As if operating a business wasn’t hard enough, now you have to worry about your business getting smeared at rating websites and in blogs.

Imagine that you’ve devoted years of blood, sweat and tears just to build your business. You truly adore your business.

You take pleasure in attending to customers. You pride yourself on your customer service. Fact is, most of your customers are happy. Some are euphoric.

But let’s say one customer isn’t fulfilled. You and that customer had "issues" that concluded with you or the customer saying adios. Now that ex-customer has you on their revenge list – going out to several sites and leaving a scalding review about your company, its products and/or services.

Worse, when expected customers and the masses go to Google to research your business, what do they see? That horrible review shows up on the first page of the search results.

That one disgruntled customer has a megaphone to spread his or her experiences about your company all over the internet.

The most atrocious part to business owners is that reviews can be created anonymously on most sites. So customers are free to dramatize, or merely use tougher language than they’d use if they had to offer their real names. You may not even know who's doing the protesting, so you may have no way of finding out how to make matters right.

And the dirty little things is, a rival may be the one spreading rumors to harm your business. It’s no accident that when you see reviews online, sometimes they’re attached to anonymous remarks denouncing the product and concurrently praising a contending product. From time to time you’ll see multiple anonymous remarks each exalting the merits of another competitor! Concerned bystanders? I highly doubt it.

It’s not just rating sites you have to worry about. With blogs, anyone nowadays can be a publishing house and post about a product or service.

In the past generally the bigger companies were the objectives. Small business owners used to never worry as much. But I’m seeing more and more horror stories how this is turning into a serious problem for smaller firms.

The impact can be crushing for small businesses, especially if your business doesn't have a solid presence in the search engines. If you have plenty of search engine results you can reduce the effect of a few negative reviews. But when you have thin search engine results, one negative review sticks out like acne on a teenager’s face.

Even on a fixed budget you'll be able to do a number of things.

Monitor Your Reputation
To protect yourself you have to know what you’re up against. Register with Google Alerts, they will email you when your name or products are referred to in Google. There are additional services designed to supervise more than Google results, including forum posts, such as Trackur.

Start A Blog
If for no additional reason, having a blog indexed in search engines means that your blog posts are likely to show up more often in the search results to counterbalance any damaging reviews.

Create "Authority Site" Profiles
There are a number of sites where you'll be able to create a profile for free.

Correct Mistakes
If a blog post is factually inaccurate, email the blogger asking for a correction or removal. Or publish your own side of the story on your own blog. Or provide a remark in the blog post concisely explaining your side.

Keep Your Cool
A lot of consumers and prospects understand enough to recognize that one complaint can be a fluke or goaded by suspicious motives. They’re more likely to be moved by a cool, just response than by lashing out emotionally. Try to handle the matter offline — and learn from the situation. If there’s a problem to fix, fix it.

If managed dexterously you'll be able to even make lemonade from the lemons of damaging remarks. A critic may become your preacher — it’s happened.