One-woman firm based in living room


September 09, 1991

At some companies, executives and clients huddle around sleek, mahogany conference tables.

Denise Ellis, who typifies the new American home-based worker, meets clients at a Formica-topped dining room table in the living room of her modest, two-bedroom town house.

People who want to do business with her company, Fine Line Services Inc., walk in the front door, plop down at the table and tell Mrs. Ellis what they need. One is a male nurse specializing in anesthesiology; another is a roofing contractor; yet another is the pastor of her church. Whatever they need to make their businesses work, Mrs. Ellis does it.

Her one-woman company takes care of nearly all the details of doing business for these clients -- letter writing, accounting, sometimes even checkbook balancing. For relieving them of the need to do anything but make bids and generate revenues, she collects $25 a week to $250 a week per client.

It adds up quickly. This year's gross revenues should top $75,000 and could hit $100,000. She and her husband, Eddie, have their eyes on a house for sale near their Whiskey Bottom town house.

"We call ourselves small-business assistants, and in that role we provide assistance to entrepreneurs, small- and medium-sized," she says. "My joy is in helping the small business to become medium."

Continue the tour to see how a business can take over a house.

To the left of the front door is a Pitney Bowes postage meter. At the top of the stairs, a computer printer is perched on a table, and nearby, in a hallway nook, box upon box of stationery and letter heads are piled up.

Then we come to the "war room," formerly a bedroom. Running around all four walls, about a foot from the ceiling, there is a bookcase crammed with books, software, binders. That leaves floor space left open for her company's primary machinery.

She has three computers: a powerful desktop, a less powerful desktop and a new Sharp laptop. Hanging from the wall are two phones, and the handset on the fax machine provides a third. There are two huge Rolodex files side by side, a copier, an answering machine and a tape transcribing machine.

Mrs. Ellis started her one-woman company in early 1988. At the consulting company where she was a project manager, she had noticed that many of the free-lance specialists lacked such basics as business cards or letterhead stationery. So she focused her business on helping such entrepreneurs by crafting a tighter paper image for them.

It didn't work on the agronomists, anthropologists and other specialists, so she narrowed her focus to "the entrepreneurs in my neighborhood," she says.

To find them, she talked with five photocopy services in Laurel. Four didn't pan out as sources of business, but one printer sent her lots of fledgling businesses.

"So even though I marketed all five of them, 90 percent of my business the first year came from this one guy. We still network today," she says.

Since that first year, when she grossed $7,000, she has expanded through word of mouth and by running four different )) Yellow Pages ads.

Running her own show has provided Mrs. Ellis with something better than job security. "I've been offered so many opportunities," she says, "I'll probably never have to send my resume out for the rest of my life."

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