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Rethinking business cards

Picture_6Andrew Flusche asks for help with designing his business cards, which is interesting because I just redid my business cards yesterday. I decided to make them different than typical business cards. Here’s why.

A few years ago, when I was still working for the large law firm, I jokingly had some ‘Ernie the Attorney’ cards made. Well, actually I made them myself while playing around with Photoshop Elements and then took the file to FedEx/Kinkos and had 500 made. Whenever I ran into people who knew me from this blog I gave them this card on the left (click on it to enlarge it). The black & white photo is what used to appear on the banner of this weblog, so it was sort of a ‘branding’ thing.

People loved the card, and always made a big deal about it. They wanted to know where the picture was taken (the Metro in Paris) and if I had taken it (yes). It seemed like the card had ‘special powers’ because it always created a small buzz. Soon I started giving these cards to everyone, even folks who didn’t know I had a blog. Same result.

That’s when I began to sense that traditional business cards are kind of lame.

Picture_9When I started my solo practice, I still felt obliged to have traditional business cards. I couldn’t say why exactly. I thought maybe for when I needed to give contact information to, say, a court reporter. This card here (pictured left) is the result: it had my phone number, email address, physical address, fax number and so forth. And I think we can agree that it’s pretty dull.

I found that if I gave my ‘Ernie the Attorney’ card to one person in a group and my business card to another person, the later would feel cheated and ask me if they could have one of the ‘special cards.’ That’s when I finally accepted the truth: no one really cares about ordinary business cards.

Picture_5So the other day I updated my blog design with a cool new photo of the skyline of New Orleans. I decided to use the same photo for my firm website, and that led me to consider updating my business cards. I needed to update the cards anyway, since I had recently moved to a new address.

I decided to re-examine the whole business card concept. What exactly do I want my business card to do? First, I want it to be cool enough that people still find it interesting when I give it to them. That’s the most important thing. And it would be best if I present the same ‘brand image’ as my websites. But a business card should let people know how they can contact you. How do people do that these days? They call or they use the internet. So my new card gives two ways to contact me—a phone number and a web address.

Frankly, if people want to find me all they have to do is google ‘ernie attorney’ or ‘ernest svenson’ and they’ll find all the information they need. My physical address and so forth is up on the web, where it can be updated if it changes. My email address is on each of my weblogs. Even if I didn’t have a business card, it would be easy for people to contact me if they wanted to. My business card should encourage them to contact me, and I’ve learned that traditional business cards don’t do much in the way of ‘encouraging.’

I think how we market ourselves deserves to be re-examined. Marketing is about getting noticed, in a good way. Traditional marketing is no longer effective; people rely on it only because it’s familiar. Seth Godin has helped me to understand this principle, and I highly his recent books and his blog, especially the recent post entitled: Why bother having a resume?

Incidentally, if you want to order business cards I recommend a company called Printing for Less. They were recommended to me by a top notch legal marketing consultant named Ross Fishman. They are truly amazing, and very reasonably priced. Definitely better than FedEx/Kinkos.

P.S. If you're a practicing lawyer, check out this Law Practice Assessment . After answering a few questions, you'll get detailed recommendations for improving five key areas of your practice.


  • Richard says:

    This is a great example of how important a solid business card design is to our image. People have seen the standard business card hundreds of times. It is boring, uninspiring and forgettable to see a professional do the exact same type of card as everyone else. If you don’t gain the attention of your customer with your marketing materials, then you’ll have to market to twice as many people. This requires more work and more money for the same end result. The first photo business card is also interesting because you took the photograph; this makes it even more interesting because there is a story behind the photo (and a great conversation piece). This guide to business cards provides some excellent advice on card design and marketing. Your business card is often your first impression and it wields a lot of power. A plain business card tells a potential customer an entirely different story than a professional, creative card.

  • Alan S says:

    I couldn’t agree more with the main point of your article — Great business cards need to be interesting & engaging to be effective. If you look at business cards ONLY as “contact cards” you’re missing half the value.

  • Nick says:

    I was looking for information on the internet for business card ideas for lawyers and came across this post. Great writeup!

  • The idea of combining your regular business card with a card for your blog is a great one.

  • Chris B. says:

    Dang Ernie,

    Now I got to go redesign mine! LOL

  • The first design look fantastic. Look of the business create a good first impression on the mind of the client. If it feel good then customer will remember you for a long period of time.

  • American Psycho says:

    Devils advocate here: It all depends upon your business, but a busy card usually comes across as very amateur. The guy with the fluorescent yellow resume paper may get noticed too, but not in a good way.

    Spend some extra money on good quality paper in a subtle shade of off white, stick to ONE font and make it professional. There is a perceived value thing with a business card; perhaps this is why biglaw still sticks to the traditional and time-tested cards.

  • A few years ago I hired a graphic designer, Yellow Pants Studio (Angelica Hesse) to do my website and she did business cards to match the design of my site. I’m pretty happy with the results. I think the cards look good, and she gets them printed at They seem less expensive than the site you mentioned.

  • Very nice new business cards. The idea of combining your regular business card with a card for your blog is a great one. I just joined a new law firm, and my new cards have information about my blog printed on the back. Before, at my former firm, I used to write the information by hand with a pen on the back of my cards. Eventually, I started printing out small labels that I would stick to the back of my cards. While my new cards are still very traditional-looking attorney business cards, I really like having information about my blog pre-printed on the back. I also ordered some ordinary ones (blank on the back) that I use for court, depositions, etc.

  • Henry Harlow says:

    Congratulations on your breakthrough in marketing Ernie. I would say you are right on the money and outside the box. Certainly is beyond what I wrote in a newsletter article titled “Law Firm Business Card Design That Gets New Clients” on my website in March of 2007. This is so good I will be sending out the link to this page in my next newsletter. Not just for the fine business card but even more to encourage the breakthrough attitude!

  • Kevin OKeefe says:

    Oh yes, Printing for Less – right down the road from Bozeman Montana where we almost moved LexBlog.

    And thanks for bringing your blog back alive this year Ernie. Enjoying the read of what almost looks to be the result of a new year’s resolution to blog everyday. 😉

  • Thanks so much for mentioning in your blog.

    We strive to have the best customer service possible and really appreciate it!

  • By the way, this card on Flickr really hits the same point as yours.

  • Thanks for this great post, Ernie. You definitely answered my plea for help.

    I think I’m going to take the plunge for some less-traditional cards. I absolutely love yours! It gives the key information, and it’s professional. But it’s also engaging.

    Heck, what good is a business card if it doesn’t spark a conversation?!

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