Jeff Hilimire PRESIDENT/SPUNLOGIC
By Michelle Andrews

(FORTUNE Small Business) – SWEET DEAL Trying to woo the Honey Baked Ham Co. away from a competitor two years ago, Atlanta-based web design and development company Spunlogic spent $20,000 up-front to build an online system that tracked company catalog revisions. It got the job and then a monthly retainer from the $150 million chain, which helped persuade other prospects such as the Georgia Institute of Technology to sign on. Sales shot up, from $100,000 in 2000 to $1 million in 2002.

GROWING UP Hilimire, who started Spunlogic when he was a senior in college, had no idea then how to impress potential customers. "When we started, we didn't even understand the importance of networking to win clients," says Hilimire, now 27, "so we weren't very successful." Determined to make its mark, his executive team sometimes spent thousands of dollars designing websites and creating applications at the sales-pitch stage, before any contracts were signed.

FORWARD THINKING There have been stumbles (like the failed bid for the business of the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team), but the gamble usually pays off: Spunlogic recently snagged the contract for the city of Atlanta's tourism site after sinking $10,000 into site designs. Lesson learned: Give potential clients a taste of honey before they buy, and sweeten the prospect for big payoffs down the road. --MICHELLE ANDREWS