I recently organized an order of business cards for about 150 people. I can’t believe how difficult this process is, and I also can’t believe that (based on my searching) nobody’s solved the problem yet of ordering business cards for large groups of people. It really struck me that every single step of the process is incredibly painful:

  • It’s hard to get everyone notified of an upcoming business card order. We send an email around to everyone in the company with about a week’s notice that a business card order will be placed. But sometimes people are on vacation, or busy, and they either miss their chance to order cards, or get to us at the very last minute when we’ve already sent proofs around. Or they have last-minute changes, which leads me to the fact that…

  • It’s hard to get the right information on the cards. We give everyone in the company access to a single Google Spreadsheet to put their information in. They have to click through to the spreadsheet, find their information, verify it, and then tell us the quantity they want. They have to not accidentally edit someone else’s entry. They have to remember whether they’ve already ordered before, otherwise they’ll accidentally waste time re-entering all their information. Sometimes people don’t understand or don’t follow the card guidelines (and it’s hard to do really good automatic error checking in a Google Spreadsheet) and try to add extra information that we can’t fit onto the card. We then have to email each one of these people individually to get their information corrected so we can print their cards.

  • It’s hard to make the actual cards. We use an InDesign template, which is standard. Our graphic designers have to go through the template and paste in each individual’s business card information, which is a time-consuming process. InDesign templates don’t have mail merge, which is bad, but that doesn’t matter because even if they did, they’re not flexible enough to allow, for example, slightly different layouts depending on how many items someone wants on their card. Never mind if we wanted to offer, for example, different card backs or other options that could be fun. And since the cut-and-paste process is manual, there are also often errors, and…

  • It’s hard to proof the cards. Either we can painstakingly go through each row in our spreadsheet and compare against the card (which doesn’t guard against errors in the spreadsheet itself anyway), or we can ask business card recipients to review their own cards. The latter is much quicker for us and probably overall more efficient, but all we can do is share a single PDF to everyone in the company and trust that everyone’s had a chance to review, which isn’t always the case. Or we can send individual proofs to each recipient, but this takes a lot of time and practically guarantees that one or two people won’t get their proof (perhaps because there is a typo in the email address on their card!) And finally,

  • It’s hard to ship the cards. Since we simply use a Google Spreadsheet, we have no real way to guard against people accidentally putting in the wrong address for their home office, for example. Also, we have a globally distributed team, which means that making the pricing decision between two or more local printers and a single, worldwide printer is not easy.

It would be awesome – and a huge savings of graphic design and general employee time and probably money – to get any of these problems solved. I wonder how large companies handle this problem? What about small companies that want to behave like large companies?