As I write this column the stock market has fallen more than 30 percent in a year, the Dow below 9,000 points for the first time since 2003 and in Times Square, a sign that clocks the U.S. national debt ran out of digits when it passed the $10 trillion mark Sept. 30. I'm getting e-mails from readers saying they're facing economic stress. Here's the potentially really bad news: In 1974 when we had a similar oil price shock, the stock market fell 40 percent, and it took about five years for our country to return to a healthy economy. And that crisis wasn't nearly as severe as the one we're in now.
Now for my optimistic take on this situation: America is the best in the world when dealing with a crisis. We cut our losses, throw the bums out and open the door to innovation. You can name the companies that emerged from the 1970s oil crisis that pioneered new, more efficient products. Microsoft and Intel are two that helped launch the information age, and The Home Depot and FedEx streamlined how products and services were delivered.
The same will happen in the U.S. today. Sustainability will emerge from this financial crisis as a global mega-trend offering business opportunities similar to those that arose during the information age. Your task right now as an entrepreneur is to immediately begin educating yourself and prepping for this coming opportunity.
Of course, that's easier said than done. Times are tough. People are losing their homes, and credit to run or start a business is a lot harder to come by. What is "sustainable" is still being defined, so its market also isn't clearly defined.
So here are some steps to help you hang on, get started and harvest the coming green opportunities:
- Conserve Cash: If you're running your business or household right now on credit, you know exactly what I mean by conserving cash. During a recession, debt is an expense most can't afford. Businesses should try to operate within their cash flows, despite the fact that their cash flows will probably fall during a recession. So do what you have to do now to create cash. Sell assets, cut costs and access the best path for creating cash: become more efficient.
- Reach Out: You're not in this boat alone. I speak at churches that host career planning for those in transition. Unfortunately, the attendance is growing along with individual pain. But the key point is that these people are not failures--but rather very talented people who've been caught up by this economy. Reach out and find meetings like these to network with talented people who can lend their first-hand experience and advice to you.
Following are some valuable green websites where you can begin networking:
Find networks and resources for environmentally responsible businesses in Co-op America's Green Business Program.
Energy Star Small Business Program
A federal program that acts as an energy-conservation guide to small businesses, providing resources, education and technical support.
EPA Climate Change Site
The Environmental Protection Agency's site has resources on going green for small businesses.
Flex Your Power
With its database that allows business owners to search for energy and money saving grants and loans in California, this site also offers a great section on its homepage with other green resources for small business owners.
This online resource center provides tools, resources, educational information and lists of organizations, events and other green business websites.
This is a fun, international networking group for those working in the environmental field or who run green businesses to meet up for informal sessions to share a "green" beer.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
Provides information the U.S. Green Building Rating System� that offers a rating for sustainable buildings.
The Green Suppliers Network
This is a site for manufacturers to learn how to be environmentally responsible.