Making It: Former consultant rakes in money paying other people's bills

By the Numbers: Carla Morelli takes automatic bill pay to a whole new level.
By the Numbers: Carla Morelli takes automatic bill pay to a whole new level. (Copyright Keith Barraclough)
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By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, November 16, 2008

Carla Morelli has always been intrigued by money. "My first job was a cashier," she says. "I've always liked to be around money and, for whatever reason, numbers." Now she runs a Gaithersburg company that helps people handle their money, specifically their bills.

Morelli, 38, grew up in Sterling, studied economics at George Mason University and worked in finance and then in consulting, helping companies install and upgrade Oracle financial systems. Consulting suited her desire to be her own boss and face varying challenges, and was very lucrative; she made as much as $300,000 a year and socked away a lot of it. But after a while, even its challenges faded, and Carla pondered her next step.

"It was actually my mom who reminded me of the time when I was consulting when all my bills weren't getting paid and it was crazy and awful" because of her long hours, she says. She decided: "There are a lot of people in the country who are very busy, don't have time and just want to know it's taken care of. I can serve those people."

In 2003, the firm Carla was consulting for allowed her to go part time and use some of its office space as she ramped up the new company, which she named FreyerMartin. Freyr is the Norse god of prosperity, and Martin is simply a name that goes well with it, says Carla, a Darnestown resident who is married to a database programmer and has a toddler daughter.

Here's how the business works: A client's bills go to a lockbox. They're reviewed by FreyerMartin reps, who then pay the bills out of a checking account set up under the client's name and funded by bank transfers. All statements and bills are posted online so the client can review them.

The company offers two levels of service. Personal bill pay starts at $350 a month and serves what Carla calls "sort of the average suburban household." Executive bill pay starts at $750 a month and serves people who also may have other expenses, such as multiple properties or household payrolls. Carla's clients are typically highly paid, hard-charging people who aren't "big on details," she says.

Shelley Bennett hired FreyerMartin in 2006 while on leave from her work as a database contractor in Iraq, where sporadic electrical and telephone service were making it difficult to keep up with her finances. "The last thing you need to be worried about when you're rushing down the streets of Baghdad is, 'I can't get my Visa card paid,' " she says. "Carla and her team took incredibly good care of me and my finances while I was over in Iraq."

Carla went full time with FreyerMartin and got her own office space in 2005; start-up costs were between $300,000 and $400,000, funded by herself and a couple of investors. FreyerMartin has four full-time and four part-time employees, and about50 clients. Its revenue is approaching mid-six figures, up 23 percent over last year. Carla draws no salary yet, but the company is running a profit margin of 10 percent, which is being put into capital investments, mostly in technology.

Carla hopes FreyerMartin will someday be the nationally recognized leader in the nascent bill-paying industry. She's not sure whether she's building a business she'll own forever, but she does know that "after a certain point, I won't be the one running the company," she says. "I will be running something else. I've already got a couple of ideas."

Are you succeeding with an unusual career or business? E-mail changb@washpost.com.


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