Editorial Director

It’s tough out there, and getting tougher. The daily headlines include words like layoffs, bailouts, foreclosures and other equally scary terms.

I know a lot of you are feeling the pinch of this economic slump, and many of the discussions I have with readers these days revolve around what to do about it. Luckily, there are things you can do to help get through these times.

First, relax. I know it may be hard to do, especially if you have falling revenues and rising expenses. You’re starting to have to make choices as to which invoice you pay now and which can wait until next week. How can you relax? We have to all remember that this, too, shall pass. Some of you remember the 1930s. Despite all of the rhetoric being passed around by politicians and pundits, what we are experiencing now is not even close to what this country faced during the Great Depression. We went through another economic “crisis” in the 1970s. Who remembers Jimmy Carter’s “Financial Malaise” speech? How about the Ford administration’s “Whip Inflation Now” program? When Ronald Reagan took office, mortgage rates were almost 20 percent. All three of those periods had higher unemployment rates than we have now. We need to keep these current conditions in perspective and realize that we will make our way out of this.

Now is the time to step up customer contact and customer service. With fewer contracts out there, the companies that really know how to take care of their customers are the ones who will get, and keep, those clients.

You also need to step up your collection efforts, but temper that with understanding. You can’t afford to put off those collection calls, but you can be as flexible as possible in working with your customers to pay off receivables. When this time passes, your customers will reward your understanding with loyalty.

Make sure you’re networking with other contractors in your area. Now more than ever, you need to make sure that local landscapers, lawn care companies and others know you’re available and ready to help them with their tree work.

Don’t be afraid to pick up those little jobs. What might have been too small a year or two ago could now be a valuable customer—not only now, but for the future, as well. The worst thing you can do in tough times is get to a point where the health of your company relies on a few large accounts.

Finally, don’t stop advertising. One of the biggest mistakes many small (and large) businesses make when money gets tight is to slash their advertising and marketing budgets. If you rely on advertising to bring in new customers, the effect of cutting that advertising is inevitable: no more new customers. In fact, now is the time to try to step up your marketing efforts. Many of your competitors will cut their advertising budgets. This is a great opportunity to stay visible and grab that market share while your competitor is hunkered down.

Those of you who are below the age of 25 or 30 may think this current economic downturn is the end of the world. The rest of us know that these things happen, and the economy always bounces back eventually. Who would have ever predicted in 1929 that a great World War would lead to an end to the Depression and the beginning of unprecedented economic prosperity? Who in 1990 knew that the Internet would send the economy soaring? No one knows what the next wave will be or when it will come, but those of us who continue to use sound business practices and are ready to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves—even in a slow economy—will be the ones who survive to prosper when things swing back the other way.