Global business card dimensions vary. So does card stock, font, color and the content on the card. Add in different languages, titles, methods of exchanging and storing cards, and your potential for faux pas increases exponentially.
That is, if you even remember to bring your business cards with you.
When Sidney Elston III, author of the political thriller Razing Beijing, was a top GE engineer, his roles was as technical spokesperson for the GE90 aircraft engine (which powers Boeing 777s), a job which resulted in many international marketing trips.
After one prestigious presentation in Tokyo, Sid found himself having dinner and drinks with Japan Airline’s board of directors. Unfortunately, as the formal exchange of business cards began, Sid realized his were sitting on a bureau back in the hotel room. JAL did not ultimately select the GE90 – (for whatever reason) – but Sid now carries plenty of business cards at all times.
Gen Xers in the US sometimes seem to regard business cards as a boring necessity. Why bother with a card when ubiquitous Internet access lets you Google, FB or get LinkedIn to everyone anyway?
But can you afford to ignore business practices in other markets? In South Korea, China and Japan business cards are considered an extension of you, and should be treated with respect. Your credibility in many Asian, Middle Eastern, and African countries can rise with the correct execution of a card exchange. Conversely, a mangled proceeding can detract from a good first impression.
As Larry Cahill, technical director at Environmental Resources Management, observes, slipshod business card handling can make you look like an amateur, and damage your prospects.
Larry recounts one event in Asia where a US manager pulled out a stack of cards held together with a rubber band. They were bent in the center and smudged. Of course the Asian prospects received them politely, but those sloppy cards and his lackadaisical attitude was a factor in his losing that business.
Thoughtful design and imagery count too. Avoid pictures of dogs, pigs and other animals that can be considered unclean (or food items) in different parts of the world. Also ask about using specific symbols, like flags, since they may be impolitic or taboo in marketing materials. (Never use the flag of Saudi Arabia. Allah’s name is on it.)
Whatever options you choose, be sure that your cards are easy to read and will fit into standard card holders. Then when you are asked for your card, you’ll be prepared to present an attractive, interesting two-dimensional memento of you.
Seven Golden Rules of Business Card Exchange in Asia
1. Have your business card translated into the target language on one side. Include a mobile number so your contacts can text you. (Texting is huge in Asia.)
2. Use a business card holder. Carry it in your jacket pocket or your purse, never in your back pants pocket.
3. Bring plenty. Never run out; a lack of cards may imply you have no job, or are absent-minded and therefore unreliable.
4. Hold the card with two hands. Keep your thumbs on the edges nearest you. Make sure the information on the card faces the other person.
5. Bow slightly as you offer the card to the other person. If you are in the subordinate position, put your card lower, or underneath, your contact’s card.
6. If you are exchanging cards simultaneously, offer the card with your right hand and receive your contact’s card with your left hand and then hold it with both hands. Look at the card closely and thank your contact.
7. Writing on the card is insulting to the owner. If you must make notes, wait until after the meeting.
Terri Morrison is a speaker and co-author of nine books, including Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands: The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More Than Sixty Countries, and her newest book, Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands: Courtrooms to Corporate Counsels. She is president of Getting Through Customs, developers of Kiss Bow or Shake Hands Digital – available through McGraw-Hill. TerriMorrison@kissboworshakehands Twitter @KissBowAuthor. Tel (610) 725-1040. Visit www.kissboworshakehands.com , and join the Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands Group on LinkedIn!