Is business slow? Don't overlook an old-fashioned form of commerce that's booming in the recession -- barter.

Of course, businesses having been making informal barter arrangements with other local merchants since forever. You do my brochure, and I give you some of my restaurant's Mexican food in exchange. I give you the food at retail value, but I don't pay that much for it, so I essentially buy the service at a discount. And everybody's happy.

Using a barter exchange allows a business to take that up a notch, and trade with a much bigger audience of potential trade partners. If business is down, barter can be a great way to keep sales moving, get your name out there, get services and products you need, and find new customers. The number of formal exchanges seems to be exploding. Do a Google search for "business barter exchange" and you'll get nearly 500,000 responses. More than 80 formal barter organizations are members of the International Reciprocal Trade Association, IRTA, which offers training and standards for the barter-exchange industry.

Many exchanges are site-specific, such as Florida Barter. There are even specialized exchanges such as the new Green America Exchange, which aims to connect socially responsible businesses looking to trade.

When you sign up to an exchange, you can instantly tap into a much wider pool of possible barter partners than you can by arranging your own barter deals one by one. Barter can pay off short term in bringing you new customers and getting services or supplies your business needs.

Barter usually can't pay the rent on a retail store, or the electric bill. But nearly every other cost can possibly be bartered. Since most companies only offer a set amount of bartered services a month, often customers who get hooked trading with you will eventually become cash customers. Meanwhile, more businesses are getting a chance to experience what you offer.

Are you using trade to grow your business, whether informally or through an exchange? Leave a comment and tell us how it's working.