Why Business Cards Fail ( how to use them wisely )

Why business cards fail image. My business cards

Have you ever heard someone say your business card is your first impression so make it a good one? No one talks about how it’s likely it is to be your last impression too. 

As soon as your customer walks away with your card, it will be tucked away and forgotten and probably binned.

Used unwisely they will KILL your trade.

No one tells you why business cards fail, so I will.

Asking for a business card is an excuse for your prospective customer not to buy anything. It’s a polite way of saying goodbye. It defers having to make an immediate decision in an attempt to keep all options open. You’ll never see them again.

Hide the cards, get rid of those flyers and whatever you do…


It sounds crazy and totally counter-intuitive but let’s examine the reasons for my advice in more detail. Read on.

The secret to more sales is SCARCITY. As the seller, you must give the impression that it’s crunch time. It’s NOW OR NEVER.

You can’t do that if you advertise an opt-out!

A framed pencil drawing of a wild Bengal tiger by Kevin Hayler
‘Eye to Eye’ a pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler

People would rather put a decision off than to commit one. We all do it. We try to find a way of offsetting the stress. We kid ourselves that walking away will clear our minds as we dig around for reasons not to do anything.

You hear the same old comments said time and again,

  • Are you always here?
  • What time do you close?
  • I’ll get one on the way back,
  • Are you online?
  • Have you got a business card?

People procrastinate.

So the customer sees your nice shiny business cards with a sign saying ‘Please Take One’ and that’s exactly what they do, and you don’t see them for dust.

Given the opportunity to buy your product any old time, they’re gonna take it. 

Believe me, as soon as that card is taken, it’s the same as a no sale. They will forget you the moment they get distracted by something or someone else.

Remember this, it’s important…

Fear of loss is a more powerful motivator than the promise of gain.

It’s all about the power of impulse and shortage. Choose it or lose it.

It’s your job to capitalize on that insecurity and to tip the balance in favor of the sale.

Don’t be dishonest but for heaven’s sake, don’t encourage people to leave!

Let’s cover all three marketing options,

  • Business cards,
  • Flyers/leaflets
  • Website signage

How to use your Business Cards Effectively

What if a prospect asks you directly for a business card, do you merely hand one over?

NO, you reply by asking a question. Try saying this instead,

‘Sure, what were you thinking?’

This puts them on the backfoot straight away; they have to answer you and reveal their hand.

Perhaps they are…

  • Proposing a commission
  • Be looking for a gift
  • Keen to talk to their partner at home

Whatever their answer turns out to be, it gives you permission to pursue the discussion and to dig a little deeper.

How you respond matters.

Start by ‘searching’ for your cards whilst at the same time encouraging the person to look at the prints quickly before they leave. I say something like..

‘It’s better to see them in real life and not just on a screen.’

Now, with no commitment to buy anything, they relax.

When they start to show some interest, you reveal your ace…

‘I’ll just warn you that they do cost more online, then there’s postage on top of course.  I only offer this price while I’m on my stall. It’s better and cheaper to get them here if you can’

Of course, this MUST be true to be ethical.

Put simply, browsing creates the impulse and the fear of losing the bargain is the motivator.

You can often turn a simple request for a card into a sale.

At the very least, your engagement with your prospect will invite the curiosity of passers-by. With or without closing a sale, it’s always better to have people at your stand.

It’s not until you have traded for some time that you realize how a few subtle adjustments to the way you do things can make a tangible difference.

I always use my business card at the end of a sale, it’s a great way to round things off. I include one with every transaction. These cards are much more likely to be retained. Giving your card (or flyer) to your existing buyer is a no brainer.

So let’s move on to flyers.

What to do with Flyers and Leaflets

I use flyers for the folk who walk away and where there’s still some hope they’ll change their minds.

It’s a memory jog, but only really effective after someone has interacted with you in some way. I use them cautiously and volunteer them as my prospect turns to leave.

Whereas your business card invites your prospect to return another day, your flyer or leaflet encourages them to keep looking at your work.
I print my most popular images as thumbnails with the idea of keeping my work at the forefront of their minds.

A framed pencil drawing of two giant pandas eating bamboo by Kevin Hayler
‘Bamboo Breakfast’ a pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler

Flyers are far more effective at nudging the customer to think again than business cards. I often watch people walk off, only to stop a short distance away, look at the leaflet, have a think, and return.

This is especially true when there are children.

If a child shows a liking to my pictures and the parents promise dutifully to come back later, a flyer is enough to make sure they’re good to their word.

The kids feel honored to be acknowledged like a grown up and the parents are happy to walk away without spending any money. Except they aren’t escaping at all if their child holds on to the flyer.

Pester power is a force to be reckoned with.

What I don’t do is hand out flyers to passers-by. It doesn’t work and apart from being a nuisance to people, it’s a waste of time and money.

For your information
I like to use A5 ( 148 x 210 mm – 5.8 x 8.3 in ) paper with a weight ( thickness ) of 160 gsm. If this means nothing to you, think of it this way; 80 gsm is photocopy paper and 350 gsm is a postcard. That should help.
I print on both sides and fold it in two as I hand it to my customer. The idea is to present my flyer like a mini booklet with a front, middle and back page.

What to do about your Website

According to Cory Huff of AbundantArtist.com, a leading online marketing authority selling premium courses,

“The majority of art is still sold offline, in galleries, art shows, and open studio events”

Which means the main purpose of your website is to encourage your visitors to seek you out. In other words, your site is an extension of your terrestrial business and not a substitute for it.

It makes me sigh when I see someone prominently advertising their website from their stand. It’s pointless in every way. For the artist, it’s a hindrance.

Look at it logically. Why would you tell anyone not to look at your art now, but to go away and look at them later, and on a platform where they’re less likely to buy?


In the real world, people are only too keen to avoid contact if they can. You have to break down the barriers, step by step:

  • If someone is shy, you must make conversation,
  • If someone is wary, you must reassure them,
  • If someone is curious, you must inform them

Basic social skills are all that’s required.

Selling is all about communication, trust, and rapport. You have to build up a relationship with your customers and the only way to do that properly is face to face and not from a webpage.

People buy art for all manner of reasons but in my experience, the most important factor is, how much they like you.

If your prospect likes your work but not you, you won’t get the sale. If they like you but not your work, you won’t get one either. But if they like you and your work then it’s KER-CHING!

Displaying your work as a stand-alone piece on the gallery page of your website or Etsy, and getting a sale, is a tough call. Some make it work, most fail. And it’s certainly not passive.

You’ve got to get your work seen by enough people, project your personality, and stand out from the crowd. That’s one heck of a lot of work.

I’d rather be a bigger fish in a smaller pond, compete with no one and work at my own pace.

I like to think of my website shop as an e-flyer. To be found by some and given out in person to others. It’s great when I get a sale and it all adds up, but it’s not my bread and butter.


  • Use your promotional materials to keep in touch with existing buyers. Use them to nudge interested prospects to come back.
  • Don’t hand out flyers randomly, it’s a waste of your time, effort and money.
  • Invest in good quality printing. Make sure the images clearly reflect the art on offer. Triple check the spelling and ensure all the text is centered properly.
  • If you want to create a good impression, do not cost-cut on paper thickness. If it feels substantial, it says quality. Limp cards and paper say the opposite.
  • Use your website as an extension of your core business.

Your business cards and flyers are useful sales prop’s and used wisely offer a good return on your investment.

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