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Make the Most of Your Business Cards

Here's the best way to get those cards out of your pocket and into your computer.

Joel P. Bruckenstein, 05/08/2008

It is often the simplest basic tasks that are performed inefficiently by advisors. For example, the typical advisor receives numerous business cards from prospects, vendors, centers of influence, and others. An advisor who is aggressively marketing and networking might collect 50 or more business cards on a weekly basis.

Once the advisor has a business card, where does it go from there? Ideally, one needs to capture the information and get it into a CRM application or some other database in an efficient manner. Most advisors I meet either type the data into the database themselves or delegate the typing to a staff person. This process can be automated with specialized business card scanning software, but few advisors currently use card-scanning applications.

Generally speaking, all of the business card scanning applications work in a similar manner. You place one or more business cards in a scanner in order to capture a picture of the business card. Optical character recognition software built into the application then "reads" the business card. When the software performs the way it should, it is able to "understand" whether a set of numbers on the card represents a business phone number, a ZIP code, or a cell phone number. Once the software understands what each set of letters and numbers represents, it can copy the information to a corresponding field in a database within the application.

So, if you received a simple business card with the name of "John Smith" on it and a phone number of (555) 555-5555, the software would know that "John" was the first name, "Smith" was the last name, and that (555) 555-5555 was the business phone number. The software then copies this information into the appropriate fields in a new contact record from which the user can review and edit the information before saving it. Once the information is in the application's database, it is often possible to export it to other popular applications such as MS Outlook and ACT!

Over the last few months, I've reviewed a number of new scanners for readers of Virtual Office News. Coincidentally, this has given me an opportunity to try a couple of software packages designed specifically for scanning business cards because these applications came bundled with the scanners I tested. For example, both the portable Fujitsu ScanSnap S300 and the Fujitsu ScanSnap S510 ship with an application called CardMinder. The Kodak ScanMate i1120 ships with an application called Presto BizCard 5.

While neither business card application I tested was perfect, both were adequate. Each did a decent job of reading business cards on a white background provided there was not an abundance of information on the card. Of the two, the Presto application was a bit more feature-rich and a bit more accurate.

My experience with CardMinder and Biz Card 5 encouraged me to look for a better, more user-friendly business card software solution. I think I've found one in CardScan. CardScan, a subsidiary of Newell Rubbermaid since 2006, offers perhaps the broadest array of card scanning products, including a budget product for consumers; CardScan Executive, a single user business product; and CardScan Team, a multi-user product. I recently tested the CardScan Executive product to see how it compared with the programs I had previously used.

CardScan Executive is a package that includes both the CardScan software and CardScan 800c business card scanner. The color scanner measures about 6.5 inches by 3.5 inches by 1.75 inches and weighs just more than half a pound.

Setup is easy. A wizard walks you through the software setup. Once that is complete, plug the scanner into a USB port and you're ready to go. No external power source is required; the computer's USB port supplies sufficient power to run the scanner.

Working with the scanner and the software is a pleasure. When I fed a card into the scanner, the application automatically launched and the scanning began. I chose to scan business cards in color, but if time was an issue, I could have scanned in black and white, which is faster.

Once a card is scanned, it must be processed. You can chose to do this as each card is scanned by pressing the "process" button or you can scan a batch of cards and then batch process them. When you process a card, the software reads the card and places the information in the appropriate fields within a contact record. CardScan displays the scanned card image right under the contact record, so you can conveniently compare the two. If all is correct, you check the verified box and you a re done; if not, you make the necessary corrections and then verify. That data is housed in the CardScan database, you can synchronize it with MS Outlook, ACT!, Goldmine, Lotus Notes and a number of other popular applications.

CardScan also offers an optional service called "CardScan at Your Service" that can be extremely valuable for advisors. This service allows users to automatically back up a copy of a CardScan file to a secure database on the Web. If your computer crashes, or if you do not have access to your computer because of a disaster, you can simply access your data from the Web. In addition, users can synchronize the online database with the one on their computer so both are current

In addition, "CardScan at Your Service" offers the option of allowing you to send everyone in your database an e-mail every three months that asks them to verify their contact information. While this sounds great in theory, it can be annoying to the recipients. I'd consider using this feature if I could change the interval to annually, but this doesn't appear to be an option at the moment.

When evaluating business card scanning software, the single most important factor is accuracy, and it is here that CardScan really shines. In my tests CardScan was more accurate than either of the other two programs I tried. It handled standard black and white business cards almost flawlessly and did a better job with color cards and more-complex cards than the competition. It is not perfect, however.

The CardScan software is designed to work exclusively with CardScan scanners. This means that even if you have an all purpose scanner like the Fujitsu or Kodak scanners mentioned earlier, you would still need to purchase and use the CardScan scanner. If the CardScan Scanner had an automatic document feeder so that you could put a stack of cards in the tray and scan them all with the push of a button, this might be easier to swallow, but it does not. You have to feed the cards into the scanner one by one.

In a perfect world, the CardScan software would work seamlessly with most popular office scanners. Since it doesn't, you have to decide whether or not it is worth paying close to $250 for the CardScan software/scanner bundle. Here's my advice: If you already have business card software bundled with your existing scanner and the volume of business cards you receive is low, make due with the software you have. If, on the other hand, you receive a relatively high volume of business cards in your office, spend the money on a CardScan system is worth it. CardScan is the best business-card scanning application on the market today.

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