That doesn't mean small businesses should risk bankruptcy to buy high-profile ads. But it shows the importance of finding the right venue for your message. "You have to know your customer," Bartmann said. "What do they read? What do they watch? Where do they drive? Once you can answer those questions, then you'll know where you should be advertising." Business owners should take advantage of their clout, Bartmann said. They're likely to get a better deal on ads than they could last year, and their messages will stand out as competitors slash their marketing budgets. "If you're the only advertiser in your industry, you win," he said. For cash-strapped companies, marketing doesn't need to involve advertising. While most small businesses don't consider public relations when they're trying to raise their profiles, Bartmann considers such strategies cheaper, longer-lasting and more effective. Business owners don't need to hire a high-priced firm to create a public-relations plan. Your strategy can be as simple as getting involved in community events, offering your expertise to local newspaper reporters or giving a seminar at your local library. With a little ingenuity, you can boost your company's name recognition with little or no spending. Remember the lesson of Slumdog Millionaire, an independently financed film that's considered the frontrunner in the best-picture category. If it snags the Oscar on Sunday, consider it a sign: You don't need to shell out big bucks to be a winner.