Amazing 17th Century Technology Can Build Your Business

By Gordon Hecht, Serta Simmons Bedding

It’s fairly common these days to feel a bit of technology overload. Just when we finally mastered the skill of getting the thermal paper loaded in the fax machine, they put Zoom, Slack, TikTok, and Whoop-Dee-Doo on our laptops.

Very few business tools from the 20th century are relevant today. Dictaphones, adding machines, pay phones, fountain pens, the telegraph, and pagers all had their day, but have been relegated to the scrap heap of useless gadgets.

However, there is one powerful tool that predates both the American Revolution and floppy disks. There’s probably a few of these tools in your wallet or purse, and a couple hundred more in your desk drawer.

This amazing item is that 1½” x 2 ¾” piece of cardboard we call a business card.  Originally termed “calling cards” back in the 1600s, they served several social purposes, such as a means of introduction, to further acquaintanceship, to express congratulations or condolences, and to provide notice of arrival or departure.

Today we hand out business cards with our names, company, title, and a multitude of ways to contact us. In the retail world, a business card can also be an “exit ticket,” like when departing shoppers ask for them on the way out. (Hearing “Do you have a card?” lets the sales associate know that there will be no sale on this presentation.)

You can make your business card a powerful marketing tool and, at about a nickel a copy, it’s also one of the cheapest ways to advertise and build your brand. You just have to do it right.

How Can You Help Me? Take a look at your business card. Chances are good that you’ll see your name and title, the company you represent, and a phone number. Your customers (and we all have customers, even your HR, finance and operations people) don’t really give a hoot about your title. They want to know what you can do for them.

I know, you worked long and hard and ate a lot of dirt to get your title. So consider adding a line or two beneath it, explaining how you can improve your customers’ life. Here are some examples:

Mattress People: I help energize your life through better sleep.

Appliance People: I help you keep your drinks cold and your burgers hot.

Operations People: I provide a speedy, clean and hassle-free delivery service.

Finance People: I protect the money so it’s there when you need it.

HR People: My job is to make this a great place to work.

There’s No Limit: Don’t get stingy with your business cards, hand them out freely! In the retail world that means giving each shopper five cards, whether they buy or not. And as you do, tell them, “If you’ve enjoyed working with me as much as I’ve enjoyed working with you, I hope you will pass these on to your friends and family.”

Also, spend a few bucks to build your sales. People such as restaurant servers and hair stylists talk to all kinds of customers.  Be more than generous with your tip and toss in a few cards.  They will remember you and will spread your name. (Yes, this really works … and recently resulted in a four-figure sale in my hometown.)

I Want You to Want Me: It’s not a cheap trick to turn your card into a way to recruit great employees. You’ve probably shopped somewhere or met someone who has the right attitude to be successful in your company. Savvy businesspeople invest in printing a “recruiting card.” This tool has information about their company, what they do, and who to contact for an interview. Imagine how great it will be when you meet that special person and are equipped to get them on your team.

Know that some employers are touchy when you try to poach their players.  Frame the card handoff as, “If you know of anyone with your great attitude who is looking for a change, please pass this on to them.”

First Impressions: You’ll never get that second chance if your card isn’t up to standards. Avoid using dog-eared or smudged cards. Spend a little more for heavier cardstock. If your card has crossed out names, phone numbers or other handwritten information, you’ve conveyed unprofessionalism, although it is acceptable to write notes on the back.

Eliminate clutter by removing any contact numbers that are rarely used, like a fax number. If you work through a switchboard, include your extension or direct dial number.

Answering machines, dial-up modems and that GPS we stuck on the windshield were all invaluable tools we once couldn’t live without, but became obsolete in less than a decade.  Business cards are alive and well.  Use them properly, early and often to keep your organization vital and viable.

Gordon Hecht is Senior Regional Manager/Strategic Retail Group at Serta Simmons Bedding and a regular contributor to YSN. You can reach him at