| Branding, Business, Design Basics, Startups

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If you’re starting a business you’re going to need business cards. But if you’re starting a business, you may be looking to save money on the myriad of upfront costs involved with getting the company up and running. Let’s look at the different levels of professionalism and brand identity that you could consider when getting your first business cards.

Design & Branding Fees vs. Production Costs

There are two steps to creating your business card: first is the design of the card, and the second is the printing of the card.

For the design, you will likely start by developing a logo or a logotype (a specific, customized typesetting of the business name). In addition, you will need to typeset your contact information, and then you will need to look at the layout of the entire card. You could try to do these yourself, or you could work with an experienced designer.

For the production, you will need to find a printing source. This can range from your own desktop printer, to an online discount printer, to a local offset printer. You will also need to consider what paper stock to use and sometimes you’ll have choices about the types of inks or finishes you’ll use. Cards can print one-color or full-color; digitally or offset. You can also consider special techniques like letterpress, foil stamping or spot varnishes. Also, you can print anywhere from 1 to a million depending on your needs.

Where is the value?

Let’s look at the spectrum from low-cost on both design & production to high-cost for both. And what the value is of those elements.

  1. No business card. Obviously, this is a very cheap option. However, you look kind of silly when you have to tear a sheet of paper from a notepad and scribble out your contact information.
    Will this work for you?
    I doubt it.
  2. Design it yourself, print it yourself. Find some clipart or other images. Do your own typesetting. Buy some perforated card stock at the office supply store and run it through your desktop printer.
    Will this work for you?
    I have seen a few photographers use this system. But they usually own a high-end color printer and they use their own images from their portfolio. For everyone else, clip art will look amateurish, and the paper will be very thin if it is able to go through your printer. You end up looking like you’re not taking yourself seriously.
  3. DIY, but with caution. Skip the clipart, but typeset your own card, and find a low-cost printing solution such as a copy shop or an online printer.
    Will this work for you? This is a temporary, stop-gap measure. If you cannot afford a designer you are making a smart move to minize your design elements to your basic contact information. While the end result is not as ghastly amateurish as option 2, you’ve shot yourself in the foot by not taking the time to develop a brand identity. However, if you’ve got a logo in process and have sales calls, to make this is a low-cost way to make sure you have something with your contact information on it.
  4. Hire a designer to design a business card only (not a complete logo & identity package) and have them help you select a printer.
    Will this work for you? This works for solopreneurs or consultants who do not necessarily need a logo for a separate business entity. A qualified graphic designer should be able to develop a simple brand for you building on the layout & design of the card, rather than the the development of a logo. He or she may decide to use speciality papers or finishes to create a memorable look, so be open to using a traditional offset printer, rather than relying on online sources (who can generally only print on white paper).
  5. Hire a designer, monitor your production costs. Work with a designer to develop a branding program for you, but let them know that you need to keep production costs in check.
    Will this work for you? This is a great solution for a small business to be able to develop and build an identity without breaking the bank. Make sure you are upfront with the designer about wanting to keep printing costs to a minimum. A smart designer will be able to design something with these limitations in mind. It can be done by developing only a 1-color logo, or developing a design that will print successfully using an online digital source. It may even be a unique hand-done approach you hadn’t considered. A few examples from our portfolio include Cream & Sugar Bakery, 3-Fitness Coaching, and New England Clean Energy. Another great thing about this way of working is that as you grow and need additional business cards, your repeating production costs are containted.
  6. Hire a design, and the sky is the limit.
    Will this work for you? Sure, if you have the money. And there are certain businesses where having the most unique and outlandish business card around is a true asset. But for many of us, keeping production costs low while developing a professional look and feel is a smart way to develop your brand.

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