In this day and age most small businesses have computer databases full of text and numbers. But some -- like Freelance Access, in Boston -- have also developed electronic-image archives.

Byron White founded his agency four years ago to represent freelance graphic artists. When he tired of lugging their bulky portfolios to every sales call, he began to encourage the artists to use Freelance Access's scanners and Macintosh computers to create one-page, 11-by-17-inch portfolio samples containing many images. Until he was able to invest in a special $25,000 dye-sublimation printer, White sent the pages to a service bureau for professional-quality reproduction. With those mini portfolios Freelance Access compiled notebooks of many freelancers' work. White was pleased enough with the results that when he expanded his business to handle freelancers in other fields, he asked those professionals to scan their mini portfolios into the computer system.

Today White estimates that Freelance Access has an electronic collection representing some 15,000 to 20,000 hours of scanning and digital-image manipulation. The company, which employs 13 and reported 1994 sales of $1.3 million, is looking at new ways to put its database of images and written material to use. The declining cost of CD-ROM production, White believes, will ultimately make it cheaper for Freelance Access's salespeople to carry CD-ROMs rather than the portfolio samples. (The total cost of each portfolio page from the dye-sublimation printer is, he estimates, about $29.) Another medium under consideration: an electronic bulletin board.

In White's business, however, he must be careful. Freelance Access needs legal authorization to reproduce the images it uses, and White can't allow clients unlimited access to the collection without risking his company's role as broker. As a result, he plans to require that both the CD-ROM and the bulletin-board system be used primarily with a sales representative's supervision; passwords for the bulletin board, for example, will change constantly.