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SMALL BUSINESS | LEARNING CURVE

By Employing Technology, She Has More Time, Money to Spend

October 21, 1998|KAREN E. KLEIN

Pauline Field has spent 16 years as a management consultant, starting off as a sole proprietor, going into a large partnership, then working as an independent contractor. When she realized how many consultants need help marketing their services, she opened her own firm. She has molded her home-based business into a "virtual company" that saves her considerably in time and overhead. Field was interviewed by freelance writer Karen E. Klein.

When I realized that I wanted to get back into business for myself, I knew I wanted to create a "virtual" company. My three goals were to use technology to its fullest, use seasoned professional consultants only and to make mine a marketing-driven--rather than product-driven--organization.

As far as technology, it's amazing what's available. For instance, we work with a company based in Seattle. They have just put in videoconferencing, so we can have meetings with them without spending time and money on travel. In fact, we're talking to them about reducing their consulting fees.

Having a virtual, home-based office allows me to keep my fees very competitive and to pay a bigger percentage to the consultants who work with me, which means I can attract those experienced professional consultants that I want.

I don't have the overhead of a building lease, equipment rental, utilities or support staff. There's just my own salary and one employee who handles my marketing. I use outsource administrative staff that I hardly ever see. If I meet somebody that I want to send a package of material to, I e-mail the name and address to an outsource office manager and she bills me for the work she does.

E-mail, in particular, has been wonderful because I can communicate with my consultants and our clients more readily and on my own schedule. If I'm traveling and it's 10 at night and I need to let someone know something or I want to do some billing, I can send everything by e-mail. If I'm up at 1 a.m. or 5 a.m. I can communicate immediately with someone who's going to get my message later that day.

My consultants really like the fact that they don't have to come to an office every day. I have 34 consultants who have all held high-level positions in the past. They have earned the right to be independent--they don't want somebody telling them what to do. If they don't want to travel, I don't refer them for out-of-town projects. If they want to take three months off in between projects, they can.

I got the concept for my company because many consultants told me they were so busy consulting that they didn't have time to market their services. And then when they got through with their projects, they didn't have work because they hadn't done the marketing.

These were really talented consultants, but they were more than willing to turn their marketing over to someone else. The way I structured my company, I provide a marketing service to the consultants and an experienced base of professionals to my clients, who need people that know business from being there themselves, not from a textbook.

The way this virtual company works also lends itself to how consulting has changed over the years.

It used to be that if somebody was going to hire a consulting firm, they'd put them on a year's retainer and use them if and when they needed help with a project.

Now clients want starting and finishing dates and they want to know what kind of results they're going to get. They'll give you maybe two or three months, but if you haven't produced results in that time, they won't continue to use you. Consultants just aren't guaranteed a meal ticket with a large client anymore.

AT A GLANCE

Comapny: FieldWorks

Owner: Pauline Field

Nature of Business: Management and consulting

Location: 404 Museum Dr., Los Angeles 90065

Year founded: 1996

Number of employees: 1

Annual sales: $2 million

*

If your business can provide lessons or insights to other Southern California entrepreneurs, contact freelance writer Karen E. Klein at the Los Angeles Times, 1333 S. Mayflower Ave., Suite 100, Monrovia 91016 or send e-mail to kklein6349@aol.com. Please include your name, address and telephone number.

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