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A Day in the Life of an Independent Professional


By Myles Ludwig



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Internet Marketing Strategy Consulting

Helping companies build stronger relationships with their consumer and small business customers

Hours per week:

Typical working hours:
Generally 8:30-4:30, occasional evenings and weekends

Main current clients:
Coach, Gap Direct, WebTV, OfficeClick, Visto Corporation

Depends upon project

Earnings (in a good year):
$100,000 plus

Favorite business readings:
Books: One to One Marketing, Burn Rate
Magazines: Red Herring, Fast Company, Business 2.0, American Demographics
Online Newsletters: Iconocast, The Street.com, Strategic News Service

Favorite non-business readings:
Books: Into Thin Air, White Oleander, The Code Book, Pride and Prejudice
Magazines: Sunset, The New York Review of Books

Best way she gets clients:
Referrals from other clients

Worst wage-slave job she ever had:
In high school, I helped a company get caught up on its backlog of filing. Isolated in a back room, I lasted for five days.




  Q & A

What was the worst project you ever worked on, and why?

I worked with an Internet start-up to reposition it for a second round of financing. Just as we finished, the bridge funding fell through and the company and all 15 employees were out of business. It was hard to see the good people and the company fail -- and I hadn't yet learned to get payment up front.

What was the best project you ever worked on, and why?
I worked with a different Internet start-up to set up their customer relationship management strategy and infrastructure. They were great people, and it was satisfying because, in the space of a couple of weeks, I brought them six months closer to one-to-one customer communication.

What do you say when people ask about "your job"?
I provide Internet marketing strategy consulting for companies trying to reach consumers and small businesses.

What is your guiding philosophy?
Build the consumers' perspective into everything you do.

If you could be anything other than what you are now, what would it be?
Living on the Cornish coast of England writing mystery stories.



Teresa Kersten is driving deep into the heart of Internet Country, the part of Northern California where the Information Highway ramps up and mouse-click millionaires are minted with nearly every IPO. This is Silicon Valley, birthplace of the personal computer and, as Time called it, the "epicenter of the digital revolution." This is where Kersten works.

She's a VP for hire, a marketing expert specializing in Internet companies. She massages customer relationships and builds customer loyalty -- generates "stickiness," as it's called in the corridors of Nerdville.

"I work as a kind of unofficial VP of Marketing until [the client] can attract or afford full-time talent," she says. "My role is to identify the people you want to talk to, the key benefits of the product and say, 'Here's how I think you should talk to them.' It's fun because you have to be very creative and test to see what works. You can't just apply formulaic principles. I believe very strongly in research."

Lucky Strike

When Kersten began consulting in 1997, she says, there was an "explosion of new companies" -- Internet companies, many of them founded by people with engineering, not business, backgrounds. Not all of these start-ups had the funding to afford or attract the full-time, senior-level business talent they wanted. Enter Kersten: experienced, available, affordable. As she puts it, "I could make a difference and then move on."

Typically Kersten works with a small base of clients, rarely more than three or four at once, devoting about 40 percent of her time to one. Now, for example, she spends most mornings on site at WebTV Network (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Microsoft) for meetings and presentations. She splits the remaining time with the other clients (currently Visto, an online personal information management site, and iuthority [sic], a net-based brokerage for business services) and talking to new prospects.

"You extrapolate what you learn from working with one client to another situation," Kersten says. "The variety gives perspective. A lot of stuff I learned in '96 has changed. The truisms have changed: whether banner advertising on Websites is effective or not, whether to spend your advertising money online or on a Super Bowl TV ad. Every day in this business you find out what's going on."

Her first clients came through referrals, and most still do. Linda Geiger, a former colleague at Intuit, included her on a team she put together for Cox Enterprises. Marie Baker, with whom she had also worked at Intuit, brought her back to that company on a consulting basis, and Rebecca Patton, her group head at Apple, recommended her to E-Trade.

In an industry that's still in its infancy (Web-surfing became an amateur sport about five years ago, when Netscape introduced its first browser), Kersten's extensive corporate experience is rare -- and salable.

As Sharon Frinks, Director of Product Marketing for WebTV and one of Kersten's current clients, puts it: "Because she has a lot of industry experience, Teresa was able to hit the ground running and contribute immediately. She really helped us in a number of marketing communications to our subscriber base."

Let's Get Personal

Trim and tailored in a brown and black batik print dress, pearl earrings and low-heeled shoes, Kersten, a dynamic 41-year-old mother of three, went solo about two years ago, after working for 15 years in corporate cubicles at Apple, Intuit, and Zip2, an Internet start-up where she was Senior VP of Marketing. "It's a period of rapid growth and a unique time for people like me who want a job like this; who want independence and a family lifestyle," says Kersten. "And the industry was ready for it. The supply and demand pretty well match right now."

As a consultant, she gets to set her own hours and keep her career.

Kersten says she went solo because the hours she put in as an employee -- 70 a week -- were too long and "were taking a heavy toll on me and the family life." As a consultant, she gets to set her own hours and keep her career. "Originally I thought I'd do this for five years or so, until the kids were grown," she says. "But I've found I love it."

What specifically, does she love about it? "The variety and the independence," she says. "My objectives are very pure, and I can make a difference without having to deal with corporate politics. I have to believe in the project. My job is to make the client look good. My success is: you loved my work, you want me to come back, you refer me to others."

Most of Kersten's clients have offices within a short driving distance of her home. This allows her to see in the nanny, take her other children to school, and, later, to swimming and soccer practice. If this makes her the epitome of the postmodern soccer mom, it's OK with her. "I have a great life. I work 40 hours a week, see the kids during the day, and have the ability to manage client-time. The flexibility is invaluable."

Cool and Confident

For a consultant to high-tech companies, Kersten has a decidedly low-tech, low-profile style: no Palm Pilot; no beeper; not even a cell phone. She doesn't advertise much. She has neither snappy promotional brochure nor snazzy URL, and she doesn't make a concerted effort to solicit new business. "I don't like asking for the sale," she says. She shies away from cold calls. Her own marketing plan is to reach out to people she already knows (she lunches frequently with former colleagues, for example). If business were to slow down, she says she'd follow the path her competitors tread -- speaking at conferences or writing articles for trade publications. (These tactics get your name in front of prospects.)

Her marketing plan is to reach out to people she already knows.

Kersten maintains her competitive edge by following industry developments, primarily through online resources such as VentureWire, CNET, ZDNET, and Marketing Computers. She also attends the meetings of the two professional organizations she belongs to (Women in Consulting and the Bay Area's Forum for Women Entrepreneurs) and participates in weekly brainstorming sessions with suitemates.

Far more important to Kersten's success than the trappings of the businesswoman, she says, is the attitude she brings to her work. She doesn't work with companies whose only purpose in developing a marketing plan is to impress venture capitalists; she has to feel that the client is committed to marketing as a means of conducting business.

She also never promises what she can't deliver. "People have a tendency to say, 'I can do anything,'" Kersten says. "But you have to be able to say, 'I do these things and I am the person to call when you need them done.'"

October 15, 1999
Primary Editor: Eric Gershon
Illustration by Eli Cedrone
Production by Keith Gendel

We'd love to hear your comments about this article!

Myles Ludwig's last article for 1099 was "Film By One," a profile of independent filmmaker John Daly. If you like, we'd be happy to put you in touch with him, or with anyone named in this article.


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