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Burgeoning industry can help a small business project a big, professional image to clients

By Bob Mims
The Salt Lake Tribune

You have a product that is perfect for a prime market niche. You even have the knowledge, energy and enough capital to launch your new business.

All you lack is the respect so often tied to the trappings of success.

Enter Davinci International Inc. and other such businesses, which make sure your clients will never know that you are your only employee, or that you work off a phone, laptop and secondhand desk from a garage office.

Starting at $59 a month and ranging higher depending on features chosen, the newest entrepreneur in Utah can get all or portions of a "virtual office" package - a local or toll-free phone and fax numbers, professional receptionist services, appointment scheduling, order processing and even an upscale mailing address in a neighborhood or city of your choosing.

"First impressions can be everything," says Davinci President/CEO Bill Grodnik. "We run a client's office, while they run their business."

The Utah company is not alone in offering virtual office services, but it might be distinct in being able to also handle a successful startup's next logical corporate step - physical office and conference room space, when needed.

Whether for use just once a month, weekly or for a full year, Davinci's clients can choose from a variety of executive suites at more than 600 U.S. locations, along with the services and equipment of the big-time corporate spreads - phone, Internet, mail and receptionist services.

The 10-year-old, privately held company does not release financial data, but it is in the fast lane for growth of clientele. Grodnik puts current customers at more than 200 in Utah, and well more than 1,000 nationally.

Martin Senn, who came on 18 months ago to oversee preparations for the May launch of the virtual office program nationwide, says Davinci is "right on schedule" to top 10,000 clients by this time next year.

"We want people to know [Davinci] is a great place to grow without having money tied up in infrastructure," Senn adds. "We can't make them coffee, but we can do everything else for them."

For those who might wonder about the ethics of promoting the facade of, say, a prestigious, New York City office address for a West Valley City home office-working consultant, Grodnik says everyone should benefit from the blessings of the cyberage.

"For example, there's this good local attorney who answers his own phone. He's a really good attorney, but the first impression is that of a small-time, one man show," he says. "Then we have another attorney just out of law school, but he has just the opposite impression [because he has a] business address and phone answering."

Grodnik's conclusion to the ethical conundrum? "Small businesses need all the leg up they can get today. It's tougher and tougher to compete. . . . We're just leveling the playing field," he says.

Observers of the growing virtual office trend agree. The bottom line, they say, is product and performance.

"Virtual offices are a great idea for early stage organizations . . . where there is no need for manufacturing or other physical facilities to produce the product," says Tom Davenport, research director for executive education at Babson College. "This a great way to facilitate entrepreneurial activity."

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