Mark Robert Halper Photography

Yesterday a new tenant moved in to the public housing at the end of my street. The logistics were tricky because, technically, the former occupants were still in residence and couldn’t be moved out until noon, while the new occupants had to be completely moved in before dark the same day.

Adding to the challenge was the fact that the movers had to repair any damage to the structure and furnishings (it’s a furnished unit). Also, the building is located at the very end of what was, at least for that day, the inaugural parade route, which meant working around both the heavy security and the thousands of expectant onlookers filling the adjacent sidewalks and side streets.

Add to that the cold, windy conditions, plus all of the hoopla surrounding the historic event that was unfolding just a few blocks away, and the fact that the move-in was completed on time is nothing short of a logistical miracle. Good thing, too, because when Barack Obama arrived in the late afternoon to take occupancy, the last thing he needed was to have to search through piles of boxes looking for a clean shirt. He had more important things on his mind.

Getting Down to Business

And now that the “Obamarama” that was Inauguration Day is behind him, President Obama can get down to business. Near the top of his to-do list is getting his economic stimulus package through Congress in the coming weeks.

Pegged at about a trillion dollars, it contains some provision to help the housing recovery, although at this writing there are few specifics. In the meantime, Inauguration Day was full of inspiring, hopeful words and events, and a lot of people are feeling pretty upbeat about the future.

The question is: How long can we maintain this positive outlook? Or more precisely: Can we maintain a positive outlook for as long as I think it will take to turn things around?

It’s not that it can’t be done, but expectations have a lot to do with it. I’m an optimist by nature, and I’m as hopeful as anyone, but I worry that most people are expecting too much too soon. Even a perfect stimulus package perfectly executed is going to take time to achieve any lasting effect. It took years to dig this hole we’re in and it’s going to take years to pull ourselves out.

That is not to say that the remodeling market will not recover sooner. But the simple fact is that, no matter how much money goes into the stimulus package or what those funds are intended for, very little of it will directly affect your business in the next six to nine months.

Long term, it may very well succeed beyond our wildest dreams, but for right now, its influence on your day-to-day commerce will be virtually nil.

Your Own Stimulus Package

My greatest fear about the stimulus package is that small remodeling companies will pin their hopes to it and wait for the good times to roll. It’s not going to happen. The recovery of the remodeling market isn’t going to come to you; you are going to have to go out and find it.

So don’t be taken in by all the talk about “digging in” or “riding out” this recession. Those metaphors are helpful when describing the kind of tough attitude that is required to withstand an economic slowdown of these proportions. But if you take them as a call to passive inaction and expect that things are going to change while you are “hunkered down,” you are in for a very rough time.

As small-business owners, you need to create your own stimulus package, one based on a complete reevaluation of the products and services your company provides, the people and methods you use to perform the work, the way you market and sell those products and services, and the people to whom you market and sell them. Then you need to put the package into motion.

Be hopeful, yes, but keep moving toward the goal. Like the White House move-in, the change we are all hoping for will be transformational, but it will take place one item at a time.