If you’re like most freelance trainers, some of your best sources for future clients are the people you meet in your current classes. After all, they’re the ones who know and value your work. That’s why you collect business cards at your training classes, so that you can enter the information into your contact program, and mine it for referrals. Unfortunately, if you’re like most of us, you never find the time to key all that info into your PC. Here’s a solution.

Why bother?
As part of my normal “spring cleaning” ritual, I recently cleaned out my rolodex. At first I was quite pleased with the resulting lack of clutter. Then, out of the blue, I needed to contact a business acquaintance from my past. Guess what! His card had been “discarded.” Although I did obtain the information needed through other means, it was an irritating reminder of my struggle between my need to keep information and my need to be neat.

One of my friends suggested that I invest in a product in the PC accessory world that’s tailor-made to meet my seemingly opposing needs—the business card scanner. I must admit that I was not overwhelmed with enthusiasm. Another electronic gadget—so what?

I visited a few office supply and PC supply stores over the weekend. I talked with three different sales associates about the scanners. No one I spoke to was overly pumped up either. The average sales rate of the business card scanner is about 20 percent of the sales for electronic organizers. But as I researched this product, I became a believer in the importance of a business card scanner in the IT trainer’s equipment arsenal.

I spoke to a few friends who use scanners regularly. Most of the folks I know who use them travel more than 50 percent of the time. The scanners provide them with an easy way to store and retrieve client data. Scanners are perfect for trade shows and conferences. In fact, many conference-hosting companies are now providing business card scanners as part of the booth kit package.

How the scanners work
A user places a business card in the card-sized sheet feeder. A specialized optical character recognition (OCR) program deciphers and stores the information in a proprietary personal information manager (PIM).

Because the OCR program is highly specialized, it does a good job of finding and storing data correctly (that is, it reads a name as a name, a title as a title, and so on). Information from the business card scanners can be downloaded to an electronic organizer (like a PalmPilot) or a traditional database. It is helpful to set up fields in your storage system and then send the scanned data to these preset fields. The scanners are great time-savers, as they eliminate the need to manually input their information into a database.

What and where to buy
Popular card scanner brands include Biz Card Manager from Electronic Document Technology and the CardScan 500 from Corex. Business card scanners are lightweight and portable—generally under one pound and around six inches wide. They range in price from $175 to $400. Prices on business card scanners vary, so shop around before buying.
If you’ve invested in a business card scanner, we want to hear how it’s working for you. Please post your comments below or drop us a note .