Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Canvass for Your Business

Most businesses recognize the value of advertising.  However, if you’re like me – an artist, entrepreneur, and/or small business owner – your budget for this important expense may be too small for media advertisements or other traditional forms of marketing.  Business cards can be an effective means of promotion, applied liberally.

However, business cards can also be expensive depending on quantity (print-run), colour(s), paper quality, and whether printed on one or both sides.  Printers (traditional or on-line) have varying minimums for print-runs, the lowest I found is 100 cards, the highest is 500, and the average minimum print-run is 250.  New printing technologies have brought prices down considerably, yet the costs can still be onerous for small businesses.

In an age when phone numbers and email addresses change frequently, purchasing a few hundred business cards can prove wasteful.  Yet, short print-runs are more costly, per card, than larger orders.  The way I’ve avoided this dilemma is to make my own business cards.

Some will argue that homemade cards look amateur.  Yet, with good card-stock and a little restraint (using colours, fonts, and graphics), you can create professional-looking cards for a fraction of the cost.  All you need is a good word processor, a modicum of creative skill, some “clean-edge” card blanks, and a little time.  Once you’ve designed your card, you can save it – and many variations of it – for future printing.   Most word processors offer templates for business cards and, with a few modifications, you can personalize these to suit your company and its character.

It may seem like a lot of work yet the results pay off in many ways:
  1. Word processors have clip-art installed, but personal photos, bitmap images, or CAD drawings can also be inserted.  (The cost of adding these “external” images in commercial print-jobs can be exorbitant.)
  2. With a little extra ink, you can easily produce double-sided cards.
  3. Print-runs can be small – card-blanks are (usually) ten cards per sheet.    Admittedly, that’s a very short run, but wasted cards due to informational changes will be few.
  4. Because short print-runs are available, it possible to have various designs (each version saved as a separate file) for different purposes/occasions.
  5. Most conveniently, once you’ve created the file, it takes very little effort to copy and paste the result into email or other computer applications – difficult to do with a printed card.
  6. When running low, you can produce more cards in a matter of minutes, rather than waiting days (or longer) for new cards to arrive from the printer.

Colour is the only limitation to making business cards; white and ivory card-stock being the only colours I’ve found.  However, I’ve heard it said that coloured paper, use of coloured and or elaborate fonts, borders, and imagery, can make cards difficult to read.  Moderation is the key.  When used sparingly, these features compliment a company’s “personality.” Too much, and these features can just as easily have a negative impact.  The most effective business card solicits attention through interesting presentation of information, in clear form.

As I mentioned before, costs vary depending on content and style.  The best commercial-printer price I found (locally) was $30 for 100 cards, printed on one side only, no colour, and no image.  The best on-line price I found was $5.99 for 250 cards, but that does not include shipping costs.  As comparison, the (ivory) card-stock I purchased (a few years ago) cost me $11.17 for 250 cards (25 sheets of 10 cards).  Over time, I’ve re-designed and re-printed my business card, changing information as needed, and still have a couple sheets left.  Had I purchased from a traditional printer, the changes to my contact information would have caused at least one wasted print-run.  However, as I print one sheet at a time, only two cards were wasted.  In addition, the card I designed has information on each side, a logo, and coloured font, while the commercial prices shown above do not reflect these features.  The cost of printer ink is negligible (with limited graphics) so the total cost is still considerably less than a comparable business card commercially produced.

One of the most cost-effective means of promotion remains the inimitable business card.  Today, there are many options for printing, but if the expenditure for off-site printing is a deterrent for your company, you might consider making your own.  You’ll have greater creative expression, incur less expense, and the savings will enable you to canvass your business area more liberally.