One of the questions I hear most often these days goes something like, "How the heck am I supposed to keep my small business going in this economy? I don't have a lot of money for advertising."

A valid lament for sure.

Unlike big businesses that are doing well (think Exxon Mobil ( XOM)) or even big companies that are not (airlines, Starbucks ( SBUX), etc.) one of the first things to be cut when tough times hit small businesses is the advertising and marketing budget.

The good news is that there is in fact a great way to market your business that is not expensive and is very effective. However, it is quite time-consuming.

It's called search engine optimization. SEO gets you noticed, is practically free marketing and increases sales. SEO is the magic bullet.

Oh, I can hear your collective cries now: "Come on Steve, it's too hard; it doesn't work; it's for businesses far bigger than mine; I don't know how to do it, I don't have time to learn it."

I say, remember the immortal words of Paul Harvey: "In times like these it is good to know there have always been times like these." The point is, good times and bad times are part of this gig; you signed up for them when you decided to go into business for yourself.

And if that is true, then it is also true that in times like these, hearty entrepreneurs learn new skills. That is both the joy and sorrow of self employment.

Teach Yourself a New Trick

Sure SEO is a challenge; no doubt about it. But it is also true that many people have figured it out. Whenever you Google ( GOOG) some word or phrase, you can almost bet that the folks whose Web sites appear on the first page have put considerable effort into learning about, utilizing and honing SEO.

And if they did it, so can you.

I am reminded of the 1997 movie The Edge with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin. In it, the two men are stranded in the Alaska Outback after their small plane crashes.

Soon they are being stalked by a bear. Eventually Hopkins' character convinces himself and Baldwin's character, Bob, that they can slay the bear.

"I'm going to kill the bear," Hopkins' character says, "Say it! Say I'm going to kill the bear!"

Bob says it, halfheartedly.

Charles (Hopkins) then yells at Bob: "Say it! Say I'm going to kill the bear!" Bob says it.

"Say it again," says Charles. Bob, starting to feel it, says it more loudly. "I'm going to kill the bear." "Again!" Charles bellows. Finally, Bob yells, convincingly, " I Am Going To Kill The Bear!"

Finally, they kill the bear.

Not knowing SEO may be your virtual "bear." Take a class about it. Read a book about it. Practice until you become convincingly proficient.

Slay your bear.
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