Business Cards: Free is Bad

This past week, Judy attended a local conference of interpreters and translators in Vegas (a great one that featured court interpretation guru Holly Mikkelson). During most conferences and linguist get-togethers (even virtual events), we like to raffle off a few copies of our book, because we like raffles, like seeing people win, and like giving away stuff (it's also for sale here).

During the last few months, we have observed a troubling trend among linguists: many don't have cards with them, have run out, or hand us a free Vistaprint business card with the line "Free business cards at Vistaprint!" on the back. The reason we ask for business cards is because we put them in a bag and have an innocent person with no vested interest draw the winners for the raffle. We've already realized that many people won't have business cards on them, so we just tell them to use ours (we always bring hundreds) and put their name on the back. But that brings up the question: why would you leave your house to go anywhere, especially a conference, without cards? How can you promote your businesss if you are out of business cards? And: why would you get the free Vistaprint cards that announce to the whole world you can't even pay for your own business cards? If we were customers, we'd feel uncomfortable -- what else is the provider skimping on?

For the uninitiated, Vistaprint makes a lot of great, affordable promotional items (we shop there, too, and we get no special discounts). We especially like their high-quality business cards. The company also makes a wide array of completely free products, which seems too good to be true. The "catch": Vistaprint woulnd't just give away their products for free and get no return on their investment, would they? After all, they are running a business. Hence, the Vistaprint promotional slogan is on the back of all their free products, which makes sense. As a professional linguist, you should stay away from the free cards. Wait for a sales special on Vistaprint or your favorite online or local printer, and buy some real business cards.

By handing out business cards with "free" on the back, you might be sending the following messages:
  • I am not a professional business
  • I don't care about my business
  • I don't take my customers seriously enough to spend $20 on real business cards
  • I am not very business-savvy
  • I can't afford business cards (in which case you should reconsider running a business, because computers and software are much pricer than business cards, and you need those, too).
None of the above might be true, but that will be the impression that people get. And to be perfectly honest, when we meet a fellow professional with either no business cards or free business cards, we are taken aback a bit. Having a solid business card is your entry ticket into the business world (and many conversations), and it's just as important as showing up with clean shoes and no cilantro stuck on your teeth.

We are looking forward to meeting you at the ATA conference in Denver this week. And if you don't have business cards, you can have ours for the raffles -- for now. 


Rachel McRoberts on October 25, 2010 at 2:35 PM said...

Another resource for printed materials (including business cards) is I have often found their prices to be lower than Vistaprint, and they still have good products and fast turnaround.

Jenn Mercer on October 25, 2010 at 7:44 PM said...

I have to agree on the high quality of VistaPrint's premium cards. I am always getting compliments on mine. They are more expensive than free, but still modestly priced.

Percy Balemans on October 26, 2010 at 2:12 AM said...

I agree on both points.

I always carry business cards in my handbag and I even have some in my wallet in case I don't have my handbag with me, because you never know when you will meet a potential client.

Ewa on October 26, 2010 at 5:50 AM said...

I cannot agree with you more. I myself decided to invest in a nice batch of business cards which I carry with me everywhere, not only for meetings with potential clients. You never know when you might need them! And as for the free business cards... as professionals we certainly do not want to make an impression of being 'cheap', and handing someone a card with such a slogan is simply undervaluing your business and yourself for that matter.
I must say that I am treated with even more respect once I hand someone my business card. This is an indispensable part of your business, why underestimate it?

Alex Eames on October 26, 2010 at 1:31 PM said...

I agree 100%. Free email addresses are even worse, since your email footer should contain your contact details, not an advert for someone else's business.

Get your free email from MSN Hotmail. :)

I don't much like "posted from my iphone" or "posted from my blackberry" either.


Tatjana said...

I absolutely agree with you and also with Alex on the issue of free e-mail accounts.

I simply cannot understand how some people think that they can run a business without investing in it.
My business cards are literally everywhere (every single purse, in the side pocket of every jacket, in my car etc.) You never know!

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

Subscribe by email:


Twitter update

Site Info

The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

Translation Times