PUTTING a small business online used to be a relatively simple matter: buy the domain names that matched your company's identity, set up a Web server and send out a press release and a few e-mail messages. No more.
These days, a Web site may not even be the best place to start promoting your products or services. Instead, you can consider setting up a blog, participating in social-networking communities like Facebook and creating a storefront in virtual worlds like Second Life to get the buzz going.
"We launched our company in May 2006 with a blog, not a Web site," said Jody DeVere, the president of AskPatty.com, an advice site that helps women find car showrooms and repair shops that are friendly to them. "Our blog has been the driving force of our branding effort and become the way we find our readers and our customers."
As Ms. DeVere said: "A new business doesn't have the money to build a brand and pay for advertising. The biggest investment is your time, and these tools require a lot of that, but they can really pay off."