identify qualified leads, potential clients or referral sources. That doesn’t mean that you don’t meet and talk to people outside of those targets. But it does mean you are selective about who you choose to exchange information with.

#2: Give your business card to someone when they ask for it. If I am interested in connecting with someone beyond an event, I will ask for a way to contact them. Notice that I did not say I will give them my card or give them my contact information. Why? If I give them my card, I have no control over whether they will contact me or not. If I get their information I have access to follow up with a phone call, via e-mail, or by connecting through their website. Passing out my card to 50 people does not mean that I will get 50 calls. But acquiring contact information of 30 people guarantees that I will have 30 people to add to my follow-up list.

Quick Tip: When someone ask for your business card, I jot down something that we discussed, something that will remind them why they asked for my business card while they’re going through their wad of cards they collected along the way.

#3: Don’t waste contact information. Why take someone’s card if you are not going to follow up. Send an e-mail. Make a quick call.

Send them a physical card. But do something to capitalise on the meeting. This doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. You could send out an email blast, (blind carbon copy (BCC) only), or better still a personalised email to each person, giving your contacts an update on what you are doing. This goes for entrepreneurs and careerist. Entrepreneurs can send updates about new products or developments in their business. Professionals can send out industry relevant information and tips.

You ask: But can’t I just keep the card in case I need the service later?

Answer: Yes, you can. But it seems more likely and wiser that if you needed a service from someone you didn’t already have in your network that you would ask someone you know for a referral. Don’t make the assumption that just because you have their card, that the business or individual is a part of your network – especially if you have no experience with the quality of their work. One of the quickest ways to ruin your reputation is to make bad referrals.

The take away:

  • Keep your business card to yourself until someone asks for it.
  • Only ask for cards or contact information for people you intend to follow up with.
  • Make the most of your networking by regularly connecting with your contacts.


And finally:
I print 2 business cards, one for my company and what we offer, this has general contact information. Company Name, Tag Line, Logo, general email, general toll-free number and website. Then I have my personal business card, with MY contact details on it. When I’m handing out MY business card, I make it known that this is my direct contact. And by the way, for every 500 company business cards I print, I only print 75 of MY business cards. If you get one of MY business cards, you’ll know what I think of you.