About this time last year, I had the pleasure of meeting with more than 50 builders from a number of markets. We shared thoughts and concerns about the downturn we were beginning to see.

But what excited me most — and please understand that I was born excited — was everyone’s willingness to listen and try new ideas. This openness not only concerned how to survive, but how to actually grow during a weak economy.

A downturn is a time to re-evaluate, shift gears and beef up your marketing efforts. As we all know, there are still pools being sold. Not as many as before, granted, but demand does exists for our product. As a builder, you must find ways to bring those sales to your company and stand out from the competition.

Here are a few ways to do so, although they are not, by any means, the only options.

Advertising rates are dropping all over the place as companies cut back on their marketing. The media outlets that run those ads need revenue too, and if you seek out deals, they will be there to negotiate. I would cut out the middleman and his 15 percent commission and go directly to radio stations, newspapers or television stations.

They will figure out a budget that works for you (not just them). In my opinion, radio is the best electronic media these days for reaching the most people while spending the least amount of money.

The Internet still is one of your most powerful tools. Brainstorm new ways to attract an audience to your Web site.

Unfortunately, a lot of pool sites are boring and lack real content. Make sure your Web site is talking to people in the right way.

When they look at your site, potential clients will ask, “What’s in it for me?”

Answer them by posting Internet-only deals. In addition, update your site frequently to give visitors a reason to keep checking back. If you’re feeling techy, adding podcasts can be a huge bonus, as it gives potential customers a chance to get to know you in a personal way. As a rule, people are more comfortable hiring someone they feel familiar with to do major work on their home. For more information about creating a podcast, log onto http://radio.about.com/od/podcastin1/a/aa030805a_2.htm.

A cornerstone of surviving and thriving during tough times is diversity. Look for other revenue streams: commercial construction, remodeling, putting greens, hardscapes — anything that makes sense to your business and the kind of clientele you serve.

If you aren’t talking to your existing clients constantly, you aren’t doing your job. Referrals are key for branching out, whether you use e-blasts, mailers or anything designed to keep your company’s name in the forefront of customers’ minds. And if you consistently let them know you can build more than just pools, that revenue will keep coming in.

Finally, I think one of the most important things you can do in times like these is communicate your vision to your employees, They should hear from their leader that everyone needs to stay focused and strive to exceed customer expectations. As a leader, you can have the most genius ideas in the world, but they don’t mean anything if you don’t impress upon your team the importance of their implementation.