A year ago, Maggie Greif's fledgling search company, Sleuth, concentrated on tracking down goods and services for people who didn't know where else to turn.
When one client wanted to replace missing dinner plates from an inherited service of antique Limoges china, Greif learned none existed, but found an artisan who could duplicate the design. Another woman sent her on a search for a hard-to-find bra, which Greif finally located through a Florida supplier. She once tried to locate 10,000, 16-inch oscillating fans in 48 hours and couldn't, but she knows where to get them now.
An increase, however, in information requests and business clientele is changing Greif's pencil-in-hand, Columbia, Md., cottage industry into what she foresees as a busy, computerized search firm. She recently, for example, produced a list of new electrical and plumbing suppliers to a company that provides maintenance services for New York City skyscrapers. She also researched potential competition for a company contemplating a move to the Washington area.
"My service to businesses is outgrowing the other clients," says Greif, who charges $30 an hour, or occasionally negotiates a commission.
It's a sign of the times. Career consultants say entrepreneurs like Greif have "caught the wave of the future" -- one they expect to grow into a tidal wave. The information-based economy of the next decade is replacing the energy-based economy of the past decade. And that's creating new information needs and new jobs -- while changing old ones.
"I like the search. I enjoy digging for information," says Greif, 37, a former elementary school teacher and mother of two.
"I realized many professionals are often too busy to search out for themselves what they need in their private lives."
Advertising as "a research service for individuals and businesses," Greif says brainstorming is her most marketable skill, but she'll take on almost any challenge. She did turn down a request, however, to find someone a new identity: new driver's license, birth certificate and credit cards.