Hope is not only a noun—something you have (or not). It’s also a verb—something you do (or don’t). I contend that if you don’t do it, you won’t have it. John C. Maxwell, a leadership expert whom I admire, puts it this way: “Where there is no hope in the future, there is no power in the present.”

I have been in business long enough to have taken a couple of dips on the economic roller coaster and have rebounded each time. The recessions of the 1970s and the late 1990s turned around, and I am sure this one will, too.

The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), an organization that exercises major influence, is fully aware of how contractors are faring in this recession and is working in ways both big and small to improve conditions for the electrical contracting industry. (For information on some of the big things NECA is doing, see pages 121–124.)

You might take some comfort in knowing that the economists at FMI, which provides management advice for the construction industry worldwide, forecast that although nonresidential construction will take a dip in 2009 after five consecutive years of growth, the cycle should be on the upswing again in 2010. They also say the housing sector has good long-term growth prospects.

But don’t just look to words for comfort. Instead, make the most productive use of downtime.

It’s a good time for some self-evaluation, an activity that can involve every member of your firm. What are your company’s core values and competencies? Have they gotten off track? What changes can and should be made to improve key processes, including job functions? Set specific, realistic goals and include time frames. Also, find out if there are educational programs that you and/or your employees should pursue now in order to better cope with the present and succeed in the future.

It’s also a good time to take an aggressive approach to cutting costs and inefficiencies. Consider employment levels, capital spending, inventory levels and accounts receivable and explore your relationship with financial sources that can provide lines of credit. Aggressive management also includes scrutinizing the terms and conditions of contracts (lien clauses, in particular) and demanding to be informed of any financing issue that could affect a project before you take it on.

Any time is the right time to invest in relationships, but making a friendly phone call or two to vendors, creditors and top clients could be especially helpful now. You might want to discuss just-in-time inventory methods with suppliers, or you might ask vendors to lengthen your payment cycles or renegotiate rates.

Finally, don’t forget that some opportunities are inherent to tough times. While no one should feel smug about benefiting from someone else’s misfortune, it’s only practical to look for opportunities to acquire assets at a bargain—and increase your market share—if a former rival goes out of business. On the other hand, a lot of good people are out of work now, and you can feel good about hiring a qualified candidate laid off from previous employment. And, the downturn just might lead you to refocus your marketing efforts toward lucrative niches. If new construction has gone bust in your area, the silver lining might be a booming market for renovation and energy-efficient retrofits.

I believe when one door is closed, another is opened. Sometimes, many others are opened. And sometimes, the old door is reopened. But, it’s up to you to keep knocking. You can’t wait for opportunity to cross your threshold. You need to be persistent with your new strategies and persistent in your search so that when you find that door of opportunity—and I have faith that you will—you’ll be prepared to enter.

To hope means to have reasonable confidence. And what makes confidence reasonable is basing it on action directed to obtain specific results. I hope you succeed!