The Downside of Free Business Cards

Many would-be entrepreneurs turn to free business card websites as a cheap way to provide customers and sales leads with their business contact details. Kat Cole argues that there are downsides to free business cards and they may be best avoided.

The ‘pick and mix’ problem

 Image source: tenjuneblogFree business cards are a form of advertising. The printing businesses can afford to give them away because they include a free advertisement on the reverse of each. You act as their distributor. You pass their advertisements to all kinds of people they would not normally encounter – and in passing out their material, you provide them with an implicit ‘seal of approval’.

From your point of view, a business card with a strong brand identity helps ensure customers and potential customers remember your company’s name. And it helps to differentiate you from competitors.

But that is only true if the brand identity is unique to your company. Free business card site users choose their new company identity from a selection of pre-designed templates. The problem is those same design templates are presented to thousands of other businesses at the same time. That image you really like may also be attractive to local IT developers, taxi firms, handymen or hairdressers. In fact, it may be most attractive to your competitors – for the same reasons that it is attractive to you. It is highly improbable that you will gain copyright or exclusive control over your new company image.

The identity on your business card may not be available for use on your web site, letterheads, leaflets or signage. Inconsistent branding across your promotional materials can have a real downside. It can make customers and consumers concerned about your reliability and longevity.

You need to ask yourself whether the templates on offer are suitable for your line of business. If you are looking to win the trust of companies in the legal sector, for instance, you probably want business cards that portray your business as solid, reliable and established. Does a business card with a printing company advertisement on one side and a generic company logo on the other achieve that? Doubtful.

While the free business card companies argue that their advertisement is a small “price” to pay, you need to consider just how high the ‘price’ actually is. Using free cards suggests you are not in a position to pay out for promotional materials. Hence, it would not be unreasonable for your potential customers to assume that your current customer base is very small and that you probably don’t have much of a track record.

Paper and print quality

You also need to remember that what you see online is different to what you will end up with. Print and paper quality is often better judged in the hand than on the screen.

It is in the interest of the free business card printer to produce business cards on the lightest and cheapest paper that they can get away with. They may not provide high-end laminates, silk finishes or non-standard dimensions, for instance. When printed on a lower quality paper, your eye-catching colour scheme may appear rather dull. Cheaper papers can allow lower quality coloured inks to ‘bleed’. Your lettering may lose its sharp edges and your photographs may lose their clarity. ‘Cheap-looking’, ‘dull’ or ‘unfocused’ are rarely words that companies want customers to associate with their business.

Printing businesses that supply business cards will often provide you with a sample before they ask you to invest in lager quantities. The best printing companies are often happy to send a single card featuring your design to help aid your decision. In fact, many of the best companies will mail you a sample pack showcasing all the different promotional materials that can be created and supplied for your business.

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One Response to The Downside of Free Business Cards

  1. Jinny Ursell October 23, 2012 at 9:04 am #

    Great article. Totally agree. Free business cards are bad news for business owners. If you value your business and want to look professional it’s these kind of things that matter.

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