Every change order is a potential miscommunication. Arnold Thompson, president of The Bottom Line Construction in Delray Beach, Fla., uses Microsoft Outlook to prevent costly mix ups.

Using Outlook's appointment calendar, Thompson keeps a record of every conversation with a client that concerns something not already specified in a contract.

The calendar interface mimics a day planner, breaking up each day into half-hour segments. Users can create an appointment file for each half hour. Thompson uses those fields to record change orders as they come in.

For example, if a customer calls at 10:30 a.m. on March 5 to request a different paint color, Thompson creates an "appointment" file for that date and time. In the notes field, he enters the name of the caller and what was decided. Then he prints a hard copy of the "appointment" and attaches it to the invoice.

If he's out of the office, Thompson takes notes on a printed copy of the calendar then enters the information into Outlook when he's back at his desk.

"One guy was putting up a big fight over a change order until I sent him those notes," Thompson says. "After I did that, he paid. And then he gave me another job."

Thompson also records any other incidental information that might jog a customer's memory. If the customer was on his way to the dentist, Thompson says, take note. Those details add credibility and can sway a customer who might truly forget a conversation.

"Often the money's not a big deal," Thompson says, "but people want to know they're not getting shafted."