Steve Strauss wrote the bible on small biz. Literally. In addition to authoring The Small Business Bible , he runs MrAllBiz.com and is a featured columnist for USA Today. He's been studying, writing and speaking about how to grow a successful small business all his life, so email him with whatever leaves you stumped.

Q: In this tightening economy what can I do to distinguish my business?

-- Erin

Get Brand-tastic

A: I'm a big believer in the wise words sung to Natalie Wood in the musical Gypsy:

"I never have to sweat to get paid, 'Cause if you got a gimmick, Gypsy girl, you got it made!"

In small-business terms, having a gimmick means creating a unique brand.

Most small businesses think branding is only for the big guys. But think again: There are 25 million businesses in this country, and 99% of them are small businesses.

That is a lot of competition!

Finding Your Hook

A unique brand creates a hook that people can remember you by. Great brands, big and small alike, evoke an immediate reaction, feeling or belief.

When you think of McDonald's ( MCD) you probably envision cheap fast food. By contrast, you probably think of Starbucks ( SBUX) as a cool place to get a latte and hang for a bit.

For Starbucks, the value of such a brand enables them to charge $3.50 for a cup of coffee.

Your business is both smaller and has more competition than a Starbucks or McDonalds, so having a memorable brand is even more important for you.

Here are two ways to create a great hook:

1. Consider or reconsider your business name.

The name of your business is the single most important tool you have for creating a unique, memorable brand because it is the first -- and sometimes only -- thing people hear about your business.

A great name tells people exactly what the business is, or is otherwise easily memorable. You could:

  • Mention benefits in the name: Baja Fresh or Jiffy Lube
  • Have a rhyming name: Clean Gene's Carpet Care
  • Use alliteration: Frank's Franks
  • Be Unique: TheStreet.com, MrAllBiz.com

By naming -- or renaming -- your business, you go a long way to creating that special small business brand.

2. Can you name "The Ultimate Driving Machine"?

Yep. That's BMW.

What motel chain will "leave the light on for you"? Motel 6, of course.

These taglines explain the feeling -- the brand -- those companies want to evoke.

A tagline used in all of your marketing and advertising is a super way to get people to know what you're about and help them remember it.

Similarly, a logo is a graphic way to get people to associate whatever it is you want them to associate with your business.

So create a logo and tagline that tell people what benefits your business provides and use them again and again and again.

Do that, and, as the last line in the song goes, "You too can be a star!"

TheStreet.com has a revenue-sharing relationship with Amazon.com under which it receives a portion of the revenue from Amazon purchases by customers directed there from TheStreet.com.

Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and USA TODAY columnist. His latest book is the Small Business Bible. He has spoken around the world about entrepreneurship, including at the United Nations, and has been seen on CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, The O?Reilly Factor, and many other television and radio shows. He maintains a Website at www.MrAllBiz.com.