TECHNOLOGY has changed the business world, but the day of the business card is far from over. Card readers and scanners, and electronic versions of business cards stored on mobile phones have not done away with the simple impact that a well-executed business card can deliver.

Just as we judge one another by the quality of the clothes we wear, a business card too provides cues as to how wealthy, successful and professional we are.

These cues form what branding consultants call the "first impression".

In fact, business cards are so powerful, branding consultants describe them as mini billboards - mini because they are small and cost a fraction of the price of the larger ones.

First impressions are so important in everybody's private and professional lives that many people engage a branding firm to help create the right look for their card.

Whether you are a job applicant talking to prospective employers, or a business trying to make every contact with a new customer count, you will benefit from a card that creates a good impression.

Smart card

* Make it memorable. A lawyer's business card may mimic a get-out-of-gaol free card; a painter, a swatch of colour. Be creative. Think of the last time someone gave you a business card, and you simply tossed it in the bin without a thought. You don't want the same thing to happen to your card.

* Check out your competitors. You shouldn't copy them, but instead measure the quality and design you are competing against in your industry. Decide on what you need to do to make your business card stand out.

* Avoid cheap. Like a suit, a custom-made one looks better and increases your confidence during a meeting. You may have only one chance to make an impression, so make the most of it. If it means you have to spend a dollar per card to make the right impression, consider it money well spent.

* Include a picture of yourself. If you plan to leave your card in various places, with little personal presence, a photo of yourself and a bullet-point explanation of your business are useful. But be warned. Poorly taken photos will create a negative impression.

* Build credentials. For start-up companies, mentioning one's doctrines or degrees can make a difference. Including business accolades and alliance logos is a good idea if they are relevant.

* Keep the business card simple. The more uncluttered, the easier to read and remember. Use both sides. One side for the brand, the second for details. This also gives scope to advertise the services and products you offer.* Examine different finishes. After looking at a card, a recipient next experiences it by feeling it. Cards which provide an experience through touch are recalled up to four times more than business cards without one.

* Make it bold. Colour creates the most impact for dollar. Examine the impact your card makes up close in your hand, or on a desk a few metres away. Orange, purple and green are good colours because they are unusual. But always try to stick with colours of your brand.

* Think about the business card holder. Irrespective of how well the card is designed, the recipient will often see the holder first, so make sure you are comfortable with the quality. Select a holder that is durable and capable of withstanding scratches.

After you have created the perfect card, think about how to give it. Always allow your clients to hand their business card first. When it is your turn, hand the card so that it faces the recipient so he can read it.

Card etiquette

* Accept and give cards with two hands. This is especially practised in Asia, and is important when dealing with older business people. I remember being in a meeting once where a supplier flung his card at me from across the table. I didn't have to be Asian to feel disrespected.

* Read names and titles carefully. If you are unable to pronounce the name of the person who gave you his card, now is the time to ask. Observe the card for anything that may spark a conversation. By demonstrating interest in your contact, he becomes interested in you.

* During a discussion, keep your contacts' business cards at arm's length on the surface of the table. This not only demonstrates respect but helps you address them by their correct names and titles.

* Have a plentiful supply of cards. At a business function or social gathering, some people take offence if they give you their card and do not receive yours.

Considering how many business introductions are made through personal networking and referrals, it is surprising how little consideration and money is spent on business cards.

When you calculate the cost of meeting a new customer from the time it took to identify him, call to make an appointment, drive to meet him, and then buy him coffee, can you afford not to make a positive first impression?