Q: What can I do to make employees feel secure in their jobs and their company's sustainability in this economic market?

Jamie Van Vuren
Bee Line
Schaumburg, Illinois

A: At the risk of dredging up sad memories, it's time to board the Straight Talk Express. The goal: to be absolutely frank about the company's circumstances without reducing employees to puddles of apprehension.

Rule No. 1: Bad news travels better in person. Dropping a companywide e-mail in the middle of the night is less stressful for you, but employees hear it as a death knell. Serial entrepreneur Leslie Grossman, who has downsized more than one business, recommends laying bare the company's outlook in an all-hands meeting. "People will probably hear things anyway," says Grossman, who now runs the Women's Leadership Exchange, which hosts conferences for woman business owners. "It's better to hear them from the boss."

Rule No. 2: Road maps reassure the lost. Present a detailed plan of steps you will take over the next few months, advises Oris Stuart, CEO of Cincinnati-based management consulting firm Global Lead. Also, take the opportunity to reinforce the company's vision and connect short-term actions to long-term goals. When people are focused on surviving, they tend to forget that the end goal is thriving.

Rule No. 3: Comfort can be delegated. Make sure managers are on the same page, and have them conduct departmental and one-on-one meetings. "Managers can solicit concerns and get specific in their conversations," Stuart says.

Rule No. 4: "Our company" translates as "my income." Employees fret about your bottom line, but they lose sleep over their mortgages, electric bills, and kids' tuition payments. Stuart recommends organizing sessions with the benefits manager or a financial adviser to discuss sound investment strategies.

Rule No. 5: There's solace in being part of the solution. Grossman suggests soliciting ideas from all departments on how to boost business and cut costs. "It's important to make employees feel like an integral part of the company," says Grossman. "When they do well, the company does well."

Q: We have created a new website, and we would like to incorporate the best practices in search-engine optimization. Do we need to hire an SEO firm, or can we do things on our own?

Jason Duff
Community Storage & Properties
Huntsville, Ohio

A: Clearly, it's pointless to have a site that's all dressed up with no place to go. But SEO firms can charge anywhere from a few thousand dollars to more than $100,000, depending on the project. Fortunately, there are cheaper ways to give your new site the head start it deserves, and you have a friend in Google.

But first, you must see yourself through Google's eyes. At Google Webmaster Tools (google.com/webmasters), you can submit pages for indexing by the mighty engine. The service analyzes your website and identifies the top search terms that lead visitors to your site. You can also create a site map to ensure that Google's Web crawlers know where to go when they swing by. Crawlers are text bigots: They can't read JavaScript, image files, and many types of Flash files. So sites that are image-heavy and use JavaScript can run into difficulties. "Yes, a picture may be worth a thousand words, but Google doesn't always know that," says Kevin Lee, co-founder and CEO of Didit, a search-engine marketing firm in Rockville Centre, New York. The solution: Add more text. In this situation, brevity is the soul of not being found.

If your site still fails to rise and shine, or if you are struggling with the technical stuff, it may be consultant time. Before you hire one, request references and call up previous customers to inquire about the dark side of their experiences, suggests Blake Brossman, founder of PetCareRx.com, a Lynbrook, New York-based online pet pharmacy. Brossman thinks he overpaid nine years ago when he hired a firm that charged by the hour to optimize his site. "They gave us a large-company approach for large-company dollars," he says. "It's better to set a fixed cost so you know the upside or downside." (On the other hand, don't pinch pennies by choosing someone toward the bottom of the nearly 1,500,000 Google results for "SEO consultant.")

And, hey, be real. You won't be top of the heap for the search term outdoor advertising. Maybe aim for outdoor advertising Ohio. And be patient -- results may take months to show up. The wait is worth it, says Brossman. "The right expert with the right solution can give you a lot of competitive advantages."