Put Your Business Cards Away

by Mckenna Hallett

Why simply giving your business card to interested prospects is the worst thing you can do.


business card collage


Okay, I know you clicked to see what the heck is this all about. You think I am going to trick you into some other issue altogether and I just used that title to get more hits, right? Nope. I am totally serious.

I have been teaching this principle for years and it is the most valuable single action that an artist can take to increase sales. I will repeat: MOST valuable single action you can take. Get ready to make more sales. It’s the one change that people who take my course on selling techniques are most likely to report as the “most valuable” in my follow-up surveys.

While I agree that every person who is even vaguely interested in what you create should be someone who can locate you and follow your career and visit your website, letting them take a card at any random moment is ineffective and costly for your long term needs. Unless you are a magician who can cast a secret spell that will make someone go to your website later, you need more control.

Think back: they seemed so close to buying and then they grabbed a card and said, “I will think about it and email you.”

They just took complete control. Your prospect now controls what you can say or do from that point forward. As they walk away with your card, you have no access to them again and no “active” influence ever again.

When you maintain control, your card has the ability to allow you to continue to sell, clarify needs, get more information, and even close a sale. Used properly, it has the ability to get the Holy Grail of information: their email address.

Your business card can act as a bridge for that gap from “I need to think about it” to “Yes, I would love you to ship this next week.”

Here are a few suggestions to help you build this bridge with no card visible anywhere:

  • They decide they want to “think about it” or ask the common questions – “Do you have a card?” or “Do you have a website?
  • Now, because you are controlling the departure, you can “finish your thoughts” while assuring them you will go get “all the information” they need.  (You will want to dig for that card! Keep it under your table and in a box.)
  • Hand them a guest book or index card or something (I use a sign-up on my ipad that automatically enters people) and say, “while I get my card….”
  • Let them know (sell them) that you won’t send very many emails – you are too busy for that, but you want to let them have sneak peeks, event notices, and other cool information in the future, so “please just put down your name and email address.”
  • It is rare for someone who is truly interested and really enjoying you, your art, and has been bonding with you to have resistance to giving you an email address. If you sense any resistance, a big smile along with something like, “If you grow tired of seeing pictures of my art in your inbox you can unsubscribe in two clicks” will usually do the trick.

Slowing everything down and controlling the departure is critical. Now you have a great opportunity to re-visit the piece and take measurements, finish telling details that you think are still important or even ask for the sale one more time. You can at least ask if they have any final questions. And you can just plain “finish” your side of the story.

They still get your information, but you have a way to remain in touch in the future. You have the ability to keep THAT sale alive or introduce them to future art that might just be an even greater sale in the future.

A quick email saying, “Thanks for spending time looking at my art today” with the actual picture of the art they were considering is powerful.

Try it. It works. Dare I say, it’s kind of magical!


Mckenna Hallett

Mckenna Hallett

Guest blogger Mckenna Hallett is the founder and author of MyGoldenWords, a blog and resource website for creative entrepreneurs. She lives and works on the beautiful island of Maui.


  1. Thanks, this is one I can actually use without feeling like a ‘sales person’. Wish I had known a couple of years ago! Did an art fair that was kind of a fiasco :/

    • It’s very much a matter of attitude. People truly are interested in art, which is a great thing for artists. Your work is important, and owning it is a thrill for your customers. Staying in touch with your prospects is actually a wonderful service for them!

      • Yes, I am going to do a reminder on my Mac so I don’t keep forgetting to keep in touch after the initial thank you card or first email. I don’t mean to forget, time just slides by 🙂
        Thank you!

    • It’s never too late to use some of the advice I offered above, Sue. You can always start asking for people’s emails with sign-ups everywhere that you have your work online, too. It’s the equivalent of not letting them leave without getting a way to maintain contact in the future. The vast majority of people who like your work would like to know when you have new pieces or upcoming events or art shows. And emails are a much more dependable way to get your message across in a directed and personal way.

      When I clicked on your blog, your emphasis for future connecting is via Facebook. You would have a much better return on your investment (of time AND money) if that prime space at the top was asking for email addresses instead of likes. The new algorithms means the vast majority of your followers are no longer getting notifications. Emails are MUCH more effective!

      Top bloggers all want emails. All the great news you have to share should be shared first in direct emails then shared on Social Media second. Build up your email lists and you will see much faster growth.

      • I did a quick check back to your site and followed you to etsy. You especially need to get visitors to THAT site to sign up. THEY showed real interest in your work!

        Here’s what Etsy themselves say in their own blog:

        “On Etsy: Etsy’s About page for sellers is a great place to add a link to your email sign-up page. You can also include a link to a sign-up page in your Shop Announcement and Message to Buyers.”

        You clearly do blogging on a very regular basis – email marketing using an ESP (email service provider) will be easy for you to incorporate.

  2. Shucks, I just ordered business cards too!!! You are so completely right, once they walk away I’ve totally lost them…rarely do they show up again. Your idea is so perfect along with your follow up email. I will definitely be implementing this at a show I have coming up at the end of September!! Thanks once again!!!

    • Not to worry, Kathryn! You NEED those cards. Just don’t leave them out in the open at a show.

      I never leave home without plenty of biz cards. I hand them out all the time, but in a show environment, we just need to use them with more strategy.

      Feel free to contact me for more in-depth discussion of closing sales at shows and getting more email addresses, too. icanhelp @ mygoldenwords DOT com.

  3. What if you’re in some other setting, not at a show, and someone asks what you do? You tell them you’re an artist and they ask if you have a card. Not sure how to introduce the “keep in touch/give me your email address” under those circumstances.

    • Great question, Carole. And I agree with Carolyn – it’s all in the attitude!

      And that is part of getting an email address, of course – wanting people to be on your list! I am also a big believer that “it never hurts to ask”.

      Chances are that someone who asks for your card will also state something more than just “can I have your card”, but instead they have taken a great interest in you and or your art. They would say something about wanting to see your art online or…?? They are expressing a need to contact you. Meanwhile, if you are doing open studios or art fairs in the future – you can certain give validity to wanting to get their email address.

      Put yourself in that moment. When we ask someone for a card, our intention (at that moment, but not necessarily later on!) is because we believe we want to have the option to be in touch again. So even if it is in line a the grocery store and a very casual meeting, you still can respond to the request with a simple request for their info in return.

      Ask if they have a business card. And when they give that to you, let them know you will email them about new pieces and events going forward. If they don’t have a business card, pull out your phone and put their contact info in (with my ESP, Constant Contact, I have an app for that) and let them know you will stay in touch with an occasional email. If they resist, then so be it, but really – most people love feeling connected to artists. Keep it light and relaxed and most people will happily give you their info.

      It’s important to seize the moment! After all, you are giving them your info and access, right? So they should understand the “info” trading game!

  4. Great post! Why didn’t I think of this sooner. This will be very helpful next time someone asks me for my card or requests a commission. I’m excited to read more of your posts. Cheers!

    • Thanks for that! I am honored anytime Carolyn puts me on her blog! Stay tuned, I might be doing another soon!

      Oh… yes… commissions really required a controlled exit! I am so glad you see the value, Jason! It’s simple – perhaps too simple? AND it is clearly a bit counter-intuitive, but you will love the results!


    Good advice! I enjoyed the article as well as all comments following. I too have just ordered new business cards, which is still a good idea, but will be more proactive per suggestions re establishing more control for contact with someone. I like that term “controlled exit”, which can be applied to many life experiences!

    • Yes… LOL – controlled exit takes on many faces when you think about it! It’s about being conscious of your goals with ALL encounters, yes?

      Anyone here remember Columbo? The KING of controlled exits – his famous never-ending exits. It’s a study in itself and I actually recommend people grab any episode on netflix and see the brilliance for yourselves!

  6. This made my laugh, from reading the headline. Interestingly last week I did a post about artists NOT having business cards on our site, ArtFairInsiders.com, and it was one of the most popular ones I’ve ever done with lots of comments and sharing of business cards and how artists do/do not use them. Here’s the link if anyone wants to get even more good ideas: http://www.artfairinsiders.com/profiles/blogs/promoting-your-work-part-i-the-business-card

    Good job on this Mckenna.

    • Thanks Constance! High praise coming from someone with your expertise – I am blushing.

      This is such an important subject even if I made you laugh. AND – I am clicking on your link immediately.

      Let’s get creative about this stuff!

  7. Perfect. I recently bought myself some business cards that are glossy and lovely and each one has a different painting of mine on it. I love them so much I do not WANT to give them away! I have just become a full-time artist and I have LOTS to learn on every aspect of marketing. I will be sure to read more of your posts. Thank you.

    • Oh my…your cards sound yummy, Eleanor! Yes – don’t “give” them away, but instead “distribute” them with a deliberate attitude to have them be a tool for marketing and selling. And do stay in touch here. This is a full-fledged learning center!

      Hey… as someone who is a bit new to this as a full-time business, you should take the survey. You will find the link next to my smiling face at the end of the post! It’s anonymous! And you will need the e-course, so you might as well get the $10 savings, right?

      It takes less than 5 mins! Help Artsy Shark help you!

  8. Should I only give someone my business card only if they expressed interest and sign up on my email list? So it was a bad idea to have a stack of business cards where people can just grab some without any conversation at all. I feel really silly now because that was exactly what happened to me last year at an art festival.

    • Tim, You just referred to a situation that has happened to a lot of artists! Having cards or postcards out gives an excuse to walk away, and many times are wasted, being picked up by children running through the aisles collecting them. Mckenna’s techniques are great for helping artists sell. She is a master!

    • Hey Tim!!! Don’t feel silly! Feel newly enlightened!

      You are not alone: It really is SO counter-intuitive to not have a stack of info sitting in your display, but as you have now learned, it’s not useful to not be able to control the “distribution”.

      Meanwhile, pat yourself on the back for:
      1. Spending time on Artsy Shark and drinking in the GREAT kool-aid served up by Carolyn Edlund (back at you, sistah!)
      2. Having the guts to post here and let us all know your status and concerns (that goes for all of you posters!)
      3. Having a business card at all! So many artists don’t and it’s one of the MOST important tools you can use in growing your business and making more sales. You should have several on your person at ALL times, which is another reason why I coach – don’t get fancy: just use the standard size that fits in everyones wallets.
      4. Being willing to learn and open up to new ways of thinking – the learning NEVER ends. For me, that is the fun part! I hope you feel the joy, too!

  9. Can you tell me what sign up sheet you use with your iPad? That’s a great idea!

    • Hello Monica!

      If you are a user of Constant Contact, it is one of several sign-up systems they have created. You would go to your panel where they list all the sign-up tools they have and go to the marketplace link where there are many apps for all kinds of grow-your-business tools including the one called iCapture. The great part about it is you can use it without internet access. It will capture everything YOU have determined you want to gather and you can upload it to CC anytime.

      I would imagine that other email service providers have something similar? I just don’t know those systems. I would guess you could just add people into your regular contacts and put a notation that they want to signup? Or, maybe you can open your website and have them signup that way?

      Hope that helps!

  10. This is brilliant, thank-you great advice! For my shows- I made a small banner with a QR code implemented so those with smart phones can just scan it and link to my web site, helps save on business cards.

    I like the idea however not to have any biz cards out, I will start doing what you suggest & great timing as I am coming out with my first newsletter in a couple of days & have a nice hardbound book all ready for my sign ups at shows. I agree face book likes are useless on your web sites, I have a link to sign up for my newsletter there, I think it will be more effective with connecting to people.

    Happy New year everyone!

    • QR code is a great idea. If you use Constant Contact, you can actually create a QR code that sends people to sign up for your emails, too. AND they have a Text To Join code that is also great to use on the fly.

      Since Facebook has banned “like gating” it’s now ONLY possible to have people give their emails to get specials, etc. Once again – emails rule!

      Every name is so valuable to your future. I hope you rock it at your shows and be sure to have lots and lots of obvious places on your website so you can capture your admirers there, too.

      Consider buying the e-course from Carolyn and I all about email marketing! Look for it on the side-bar. You are so right: a newsletter is more effective with connecting.

      Best wishes! Mckenna

  11. My brother and I have been doing this for 20 years. We were both weekend art fair artists. If a customer asked do you have a business card? Our answer was “No, but I’m here now.” Or sometimes just no. And I did have a guest book if they wanted to receive my newsletter. Other artists thought we were crazy to do this, but it works and actually makes sales. We called business cards “Get-out-of-the-booth-free” cards.

  12. What if someone is too shy to ask for a card, but wanted to buy my art? Then he would walk away without my info. Also would it seem unprofessional to have no cards when everyone else has a stack of cards?

    • Mary, that is a great question. If someone really “wanted to buy” they would buy. And if they really did just leave without you having any intervention/conversation and they didn’t get a card, then they really weren’t that interested.

      Think of your own experiences. If you saw something at a “temporary” shop/fair and you really wanted it, but for some reason just couldn’t buy it at that moment, you would do something to be able to connect with that seller in the future. You would try to find out if there was a website, or someplace where you could buy in the future. That would mean you would interact with the seller.

      At the point that someone comes to you and asks “do you have a website” or “are you on IG” or in any form appear to want to stay in touch, you would turn that moment into a “let me get my card for you and while I do that, please join my list.”

      No one will just walk away if they like your work and experience a desire to own your art. Hopefully, you will have approached them at some point if they linger? Even a busy booth allows for some quick connection.

      The odds are against you losing a sale. The odds are better that you will make a sale by controlling the exit and getting their email address.


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