First impressions tend to stick.
That may be an irrational quirk of interpersonal relations, but it’s also an inescapable aspect of human psychology.
And that means you need to do everything you can to get things right the first time round.
If you’re starting to take your business overseas – or you’re trying to woo visitors from abroad – you can earn some early brownie points by demonstrating an awareness and appreciation of their culture.
So what’s the easiest way to make a good impression early on? Focus on the first gift you’ll give them, and the lasting souvenir of your first meeting – the business card.
A few general tips
No matter where you are in the world, respecting a business card means showing respect to its owner. So when you meet with other businesses, always remember to:
- Use a business card holder. As well as helping to keep your own cards in mint condition, a smart business card holder shows your new associates that you intend to value and preserve the card they present to you. Don’t just stick it in your pocket!
- Take a moment to read their business card, and try to pass some kind of comment about it. You could compliment the quality of their card, show that you’re impressed by their title, or simply ask for some clarification about how they would prefer to be contacted. You wouldn’t open a birthday gift without taking a few seconds to look it over and say something about it – so show the same respect when you receive someone’s business card.
- Show your consideration for different languages. Have your business card printed with your own language on one side, and the language of the business you’re visiting on the other. And when you present your card, have the side with their language facing up so they can read it first – it’s just more polite.
- Think carefully before writing anything on the card. In some parts of the world, writing extra details or phone numbers on someone’s business card can be seen as a concrete sign of interest. But in other cultures, it can be disrespectful to “deface” a business card this way, and you should wait until you’re alone before you start making notes.
With these few pointers out of the way, we can look at some specific practices and customs from a few countries in different parts of the world.
Business cards in Japan
You won’t usually find much ceremony around the exchange of business cards in countries like the US or UK.
But in Japan, there’s a well-understood protocol. And while it might not be observed by every business you meet with, you should be ready and able to follow it correctly if you want to make a good impression.
First, remember that status and position are important in Japanese culture. The highest-ranking members of the meeting should exchange their cards first, followed by the second-highest, and so on. It’s not just a mark of respect for professional positions – it’s a way of helping everyone present to learn who the decision-makers are.
Second, you should put your full focus and attention into the physical act of giving a business card. That means you should be:
- Standing up.
- Presenting your business card with the receiver’s language facing up, and with the text the right way round for them to read it.
- Holding your business card with both hands by its two top corners, with the card on top of your card holder and without obscuring any logos or text with your thumbs
- Performing a slight bow (about 30 degrees) as you hand over your card.
Finally, make sure you don’t put their business card away until the end of the meeting. If you’ve received just one business card, you can place it on top of your card holder, and place the holder on the table next to you.
Or if you’ve received several business cards, you should arrange them on the table from left to right, following the seating order from your point of view – it shows respect, and it also helps you to learn their names as the meeting goes on.
Business cards in India
Education is held in especially high regard in India. So as well as your professional titles and qualifications, make sure your business card includes any university degrees or academic honours you’ve earned.
It’s also a country where you’ll find English speakers all throughout the business community. So while you may want to get one side of your business card printed with a Hindi translation, it’s really not essential, and you should have no problems presenting an all-English card to your new associates.
Finally (and perhaps most importantly) you should always offer your business card with your right hand – this goes for both handshakes and eating food, too.
Business cards in Germany
Although Germany has a fairly relaxed approach to business cards that’s similar to the UK or US, there is one area in which customs differ.
In the UK, business cards are freely handed out or passed around, sometimes in bulk or placed on a table for anyone to help themselves.
But in Germany, the exchange of business cards is usually more limited and personal. They should never be handed out in batches, and should instead be given in a more discreet, one-to-one arrangement, to reflect the exclusive value of an individual business relationship.
Business cards in China
Much like in Japan, exchanging business cards is taken seriously in China. So use both hands, take a moment to study their card, and keep it out on display for the duration of the meeting.
With the translated language, however, things are little more complicated. Presenting an all-English business card without a local translation on one side could be taken as a sign of serious disrespect – similar to refusing a handshake in a Western country.
You’ll also need to take care when choosing a translation. If you’re visiting mainland China, you should use the Simplified Chinese characters. But in Taiwan and certain parts of Hong Kong, you ought to use the traditional set of characters.
Finally, you should never write anything on another person’s business card in front of them – but you can write additional details or phone numbers on your own one.
In business or in life, starting a positive relationship with a stranger means putting your best foot forward from the outset. So if you want to show the kind of professional respect that wins new business, take a look at our immaculate business cards today.
Dean Williams is a design and marketing blogger working for Print-Print Limited, promoting business and building brands through quality print marketing. If you’re interested in small business promotion then please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org