Tag Archives for " Software "

Save Time with Online Meetings
Feb 10

CPAs Save Time with Online Meetings: Getting Started

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. 

Save Time with Online Meetings

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. Below I demonstrate a Zoom session so you can see just how easy online meetings are.

 

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. 

Your Thoughts

Do you already use online meeting or video capture software? If yes, what solutions do you use? Share your suggestions below.

sum of selected cells
Dec 26

Excel: The Sum of Selected Cells Saves Time

By Charles Hall | Technology

Are you using Excel’s sum of selected cells feature? You should be.

CPAs love their ten-keys.

But a roll of adding machine tape on the floor does not mean I’m efficient. The sum of selected cells feature in Excel saves time and increases accuracy. Here’s how.

 

Now, isn’t that better than using a ten-key? Notice also that Excel provides you with a count, the number of items in the selected cells. Additionally, you can see the average as well. All at the bottom right-hand corner of your spreadsheet. 

iPad Apps for CPAs
Jun 17

iPad Apps for CPAs: The Tried and True

By Charles Hall | Technology

Here is a list of iPad apps for CPAs. You’ll find each one helpful in your daily work.

iPad Apps for CPAs

Checkpoint – A library of accounting and auditing publications by Thomson Reuters. You must pay for the books, but Checkpoint provides powerful search capabilities.

Notability – The best app I’ve found for taking notes. You can also record audio as you take notes and then quickly return to a specific part of the conversation by touching a written word with your iPad Pencil. I use this almost daily.

OmniFocusA high-end to-do list. It provides contextual listings, including a hotlist (to help me remember the most important things). You can add, for instance, a to-do item for a particular client or a trip to the hardware store. This app takes some time to understand, but very powerful. Consider taking David Sparks online OmniFocus class. I found it helpful.

Box – A secure file storage system in the cloud. Very powerful. I started using Box about six months ago. There’s a learning curve, but it’s worth it. It’s pricey. I use this storage system for business files.

Dropbox – Cheaper than Box. A cloud-based storage system in the cloud. Dropbox is easy to use. I tend to use Dropbox for personal data. Dropbox seems to integrate more easily with other apps than Box does. I store large video or audio files here (rather than Evernote). This app feels like a large electronic sandbox.

Evernote – Storage app. I create “notes” inside Evernote and store whatever I desire. Evernote is my electronic library. I have saved thousands of articles and research. Apply several tags to each note, so you can quickly find the information you need.

Keynote – A slide presentation app. I use Keynote more than Powerpoint. The Keynote background slides are the best. I find it easier to create slide decks with my iPad than with my desktop.

Weather – Weather app. I start my day by checking the weather, and, when I’m going out of town, I check my destination’s weather before I leave.

Outlook – Email app. I tried Gmail for a while but returned to Outlook. It’s just easier to use. And it integrates with Office 365.

Scanbot – I take pictures of multiple pages, and the scan automatically loads to a specified Box folder.

Holy Bible – You Version Bible app. I start each day with this app. You Version is free and provides several different translations.

Explain Everything – Want your clients to see what you are drawing while you are online with them? Pull up a PDF and write on it with your iPad Pencil. Instantly your client sees what you are doing. Record the presentation (including sound) and store it. Then share the conversation with anyone. Crazy. 

Audible – Audible book app. I listen to books while I’m on the road (or when I am exercising). 

iThoughts – Want to brainstorm visually? iThoughts is your app. Create color-coded maps of your ideas. Watch their video example here

Pocket – An easy-to-use use app to capture internet articles as you see them. Don’t have time to read an article? Save the piece with Pocket with one click. The app shares the captured articles across platforms.

Documents – Write on PDFs or annotate them in other ways (like adding a red box to highlight an area). I don’t take paper copies of agendas or additional information to meetings. They are all here in Documents. It’s a great file manager that connects to file storage systems such as Dropbox. Documents works with all types of files, including Excel, Adobe Acrobat, Word, video files, images. 

Apple Pencil – While not an app, consider using an Apple Pencil. Mine cost about $100. I use it daily to write on electronic documents. See my demonstration here. (If you’ve tried other styluses and they’ve not worked. Try this one. I had almost given up on electronic writing instruments. Then the Apple Pencil came along.)

Your Thoughts?

What apps do you find most helpful?

efficient CPA
Mar 17

The Efficient CPA: 10 Super Easy Ways to Increase Your Productivity

By Charles Hall | Accounting and Auditing , Technology

Do you want to be an efficient CPA?

Here are ten super easy ways to increase your productivity.

super easy ways to increase productivity

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 using 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; 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 sure don’t. Livescribe allows me to take notes and simultaneously record the conversation. Then I can hear any part of the discussion. For example, if–in a meeting–I 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 at that moment. The recording plays back through my Livescribe pen. That way, I don’t have to call and ask, “What did you say about intangible amortization?”

If you have an iPad, a cheaper alternative to Livescribe is Notability

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 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. 

See my article Text, Email or Call: Which is Best?

8. Exercise

I run (by myself) or walk (with my wife) six days 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 my thoughts. Please share yours.

text, email or call
Mar 10

Text, Email, or Call: Which is Best?

By Charles Hall | Technology

A CPA called me today and left a message with a question. My first thought was to call him. I knew if I phoned, one of the following would happen:

  1. No answer and we’d play phone tag.
  2. He’d answer, and we would talk about other things.
  3. He’d answer, and I would respond to his question.

The first two possibilities are not good (if you are busy like I am–and I know you are).

My next thought: I will text him. I did, and it took about 30 seconds.

With the options to text, email, or call, which is best? Let’s see.

I like to think of the choices as a sprint, a run, or a walk.

text, email or call

Text – A Sprint

If a client or firm member text me, I will text back–as long as:

  • The response is short and
  • The answer does not contain sensitive information

Why not just email or call?

In the middle of busy season, I’m looking for every moment I can save. Many times a text answers the question–and I can do so promptly (this is better than not responding at all because I’m too busy).

Email – A Run

When is an email the better option?

Mainly when you need to send attachments. Emails take longer than texts but seem to work better–at least for me–when more than one or two short answers are necessary.

If you are emailing sensitive information, consider using a secure method such as ShareFile. ShareFile offers an Outlook add-in that makes the transfer seamless.

Call – A Walk

I call when the message is essential or lengthy.

We lose something in electronic communications. Our tone of voice and inflections say a great deal. Phone calls usually take longer than a text or an email, but could be warranted if the issue is important.

If my communication is lengthy (say more than three points), I usually opt for a phone call. If you are providing accounting, tax, or auditing advice, consider whether you need to document the phone conversation in a memo. I sometimes use a form (that I keep in Evernote) for this purpose. What does it address? The discussion, the referenced professional standards, the advice given, who I talked with, and the date. 

Summary

Sprint, run or walk. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Regardless of your choice, it’s all about communicating clearly and timely

Check out my post An Auditor’s Cell Phone.

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