By Charles Hall | Technology
CPAs save time with online meetings. At least, they do if they know how.
Are you tired of driving hours to see clients? Or maybe you drive two hours to meet with a customer and realize you left files on your office computer. Online meetings solve these problems and make you more accessible. Below I show you how to get started.
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 these products (and others). All of these packages offer free trial versions. And they all provide similar abilities. The main thing is they allow me to share what’s on my computer monitor and my voice.
So, what video conferencing software do I use? Zoom. Why? It is easy to use and reliable. While Zoom offers a free version, I use their paid Pro version.
The point of this article is not to sell you on a particular online meeting product (though I do like Zoom), but to sell you on the concept. I have spent years of my life (at least it feels that way) driving to and from clients’ 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. Rather than making a 4.5-hour trip to meet with my client, I did the following:
- Opened the draft report on my center computer screen
- Opened supporting documents on my two side computer screens
- Shared my center computer screen using my online meeting software—the attorney, once he clicked the link I emailed him (see the next bullet), could see my screen
- Sent the attorney an email (with a hyperlink) to join the meeting—my online software automatically created the email as I invited him
- Called the attorney with my cell phone and went hands-free so I could use my mouse (you can use your computer audio, 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.”
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—or file an expense report.
If sharing video works with an out-of-town client, does it work with in-the-office staff?
Online Conferencing in My Office
Yes, online meetings work with others in your office as well. Why? For the same reasons. I can share any information from my computer screen. And I can invite several people to the meeting at the same time. They can view what I am sharing from the comfort of their offices. Believe me, it’s better than several people huddling around one computer.
Other Online Meeting Thoughts
Here are some additional thoughts about online meetings.
Though I don’t do so often, I can record my online meetings in Zoom. Then if I need to watch the session, I can.
Once you are in a Zoom meeting you can share your mouse. This allows your client to control your computer. I find this useful when my client wants to show me something. Rather than the client telling me where to click, I simply hand the mouse control over to her. Then she can move around in the documents we are viewing.
Are there any downsides to online meetings? Yes. 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 if your camera is on, guess what? Yep. They can see you. You can, however, turn your camera off. And they can as well.
For a more professional look, consider buying a video camera. I use a Logitech 930e (cost is $71.50). It sits on top of my right monitor. Why buy a camera? For higher quality video. Additionally, the camera has a microphone. If you’re wondering about the quality of the video from this device, see the recording above. I used the Logitech 930e for that one.
Sharing Video with a Client
What if your client is too busy for an online meeting? Record a video and share it. I can do so from Zoom, but I use Camtasia to record my videos. (A single license is $249.)
Say you need to explain the details in a lease document. And you want to show and explain the related journal entries. Turn Camtasia on and shoot the recording with your Logitech camera. Whatever appears on your monitor (e.g., lease agreement in a PDF; journal entries in Excel) is captured in the video. Once done, save the video and send a link to your client. And why do this? So your client can watch the presentation at her convenience.
Don’t want to be seen on video? Then turn it off. Camtasia provides that option. You can record what you present on your monitor and your voice narration–with no video.
I store my videos on Screencast. The cost is $99.95 per year.
You may wonder why I use Camtasia and Screencast, especially when I can record and store video with Zoom. The short answer is I create training videos. Camstasia gives me better editing capabilities. And Screencast was built for the purpose of sharing videos. So the two products (both made by TechSmith) work well together for the creation and sharing of video.
Sharing Video with Your CPA Firm Members
I create and share videos with my partners and staff. Once a video is created, I store it on my Screencast site. Then I share the video link on our firm intranet. That way I can demonstrate something once and share it with everyone.
Do you already use online meeting or video capture software? If yes, what solutions do you use? Share your suggestions below.