My April "World Wise" Business Traveler USA Column
3 ½” x 2” (US), 3.37” x 2.12” (Europe), 3.583” x 2.165” (Japan)
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 precipitously.
That is, if you even remember to bring your business cards with you.
Sidney Elston III, author of the political thriller Razing Beijing, was caught empty-handed back in the 1990’s. As a top GE engineer, Sid was the technical spokesperson for the GE90 aircraft engine (which powers Boeing 777s). The technology was highly attractive to airlines and resulted in many international marketing trips.
After one exceptionally 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 some very sharp business cards all the time.
Gen X execs in the USA sometimes seem to regard business cards as a boring necessity. Why bother with a card when it’s more convenient to “bump” phones to exchange information? And with ubiquitous Internet access, you can 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. Their value is belied in their formal presentation; and 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.
Larry Cahill, technical director at Environmental Resources Management, witnessed several painful introductory moments with acquaintances in Asia.
At one event, 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.
At another meeting, an American executive seemed to think he was in a casino. He flung his cards around the table like a blackjack dealer, bloviating all the while and barely glancing at the ones that clients respectfully handed to him.
As Larry observed, slipshod behavior can make you look like an amateur, and damage a sale. Here are ten guidelines for ensuring that your business card exchange in Asia is successful.
1. Have your business card translated into the target language on one side. If your firm is extremely large or particularly old, consider adding those statistics to it.
2. Also forget about your privacy and include a mobile phone number, so your contacts can text you. (Texting is huge in China, and much of Asia.)
3. Buy a business card holder. Place it in your jacket pocket or your purse. Never put it in your back pants pocket.
4. Bring plenty. Never run out; a lack of cards may imply you have no job, or are absent-minded and therefore unreliable.
5. Hold the card with two hands. Keep your thumbs on the edges nearest you. Make sure the data on the card faces the other person. Try not to cover important data with your thumbs.
6. 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.
7. When making a simultaneous exchange of cards, offer the card with your right hand. To convey respect, you may support your right wrist with your left hand. Receive your contact’s card with your left hand and then hold it with both hands.
8. Thank your contact. Look at the card closely, and be sure to make a polite comment or two.
9. During meetings, put the cards on the table in an orderly manner. Don’t scatter them around or play with them. Writing on them is insulting to the owner.
10. When it is time to leave the meeting, carefully pick up all the cards and place them in your business card holder.
Be careful with imagery on your cards. 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 the use of specific symbols, like flags, since they may be impolitic or taboo to use in marketing materials. (For example, 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 2-dimensional memento of you.