Digital media has overtaken print in almost every aspect of day-to-day life. But while paper newspapers and magazines have largely gone the way of the dinosaur, somehow print business cards have managed to hang on. This is poised to change thanks to the rising popularity of digital business cards.
Virtual business cards make networking much more seamless by integrating with the built-in contacts on digital devices. They are also much easier to make, share, and are less wasteful than traditional business cards. At the same time, their popularity is still growing, and there isn’t as much information as to how to go about making them. To make the process clearer, we’ve put together this guide to digital business cards.
What is a digital business card?
A digital business card is a computer file containing contact information, including text and multimedia, that can be shared electronically between devices. Because its usage is still not as widespread, it can sometimes be referred to as a virtual or electronic business card.
As all of these names imply, it is essentially the digital version of a physical business card. In fact, a print business card scanned and uploaded to a computer can technically be considered a digital business card. Of course, a digital business card can be so much more than a static image, as we’ll see later on. But first, let’s get into how exactly these files work.
How digital business cards are created
The traditional file type used for storing contact information is called vCard (Virtual Card) or VCF (Virtual Contact File)—these are the same thing. Macs and PCs come with built-in capabilities of creating and reading vCard files through built-in contact apps. Third-party apps like Gmail, Outlook and CRM (customer relationship management) services like Hubspot and Salesforce also read and store vCard information into contact lists. Often, whenever you create a new contact in some form of messaging app, you are actually creating a new vCard file.
The vCard file format is capable of storing text and an image like a profile picture. How all of that information is displayed is dependent on the app that is reading it, which is to say that the UI designers have already created rules for how incoming data will conform to the app’s branding. All in all, vCards are a relatively old file format and somewhat limited in what they can accomplish—they largely consist of text input fields.
There are also digital business card maker apps that create their own proprietary file format, using cloud storage for your data and contact list. These are typically based around customizable design templates. If you want to get more creative than this, you would essentially need to work with a designer and a developer. We’ll have more on these processes later on.
How digital business cards are shared
Creating a digital business card is one thing, but how are you supposed to hand over something you can’t touch? The most common methods involve a URL, an email signature attachment, and/or a QR code the potential client can scan directly from your phone or a printed source. If you’ve created your card through a digital business card maker service or a contact app like Gmail, that program will have its own specific instructions for sharing it.
NFC, or near field communication, is another option. This technology wirelessly transmits data, most commonly used by payment services like Apple Pay. In that context, the purchaser taps their phone to a device that automatically captures their credit card information. This approach, however, is not the most practical option for sharing business cards since you need a separate, NFC-specific device to read the data being transmitted.
The benefits of digital business cards
The advantages that virtual business cards have over print are so overwhelming in number that it would make more sense to ask why print business cards are even still a thing. Let’s go over some of the more obvious benefits of a digital business card:
- Immediate integration with contact lists. This is a major benefit: instead of hoping the receiver of your business card won’t immediately throw it away and will eventually make the choice to add you to their contacts, digital business cards integrate with contact lists automatically.
- Clickable links. All the receiver has to do is tap your phone number or social media icon to contact you.
- No germs. In the wake of a global pandemic, the sanitary option is always the correct option.
- No printing costs. Although some digital business card makers charge a subscription fee for storing your data, this is much cheaper than the cost of bulk cardstock printing.
- Adaptable. If you made a mistake on your first pass, your details change, or you just get bored of the design, you can easily change it. With print cards, changing information is an expensive and wasteful process, forcing you to reprint a new batch.
- Infinite supply. You’ll never run out of cards and have to shell out for the printers again.
- More creative freedom. Unlike print design, colors and size are not limited (though it is recommended you aim for mobile phone dimensions).
- Multimedia capabilities. Videos and animations are possible with digital files.
- More opportunities to share. Print cards require an in-person interaction. A digital business card can often be attached casually to an email signature. Some virtual card builders can even integrate with other third-party digital apps like Zoom, allowing you to place your personal details and QR code within a virtual background.
So what about the advantages that print business cards have over digital? As you can imagine, there aren’t many. But worth mentioning is the fact that tactile effects like textures or embossing are only possible through print. Touch is a primary sense tied to memory, so you shouldn’t count this out. And as always, there is something to be said about the physical presence of a print card—it takes up space and has weight—whereas digital products that exist only in the virtual world are arguably more easily forgotten.
At the end of the day, you don’t actually have to choose one over the other. You can design a digital business card quickly and cheaply while keeping a stack of printed cards for special situations. You can also include a QR code on print cards so that your VCF file easily integrates with the client’s phone contacts. With all that said, we are quickly approaching the point where not having a digital business card at all will put you at a disadvantage, and the same won’t always be true of print.
How to create a digital business card
Gather your business card information
Before you create your virtual business card, start by allocating all of the necessary information and media assets. It will make the design process smoother to have this on hand to give to a designer or enter it into a template maker. And in case you haven’t already, you should make sure that you’ve established your personal brand identity, including logo, color scheme, and fonts.
Digital business cards can include all of the standard information on a print business card, but they are also capable of more features that you can take advantage of. Here are some examples of typical items you will need for a digital business card:
- Name and pronouns
- Job title and accreditations
- Tagline explaining what you do/offer
- Photo and/or logo
- Phone number
- General location (city, state/country is fine)
- Website links
- Social links (anything relevant to your business from Twitter to Twitch)
- Multimedia (i.e. an explainer/introduction video)
- Save/Download button (downloads your raw VCF or vCard file into the receiver’s contacts)
- Share button (in case the receiver knows someone else who needs your services)
It is important to note that while digital business cards are capable of displaying more information—including videos and animations—the purpose of a business card is to sell yourself quickly and succinctly. In other words, less is more. Don’t overwhelm the viewer with too much information—your website, resume or LinkedIn profile can fill in the gaps. All in all, everything should fit within the dimensions of a mobile phone screen and should be easily skimmable.
Choose an approach for creating a virtual business card
There are two basic approaches for creating a digital business card: using a template or creating a custom design.
Digital business card maker website
There are a few different websites that allow you to build your own digital business card using their proprietary software (these work much the same way as website builders). Essentially, you make an account on the site, pay a fee, and are guided through the steps to selecting a template, customizing details like color, and entering your information.
Some of the more popular sites that specialize in digital business cards include HiHello, Sansan, about.me. And of course, you can also use Gmail’s Contacts app to create a basic digital business card yourself. These apps (and any others you come across) will all have different price points and features, so let’s run through some tips on how to compare them.
- Price. Review whether they charge a one-time fee or an ongoing subscription.
- App-to-app integration. Do they expect you to use their proprietary contacts app or do they interface with third-party contact apps? Do recipients of your business card also need to have the app?
- Template selection. How diverse and creative are their template offerings? Do they all look the same? What customization options are there?
- Bonus features. Some apps will come with unique options for sharing, such as creating Zoom backgrounds of your business card information or including share buttons on your business card.
- Reviews. Trustpilot and site jabber can help you gauge customer satisfaction.
The advantage of using a template builder site is that it is a quick, easy, and cheap process. All most people really need is a functional digital business card to share contact details without a ton of bells and whistles, and these apps accomplish that painlessly. Of course, the drawback is that you’re not going to get a creative or unique design, which may make it hard to stand out. This will become much more of an issue as digital business cards become more widespread, and the same templates start showing up over and over again.
Custom digital business card design from scratch
Creating a digital business card from scratch can be more of a complicated and unclear process, but the results of a more original, standout design are well worth it. This involves contracting two different professionals: a designer and a developer. (Note: some freelancers do both, but for the most part design and development are separate disciplines—art vs. computer science).
The designer is responsible for creating the visual look of your digital business card. You could, of course, stop there, but you would effectively be left with a static digital image. If you want your digital business card to be interactive, shareable, and able to integrate with the recipient’s contacts, you need someone who is able to write code: a developer.
It is recommended that you consult with a developer first—sites like Toptal and Upwork can help you find freelance developers. Essentially, you need to ascertain whether the developer has experience with digital business cards or can create a digital file that functions similarly enough.
A common workaround is to create a custom digital business card in the form of a mobile web page connected to your personal website. This should include a prominent Download button linked to the vCard file that you made with your preferred contacts app. That said, because the technology and methods for creating custom digital business cards are still evolving, a developer will be more knowledgeable on the subject, which is why it is important to do your consulting early on.
Assuming the developer can do what you’re asking for, you should also get an idea of their design file requirements: what file format they need, what effects they can and can’t do, etc. This will help you avoid last minute project derailments when working with your designer.
Once you have these requirements, you are free to start your search for a freelance designer. A global creative platform like 99designs will allow you to search thousands of designers based on your parameters, review their portfolio to ensure their style aligns with your project needs, and contact the designer to negotiate pricing and turnaround time all from the same place.
Create the virtual business card design
If you have chosen the template-based approach, creating the design is as simple as following along with the maker’s instructions and entering your data at the prompts. These sites are made to be used by non-designers, so the process is often extremely simple.
If you are working with a designer, first you will need to create a project brief that includes all of your copy and media assets, background about your company/brand, aesthetic preferences and example designs, and file type requirements. You will also need to set up terms for payment and you will need a means of sending messages and sharing designs (if you are working remotely). 99designs provides a secure project workspace that includes messaging, comments on files, and secure payment storage and transfers, and standard legal agreements both parties sign.
When it comes to giving feedback, it is a good idea to run an early draft of the design by the developer to make sure they are able to technically implement it. This is why it is crucial to contract the developer ahead of time. Assuming everything is good to go, all you have to do is collect the finished design files, pay the designer, and send the files off to the developer.
Once you have a working digital business card, create a QR code with a link to it. Save this on your phone and test it out on a friend to make sure they receive your digital business card. And there you have it: your own custom digital business card!
Digital business cards are the future
Digital business cards are highly useful and capable of so much more than their traditional print fore-bearers. As our dependence on digital media has ramped up—especially as a result of the pandemic—virtual business cards are showing up more and more. At the moment, template-based creator sites provide the easiest way to capitalize on this trend. But as demand increases, we can expect to see a rise in creative, custom digital business cards. If you want to get a jump on that now, consider working with a professional designer.