Vistaprint, a web-to-print company, is an American success story. A pioneer in the concept of template-driven, do-it-yourself design and printing, Vistaprint put budding entrepreneurs in the driver’s seat of their own brand. It’s no surprise that small businesses with small budgets loved the idea of creating their own printed materials — after all, it saved them money.
Vistaprint’s claim to fame, the FREE business card, was an idea they hit upon in the early 2000s. And it worked beautifully. Low budget? No problem, you could get your first business cards for the price of shipping, just $5.00. What could be better than that?
The cards promoted the small business on one side, and on the other was the Vistaprint logo with an offer to get the very same FREE cards, available to anyone who saw it. This is known as a marketing double whammy: not only did Vistaprint market to the business owner who ordered the cards, but also to each person who received one from the business as well — genius!
More recently, Vistaprint has scaled back on the Free (the offer is now occasional), but do still offer the same (ho hum) business cards at a criminally cheap price.
Whether FREE or CHEAP, Vistaprint may be a good short-term cost solution for your fledgling business. In the long term, not so much. In fact, as your business grows, continuing to use Vistaprint can hurt you. Here are five reasons why:
1) Quality. To make their offer financially feasible, Vistaprint needs to keep costs down, which means going minimalist on every aspect of their cards. The end result is a business card that is slightly smaller than standard size, on thinner stock. The cards typically look dull (gloss stock is more costly, as are gloss varnishes), and may even have fuzzy graphics or type. Often, these cards have frayed edges (no varnish = less bonding agent) or are cut unevenly. Is this the first impression you want to present?
FREE is free for a reason. The overused idiom you get what you pay for exists to address this fact.
As your business (and budget) grows, you’ll want to upgrade your cards. Vistaprint does offer higher quality options for printing and stock, and you will be paying much more than free, meaning you must consider…
2) Price. Business cards (paid or free) aside, Vistaprint also offers a wide array of printed products with options at competitive prices. One drawback in their pricing structure is that there are many options priced out separately, often leading to higher costs (not to mention shipping rates). Perhaps this result could be avoided by getting some guidance during your purchase, but Vistaprint customer service is notoriously lacking, often because the person you end up speaking with has little knowledge of the print industry.
When upgrading your brand, it will be in your best interest to shop around. It’s almost certain you’ll get a competitive price — and far better service — working with a smaller company. And if you’re upgrading quality, you should be thinking about…
3) Originality. Choosing a pre-designed template for your business cards or other needs enables small businesses to save some money, since there is no need for a designer. However, there are a lot of small businesses like yours that use Vistaprint, and are choosing from the same comparably small amount of template options. How long will it be before someone hands you a card that, aside from the contact information, looks exactly like yours?
Your business needs to stand out. Deciding to create an original look for your brand will be a bold step forward for you. Maybe you have an idea of what it should look like, and you’re planning to put it together yourself — but wait, are you a graphic designer? If not, you should consider that your brand must not only be original, but convey…
4) Professionalism. Whatever your business, odds are you have spent years learning your craft, exerting effort and money to become the best you can be at what you do. You also know that other professionals have done the same, which is why you would hire the architect who designed Tom Brady’s house over the architect who designs parking garages. The other reason you would hire that architect? You’re not an architect.
Your brand is a very important aspect of your business, and your printed materials are the physical manifestation of that brand. Don’t those materials deserve the same type of effort from someone with the right skill set to make them really shine? The cost of hiring a graphic designer is negligible compared to your ROI in the form of brand…
5) Perception. Part of a successful business is the belief by clients and prospects that they are getting highly professional service tempered with knowledge and experience. These qualities create brand value, and in turn customer loyalty.
Yet, the road to a successful business starts with that first impression, which is usually your printed materials – it’s crucial that they convey the very same level of quality, originality and professionalism that you want people to see in you.
Vistaprint is great if you’re just starting out and a) want to save a few bucks, and b) don’t mind being an unpaid advertiser for that company. Once you move on from FREE, you’re far better off going with another company that, like you, cares.