In the 1982 movie Night Shift, Michael Keaton as entrepreneur “Billy Blaze” does a funny shtick in which he leaves himself reminders on a tape recorder — “Note to self: Call Starkist.” We've come a long way technologically, but the need to document ideas and conversations is ever present.

Let's Put That on the Record Jonathan Levy, owner of Builders Integrity Group in Naples, Fla., uses a digitalvoice recorder for three types of communication: daily personal reminders (“So much safer than driving and writing,” he says); in client meetings (“If they know you're recording them, they're going to say less and be more specific”); and with trade contractors (“It makes them hold to their commitment”).

Levy's Olympus (VN-120PC), a dedicated digital voice recorder about the size of a cell phone, comes with software, cable, and batteries. He downloads audio files into his computer and makes them available to his eight-person staff.

From file "056r1_rms" entitled "Tech@Work3.qxd" page 01
From file "056r1_rms" entitled "Tech@Work3.qxd" page 01

Feature Rundown Recorders can be found in forms such as key chains, pens, or mobile phones and can be either in dedicated devices or part of a Pocket PC, PDA, or other computing device. Some have conversation-recording software built in and others allow you to add software or USB devices for this.

When choosing a recorder, says Erik Cofield, a business management consultant to the Greater Houston Builders Association, consider distortion and available storage space as well as price, portability, and ease of use — if your fingers don't fit the buttons, it doesn't matter what it costs. “Before recording a client's conversation, present it as providing the highest level of professionalism and service in our industry,” Cofield says. As long as the other party consents and you disclose how the information will be used, you're within your legal rights to record any conversation.