It's no secret that small businesses often struggle when it comes to getting an "in" as a strategic partner with larger organizations. But companies seeking big-name partners can learn a lot from the methods of, an Internet job board and virtual community based in Woodstock, Conn. In business for a year, and with sales of only $10,000, has already formed alliances with Microsoft, the United Nations, and Waterside Productions, a literary agency renowned for books on computers.

Eight months ago cofounders Christine Durst and Michael Haaren lacked connections at any of those organizations. They also couldn't afford to pay a middleman to help them get a foot in the door. So how'd they do it? Their search for an "in" began with tracking down potential E-mail contacts. Durst and Haaren read press releases on prospective partners' Web sites and recorded the names of anyone quoted about any projects that paralleled's interests. They then created a "contact profile," which included whether the would-be contact had written white papers or contributed to industry newsgroups. "That way you find out how deeply involved they are -- if they're passionate enough about it to take their own time to make contributions," says Durst. "You can also get a sense of their personalities."

The more you know about a contact's personality, she reasons, the easier it is to structure the tone and content of initial E-mail to that person. That's one reason why the subject line of the E-mail she and Haaren sent to Akiko Ito at the United Nations ("People with disabilities leveraging the Internet to become self-employed") differed sharply from the one they sent to literary agent Matthew Wagner ("Too 'sexy' to keep under wraps!"). As a rule, sends copies of all its E-mail messages to people on the administrative level in each organization, since they're the ones most likely to field follow-up calls.