In Asia, business cards is like American Express: you never leave home without it. Learn why business cards are essential when doing business in Asia, and a rule of thumb to calculate the number of cards you’ll need on your trip. First in a series on business cards, and in doing business in Asia.
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One of the most common mistakes I see people making when going to do business in Asia is their lack of understanding on just how important the humble business card is.
In Asian cultures where rank, status and hierarchy are of importance, a business card is your pride and joy. It is an extension of your identity, and serves to announce your position and thus your level in the hierarchy.
When an Asian business person receives a card, they will instinctively look for your rank. Your position on the overall hierarchy will affect the level of respect that you will receive and that you are expected to give to your counterpart. In addition, your position also signifies the weight your words have – the lower the position in comparison to your counterpart, the less credible you are regardless of how much experience you may bring to the table.
An Asian business person can become quite uncomfortable without this social context. Worse, to be without a business card signifies that you are unprepared, unimportant and effectively, no one.
Given the importance of name cards, you will literally be giving them out to everyone you meet. What surprises many of my Western colleagues is that they will also be giving cards to people within the same company, and not only to clients and customers.
To ensure you've prepared enough cards, a key rule of thumb is to count the people you're going to meet, double it and round to the nearest hundred: this is roughly the number of cards you'll be likely to give out.
It’s better to be prepared and bring excessive number of cards: there is no worse position to be then standing with a senior member of a client, awkwardly apologising for your lack of cards. To paraphrase Queen Victoria, they will certainly not be amused.