An American Editor

October 17, 2016

The Business of Editing: The Card — Don’t Leave Home Without Them

A repeatedly asked question goes something like this: “Any tips on how to find clients?” There are any number of variations, but the question really is asking “how should I market and to whom should I market?”

The answers given are always the standard answers for today. Be on social media, have a website, ask for referrals, and so on. Never mentioned is one of the oldest and most effective methods of marketing: The Card.

“The Card” is the business card. That little scrap of heavier paper that acts as an introduction of the giver to the recipient — the one piece of paper that a businessperson should never leave at home. It is the gold mine of essential information about its giver.

Colleagues who have attended conferences at which I have spoken know that the first thing I do is make sure everyone present receives at least one of my cards. What they don’t know — because I never said so — is that I also made sure that every hotel or restaurant employee I came in contact with also received a card; I do not know who they know. Experienced conference colleagues also know that I expected to receive a card from them. Some gave me one, but some just made excuses for why they didn’t have a card to give me or for the quality of the card they were handing me. I’m willing to bet that since I stopped speaking at the conferences, the exchange of cards has withered — probably not thought of anymore because the value is not so evident in the internet age.

Yet that is a mistake. Sure, an online presence is important, and today’s young publishing professionals disdain the ways of the past. But I think of it more like I think of Sun Tzu (ca. 544–ca. 496 bc) and Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831) and Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527) — ageless, priceless, and still authoritative. Just as we study these past masters of war and politics because what they said hundreds of years ago is still relevant and accurate today, so the smart hunter of business views the business card.

If I were looking to edit indie fiction, I would attend local writers’ gatherings and I would hand out my card to every attendee every time. It doesn’t matter if they take it home and throw it away; what matters is that for at least a few seconds — and likely longer — the only editor they will think of is me. And the card reinforces my information because it isn’t easy (or polite) to refuse to accept the card, unlike an email that can be put on the spam list.

Years ago I did something a bit different when it came to the card: I had it made into a mini-chocolate bar and I handed out the bar freely, often several at a time. Because I wanted to make a “lasting” impression, I wrapped with the chocolate (sanitarily, of course) the paper version of the card — the recipient received a chocolate card and a paper card.

I’ve stopped using the chocolate card because I am semiretired and can’t make up my mind whether I want more business or less business — but every so often I think about doing it again. Why? Because people liked it enough to actually ask me for a card if I didn’t proffer one immediately — within my narrow market circle I became associated with the chocolate card.

The card is, as I noted earlier, a source for information about me. But it gets boring to read the same information repeatedly (although not to eat the chocolate :)), so I made it a point to redesign my cards every 12 to 18 months. I changed the text, its placement, the colors, the image, the feel. The card was my walking billboard and so it had to be treated as a billboard — it needed to reattract the recipient’s eyes.

The problems are several with relying on social media and online forums to spread your name and attract business. I’ll set aside for this discussion the amount of time it takes, much of which is unproductive (by which I mean not income generating), but will acknowledge that it takes a lot of time. A good example is this blog. It takes hours of work to produce a single essay and it would take even more hours to properly promote the essay across the internet. And the financial return is not commensurate with the amount of time spent to get that return.

Instead, I’ll focus on other problems. For a website to be effective you have to properly design it, maintain it, update it, and most importantly, provide some reason for someone to make the effort to come to it and once there, stay there, not just skate by. The card, on the other hand, requires minimal amount of maintenance and already has a reason for someone to accept it — you are face-to-face in the same room. People are generally social, so you do not need to entice them to say hello when you occupy the same space.

Which raises another problem with online selling — separating yourself from all of the spam that clutters the internet and that most potential clients try hard to avoid. You have to make the recipient of your message want to read your message and then act on it, usually by clicking a link to visit your website. We all know how reluctant most people are, just like we ourselves are, to click a link in an email from someone we do not know. But when I walk up to an author at a book signing, introduce myself and hand over the card, there is no resistance — the recipient sees I am real and has to do nothing more than what they would normally do.

The point is that the card has not lost its value in finding clients; we just need to use them differently in the internet age.

Business cards need to be well-designed and printed, not just slopped together on the home computer and printed on tear-apart business card stock on the home printer. The information on the card has to be just right for your audience. (At one time I used five different cards simultaneously. Each was designed for a different target market and I would hand to a recipient the card appropriate for the their market.)

I suspect few of my colleagues still use business cards to a great extent, which means there is a marketing opportunity for the adventurous. Old-fashioned marketing is still the most effective marketing in a business like editing because it is personal marketing of personal services. It gives us the chance to demonstrate our interpersonal skills, something that is greatly diluted by the internet.

If I were looking to build my clientele today, I would make business cards part of my effort, especially because it would force me to think about and define my market and how to reach it in a novel fashion.

Richard Adin, An American Editor


  1. Amazing Post ❤️️


    Comment by MissKymmiee — October 17, 2016 @ 4:18 am | Reply

  2. I had business cards printed when I first started up in 2007. In 2014 I had a new logo designed, so I splashed out and had some (better) quality business cards printed. They are good to hand to new clients, at networking events, conferences, book fairs, and I always keep some in my gym bag, handbag and the car because you just never know when you might need one. The only suggestion I would make is not to print a huge amount in one go. Reason being, over time, you might drop some services and add others. For example, I no longer do academic editing. You may also change your logo or your contact details could change. So while it costs a bit more to have a smaller print run, it’s actually more economical to print less and not have hundreds wasted when changes occur.


    Comment by fullproofreading — October 17, 2016 @ 4:23 am | Reply

  3. I have yet to directly gain business from handing out my card, but I still do it at every opportunity except group social activities where it would be considered obnoxious and pushy. But I know I’m in a lot of people’s address books, and the cards lead people to the website, which serves as a combination of business card, resume, and profile. Very few people come to me by finding my website on their own and following through, but a lot of them look at it when directed there, and it helps them make up their minds about doing business with me. Or just getting acquainted.


    Comment by Carolyn — October 17, 2016 @ 6:15 am | Reply

    • The business card was rarely a direct link to new business. It’s purposes are to introduce you, to direct recipients where you want, and to remind recipients that you exist and have a service for them. In addition, cards get handed around. When I was more active, I often was contacted with the first words being “I was given your business card by ____.”


      Comment by americaneditor — October 17, 2016 @ 6:42 am | Reply

  4. As a conference attendee, I am happy to report that the practice of exchanging business cards at conferences is alive and well! Some people also bring their business-imprinted pens to give out. In fact, a colleague of mine reported that at a conference she recently attended, people not only had their business cards but were carrying around the boxes they came in and handing them out from the boxes rather than fumbling with those pocket-sized little card holders. Note to self: bring the whole box or buy or make a similar kind of container to carry vast quantities of cards.

    Another tip that I’ve seen and used at conferences is to wear clothing with pockets that are easy to access, and keep a quantity of cards loose in your pocket(s). You replenish your pocket supply before each conference session.

    Another development that my colleague reported, and that I have also seen on a few cards, is the increasing presence of QR symbols on cards. You use your smartphone or tablet to read the QR code to access the person’s or company’s website or resume or whatever it links to. Combines the best of both old school and new methods of marketing!


    Comment by Teresa Barensfeld — October 17, 2016 @ 10:14 am | Reply

  5. I like your post and agree with most of what you said. I always carry cards in my purse. I read a discussion of QR symbols and whether to include them on another site. The jury is still out on this one. As to the point about attending writers’ conferences and handing out cards, it’s expensive to attend these and you don’t want to stand in the lobby and hand out business cards. You may not receive the kind of attention you hoped. The Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs has a table where you can place your cards. However if you don’t pick them up when the conference is over, they will be tossed. As far as handing your card out to every attendee at local gatherings for writers, I think the writers would think they were being stocked and your only purpose in attending was to add to your client list.


    Comment by Cassie Armstrong — October 17, 2016 @ 12:04 pm | Reply

    • Cassie, you’re absolutely right that you have to deal with cards as appropriate to the particular conference or other circumstances. There are some conferences, like the one I’ve attended (Communication Central) and the one my colleague attended (EFA), where it is de rigueur for everyone to exchange cards. Ideally, after you get home from the conference, you would contact everyone whose card you received, send LI invites, etc. (Not that I actually manage to do all that!) But if the people at a conference don’t seem conducive to that and would even consider it invasive, then I’d definitely be more guarded about handing out cards and would just leave them out on the table designated for card. I wouldn’t care if they got tossed if I forgot to pick them up, given that I should update them for the next conference (or whatever) anyway, and it would be a good incentive for me if I was running low on them.


      Comment by Teresa Barensfeld — October 17, 2016 @ 2:25 pm | Reply

    • Cassie, I may not have been as clear as I should have been in my description of handing out cards at writers’ conferences or other conferences. I do not think one should simply walk up to another person with a card in hand and hand it to them. Instead, I try to have a little conversation. I begin by introducing myself and I offer a business card, saying something like “I have difficulty remembering names, so I always ask a new acquaintance to exchange business cards. The card acts as a way to keep refreshing my memory.” And I do it with a big grin/smile — as friendly a look as my mug can muster. It rarely fails to result in a friendly exchange and at the next meeting, even though we have met before, I can extend the business card while discussing something else because the recipient already knows my reason — to help reinforce name recognition. If they tell me they already received a card, I say something like “That’s OK. This is to help me remember. Feel free to toss it later or use it as a bookmark or to write a note about something you want to remember,” again, with the smile. By the third meeting, the person just accepts the card. Yet all of this helps cement my name in their mind, which is the purpose.

      If someone is sending vibes that they really do not want the card, I just put it back in my pocket while we are chatting. But most people subconsciously know that that if they want to be recognized they also must recognize and so they are social and accept the card, even if to toss it later. The key is approach.


      Comment by americaneditor — October 18, 2016 @ 3:26 am | Reply

  6. I’ve been advocating having business cards, and taking them along everywhere you go, for YEARS. Not just to conferences, but to the store, the dr’s office, hairdresser’s, parties, on vacation – everywhere. I’ve gotten new clients because I could hand someone my card in all such places, and I know one colleague who got a new client by having a business card at hand to give someone she chatted with in line at a highway gas stop. She says it made a professional impression even though she was wearing schlubby sweats because she was on her way home from vacation. You just never know.

    My cards have a QR code on the back, but there’s still enough space for me or a recipient to make a brief note if needed. The design matches my website.

    I might not leave a big stack of cards on a table at a conference, at least not without going back for the ones not picked up – I think they work better when you hand them out in person. And I wouldn’t just hand them out to any- and everyone; I’d try to have at least a brief conversation with anyone I’m going to give my card to.

    At the writers’ conferences I’ve been to, I didn’t get the sense that others felt stalked when someone was handing out business cards to all and sundry, but again – some of that perception might depend on how people do this. It’s like all aspects of networking; you have to use some tact and care in how you approach colleagues and potential clients.


    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — October 17, 2016 @ 11:50 pm | Reply

  7. Oh – I have about half a dozen cardholders, and keep them stocked so I always have cards for whichever bag I’m carrying at the moment. I keep one in my overnight bag (and restock it as soon as I get home from a trip) so I can’t forget to have cards with me if I travel. Because they’re all purple, they support my “brand,” and they look more elegant and professional than a box packed with a couple hundred cards. They’re also easier to carry! Since I usually wear a dress with a jacket at conferences, I just put one in a jacket pocket so it’s handy throughout the event.


    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — October 18, 2016 @ 9:24 am | Reply

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