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Business Card Etiquette in the U.S.

International business travelers are always studying up on business card etiquette so they can properly observe foreign business customs. In some countries such as Hong Kong the way you present and receive business cards is considered a strict and direct reflection of your business and can make or break any deal. Fortunately, business card etiquette in the U.S. is more relaxed; however, there are some guidelines for making a positive and lasting impression when giving and receiving business cards.

Keep cards clean and crisp

Don’t hand out worn, dirty or faded business cards unless you want your business to look worn, dirty and faded. Make sure your cards are neat and clean and the edges are still sharp. Business card cases are inexpensive and will keep your glossy and matte cards in tip-top shape so you’ll be prepared when you run into that ultra-important contact.

Wait for the right moment

While it is important to distribute many business cards, it’s just as crucial that you do so at the appropriate time. If your prospect is busy or distracted by others, you won’t get the one-on-one attention you want and you risk coming off as pushy. Wait until the conversation turns to business, and then politely offer your card face up. If your contact offers first, gladly accept and offer your own card in return.

There are some exceptions to the rule; for instance, business cards should always be passed out before formal meetings begin. This ensures that everyone in the room knows each others’ names and can increase overall meeting efficiency.

Show interest

When receiving a contact’s business card, it’s always best to quickly read it over and ask a question or make a comment about the person’s business, services, product or even the card’s design. This demonstrates that you respect your new associate and value their business. Making a unique and relevant comment will also help your prospect remember you when they need what you offer. Also, of course, always say “thank you” when accepting a new business card.

In some parts of the globe it’s taboo to write on a business card, even if it’s the back. This is an acceptable practice in the U.S., and can even help you subtly compliment others (thus helping you stand out from the crowd). You could write the answer to the question you asked on the back of a business card, for instance, before putting it in your card case. Conversely, you can also write certain information such as a private email or cell phone number on the back of your card to make potential clients feel appreciated.

If you’re at a conference with business superiors, wait for them to offer their card or ask for yours. In most cases, they’ll appreciate that you respect their time, which could pay large dividends down the road.

Always have business cards ready …

This should go without saying, but you must always have a fresh supply of your business cards on hand. You never know when the next big opportunity will present itself, and it’s essential to be prepared.

… But don’t always hand them out

Business card distribution isn’t – and shouldn’t – be limited to business functions alone. You might run into potential customers at the grocery store, at an athletic event or just about anywhere else; however, there are some places you should refrain from handing out business cards. Funerals, religious ceremonies and other places that command a high level of solemn emotion are generally not good places to swap business cards. Your prospects are likely distracted, and you run a high risk of appearing callous and rude. If you send greeting cards congratulating your current customers on life events such as marriage or childbirth, or bereaving the death of a loved one, you should not include business cards (however, business cards should be included in printed promotional materials).

Compared to other world regions, the rules of business card etiquette are simple and lax in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean you can’t offend anyone. Following these guidelines will help you make a lasting and positive impression the next time you exchange business cards.

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