Wanda Gaines doesn't think her clients are cardboard cutouts, mere identical users of the software products she recommends. “They're people,” she says. So Gaines approaches her clients with the personal touch—and a little detective work—to get to know them.

Not bad for someone who started off in banking, but then again, she always had a flair for computers.

Gaines found her calling in the concrete industry when she went to work for Command Alkon, the Birmingham, Ala., concrete industry service provider, more than 13 years ago.

“I answered an ad for a position for someone with a strong accounting background,” she says. Eventually, she ended up moving away from the world of numbers and to working with people. Gaines became a lead customer support person focusing on new product installations, software implementation, and user training.

Gaines enjoyed her job so much, she launched her own consulting company, Wanda Gaines Consulting, of Crossville, Ala. “I get to do what I love best—hang out with the people in the back office and make their jobs easier.”

She helps producers optimize their back office accounting systems by tweaking the best of their computer and software purchases. It's similar to hiring an expert to program your TV remote with your favorite channels. She focuses on knowing her clients and how they work so she can show them the features they need.

On the road

“I'm having the time of my life doing this,” says Gaines. “I like being on the road visiting my clients.” Usually, she first meets the chief financial officer or president to discuss the scope of work they want completed. She next schedules the staff she needs to meet with. At the end of her meetings, she goes back to her initial contact person—the CFO or president—and reports her findings.

Gaines gets to know her clients so she can help them improve. “Sometimes, I have to wear my Sherlock hat,” she says. “My job is to ‘spy' on them, maybe view the reports on their desk or watch how they work, and then tell them how they can do less of something, such as rote filing and typing of data. I try to redo their work methods. Then I go to bat for them with their managers to introduce methods to make them more efficient.”

Before personal computers, invoices would all have the same due date, for example, the 10th of the month. That caused a huge influx of money at one time and a deluge of office work. Today's software allows for various due dates, based on when the work is done and the invoice goes out, allowing for an even flow of money coming in, consistent office work, and no overtime.

Gaines' goal is to develop a team that works well together. “I have to train different personality types in different ways,” she says. “Some are more inquisitive and have to know ‘why' about everything. Others just want to learn the basics.”

While she knows women tend to dominate producers' back office operations, she believes her success comes from sharing. Women are more relationship-orientated.

Her ability to tune into differences that are a part of each operation, develop a program, and turn staff on to the best use of technology may be why she continues to pick up new clients each month.

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