It pays to network and rub shoulders virtually with potential customers on the Web. Developing a database of strategic contacts on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter is a cost-effective way to generate buzz about your business and market your products and services. When the economy hit the skids in the fall of 2008, Lore Systems quickly felt the fallout as customers stopped investing in IT to shore up cash. The company, which provides high-end VoIP phone systems, enterprise-network engineering and Internet hosting, saw its nonrecurring revenue plummet 70% through the end of 2009. To turn the tide, CEO Tien Wong revamped the company's product line to focus on a hot-ticket item: cloud computing. He invested more in routers, servers and storage-area networks to build capacity.
At the same time, he aggressively marketed Lore through his large personal database of 6,000 contacts on Facebook and LinkedIn. A serial entrepreneur who sold a successful call-center business seven years ago, Wong has a universe of consultants, VCs, CEOs, CTOs and contractors with whom he communicates regularly. By using e-mail blasts to announce new product offerings, industry awards, and VIP tours of Lore's data centers, the CEO has been able to win about a dozen contracts valued at $500,000 a year for the company. That's led to a profit of $700,000 on $5.5 million of annual revenue. "This really is a powerful communications tool," notes Wong. "It's not a replacement for old-fashioned face-to-face meetings, but it is a great way to keep your name in front of customers."