The pitfalls of buying cheap or "free" business cards

Since starting my business almost 4 years ago I’ve networked with a lot of other new and/or small businesses owners. Over the course of the years, I’ve noticed how many of these business owners “save money” by getting cheap, “free” or home-made business cards. But are they really saving money in the long run?
One of the main things I’ve noticed in recent months since changing the prescription of my contact lenses, many cheap cards are difficult to read because the text is either too small due to cramming too much on the card, there’s not enough contrast between the text and the background, or both.
Added to that, their business cards are not unique, the card stock is often flimsy and bendy, and poor quality images are often unrecognizable, distorted or cropped badly.
All-in-all, their unprofessional-looking business cards give the false impression that they themselves are not professional and not in it for the long haul. For this reaaon, I thought I would highlight some of the pitfalls of buying cheap or “free”.

  • Your business card (or flyer or website for that matter) is not unique
  • Often the card stock is thin and bendy
  • Text is not readable especially in half light
  • Images are often low resolution and distorted
  • Free doesn’t always mean free
  • Your business does not look professional

If you need business cards designed or printed, contact Kaz Design Works for pricing?

Why buy cheap if you can’t be unique?

When you use “free” printing services thousands of people “buy” the same business card and, except for the wording and maybe a slight font change, the overall look of the card is the same. I’ve attended events where two members have handed me the same business card.
If you create your own business card, you’ll more than likely use Publisher or some other Microsoft program and use their free clip art that thousands of others have used before you. Some “designers” or desktop publishers who create “cheap” business cards use the same program and also use their free clip-art.
How will you set your business apart from others if your business card looks the same as someone else’s? Branding your business requires creating a unique identity that people can recognize you by.
Granted, even when you purchase stock images for your marketing material, it’s possible to come across somebody else using the same photo in theirs. But a professional graphic designer won’t just plop stock images into the design, they will artfully create something unique using that image.

Is your cheap card all bent out of shape?

Feel the thickness of your “free” or home-made business card compared with a card that has been printed using a quality print company. Notice the difference?
It’s  likely to be smaller than standard business card. Not only that, but it’s probably a lot thinner and thin means less sturdy resulting in it getting all bent out of shape.
This can cause text to become illegible or at best, hard to read, also making it difficult to scan using a business card scanner.
I’ve even thrown away some “cheap” business cards I’ve put in my pocket or purse by mistake becaue they didn’t feel like a business card.

Is your contact information easy-to-read and scannable?

When creating your own business card or using a “free” online template, your contact information may seem big to you when viewing your card on screen, but once printed it’s often a lot smaller than you thought.
If like me the person you give your business card to has a hard time reading small print in half light, they are going to have extreme difficulty reading your contact information if your text is small.
The situation is compounded when the font colour does not contrast with the background colour or if you’ve used a scripty font for your contact information. The fonts may look pretty, but they are hard to read at the best of times, let alone when small.
This makes it nie on impossible to input contact information into a database using two hands on the keyboard and the job becomes laboriously slow.
Professional designers know what size and style of fonts to use for easy reading and only use script fonts on short blocks or non-essential text such as signatures. For contact information that needs to be read or scanned, high contrast colours, easy-to-read fonts and a good text size are used.

Does that snapshot look as good as you think?

When creating your “free” or home-made card, you’re often tempted to use your own photos taken with cheap, low resolution cameras. Even if you used a good camera, how good does your photo really look? What’s that in the background? Can you actually see the subject?
Printed on cheap card stock, using poor quality, low resolution photos results in poor quality printed images. Not only that, if you don’t have professional image editing software, the likelihood is the subject of your image is either small, distorted or is surrounded by clutter you were unable to crop out.
A professional designer will use high quality stock images or, when it’s your portrait photo, advise you to have a professional photo taken, and will crop the photo to the right size, use the correct colour settings and  save it with the correct resolution and file format.
In the worst case scenario, where you provide a non-professional photo, the designer will do their best to enhance the photo and crop out any clutter before including it in any artwork.

Did you really want that personalized notepad?

Often “free” doesn’t always mean free.
“Free” business card suppliers will often tempt you to buy something else, like a personalized note pad, something you don’t really need. Usually, these extras are over-priced and don’t match your brand (or the “free” business cards you’re buying).
If you don’t want the print company’s information on the back of the card that usually comes at a price, or if you prefer to supply your own design instead of using a template, there may also be a charge.
And, don’t forget about shipping costs. If you need a print proof there’s an additional charge to courier it to you. If you order more than the “free” amount, you’ll need to pay for the extra.  And if you don’t order enough and run out sooner than expected, you will need to pay to ship more. You may even be charged for a second order.
Often when the cards arrive, they’re not quite what you expected, you realize you can’t read your text, you have a typo you didn’t spot. You won’t get a refund and you’ll have to start again with a new order, which takes time and money.

Who are you again?

Add up all the extra costs and time spent and compare the total with the cost of using a professional designer and a local printer. Was it really worth it?
At best, you may have saved some money, but your business does not look professional and you create the wrong first impression.
Your business card is your one marketing tool you keep with you all the time and give to new acquaintances you meet wherever you are.
If you hand a flimsy, bent card that your potential new client has seen before, is he/she going to remember you? Worse still, is he/she going to think you’re professional?

In the long run, you need a quality, professionally designed business card

A unique design created by a professional designer and printed on quality card stock by a professional printer speaks volumes. It tells your potential client that not only are you professional but that you mean business and are in it for the long haul. All-in-all, that will set you apart from your competition and make you more memorable.
In the long term, when he/she needs the services or products you offer, who are they likely to call or email for a quote or appointment? The guy with the flimsy, hard to read, bent out of shape business card or yours?

Other things to consider about your business card:

  • Does it state clearly what you or your company does if it’s not apparent from the business name?
  • Does it include your web address and a domain name email address?
  • Is it clean and simple and easy to read or is it cluttered and hard to read?
  • Does your company name or logo stand out from the rest of the text?
  • Do you use a symbol, image or font that will become synonymous with your business?
  • Is the small print in an easy to read font and in a contrasting colour to the background?
  • Is your business card a standard size so that it fits in a business card holder?
  • Is your business card scannable? Folded or oversize cards won’t fit in a business card scanner?
  • Do you have a white or light area with matte finish for recipients’ notes?

If you need business cards designed or printed, contact Kaz Design Works for pricing?