929522_16909113I have a business card collection. It started out unintentionally: I have one box that I throw any business cards into, after I add the relevant contact information to my address book. Every so often, though, I like to go through my little box and take a look at what the current trends for business cards are. Of course, there are some major differences between industries, but I have noticed some interesting things.

A surprising number of the names on the cards in my box are repeated. I’m not talking about duplicates: I’ve been introduced to quite a few people who have handed me a card for their day job, and then added a personal card to the stack. It seems that carrying multiple business cards is becoming common.

How Many Business Cards Do You Need?

If your employer goes to the effort of printing you business cards, the expectation seems to be that you’ll hand out those cards at each and every event you attend. But your job may not be the only thing you have going these days. The number of people pursuing something on the side is constantly growing. Heck, even full-time freelancers seem to wind up with multiple approaches and multiple cards — a blogger who also does SEO optimization may have a card for each aspect of his business.

But what does that mean for the rest of us? Just because the cool kids have multiple business cards doesn’t mean that all of us have to try to remember which card to hand out at which events, right? I think the answer really comes down to ‘it depends.’ And it depends mores on you than on your employer. Whether or not you have an employer who prints your cards for you, it’s still important to have at least one card. But that doesn’t mean you need to hand everyone you meet both your personal and your employer’s cards.

Business Cards Versus Personal Cards

The real decision maker on the type of card you need comes down to what your own plans for your career include. Is it a priority for you to (eventually) make money on your side projects or move into a career more closely related to those projects? Do you see yourself moving on from your current employer — by their choice or yours — any time soon? If you’re answering yes, it does make sense for you to have some kind of personal card listing contact information beyond your employer’s. Think of it this way: if you’re working for a company that doesn’t seem steady, you want to be building connections that will help you move on down the road. You definitely don’t want your best contacts trying to reach you at a work email address long after you’ve left a particular company.

That doesn’t mean that a business card with your name and your employer’s logo isn’t useful. If you’re acting in a capacity as a representative of your company, it’s probably best to limit yourself to handing out your official business cards. After all, no one wants word to get back to the boss that they’ve been looking for prospects on company time. Furthermore, odds are pretty good that you do different things in your off-time than you might for an employer. Your employer may be the contact information that a potential client is actually interested in. Networking isn’t so much a game of how many names can you get in your address book as how many people can you help get things done (and who might be able to help you out as well).

A Basic Card

Maybe you’re thinking that it’s time to create a personal card of your own. You may not have any side projects, but you even if you just want an easy way of sharing your personal contact information, a card can make the fit. Furthermore, you can do it very inexpensively. Online printers, like OvernightPrints or VistaPrints will run cards at prices as low as $10 for 100 cards. Put together a basic card with your name, phone number and email address and you’re ready to rock and roll. A simple card without a fancy design can actually be just as eye-catching as other options.

Sure, there are all sorts of social media cures for the card that are prefect for sharing your personal contact information at the touch of a button — Contxts comes to mind as an example — but the average member of the business is unlikely to join up with those services just to get one person’s contact information. If you’re thinking about relying on one of these tools to share your personal contact information, plan on needing to scribble it down on a napkin on a regular basis.

That brings me to a last point. While it can be acceptable to write down a home phone number on a business card when you’re trying to make sure that a prospective client can get ahold of you if need be, it strikes me as unprofessional to flip over a card and proceed to write down a list of home contact information down to your Twitter ID and LinkedIn address. If you find yourself doing so on a regular basis, it’s a good warning sign that it’s time to get a personal business card.

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