For small business owners, the benefits of blogs, podcasts, online video and social networks are so compelling-at such low costs-that you owe it to yourself to look at the opportunities.

You don't have to be a technology geek or a professional writer to take advantage of these new tools. You do need to be passionate and informed about a topic and have the time and commitment to write frequently about it. For most small businesses, that means an hour or two a week. Here are some quick steps to get started.

Find out what others are already saying about your area of expertise. Sites like Technorati and Google Blog Search will get you started listening in on the conversation. Set up some Google Alerts about topics that interest you and start getting regular updates on what others are saying. While you're at it, set up an alert on your own name to see when others mention you.