Before you fall in love with your business card

Before you fall in love with your business card — is it readable by an OCR scanner? High-drama design can often result in low impact.

business cardsBefore you commit to a mad, passionate affair with your business card’s design, ask yourself: Is this readable by an OCR scanner?

OCR (optical character recognition) software now comes bundled with most home-office scanners. It’s no longer something for the sales person who goes to trade shows and comes back with 500 business cards. It’s for just about anyone who’s tired of the piles of business cards cluttering their desks.

I just popped a dozen business cards into my ScanSnap S1500M and was astonished at the results. They scanned in seconds, and in Cardiris software half of the cards transferred most of their data into the correct fields for a vCard that could be exported with one click into my Contacts application.

The other half of the cards yielded up no data at all. Zip. Nada. They might as well have been blank.


Because they had white type on a dark (or highly patterned) “artsy” background. (Note: It’s not just the Cardiris software; people report this with other common business-card scanning applications.)

The Dark Side of Design

So, do you want to be the graphic designer, building contractor, or editor whose email address and phone number are now in my database? Or do you want to be the one whose unreadable card I just dropped into my recycle bin?

In the world of business communications, high drama can easily result in low impact.


Ignite Seattle — 15 talks and one wedding

Karen Anderson ignite talkThe videos of the May 22 Ignite Seattle talks are up on YouTube — 15 5-minute talks (including mine) and one 5-minute wedding.

I’ve created a page about my talk on “What You’ll Wish You’d Known Before You Joined that Nonprofit Board” with the YouTube video and information about longer versions of the talk that I have developed for conferences and trainings.

The talk has been getting tremendous buzz on Facebook.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ignite: It began in Seattle in 2006 with an evening of 5-minute talks at a community theater space. The motto is “enlighten us, but keep it quick.” Topics range from urban bee-keeping to finding the right school for your kid to songwriting. There’s a definite “how-to” theme.

The gatekeepers are careful to discourage anyone from making a thinly disguised sales pitch for their business or organization.

There are now Ignite events all over the world. I spoke at an early Ignite Seattle (2007) on “Ten Tips for Survival in the High-Tech Workplace” and realized about a year ago that I wanted to share some of my more recent experiences with nonprofit boards.

For social media, Facebook has the numbers

Pew Internet reports that Facebook is far and away the most popular social media site for adults.

Publicize blog to social media graphicIt’s cold and lonely on the cutting edge. But some people like to be there. Like my hip friend who sniffed that “nobody cool uses Facebook any more.” (Shades of Yogi Berra’s “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”)

Cool be damned.

The latest report from Pew Internet shows that as of September 2013, 71 percent of online adults use Facebook. Compare that to adult use of other social networking platforms (Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram), which Pew says hovers between 17 and 22 percent.

So we would like to focus our social media marketing efforts…where?

Actually, you can easily cover all the bases — Facebook and many more— by blogging your message. Then use your blogging software’s Publicize feature to send a linked excerpt of the blog post to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more. Metrics software such as StatCounter, Google Analytics, or a built-in statistics program like the one in WordPress will tell you which social media platform brings the most click-throughs to your original content.

Just curious — did you come to this post from one of those platforms?

Meanwhile, back at my desk

Why I’m thrilled that I attended the Viable Paradise speculative fiction writing program on Martha’s Vineyard last week.

Viable Paradise Oak Bluffs

A heartfelt thanks to my clients who were patient while I attended the Viable Paradise speculative fiction writing workshop on Martha’s Vineyard last week.

Many of you know that I was for many years a book reviewer for January and other publications; and most of you know that I’m on the board of the Clarion West Writers Workshop (a six-week summer program in Seattle). But not many people know that I also write fiction.

I studied fiction writing in college (Daily Themes — 300 words, submitted every weekday for an entire semester). I came away from that experience with the conviction that writing every day would make it possible for me to write something substantive — if and when I had something substantive to say. I certainly didn’t in college. But I learned to watch, analyze, and describe the people around me. This led to Columbia J-School and a career in journalism (which is another story).

Back to fiction.

In the early 1990s, I wrote a mystery novella set in a depressed industrial town in New England. Starting a long work is easy; finishing one, difficult but highly satisfying. By finishing, I discovered the shape of a book. However, I realized that it was the wrong book to submit for publication. For one thing, it was the wrong length. Not many mystery publishers want novellas. For another, I didn’t want to get “stuck” in that particular sub-genre. If your first book is about amateur sleuths in New Hampshire, you’re labeled a “cozy mystery writer,” even if your second book is about spaceships, aliens, and an evil computer named Zorg-X13.

I did not want to be a writer of New England small-town mysteries.

Life, as they say, intervened, and about 10 years ago I found myself experimenting with near-future science fiction. Then I dabbled in classic fantasy (magic! elves!), steampunk-flavored alternative history, and urban fantasy. Four years ago, while attending a panel at the Fourth Street convention in Minneapolis, I suddenly “saw” a story. I wrote it, workshopped it, and submitted it to magazines. I got some encouraging rejections from editors, including several suggestions that I develop the story into a novel. So I sketched several stories in that same world and submitted the core story as my application to Viable Paradise.

Of course, what happened at Viable Paradise was not as expected. It was far, far better. I had the good fortune to be with a group of writers that gelled rapidly. In short, I now know 23 people I trust to be superb beta readers and insightful reviewers.

I’m a kinetic learner, and it was only by going through a six-day round-the-clock process of lectures, writing, rewriting, getting critiqued, critiquing my classmates, and hearing both pros and classmates critique the work of others that better ways of doing things sunk in. How much better? I wrote a complete story on the plane on the way back to Seattle. And it’s the best story I’ve ever written.

If you write fiction, and want to move up to the next level, I whole-heartedly recommend a residential workshop.

Apply to Clarion West (Seattle) or Clarion (San Diego) if you can carve six weeks out of a summer.

Apply to Viable Paradise if you can take a week in the fall. I can’t say enough about the nine Viable Paradise instructors (a group of authors and editors that has worked together for years). The staff is a large team of Viable Paradise graduates. They can provide you with anything from an analysis of core works in contemporary speculative fiction to a large sandwich when you’ve forgotten to eat and are verging on the incoherent. (Best of all, you don’t have to ask for the sandwich. They will take one look at you, recognize all the symptoms, and hand you the food.)

Sure, at the end of all this, I had to return  home to the leaking window that needs to be caulked, the suspicious behavior of the aging refrigerator, the sink that mysteriously fills up with dishes when I’m not looking, and the lawn that needs to be mowed if and when it ever stops raining. And a few hundred emails.

But now I know what I’m capable of writing, and that’s the best motivation to institute some serious time management that willenable me to write, if not every day, at least three times a week. And I have a network of writing colleagues who share a similar experience and determination.

Speaking of time management: Writing for clients resumes a regular schedule today — barring intervention from spaceships, aliens, and Zorg-X13.

All your friends belong to Facebook and LinkedIn

According to the new Pew Internet study, the relative likelihood of social network involvement is unrelated to gender, race/ethnicity, education level, household income, or urbanity.

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 2.00.16 PMRely on LinkedIn for professional networking? Have a Facebook account or use Google+?

Chances are most of the rest of your world is right there with you:

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project has been studying online adults’ social networking site use since 2005, and has seen substantial growth since then. Today, 72% of online adults use social networking sites. Although younger adults continue to be the most likely social media users, one of the more striking stories about the social networking population has been the growth among older internet users in recent years. Those ages 65 and older have roughly tripled their presence on social networking sites in the last four years—from 13% in the spring of 2009 to 43% now.

—Pew Internet

read the full report

The conclusion: If you’re online, you’re probably on a social networking site.

The Pew Internet report on use of social networks by online adults, based on fresh data from spring 2013,  is fascinating. It shows that the relative likelihood of social network involvement is unrelated to gender, race/ethnicity, education level, household income, or urbanity. According to this chart from the Pew study, about the only differentiating factor is age:


However, the 65+ age group is currently the one in which social network involvement is increasing most rapidly.


Back when the U.S. was an agrarian society, schools closed in the summer so students (and teachers) could help with the harvests.

Ironically, this long outdated calendar is what now gives many of us time off in the summer to attend (or teach) workshops.

My friend Mike Schway just posted a video of Cajun grand master Milton Vanicor performing (and teaching) at Fiddle Tunes at Fort Warden. Many of us have been posting pictures of Neil Gaiman reading (and teaching) at the Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle. Mike, who players fiddle and accordion, wouldn’t dream of missing Fiddle Tunes. Just as I wouldn’t dream of missing the Clarion West Write-a-thon.

MacVoices: Chuck Joiner and I talk about blogging

Chuck Joiner of MacVoices and I recorded a MacVoices show about blogging — the history, the growth, the high points, and the Dark Ages.

MacVoicesChuck Joiner of MacVoices TV and I have been talking about blogging — the history, the growth, the high points and the Dark Ages. Last week, we got together and recorded a show on that topic.

We started back in the old days — with LiveJournal and the Golden Age of blogging when people found their voices and harnessed the publishing power of the World Wide Web. We talked about the rise and fall of newsreaders, and the effects that newer and nimbler social media platforms have had on the once-mighty blogosphere.

You can listen to (or download) the show online. You’ll also find today’s show on the MacVoices TV page in iTunes.

We’re planning to take a second shot at the topic in a few weeks, this time with some friends who will help us explore the uneasy relationship between journalism and blogging and — a hot topic for Chuck — the impact that SEO has had on blogging. Plus, I’m hoping to get in a segment on people whose blogs have been stepping stones on the way to book publishing.

Your questions and comments can help shape those next conversations. Please leave a message for us on the show’s page at MacVoices.


1 terabyte of guilty storage

Be aware: What you save in cash on a yard sale bargain may cost you in karma. This is the story of my new 1-terabyte hard drive.

I don’t feel at all guilty about the new iMac I bought for my office. I am, however, experiencing some real stress about the brand-new 1-terabyte Western Digital hard drive I’m using to handle Time Machine backups for the iMac.

That’s because I only paid $5 for it.

At a yard sale.

Here’s the story:

garage sale writer wayOn a bright sunny Saturday last summer, we were headed off on errands when we detoured to follow a yard sale sign. We found ourselves on a neat little block where the corner house had tables and clothing racks set out. It was a real “chick” yard sale — like a chick flick, but all the squealing is over inexpensive Nordstrom clothing rather than cute guys. Two perky blonde moms with their adorable blond children had set out a sale of gently used clothing, toys, and decor items. Tom, probably with a mind to accruing points so that he could thoroughly  investigate a subsequent yard sale full of DVDs, wandered around while I perused the racks of elegant clothing, looking for something that was not too floral or pastel. As I recall, I found a nice navy blue scarf. I didn’t pay much attention when Tom waved a bright green shrink-wrapped box at me and said “Only five dollars.”

“Sure,” I said, vaguely registering something called “My Book.” I figured it was a kid’s toy of some kind, or perhaps a little gadget for digital photos.

It was only the following day that I saw the “My Book” on our mail table, took a close look, and realized it was a brand-new 1-terabyte hard drive. I looked online and discovered that it sells at places like OfficeMonster for between $125 and $175.

“That much?” Tom marveled. He’d assumed it was something old and out of date.

Obviously, there’d been a terrible mistake at the yard sale. But we couldn’t remember where the yard sale had been. On the way to the store the next day, we drove through the neighborhood where the sale had been, but the sale signs were down and all the neat little blocks looked the same.

So, there we were. With somebody’s expensive hard drive, and a bit of guilt.

But, wait — the story gets worse. Or better, depending on your sense of humor.

A week or two after the yard sale, I was at the local OfficeMonster buying what I always seem to be buying there — HP ink cartridges. I got into the checkout line and sighed. Our local OfficeMonster has a cashier ( let’s call her Brunhilde) who is slow as an ancient laser printer. She asks you if you need any of their weekly specials and goes through each item while you vehemently say “No” to each one. She asks if you have your special coupons — and clucks at you if you don’t. She asks if you have your OfficeMonster Preferred Dinosaur card. And she enunciates every syllable of it all.

The handsome man in front of me in the line looked about ready to strangle Brunhilde. He was clearly in  a hurry. He had only one item on the counter, was waving cash, and his two adorable little blond children were tugging at his leg.

“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”

“Daddy’s hurrying,” he told them through clenched teeth, as Brunhilde droned her way through a list of weekly specials.

She finally rang up the purchase, and that’s when I noticed the item the fellow was buying. It was a  bright green shrink-wrapped box. It looked familiar. So, come to think of it, did the two adorable little blond children. I’d seen them, and a 1-terabyte Western Digital hard drive, before. At that yard sale.

I opened my mouth. And closed it. And opened my mouth again. And closed it.

This was tricky. I realized that if I told this man I’d purchased his hard drive at a yard sale a few weeks earlier, I stood a chance of creating a larger problem than I was solving. If he’d been assured by his wife that his hard drive was “probably lost,” and I stepped forward with information that confirmed his darkest suspicions that it had been “lost” in her yard sale — well, things could get ugly. And then there was Brunhilde. Triggering something that would result in her having to void a purchase would hardly make us popular with the long line of OfficeMonster customers already fidgeting behind me.

While I stood there weighing my options, the two adorable blond children were dragging their grouchy dad and his new hard drive out of the store and into the parking lot. Brunhilde had grabbed my ink cartridges and launched into her recitation of the weekly specials. I nodded along, in a daze. To her delight and amazement, I accidentally bought 10 reams of OfficeMonster paper.

At least someone was having a good day.

That night, I told Tom what had happened — and not happened — at the office supplies store.

“Oh my,” was all he said.

I’m now enjoying the 1-terabyte Western Digital hard drive, but remain aware that what I saved in cash I probably spent in karma. So we’ve resolved that the next time we have a yard sale we’ll include one or two really spectacular bargains.


Age discrimination over 50: Are you a victim — or a perp?

Are you a victim of age discrimination — or are you a perpetrator? Some of the ugliest and most inaccurate stereotypes about over-50 professionals come from over-50 professionals themselves.

I’ve been reading discussions (on LinkedIn:Seattle and other forums) about age discrimination experienced by older professionals — discussions filled with anecdotes about incidents in which a company discouraged, ignored, or rejected a qualified over-50 job applicant for reasons related to their age.

I’m sure that many of the stories are true. And I suspect that, as a contractor, I sometimes lose opportunities based on my age and companies’ stereotypes about people over 50.

However, I’ve been reluctant to get into these discussions. That’s because I don’t have any objective data to bring to the table and posting yet another indignant individual tale of woe just fuels the general climate of self-righteous victimhood.

But now I have something to say. It’s based on reading a recent essay by a man who is well over 50. I’m not going to name the essayist, or even describe the essay in detail. What caught my attention was that at several points in the article the writer referred to himself as “out of date,” “ancient,” no longer active in the field, etc., etc. I realized that if an editor had removed that self-denigration and those apologies, I would have had no idea of the writer’s age. The essay topic itself would have been a logical one for an expert of any age in the field, and the writer’s age had nothing to do with his conclusions, or his ability to reach them.

So, what’s going on here?

Why do I keep encountering older professionals who seem compelled to make age an issue, to describe themselves and their peers over 50 as less technically competent and less intellectually nimble, and to do so at great length. I’m mystified by this stereotyping, and, as someone over 50, I’m annoyed. Because when I go in to talk with a prospective client who is 20 years younger than me, the chances are that they’ve recently encountered someone like the self-deprecatory essayist and are afraid that I’ll go off on a similar tangent.

Or they may have recently attended a professional meeting, like the one I was at last month, at which an older participant made sweeping, derogatory comments about the technical abilities of her over-50 peers.

I'm over 50 and totally confused.
I’m over 50 and a mess.
I'm over 50 and highly competent.
I’m over 50 and competent.

The meeting was a small seminar about new features for some website software we were all using for our businesses. The attendees were asked to introduce themselves. The younger men and women in the room all introduced themselves in a professional manner, describing their businesses and why they were interested in the new software features. But five of the over-50 participants proceeded to describe themselves as being afraid of technology, probably doing the wrong thing, and having no idea of what to do with website software. One woman went on at length about how, “of course, everyone my age is terrified of computers.”

I was embarrassed, and angry.

When the time came for me to introduce myself, I was surprised that I was able to unclench my jaw long enough to say I that I’m a social media communications consultant specializing in online content for technology startups and medical device companies. I left that seminar wondering if it was time to invest in hair dye and Botox.

Before I resort to those, I’m going to make an appeal to my age cohort.

Folks, I’ll be blunt. It’s hard enough dealing with media-fueled societal prejudice against people over 50 without having those of us who should know better mouthing the Madison Avenue script and perpetuating that stereotype. What is the point of running ourselves, and our contemporaries, into the ground?

If you’re having tough time with job interviews, client meetings, or networking events, it’s easy to blame that on age discrimination. But before you do, ask yourself if you are giving people a chance to judge you (and me) on the  basis of professional abilities — or are you frightening them off with your attitude first?

I’m not going to speculate on what’s causing this wave of self-inflicted ageism — there are no doubt many complex factors in play. But I am going to suggest that it stop.

Please get it together. Stop, thinking, acting, and talking as though anyone over 50 in the world of business is a victim. Not only are you sabotaging your own chances of securing good work, you’re taking the rest of us down with you.

It’s better than nagging: A technique for following up on introductions

It’s better than nagging: A technique for following up with qualified prospects.

In the midst of it all, I’m trying out a new technique for wooing customers. I’d been introduced to the MarCom manager at a large company that needs a blog designed, managed, and possibly ghost written — a very promising opportunity for me. I’d sent her a proposal and some samples. She’d responded with interest. But we were having difficulty setting up and doing an actual phone call. She’d cancelled because of some emergencies and didn’t reschedule.

Meanwhile, I was researching the topic of successful B2B blogs for another client and realized that one of the reference articles I’d discovered talked about exactly the marketing problem the prospective client is hoping to solve. (It examined the way that Manpower US had engaged B2B customers by tightly focusing a blog on the topic those customers were most eager to hear about.)

So, instead of whingeing to my prospect that we needed to schedule, I wrote her a note saying I’d been thinking about her project and thought she might like to see what Manpower US had done, providing links to the article.

We’ll see how it works. But I have a good feeling about the technique. At my end, it certainly feels better than nagging.

Update: Two months later I signed a contract with the prospective client.

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