Let's set the scene: You're at a business networking event. The second you've been to this week. You're working the room (yet again), meeting people and handing out your business cards. But their reaction is pretty discouraging.

Most of them shove your card into their pockets without looking at it. Those who do look barely take a glance before putting it into their pockets with everyone else's cards.

You get the feeling that they get home and put the cards in a pile in a drawer or a dusty corner somewhere that acts as their "business card graveyard." Or, worse yet, that they toss them directly into the recycling bin! Of course, that means they never follow up.

After several events like this, with no follow up from prospects you've been working so hard to meet, you start to wonder why you bother networking.

Do you wish that your card would stand out?

If it's time for a business card that makes a lasting impression instead of ending up as recycling, here are some tips to help make that happen:

1. Design a custom business card to match your brand. This means not getting sucked in by free or inexpensive business card template offers online. Design a card that's visually representative of your business, with your own logo and Visual Vocabulary elements. (A Visual Vocabulary is all the other visual elements on your card that coordinate with your logo.) An original, unique card will help you stand out more than any template ever will.

2. Print your business card on thick paper with a nice "feel." Have you ever noticed that some business cards just feel more important than others? They're a bit thicker, with paper that's smoother, softer, or maybe even textured.

Upgrading your paper requires printing with a traditional printer instead of a digital printer. It also means increased printing costs. Choose paper that reinforces your brand message. If you're going for a traditional or even slightly old-fashioned look, choose an ivory linen paper. If you're going for a high tech look, choose a smooth, bright white, even slightly glossy paper. If you use ivory linen paper for a high-tech business, for example, it may look out-of-place and give customers the wrong message about your capabilities.

3. Use both sides of the card to get your message across. The back of the card is already there, so why not use it? The back is the perfect place to put your tagline, a brief list of your services, or information about your products. There are lots of possibilities.

To placate networking contacts who like to use the back of a card to make notes, don't fill the entire area with text. Leave plenty of margin space for those notes. If you use a background color, choose a light color that's easy to write over. To make your card more eye-catching, you can also use the back of the card for a photo that reinforces your brand or more of those Visual Vocabulary elements.

4. Make your card more valuable by making an offer. Do you have a free report or bushels of free information on your website? Do you offer a free consultation, a free coaching session, or even a discount coupon for new contacts? Publicize your offer on your card so people will know what you have for them, and they'll be more likely to hang on to the card at least long enough to cash in. This gives you a chance to follow up with them once they touch base with you. And your card will be more memorable for saying "I have something for you" instead of just "Will you hire me?"

5. Consider a fold-out card. There's no rule that says a card can't fold out like a brochure. If you find yourself constantly getting the same question when you're out networking, you might be able to answer it with a fold-out card. This format is particularly effective in showing samples of your work when people expect you to have a portfolio. You can also use a fold-out card to tell prospects more about your star product or service—to give them just enough information to pique their interest.

The simple fact that your business card folds out will make it memorable. And you'll get that much more information into your prospects' hands during your first meeting. This may just lead to more business or better lead quality.

6. Cut the card in an interesting way. I've seen (and designed) square cards, shorter-than-normal cards, cards with rounded edges or angled corners that are visually interesting and not much more expensive than standard rectangular business cards. If you want a truly unique card, ask your printer to create a custom metal die to cut your card into any shape you'd like. This, again, is higher-cost option, but no one else will have a card shaped like yours, and it will definitely stand out.

Any of these ideas will differentiate your business card from the others your prospects gather. Or, you can combine a couple of these options for a card that's even more effective. In any case, your card will be more likely to wind up in the "keeper" pile than the recycling bin—which will lead to more business leads for you.