Thanks for taking the time to read my treatise and analysis of the psychological, sociological, and philosophical implications of a business card.
Since I started out as a professional illustrator in 2005, I have directly helped people with their freelance illustration/design careers to varying degrees of success. The help has ranged from a few words of advice to pretty much having an apprentice to giving lectures/public meltdowns at universities.
It’s no secret that many art students don’t go on to pursue a job related to art. One could read into this somber fact and assume that they got an art education, went into the field, things weren’t cutting it, so they moved on to something more stable or less competitive. Brace that brain of yours, because even that person I described, the one who tried and failed, is in the minority.
I can say with confidence, that many art students don’t make it because they never tried in the first place. Many, never even get past…
…THE BUSINESS CARD.
Even when I was a student, I had a business card. It linked to a website that was hosted by the Republic of Nauru (Pleasant Island on some maps) for free, touted my email address, and lauded my phone number on it.
Succeeding in illustration was very important to me. Without question, as soon as I could afford it, I got business cards made. Before that, I actually remember dreaming of them and even took advantage of the school printer malfunctioning and printing 8.5 x 11 sheets for free. Using the school computer lab, I scanned my work in and used Blogger as my very first website. I didn’t even have a phone at the time, I put my landlord’s phone number on there and asked her everyday if I had any calls.
That’s why it always seemed odd to me when I tried to help people and I suggested they get business cards, they never did. Every time I saw them, I’d ask if they made cards and the answer was always some overly explained and unimaginative version of “I don’t have time/money”.
How hard can it be really? If the art is already made, just resizing it and adding contact info on the back is all it takes (hell even a blank card with just text on it is fine). Plus, I would see these people who professed to have no time upload pictures to myspace (it was that long ago) of themselves partying or going on trips. As for money, that excuse dissipates more and more since business card printing is so competitive that bargain shopping on business cards is a waste of time, any deal usually nets the cards for less than a cent each. For everyone wondering, I use gotprint.com for all my commercial print needs. Most places can print 1000 business cards that cost as much as one night of mixed drinks. This is a far cry from my father who was a graphic designer in the 70′s and having a business card with color on both sides was a sure sign of being successful.
As time wore on, it would get upsetting because I would help friends only to find that they couldn’t even help themselves by spending 30 minutes on a basic design (some business card printers offer online pre made templates for Christ sakes) and $40. Seriously, I had a friend who was with me two separate times and was asked by a major band and director if they were available for freelance work and they didn’t have a card. Again, someone who asked for my advice, to whom I suggested getting a business card , and they didn’t for months on end despite my constant inquiries. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, because you can always enter info into a smart phone or get a scrap of paper, but it sends a message about you.
True to my nature, I try to develop possible reasons behind seemingly non sensical behavior.
The question I posit:
“What is so terrifying about getting a business card?”
A business card isn’t as simple as I was suggesting earlier. That “simple” 2.5 x 3 inch rectangle (or rectangle with rounded corners if you’re a baller like me, woo! woo!) is intimidating and unattainable to the uninitiated. In many developed cultures, like America, fears and limits are often more imagined than real.
Getting a business card makes it all too real. Most people in the situation I have described previously have never truly been on their own or had to work to survive. Most have never built something on their own, something that being a self employed artist is all about.
You can only have a business card if you feel like you have something worth while. Not to say that everyone who has a card has something worthwhile (I have a pile of cards that lead to creative voids), but they think they do. Many people who can’t get to that business card stage might actually have something worthwhile, but don’t think so or let fear turn them. The card has to link to something, usually a website. The website must have content and inevitably, that content must lead to you (contact page).
Think about business cards from the point of view of a person who isn’t totally serious and confident in their abilities but isn’t aware of their own lack of commitment or self assurance. People have difficulty lying to others, hence the various “tells” that police interrogators pick up on, yet we can flawlessly lie to ourselves. What is the lie? Not wanting to admit to being afraid or weak.
If you get a business card, that means a few things. You need to go to ad agencies, conventions, art shows, client offices, etc to hand them out. If you don’t do that, the business cards will remain in a box, tucked away in a closet. Despite being out of sight, that box of unused cards can reflect your guilt and shame through lead doors and concrete walls.
You can’t quit your art career though, your parents had a going away party when you left for college and your arthritic aunt traveled from some state that teaches Creationism to wish you good luck. Maybe even your parents paid for your education, so the pressure is really on. What’s the other choice? If you try to succeed, that means standing among people who are better than you, making a case for yourself, making a bad decision when bad and worse are your only options, making compromises, breaking away from friend groups, changing your lifestyle. All that for absolutely no guarantee you’ll make it. So what do you do? I channel Fyodor Dostoevsky in my belief that people at large don’t want freedom because they don’t want the burden of making decisions and being responsible for those decisions.
You do what is plaguing this entire country. You do absolutely nothing and hope something happens to guide you along (when you expect those things to happen, that’s entitlement, another thing ruining this country). People with bigger elbow patches than I have written extensively on the prolonged adolescence of the American adult. Lacking commitment and indecisiveness are becoming more and more acceptable, but that type of person needs a salve to heal the gash that is the void created by their inactions. To convince themselves they haven’t given up, they seek advice from successful people, because that’s the next best thing to actually doing something. As I said before, you can lie to yourself, but as time progresses and more and more friends start getting jobs in art, the fracture that is the lie becomes a canyon. So when those friends discuss their design jobs, that person can say they are still trying by asking for advice from successful people who are a few times removed. If they asked their friends for advice, the lie would split open. Asking a person like me doesn’t reveal the lie, because I don’t know them too personally, so there’s no context.
In short, a business card is the blade that can cut open that lie, for others and themselves. If they don’t use those cards and they sit around unused, they reveal the lie to that person. If they actually use them, then their perceived fears of rejection, not being good enough, etc might be realized if, Heaven forbid, a client should contact them.
For me, I can’t remember a time I ever got work from business cards. Most of my work comes from my work (ad agency emails usually start with “We have your ______ poster in our office and thought it was about time we worked with you!) Usually my business cards are for these groups of people: 90% People who are cheap and/or want free things, 7% Human parasites that sign people up for their newsletters/junk mail which is why I don’t have my email address on cards anymore, 2% People who stepped in something that need a scraper, 0.5% People who compulsively steal things, 0.5% Die hard fans who like and support my art. Most business card interactions are for people to try to act like big shots to their friends or some girl they want to do sex on who probably just wants to be friends (Hey, my company is exploding and we can pay you big time. Rather than discuss actual numbers or make a deal in person at this trade show exhibition that I paid money to get into, I’ll just take your card). Using Google analytics, I can see where traffic to my website comes from and it’s 97% blog, social media, and womenwholikesociallyawkwardmen.com links. The remaining 3% is from people directly entering my domain name or doing a search for my name. I did loose math and determined based on this that if I hand out 1000 business cards, only a handful of people at most will use it to go to my site.
Despite how useless a business card is compared to everything else in the world of self e-promotion, it’s still crucial. It’s about sending a message. A message that you can afford to have something REAL to give away that costs money yet is superfluous. That when you’re at a convention and everyone pulls out their cards and trades them (think American Psycho, but we’re all wearing t-shirts with comic book characters on them), you’ll never be that guy who says he left his at home, but we all know he doesn’t have one and judge him for it. That you can look a person in the eye and confidently hand them something that will lead them to your achievements. It sends a message that you make decisions and stick with them.
In summation, I would like to hold up the business card as a rite of passage for those in the artistic professional field who have started from the bottom and worked their way up. If you see me at a convention, trade your card for my card and in an instant, we’ll both have a baseline amount of respect for each other. Don’t get cocky, I said BASELINE.