As we go to press, the House has just voted down the bailout plan, Wall Street is worried and the economy looks bound for a long tough haul no matter what happens with this legislation.

Caution seems to be the operating word among owners of businesses in all industries these days. In times of uncertainty, nobody wants to spend much. Try to put your money where you think it's safest (under the mattress might be the best bet these days!), don't become over-leveraged and don't expect much help from the credit markets. It's the logical advice and most likely the operating mantra for most business owners.

Best bet? Probably. But companies that excel in business aren't always those that follow the safe advice. Sometimes the risk-takers come out ahead, those that make the bold and unexpected moves. Oh sure that's easy for me to say, right? I'm not exactly risking my company's future by writing that, I admit.

I talked to one rental center owner last week who told me, “I believe this is the time to be aggressive. This would be the perfect time to start a new branch, the perfect time to introduce a new line of equipment, gain market share while everybody else is retrenching. The problem is, I can't. I'm just trying to keep my people employed, keep our doors open. I simply don't have the money to spend and now's not the time to over-extend myself with the bank. My bank might not be around in six months!”

A lot of people would agree with him, but for those who are a little more flush, this is a good time to grab some market share. Rolls Scaffolding & High Reach is opening new headquarters in a couple of months, RSC is launching Mobile Tool Room and other special services for its industrial clients, Myers-Seth Pumps is opening a new rental branch this week. Genie is breaking ground in China. Pioneer Equipment Rental is working on a new branch; so is Pine Bush Equipment Co. and so are a couple of others who told me in confidence until they are ready to open. Sure, some of these moves may have been planned since before things started to go south, but they could have canceled them and didn't.

It might make sense to offer some new services to customers to show you're not just stagnating. Maybe you can't afford a bunch of new equipment while you've got equipment sitting in your yards gathering dust, but, while it is sitting there, how about repainting some of it so it looks rejuvenated? Sometimes the old expression of perception being reality makes sense. Or in this case, that perception might help bring some energy to reality. You may not have new equipment, but by painting it, it looks new. Maybe subtle things like changing the color scheme or painting your logo or phone number on the machines can create the sense that your company is moving forward. Maybe a new sign, new billboards, a new ad campaign that reminds people that you're still in business might go a long way while others in your market are closing branches.

While a whole new line of equipment may not be possible, even a couple of units of something new can create a sense of excitement and renewal. “Now offering 2,000 psi pressure washers!” The pressure washers might not bring in a lot of revenue or excitement, but just creating the impression that you're continually adding new things to your inventory can help create a buzz around your company, an unspoken impression that you're moving forward.

Sometimes the little things go a long way. Try it.

While economic concerns have been on everybody's minds lately, let's not forget people who might be a lot worse off — the victims of recent hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Neither was as dramatic as Hurricane Katrina a few years ago, and we didn't see television images as devastating as the underwater rooftops of New Orleans, but nonetheless the damage toll was in the multiple billions of dollars. (Try telling the people of Galveston that Hurricane Ike wasn't so disastrous!)

So, while this is not the greatest time to call for donations, I urge as many of you as possible to contribute to the Red Cross or other organizations helping the victims of this year's hurricanes. And if you're in a position to offer equipment or tools that can help recovery efforts, please keep them in mind. With the elections and the financial crisis getting all the headlines, the very real human needs caused by these devastating hurricanes have not disappeared.