Evernote for CPAs: Developing a Super Power

Here's how you can use Evernote to make yourself more productive

Evernote is a game-changer for CPAs.

What is Evernote?

Think of it as your personal digital library. 

Evernote is a cloud-based storage system which allows you to capture and file voice recordings, documents (including Word, Excel, PDFs), pictures, and videos. Once information is placed in Evernote, it is searchable in a Google-like fashion. Even hand-written notes are searchable.

Evernote for CPAs

Picture is from AdobeStock.com

Things CPAs Can Do with Evernote

Here are examples of what you can do with Evernote:

  • Create a personal digital library (e.g., use an Evernote digital notebook to store Journal of Accountancy articles, CPE material, and videos of class instruction)
  • Share individual files or notebooks (a compilation of files) with others (with the premium version you can collaborate with others, allowing them to change Excel or Word files)
  • Capture meeting conversations with your smartphone and save them to Evernote
  • Use your smartphone to take a picture of meeting notes on a whiteboard (remember manually written words are searchable in Evernote)
  • Encrypt selected text within an Evernote note (password protected); it can’t be viewed without the password
  • Add selected web information to Evernote using an Evernote clipper 
  • Email any document directly to your private Evernote email address (which adds the emailed information to a “to be filed” folder in Evernote)
  • Create a local Evernote notebook for sensitive information (the notebook resides on your local computer and does not synchronize to your Evernote cloud account)

The Skeletal Framework: Notes, Notebooks, and Tags 

Evernote for CPAs

1. The primary element of Evernote is a note.

Think of a note as a blank piece of paper on which you can type. You can also attach other files to the note (e.g., an Excel spreadsheet or a picture taken with your cell phone or a voice message recorded with your cell phone).

2. Notes are placed in notebooks.

Think of a notebook as a three-ring binder.

For example, if I want to create a note about comprehensive income, I can do so. Then I can attach related files (e.g., PDFs) to the note. Next, I might add a note about other comprehensive income and another about reclassifications from other comprehensive income. The separate notes can be–for example–a text file, an Excel file, and a voice message.

All three notes can be added to a notebook titled Comprehensive Income.

3. You may also tag each note.

Alternatively, I can place the comprehensive income notes in a notebook titled accounting (a more generic category) and tag each note as comprehensive income. Then I can search and find all comprehensive income notes by using the comprehensive income tag. When I type tag:”comprehensive income” in the Evernote search bar, all such notes appear.

Getting Information Into Evernote

Feed your Evernote account in multiple ways.

You can use Evernote apps or programs on your iPad, PC, and smartphone to add information to your account. 

I use this smartphone app to make and save pictures, notes, and voice messages to my Evernote account.

Evernote also provides you with a unique email address that can be used to feed information into your personal cloud. When you find something you want to store, you can email it to your Evernote account.

Also, you can use the Evernote clipper to capture information on the fly, such as when you are browsing the Internet. Just download the Clipper program from the Evernote website. 

Another neat way to get information into Evernote is with your scanner. I use a Fujitsu ScanSnap to feed scanned pages directly into Evernote.

Using Evernote on an iPhone – An Example

In this two minute video, I demonstrate the use of notebooks and notes inside of my Evernote account.

To Create Your Account

To create your account, go to the Evernote website and follow the directions. There is a free version if you desire to try it out. The premium version is $70 per year.

Recommended Books

Here are two recommended books if you desire to learn more about Evernote:

  1. Evernote Essentials 
  2. Evernote For Dummies 

CPA Scribo Facebook Group: Join Now

If you are interested in some dialog about accounting and auditing issues, I invite you to join my new Facebook group: CPA Scribo.

Why the group? I believe this will give you a community where you can engage with other CPAs and accountants on a one-on-one basis. The communication will be more free-flowing than my blog.

So join and share a thought, a pain, a victory, a challenge, a question. I look forward to getting to know you better.

It’s a closed group, so you will need to ask to join.

The link to join is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1260820653952216/?ref=bookmarks

How to Review Financial Statements on Computer Screens

Here are suggestions to help you review financial statements

Today I give you seven steps to review financial statements on computer screens.

I recently provided you with a post titled How to Review Financial Statements Efficiently and Effectively. That article provides information about creating and reviewing financial statements, but it does not provide information about doing so on a computer screen. Many accountants prefer to review physical copies of financial statements. Others prefer to do so on their computer screens. This article is for the latter group.

reviewing financial statements

How to Review Financial Statements on Computer Screens

  1. First, open and visually scan the entire financial statement (spend two to three seconds per page) just to get a feel for the whole product. How do the parts fit together? Are the financial statements subject to the Yellow Book? Do they contain supplementary information? Are the statements comparative?
  2. Second, use a large computer screen (22 inches or more) to compare your financial statement pages. Reduce the financial statement page size by holding the control key down and scrolling back with your mouse. As you do so, you will see multiple statements on the screen, for instance: balance sheet, income statement and cash flow statement.  Now that you can see multiple statements, you can tick and tie your numbers. I use step 2. to compare the financial statement numbers. For example, I compare the net income number on the income statement to the same number on the cash flow statement. Then I use step 3. to compare the financial statements to the notes and the supplementary information.
  3. Next, use two to three computer screens to compare your financial statements with the notes and supplementary information. Open the financial statement on each screen–for instance, the balance sheet on screen 1, the notes on screen 2, and the supplementary information on screen 3. In Word, click View, New Window and another instance of the document will open. Then you can move the new instance to a second screen. Alternatively, you can use the side-by-side feature in Word to place two open documents on one screen. (To see my physical office setup, click here.)
  4. After completing your review of the notes, return to and take a second look at the balance sheet to see if the disclosures are complete. (Since you just reviewed the notes, it’s easier to compare them to the balance sheet. If, for example, you look at the balance sheet and see inventory but no disclosure for the same, you’ll more easily see the error.)
  5. Use the find feature (in Word, click the Home tab, click Find, then key in the number–or word–you are looking for) to locate words or numbers. If you want to compare the long-term debt number on the balance sheet to the notes and to supplemental information, type that number into your search dialog box and you’re immediately taken to the same number in the notes. Click next, and you will see the next instance (in the supplementary information). You can do the same with words. (Note-If you embed Excel tables in the Word document, the find feature will not locate numbers in the embedded tables.)
  6. When needed, take breaks. Never spend more than 1.5 hours reviewing statements without taking a short break. You get more done by relaxing periodically.
  7. Finally, if you are reviewing financial statements in Word, consider turning on Track Changes and key in suggested revisions. Word reflects your modifications in a distinct color–that way, others can see your suggested changes. They can also see who made the suggested corrections. Thereafter, they can accept or reject the proposed changes.

Your Suggestions

Those are my ideas. What are yours?

10 Super Easy Ways to Increase Your Productivity

Here are ways for CPAs to be more efficient

Are you a CPA looking for ways to increase your productivity?

Here are ten suggestions.

CPA Productivity

Courtesy of Dollar Photo

1. Control f

First, I see too many CPAs hen-pecking around, trying to find information in their electronic piles. Many times the quickest route to finding information is Control f (Command f on a Mac). Hold your control key down and type f. This action will usually generate a find dialog box–-then key in your search words. Control f works in Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and Adobe Acrobat.

2. OCR Long Documents

Computers can’t read all electronic documents (that is, not all documents are electronically searchable). Sometimes you need to convert the document to OCR. OCR stands for optical character recognition. So how can you make an electronic document readable and searchable?

Scan documents into Adobe Acrobat and use the OCR feature to convert bitmap images into searchable documents. Then use Control f to locate words. When should you OCR a document? Typically when it’s several pages long. Do so when you don’t want to read the entire document to find a particular word or phrase.

For example, suppose your client gives you a one-hundred-page bond document, and you need to locate the loan covenants. Rather than reading the entire document, convert it to searchable text (using Adobe Acrobat) and use Control f to locate each instance of the word covenant

3. Dispatching Paper Quickly

A clean work surface enables you to think clearly.

So make filing decisions quickly–as soon as a paper or electronic document is received. Keep your desk (and computer desktop) clean.

If you can dispatch a document in less than two minutes, do so immediately. For documents that take more than two minutes to file, electronically scan them. Then place the document in an action folder on your computer’s desktop. (If you don’t have time to scan the document at the moment, create a To Be Scanned pile in a paper tray.)

You’re thinking, “But I’ll forget about the document if it’s not physically on my desk.” Allay this fear by adding a task in Outlook to remind you of the scanned document (you can even add the document to a task). I create tasks with reminders. So, for example, the reminder pops up at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning; attached is the relevant document. That way I don’t forget.

For more information about scanning, see my post How to Build an Accountant’s Scanning System. I also recommend David Allen’s book Getting Things Done which provides a complete system for making filing decisions.

4. Close Your Door

An open door says what? Come in.

A cracked door says what? Knock and come in.

A closed door says what? Don’t enter, especially without knocking.

I close my door for about an hour at a time. Additionally, I turn off all electronic devices and notifications. Doing so allows me to focus on the task at hand. 

5. Use a LiveScribe Pen

Do you remember everything someone says in a meeting? I don’t. Livescribe allows me to take notes and simultaneously record the conversation. Then I can hear any part of the conversation. For example, if I–in a meeting–write the words “intangible amortization,” I can (later) touch the tip of my pen to that phrase (in my Livescribe notebook) and hear what was said as I wrote those words. That way, I don’t have to call a meeting attendee and ask, “What did you say about intangible amortization?”

6. Take Breaks and Naps

Another idea is to take breaks and naps.

Counterintuitive? Yes, but it works.

Breaks

I come from the old school of “don’t lift your head up or someone will see how lazy you are.” I’m not sure where this thinking comes from, but you will be more efficient–not less–when you take periodic breaks. I recommend a break at least once every two hours.

Naps

Naps? You may be thinking, “Are you kidding?”

Research shows you will be more productive if you take a nap during the day. It doesn’t have to be long, maybe ten or fifteen minutes after lunch. You’ll feel fresher and think more clearly. According to Dr. Sandra Mednick, author of Take a Nap, Change Your Life, napping can restore the sensitivity of sight, hearing, and taste. Napping also improves creativity.

Michael Hyatt recently listed several famous nappers:

  • Leonardo da Vinci took multiple naps a day and slept less at night.
  • The French Emperor Napoleon was not shy about taking naps. He indulged daily.
  • Though Thomas Edison was embarrassed about his napping habit, he also practiced his ritual daily.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, used to boost her energy by napping before speaking engagements.
  • Gene Autry, “the Singing Cowboy,” routinely took naps in his dressing room between performances.
  • President John F. Kennedy ate his lunch in bed and then settled in for a nap—every day!
  • Oil industrialist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller napped every afternoon in his office.
  • Winston Churchill’s afternoon nap was non-negotiable. He believed it helped him get twice as much done each day.
  • President Lyndon B. Johnson took a nap every afternoon at 3:30 p.m. to break his day up into “two shifts.”
  • Though criticized for it, President Ronald Reagan famously took naps as well.

For empirical evidence that naps help, check out the book Rest, Why You Get More Done When You Work Less.

Also, here are more ideas to create energy in your day.

7. Answer Emails and Phone Calls in Chunks

If you pause every time you get an email or a phone call, you will lose your concentration. Therefore, try not to move back and forth between activities. Do one thing at a time since multitasking is a lie.

Pick certain times of the day (e.g., once every three hours) to answer your accumulated emails or calls.

8. Exercise

I run (by myself) or walk (with my wife) six times a week–usually in the morning before work. Exercising helps my attitude and clears my mind. Also, I feel stronger late in the day.

9. Lunch at 11:30 a.m. or 1:00 p.m.

Another idea: Go to lunch at 11:30 a.m. or 1:00 p.m. Why stand in line? 

10. Take One Day Off a Week

Finally, I usually don’t work on Sundays (even in busy season). For me, it’s a day to worship, relax, see friends, and revive. I find the break gives me strength for the coming week.

Muddled minds destroy productivity.

Your Ideas?

These are a few of my thoughts. Please share yours.

Top 10 Technology Tips for Accountants

Here are tips to make your accounting life more productive

Are you looking for technology tips for accountants? Here are ten tips that will make you more productive.

Technology tips for accountants

Ten Technology Tips for Accountants

Here are my top ten technology tips in no certain order (with links to prior blog posts).

  1. Use Skitch to create annotated screenshots.
  2. Use Office 365 to jointly create Word or Excel documents with others.
  3. Use Basecamp to manage projects (such as audits).
  4. Use Scanbot as your phone scanner.
  5. Use a Livescribe pen to take notes with audio.
  6. Use Evernote as your personal digital library.
  7. Travel light as a minimalist auditor.
  8. Use your cell phone in creative ways as an accountant.
  9. Use technology to save your life.
  10. Use technology to make your office work life more efficient.

Those are my ideas. What are yours?

Tips on Searching Your Evernote Account

Evernote accounts can have thousands of notes, but then how to you find particular information?

Are you looking for tips on searching your Evernote account?

Today I was working on a fair value note disclosure and needed to find information about the reconciliation required for level 3 changes. I knew I had, several weeks ago, fed my Evernote account with an example fair value disclosure. So I typed “fair value” “level 3” in my Evernote search box. Presto, there it was, and it took me about ten seconds.

Once you add hundreds and, yes, thousands of notes to your Evernote account, you need to know how to find the needle in the haystack.

Searching your Evernote account

Searching Your Evernote Account

Back in the 60s, when I was a mere child, I could call the operator if I needed help locating someone. While you can’t call Evernote operators, they are just as helpful in finding, not people, but information.

Operators

You can use operators in an Evernote search box to locate particular information. Some of the more commonly used operators are:

1. And
2. Any
3. Tag
4. Notebook
5. Intitle
6. Created

And – Normally you will not type the word “and” as an operator; it’s implied. So if you type: comprehensive income in the search box, Evernote will locate all notes with the words comprehensive and income. If you want to see all notes with the phrase “comprehensive income,” then type: “comprehensive income”–using quotation marks.

Any – Typing the words “any: compilation review” will provide all notes with either the word “compilation” or the word “review.” If a note has the word “compilation” (and not “review”), then it will appear in your search list. If a note has the word “review” (and not “compilation”), then it will also appear in the list.

Tag – By typing “tag:Bank” into the search box, you’re telling Evernote that you want to see all notes tagged “Bank.” (You can tag each note regardless of which notebook it is in; for example, you might have four different notes in four different notebooks, but each tagged “Bank.”)

Notebook – Let’s say you have a notebook titled: Auditing (along with 70 other notebooks). You can type: “notebook:Auditing” in the search box and Evernote will locate your auditing notebook.

Intitle – Typing “intitle:derivative” will yield all notes with the word “derivative” in the title. So if you have one note titled “Mitigating Risk with Derivatives” and another note titled “Derivative Disclosures,” both notes will appear in your search list.

Created – “created:day-1” will provide you with a list of all notes created yesterday and today. You can substitute “day” with “week,” “month,” or “year”. If you want to see all the notes created in the last two weeks, issue a search with “created:week-1.”

Combining Operators

Searching becomes even more powerful when you combine operators.

For example, typing:

Intitle:derivative swap “cash flow hedge”

will provide you with all notes that have the word “derivative” in the title and the words (1) “swap” and (2) “cash flow hedge” as a phrase.

Another example, typing:

Notebook:Accounting any:swap “cash flow hedge”

will provide you with a list of all notes from your accounting notebook that have either the word “swap” or the words “cash flow hedge” as a phrase.

Finally, typing:

Notebook:Bank tag:Deposits FDIC “Due to Due from”

will provide you with notes from your Bank notebook that have a “Deposits” tag and that contain the words FDIC and “Due to Due from” as a phrase.

Give It a Try

Go ahead, try some of these tips with your Evernote account. You’ll soon be sifting through your notes with ease.

Evernote offers a free version, so if you haven’t tried it, give it a test drive.

You’ll find more information about Evernote in the following posts:

Are You Using Slack for CPA Project Communications?

Slack replaces email as a way to isolate project communications

Do you ever find yourself digging through hundreds of emails to find one message? You know it’s there somewhere, but you can’t put your electronic finger on it. Use Slack to communicate by project–that way, you’ll have all messages (by project, e.g., individual audit engagement) in one place.

Using Slack to Isolate Project Communications

Picture from AdobeSotck.com

What is Slack?

Slack is software designed to allow project teams–e.g., audit team–to send and store messages. Why use Slack rather than traditional email? Messages are stored by channel (by project), making it much easier to see project conversations.

The Slack website says the following:

Most conversations in Slack are organized into public channels which anyone on your team can join. You can also send messages privately, but the true power of Slack comes from having conversations everyone on the team can see. This transparency means it’s quick to find out what’s going on all across the team, and when someone new joins, all the information they need is laid out, ready for them to read up on.

How CPAs Use Slack

How can you as a CPA or auditor use Slack?

Create a channel for each project, and ask all team members to communicate using Slack (rather than email).

In CPA firms, some activities are year-round such as quality control reviews (we perform several hundred a year). Other activities are a true project, such as an audit engagement. Either way, you can use a separate (Slack) channel to communicate and store all related messages.

Using Slack for Quality Control Reviews — An Example

Below you see an example of how Heather, my associate, and I use Slack to communicate about file reviews in our quality control department. By doing so, we can see who is doing what and when. Also, all of the messages are searchable by channel. So, suppose I’m wondering when we reviewed the ABC Bank engagement. I can search the CPR (cold partner review) channel to see who performed the review and when. Notice, in this channel, Heather and I are posting status comments. We do so for the following reasons:

  • To create a history of each review
  • To notify each other that the review has commenced (Slack automatically sends a notification message to those included in a channel)

To select our quality control channel, I click the CPR channel on the left (where all the channels appear). Once I click CPR, I see the most recent messages for this channel.

 

Slack

Made with Stitcher

Audits – Another Example

Think about a typical audit. You have three to five team members, with some individuals coming and going. To maintain continuity, you need a message board that allows all audit team members to see what is going on. That’s what Slack does when you create a channel for a particular audit. Think of it as a message board in the cloud since the designated personnel can see the audit communications with their PC, iPad, or cell phone.

Other Advantages of Slack

Advantages of Slack include the following:

  • Accessibility from all devices, including cell phones and tablets
  • Shareability of documents such as PDFs and spreadsheets
  • Integration with other apps such as Trello and Google Calendar
  • Configurable notifications of messages to team members
  • Private messaging (when needed)
  • Basic plan is free

Give It a Try

The best way to see how Slack works is to try it yourself. You don’t need any training since it’s easy to use. To see more information about Slack, click here.

Eight Ways to Increase Your Efficiency and Productivity as a CPA

Responses to my poll shows that CPAs are more interested in efficiency than making more money

How can you increase your efficiency as a CPA?

Suppose you have a magic wand that allows you to change one thing in your CPA firm. What will it be? The poll response is “Get work done more efficiently.” This response is almost twice as high as “Make more money.”

So how can you be more efficient?

Increase Your Efficiency as a CPA

Ways to Increase Your Efficiency as a CPA

Here are eight ways to be more efficient:

  1. Hire great employees
  2. Stay on one job and finish it
  3. Work on one project at a time
  4. Take breaks
  5. Close your door
  6. Take CPE before you need it
  7. Maintain a robust research library
  8. Buy top-quality computers, monitors, and scanners

1. Hire Great Employees

Have you noticed that great employees overcome problems, even the thorniest ones? They don’t make excuses. They simply get work done. And these gems get work done in less time. Hiring the right people is your most significant action.

2. Stay on One Job

Starting and stopping. Starting and Stopping. Starting and Stopping. A sure recipe for inefficiency. Plan your employees’ work so that they can stay on one job until complete. Momentum is everything. Reward employees when they meet deadlines (and tell them ahead of time that the “thank you” is coming).

3. Work on One Project at a Time

Too often we try to multitask, but the research shows that we can only perform one action at a time. Clear everything from your desk but the immediate task. Then focus on that one thing. Turn off social media and the phone. Answer emails in batches at predetermined times during the day, but no more than four times a day.

4. Take Breaks

Taking breaks increases your efficiency. This is counterintuitive but true.

Picture from AdobeStock.com

Picture from AdobeStock.com

The human brain is not designed to work endlessly without diversion. Use the Pomodoro technique or some other method, but take periodic short breaks–at least one an hour. If you are a partner, tell your team members that you desire for them to take breaks. Your employees will follow your example.

5. Close Your Door

What does an open door communicate? “Come on in.” What does a cracked door communicate? “You may come in but knock.” What does a closed door communicate? “Please do not come in.” An open door is an invitation to interruptions. 

If you are someone that employees need to visit often, then establish an open door policy for specific times of the day.

6. Take CPE Before You Need It

When you know you will need certain knowledge in the future, take a CPE class so you have the answers before they are needed. You’ve got to take CPE anyway, so why not take classes that provide timely information.

7. Maintain a Robust Research Library

Finding answers quickly is a key to efficiency–and we all have questions. Spend the money to have online access to research material in the areas that you practice. I know this is more difficult for small firms, but without sound answers, we are walking in the dark.

Also, archive your research in the cloud. Doing so will, over time, enable you to build a powerful library of questions and answers. For four years, I have stored my research in Evernote. So when I encounter issues, I often remember that I previously researched the issue. And I know the answer is in my Evernote library.

Joining the Center for Plain English Accounting (CPEA) has been helpful to my firm. The CPEA provides timely summaries of new standards, enabling me to digest the constant flood of new standards.

8. Buy Top-Quality Computers, Monitors, and Scanners

How much time do you spend waiting on your computer to respond to your most recent request? Those seconds–and sometimes minutes–are wasted time. Buy computers with as much speed as you can afford. This is not a place to be penny foolish.

Multiple monitors will make you more efficient. (I use four.) Larger monitors will make you even more efficient.

Keep a scanner next to your desk. I use my Scansnap scanner several times a day. Scanning enables me to keep my desk and office more orderly. Also, scanning into a PDF can make the documents searchable if you use optical character recognition (OCR). Once searchable, then just type control f for find and then type in the words you are looking for.

Other Ideas

What about you? What do you do to increase efficiency?

Check out my previous efficiency post.

Getting More Done with My Favorite Accountant’s Device

One tool gives more bang for the buck

Accountants use all types of electronic devices and software: Caseware, Excel, scanners, Powerpoint, Adobe Acrobat, monitors, QuickBooks, iPhones—just to name a few. For me, my iPad tops them all.

Accountant's iPad

I purchased my first iPad about five years ago for about $500.  Then, three years ago I bought my second one. Now, having spent hundreds of hours on iPads, I am smitten. 

You may be thinking, “Charles, you’re a CPA. How do you and why do you spend that much time on an iPad? Don’t you primarily use a work computer?” Yes, my work computer is my primary tool. But in terms of enjoyment, my iPad wins hands down. It is in the evenings that I spend most of my time on my iPad.

Ways I Use My iPad

“How do you use it?” you say. Here are few ways:

  • Create presentations using Keynote
  • Store and retrieve files using Evernote and Dropbox
  • Read the Wall Street Journal
  • Read the Bible 
  • Read my Amazon Kindle books
  • Listen to books with my Audible app
  • Listen to music on Pandora
  • Write blog posts using Scrivener
  • Perform research using Checkpoint 
  • Compute numbers using Digits
  • Store and retrieve passwords using 1Password
  • Check the weather using The Weather Channel app
  • Check my email using Outlook
  • Maintain my to-do list using Todoist
  • Check my Facebook account (including my CPA Scribo Facebook group—you can join)
  • Send and receive text messages using Messages
  • Send and receive sensitive information using Sharefile
  • Maintain a personal journal using Day One
  • Doodle using Paper
  • Watch college football using Sling
  • Create mind maps using iThoughts
  • Create outlines using OmniOutliner
  • Control my home thermostat using Nest
  • Check my bank account
  • Learn new skills using Learning from Linkedin
  • Scan information using Scanbot
  • See where my wife is using Find Friends
  • See how many new blog subscribers I have using GetResponse
  • Check my calendar using Fantastical
  • Watch Netflix movies (I use an Apple TV device when my wife watches with me)

Convenience and Portability

Mostly, I use my iPad at home, while seated on my couch. I get a great deal done while reclining upon my sofa (as I am now). The portability of the device is its primary benefit. It’s large enough to easily read from and small enough that it’s not too heavy.  

Your Favorite Device

So what’s your favorite tool and how do you use it?

How Accountants Can Save Time with Online Meetings

My first online meeting sold me

Are you tired of driving hours to see clients? Do you find it awkward to share information from your laptop? Or maybe you drive two hours to meet with a customer and–after arriving–realize you need additional information (but it’s back at your office). Online meetings solve these problems.

Accountant's Online Meetings

Picture from AdobeStock.com

Pick an Online Meeting Solution

First, you need to choose a video conferencing solution. Some popular alternatives include:

Here is a PC Magazine article that compares many of these products. All of the video conferencing packages offer free versions for testing. After using four different online meeting products, I found they provide similar abilities–the sharing of my computer screen and audio features.

What video conferencing software do I use? Zoom. It is easy to use and reliable. Here’s a summary of plan options, and yes, the free version works well.

The point of this article is not to sell you on a particular online meeting product, but to sell you on the concept. I have spent years of my life (at least it feels that way) driving to and from client’s offices. So when I heard about online meetings, I gave it a try.

My First Online Meeting

My first online meeting sold me. A few years ago I was assisting an attorney with a forensic project. My final report was several hundred pages long. The supporting files (not included in the report) were also voluminous. Rather than making a 4.5-hour trip, I did the following:

  • Opened the draft report on my center computer screen
  • Opened supporting documents on my two side computer screens
  • Shared my screen center computer screen using my online meeting software—the attorney, once he clicked the link in the next bullet, could see the information
  • Sent the attorney an email (with a hyperlink) to join the meeting—my online software automatically creates the email (which can be amended)
  • Called the attorney with my cell phone and went hands-free so I could use my mouse (you can use audio in your online software, I just prefer using my phone)
  • When the attorney answered my call, I told him I had sent him an invitation email, and I walked him through connecting (which took less than two minutes)
  • We reviewed the draft report from my center computer screen
  • When needed, I moved supporting documents from my two side screens to the center display (and then moved them off as needed)—think of this as moving information on and off stage

The meeting lasted one hour. Once done, the attorney said to me, “This is one of the best meetings I’ve ever attended.” 

Saving Four Hours

So rather than taking 5.5 hours (4.5 hours of driving and the 1-hour session), the meeting took 1.5 hours (including setup time). I saved four hours—and I didn’t even have to sit in the attorney’s lobby and wait for him. Also, I didn’t have to stop and refuel my vehicle, and I didn’t have to file an expense report.

Online Conferencing in My Office

Since that first online meeting, I realized that it’s more efficient for me to do the same with my firm personnel. So am I saying I have online meetings with people in my office? Yes. Why? It takes less time—and again, I have access to any file I need. Additionally, we are not crowded around one small computer screen, trying to see everything. (Note: We have 120 people located on three floors.)

Other Thoughts

Though I don’t often do so, you can backup your online meetings. Then if you need to refer back to the session, you can watch the video.

Some people don’t want to be seen. Perhaps they are working from home and are still in their pajamas. If they have their camera on, you will see them, and they will see you. So be mindful of this dynamic. (You can turn your camera off, and they can as well.)

For a more professional look, consider buying a video camera. I use a Logitech device. Why? Laptop cameras (those built into your computer) often project grainy pictures.

Stay Tuned for Video Example

I’ll soon share a video of how I set up and conduct online meetings. So stay tuned.

Do you already use online meeting software? If yes, what solution do you use? What video conferencing suggestions do you offer?