Adventures in personal branding: the business card

There’s a scene in “American Psycho” where psycho-in-question Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) and his colleagues compare business cards. To the viewer, the cards look identical. It’s only through the group’s discussion and Bateman’s inner dialogue that we learn the differences: colors on the white spectrum, typeface, paper weight, watermark.

So … psycho … is Bateman over the perceived inferiority of his own business card that he commits murder as a direct result. (Or does he? I’ll leave the story’s numerous interpretations alone.)

How would Patrick Bateman respond to Vistaprint?

I found Vistaprint last year through 10,000 Words, one of my favorite journalism blogs. The entry suggested that journalists were moving away from identifying with an established company (say, their newspapers or stations), and further toward identifying as one-man (or -woman) operations.

Faced with no longer having a newspaper with which to identity, I’ve spent much of the last year and a half cultivating my own personal brand. I tweet all the time, I blog and I follow a variety of people and news organizations. I redesigned my CV and made sure to join emerging social networks.

And I made a business card.

While it’s been a few months since I did this, I thought now — in the midst of post-graduation job-hunting — might be a good time to describe my process.

1. I browsed Cardonizer, looking for inspiration. The examples on Cardonizer vary from the chic to the absurd, but all are eye-catching.

2. I decided what information I wanted to include. I settled on my email, phone numbers, website and Twitter handle. I also decided to list my basic job titles/attributes, from the more serious (copy editor) to the more personal (traveler).

3. I “sketched” a rough layout in InDesign. One card I’d seen had used icons, so I decided to make my own. I painstakingly drew a cursor (website icon), an envelope (email icon) and two mobile phones (phone icons), and found a black Twitter icon. I placed all of my icons in the middle of squares with rounded edges, to make them look like buttons.

My business card.

My business card.

4. I selected a color palette. In addition to black for the text, I used the same cranberry-blueberry-lime combination that I’d chosen for my magazine prototype.

5. I added the text and chose a typeface. The contact information is prominently featured on the right, while my professional/personal attributes are lined up along the bottom, separated by colored vertical lines. I selected Merge for my typeface, a clean, slender sans serif that looks modern without being too cold.

6. I created my own “logo.” In my case, I drew a piece of notebook paper in one color (cranberry) and splashed a big “STET” across it in another color (blueberry). My name appears within a lime-colored dialog box, in black text.

7. Because Vistaprint lets you use both sides of the card, I selected a photo of mine for the back (Tower Bridge). I captioned the photo with a simple cranberry-colored bar, with white text.

8. I saved and exported both sides of the card and went through the motions on Vistaprint. I selected my order volume, chose a paper color and weight and cropped the graphics to fit the appropriate frame. Once I was satisfied, I ordered my cards. Voila.

The hardest part for me was settling on a design. It may be easier to use a template, but there’s something rewarding about making your own card from scratch. I know that mine’s unique, and love that it’s zippy and colorful while still being informative.

So if you’re thinking about making your own business card, knock yourself out. Chalk it up to bolstering that personal brand.

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5 tips for the journalist in limbo

There comes a time in (nearly) every journalist’s career when she (or he) has to take a break from the profession, for whatever reason. I’m in that position now, with graduate school. I admit that at times, without a paper or news site for which to edit, design or write, I have something of an existential breakdown. Am I still a journalist?! Is someone in a trench coat going to revoke my membership card? 

That kind of a break, whether it lasts months or years, or is permanent or temporary, can be difficult to take. Here are some ways for the journalist in limbo to stay sharp (or more accurately, they’re how this journalist in limbo stays sharp).

1. Keep writing. I write all the time — blog entries, academic essays, dissertation notes, tweets, neurotic emails to my mother. It doesn’t have to be publishable or even journalistic. Stay used to writing as much as you can. It keeps your voice, grammar and mechanics sharp. If you’re in school, academic research is good practice for looking up public records. I’m looking up Hungarian electoral data; what are Sarah Palin’s emails compared with that?

2. Keep reading. I read and skim a ton of content every day. The New York Times, Washington Post, Mother Jones, Huffington Post, Guardian, BBC, Poynter, Telegraph, Gawker, Mashable, Slate, Salon and Kansas City Star form my core go-to links, but there are probably dozens more that I visit tangentially. Not only do I stay connected with global, national and local news, but I also get a good dose of quality writing and reporting. Good writing comes from good reading.

3. Keep practicing skills. This could be any one thing, or several small things. For instance, I’m working through HTML and CSS exercises in a workbook, and sampling some free online courses through News University. The code work is a refresher of basic skills I learned in J school, and the online tutorials offer a more theoretical approach to ethics, business planning and management. News University also offers inexpensive online help with several critical applications like InDesign and Photoshop, if you’re interested in that.

4. Stay engaged with social media. I tweet all the time, on a variety of topics — politics, sports, cooking, travel, movies — and it helps me practice brevity in my writing (see #1), engage others in dialogue, learn about different sources of news and practice filtering information. I’m also active in Foursquare (I love leaving tips) and maintain a LinkedIn account. You don’t need a steady journalism job to build an audience.

5. Network, as an extension of #4. Talk to people and follow people in a wide range of professions, not just journalism. Think of everyone as a potential source. Follow accounts that regularly link to job postings, maintain a website for your professional use and keep all of your contact information up to date. I created and ordered my own business cards, which I designed myself from scratch. Use the time when you’re not beholden to a media company to cultivate your own brand and learn how to sell yourself.

I’d be jumping the gun if I told you that the above points were guaranteed recipes for success (I’m still in graduate school and don’t have a job yet), but they’ve definitely helped me to stay in the loop and feel connected to my chosen profession.

I’ve worked for a newspaper of some kind in a staff capacity almost non-stop since I was 15: four years on my high school paper, four years on the University Daily Kansan and consecutive summers at the Indianapolis Star, Columbus Dispatch and Kansas City Star. It’s taken me a while to accept that while it’s awesome to get paid to write and edit and have an official press pass, my writing and opinions aren’t necessarily less valid if I’m not employed at a newspaper. Do I eventually want a full-time job in journalism? Yes, I think I do. But that doesn’t mean I have to sit and twiddle my thumbs until I get one, and neither do you.