We’ve all seen the Vistaprint ads: “Get 500 premium business cards for $25.00.” Seems pretty cheap, so why wouldn’t a smart business just dole out the 25 large? It must be worth the chance to network and get your name out to potential customers, right? Well, if you’re a small business or startup, that $25.00 could be spent on a slew of other resources.

Let’s start by justifying why you should spend the time making your own cards versus spending the money to let someone else do the same thing. Or, what you may consider to be the same thing.

A common misconception, solved with some common sense.

Everyone prints their business cards the same way. Think about it: you’re glancing at a huge bulletin board in your local café while waiting on a drink. Amid a sea of 3.5x2in cardstock templates, the promotional palettes that stand out are the ones that take a strange or creative approach. Why limit yourself to dull templates when you can make your own distinctive business cards for almost nothing?

I realize that small business owners are in fact quite busy, but there are ways to create personalized or otherwise one-of-a-kind cards quickly and efficiently. A few ideas:

-Start with cards that already have your contact information printed on them. Then construct or order a custom rubber stamp that resembles your company’s logo (and ink) and go to town on the cards. (I stole this idea from a pair of graphic designer friends who wrangled their own card design for a gallery opening earlier this year; check their work out here.)

Design by Ashlee Bueg and Amanda Widzinski

-Punch holes and make string ties in order to hang your cards from door knobs, tree branches, coat hooks and more. This also allows people to attach the card to a keychain or karabiner if they’re lacking a wallet or pockets.

-Make bi-fold business cards to stand on tabletops, where others lay flat. This is an easy way to stand out from the pack while simultaneously giving yourself more surface area on which to design and print.

Design by Zina Simonaitis

-Make some cards with blank “to” and “from” fields that can be filled out at the point of receipt. This makes the end of a networking experience (or better yet a potential date!) personalized and memorable. This could be supplemented by a deal or special offer included on the card, mimicking a traditional gift tag.

-Similar to the stamping approach, a small stencil can be cut from cardboard to spray paint a graphic logo or contact information onto blank business cards.

Market to your niche by getting creative in other ways. Although these examples may have cost money to have designed and printed by third parties, it’s a great way to get the creative juices flowing. A few of my favorites:

A financial and investment representative.

A hair stylist.

A dentist.

But if the idea of designing your own cards is intimidating, fear not. Many of the concepts above are two-step processes, the first and most basic of which involves getting your contact info onto the card to preempt the creative alterations.

Microsoft Word is the everyman’s tool for laying out the essentials. It can spit out a wide variety of colors, orientations, fonts and styles. Microsoft provides an easy-to-follow tutorial for accessing the business card layout functions.

Some of the default color options that are available can be seen above, but you have the ability to completely customize the font, size, text color, background color, border width and color and more. This is more than enough to begin your creative endeavors, without the need for fancy software such as Photoshop or InDesign. (And if you’ve got those programs, you have no excuse to resort to a rip-off online design service.)

Printing may be an issue for some folks as well. If you don’t have the resources to print from home, look no further than your local printing and copying business to produce a fleet of business cards for pennies on the dollar. After designing my own cards, I walked out of the local print shop with 80 business cards on glossy cardstock for just over a dollar. Granted my design was black and white, you’ll still spend a fraction of the price on color prints by making the visit yourself. I was also able to save a few bucks by cutting the cards out on my own time.

So, if you’d rather avoid breaking the bank on some of these (even though they get my creativity seal of approval), give the DIY approach a try. Potential customers and professional connections are more likely to hold onto a card they find aesthetically appealing, and I guarantee that you’ll be proud of the end product.

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