In recent weeks, while there have been signs of the broader recession lightening, if not diminishing entirely, skepticism among small businesses owners has been reported amidst all the optimism. Why? Uncertainty about health insurance policy, job stability and other major economic factors still remain. So, are there opportunities for small or mid-sized businesses to grow, and specifically to market themselves effectively without risking their minimal budget? In short, yes. Here’s how.The Internet can be called the “great equalizer” for many reasons. First, many small businesses, as well as “underwear entrepreneurs”, have built themselves solely off the Internet. I’m not referring only to the likes of Google, Yahoo and Facebook here. There are thousands of small businesses that have launched in the last 15 years that you have never heard of, and that are considered “smaller,” yet still significant and impact-driving.Small businesses have seen the benefit of marketing their business online based on a number of advantages compared to the offline world: 1) Enhanced targeting; 2) speed to advertise; 3) Equal advertising real estate with large corporations; and 4) An accurate cost/benefit analysis enhanced by the use of a CPA (cost per acquisition or action) model.Let’s look at each:For a small business advertising offline, the biggest disadvantage resides in the budget, as compared to multi-nationals. But it’s not just money at the root of this disparity; it’s also spending money the right way, to reach the appropriate targets. Small businesses are (and should be) a lot more conscientious when it comes to spending ad dollars to ensure the right audience receives their message. The Internet provides a way to target users effectively geographically or locally, or based on other targeting methods like behavioral or contextual, that simply aren’t available offline.Perhaps the biggest advantage of small businesses over large companies, which is accentuated online, is speed to market. The Internet is fast, and it’s simple to run targeted ad campaigns quickly. There is no waiting for print proofs, mail stream, lettershops or printing. One can be up and running with a search engine marketing campaign, for instance, in a matter of minutes. Further, there is a level of nimbleness simply not possible with traditional advertising. For example, if a campaign is not generating response rapidly, it can be switched out with a more effective campaign almost immediately, with minimal impact on budget.What other medium enables small businesses to be side-by-side with huge brands and large businesses? None. Do a simple search for “pizza delivery NYC” and it underscores my point. Sure, you have the requisite search results for huge chains with enormous marketing budgets like Pizza Hut, Papa John’s and Domino’s. But right alongside these major chains are many of the neighborhood haunts that only native New Yorkers know. This dynamic extends across most industries and geographies on the Web; small businesses allowed to compete on a level playing field against multi-million dollar budgets.Finally and most importantly: the use of a CPA model to achieve a greater ROI and easier cost/benefit analysis. Online, small businesses can now measure every dollar spent with an ROI analysis against those dollars. Further, many small businesses are partnering with networks that embrace the CPA model which is even more advantageous to the advertiser. That pizza shop owner now only has to pay when a new customer walks in the door, downloads a coupon, or when another preferred action (i.e. purchase) takes place. For small businesses without deep pockets, this is something that is a true benefit, and return on investment is in essence guaranteed.