Depending on factors like the country you are dealing with, language you are dealing with, language skills of the overseas counterparts and complexity of your business message, the right communication solution can vary from country to country. One sure thing is your business card should be effective and informative no matter what country you may be in. Here are some useful tips in preparing your business card for international use.

  • We have spoken before about having English on one side of the card and language of the country you are visiting on the other side. Depending on how complex your message is, keep in mind most languages will require more space on your business card than does English.

  • In some areas like the European community, it may not be practical to translate your business card into each local language. One solution is having your business card translated into the most widely used languages of a region.

  • A business card may also have a different purpose and meaning in different countries. In Japan for example, one's business card represents the individual in a much deeper and meaningful way than in the west. In fact the Japanese use a special case for business cards, which is also used to elevate and display the card of someone else in a proper way when received.

  • Generally, there is also a preferred size for business cards, which is important to align with each country. If your card is too big, it will not fit in your client's card filing system and will be put aside. If your card is too small, it will fall between your competitor's cards and get lost.

  • If the name of your business helps identify your product or service, it may be a good idea to have it translated as well. Just be sure to keep your English business name somewhere on the card as the object is not to create a new trade name in a different language.

  • Sometimes addresses need to be localized as well. This is not as complicated as it sounds, as usually only name of the country must be translated. For the ease of use, telephone and fax numbers should include the country code.

  • In general, native speakers are best at selecting appropriate wording for another cultural context. Their knowledge helps assure your message will be interpreted clearly and accurately where subtle cultural nuances may be missed.

  • When specifying your preference for Chinese language translations be sure to indicate where you material is going. Simplified Chinese is used primarily in mainland China while traditional Chinese is preferred in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In mainland China, Mandarin is the universal spoken language.

  • If you are working with European languages, minimal problems are usually encountered when using a standard business card printer in your community. By reentering and reformatting your text in Roman characters for your target language, most reliable printers can do a sufficient job of typesetting your translated business cards. But, beware, poorly translated business cards, or incorrect accent marks, can quickly mar any good impression you are trying to create.

  • Theoretically, you should have as much choice in font and typeface of other languages as when using English. For languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai, you should seek a typesetter structured to handle nonRoman languages, unless you have high quality laser output from your translator. Most professional translators will offer a choice of font styles to match the image you want to convey.

  • European Stephen Blum, who speaks four languages and is CEO of Escalante Group of Companies, says, "In Europe and Latin America, where the business card is much less of a status symbol (as compared to Japan), it is perfectly acceptable to present one's American business card. Although different parts of the world accept different practices, a person's efforts may be more profitably directed to translating marketing materials and documentation."

    I certainly hope some of these tips will assist you in preparation of your business cards for international use.

    In addition to points mentioned above, here are some common-sense mistakes I have noticed over the years that may not be so apparent to the user until he has more experience.

    * Be careful with colored cards. Sometimes the combination of background color and contrasting color of the printing prevents letters from appearing as sharp as they should be, precipitating spelling mistakes by your foreign counterpart.

  • Remember your foreign counterpart may prepare a short report regarding your office visit to an associate or superior. He will often photocopy you card. With some colors, the photocopy comes out too dark or unreadable.

    Cards that fold are not practical. They do not fit any card file folders or index and are nothing but some card designer's fantasy created for appearance only and not for practical usage

    Cards with name and phone number only are not practical in business and especially for international usage. Leave them for the politicians and ladies of the night.

    Please put the country name on the card. I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked by foreign clients to look at a card and to tell them if the address is in the US or possibly in Canada. They want to contact that person and have no idea where they reside.

    Probably one of the most important things is to make certain you use a font that is not too fancy and not too small. I have been in a client's office where he is looking at a card with a magnifying glass trying to read an address or telephone number and cannot tell 6's from 8's. The font is too small and the font is a written script that is not readable. Be as plain as can be, as long as the font is clear and large enough to be legible. Try and remember the client probably does not use English as his first language.

    "Do what you are expected to do and you will survive. Do more than you are expected to do and you will thrive." See you next month!