We often exhort investors to keep up with their holdings. It makes sense. After all, you've got much of your life savings wrapped up in your investments. Shouldn't you be following their progress? Still, many people might rightly wonder exactly how they should go about doing so.

Part of the answer depends on the time you can -- and want to -- put into your research. Another part, one could argue, depends on the kinds of companies you've invested in. I think you could get away with just checking in on big, stable blue-chip companies only a few times per year. But with smaller firms, whose fortunes can change in short order, it's best to do so at least quarterly.

And the best way to remember to do that is to check in with companies when they report their quarterly earnings. Look online for their 10-Q reports, which arrive during three quarters of the year. Once a year, you'll find the more exhaustive 10-K, along with the annual report. When earnings are reported, companies tend to conduct a conference call, during which they answer questions and generally let the public listen in.

It's easy
Making life easier are many services that recap these calls, or provide transcripts. Here in Fooldom, we offer several kinds of articles relating to conference calls. Our "Before the Call" pieces outline some issues to examine during the call, while our "Fool on Call" articles review calls that have already taken place. Here are some examples.

  • "Fool on Call: Darden." This article covers the recent call by Darden Restaurants (NYSE:DRI), the operator of Red Lobster and Olive Garden. Fool listener Jeremy MacNealy noted, "President and Chief Operating Officer Drew Madsen pointed out that in fiscal 2007, Olive Garden outperformed the rest of the casual dining segment in terms of same-store sales by more than 4 percentage points. What makes this even more impressive is that this is the 51st consecutive quarter of positive comps for the brand."
  • "Before the Call: Fantastic FedEx." In this piece, Rich Smith reviewed some comments and ratings on FedEx's (NYSE:FDX) stock from our Motley Fool CAPS community, and he compared ratings for several firms in the industry.
  • "Fool on Call: Nike Eyes a Banner 2008." Jeremy reported: "The call left me highly impressed by the level of detail Nike goes into to thump the competition. Coaches always say that in order to be good at the big things, you have to work on the little things. Nike has that down to an art."

Bookmark our "Today's Headlines" page, and you'll be able to scan a week's worth of Fool articles at a time, including many conference call-related ones.

Other snippets
To give you an idea of what you can learn from these calls, here are a few snippets from some transcripts posted at seekingalpha.com.

  • CarMax (NYSE:KMX). When an analyst asked whether the company suffered from falling SUV sales as a result of rising gas prices, the answer was this: "We actually sold more big SUVs in this year's first quarter than we did last year's first quarter. So it hasn't been a drag on us at all, and it's never been a drag on profitability, because our profits don't come on segment like that. They're driven by a number of other factors. It's not like we make more or less money on sport utility vehicles in and of themselves."
  • Circuit City (NYSE:CC). Management offered a peek into its thinking with answers such as this: "[W]e lost some controls over our store pricing, particularly in the second half of the year, as prices were plummeting weekly, and we have an initiative that is very direct around shoring up some of the self-induced margin issues. We've asked the team that develops baskets -- whether it's furniture, accessories, cables, City Advantage, or Firedog -- to actually be ready ... so if the price drops, then what is your new price going to be? ... [We] were not ready last year, particularly in City Advantage, for the plummeting price drops." Could you work "plummeting" into that statement a few more times?

So the next time a company you own reports on earnings, look into its conference call. By listening in, you might get some useful impressions from how management sounds -- whether nervous, boastful, apologetic, well-informed, or otherwise. But even a transcript or a recap can be very helpful.

And if you'd rather let others do most of the legwork in researching and studying your investments, I invite you to test-drive, for free, our investing newsletters. In them, we regularly recommend companies we've looked into rather deeply. Try, for example, our Inside Value newsletter service, which seeks out companies that seem significantly undervalued. Its picks were recently beating the S&P 500, 30% to 21%.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of CarMax, which is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. FedEx is a Stock Advisor pick. Try any one of our investing services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.