In August, the number of unemployed persons increased by 466,000 to 14.9 million, and the unemployment rate rose to 9.7%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But, luckily, you work in the health care sector, which offers greater job security—at the moment. Plus, many of you are self-employed and, as such, your friends and neighbors are probably telling you just how fortunate you are that you don’t have to worry about being laid off.

Right. Obviously, they have not seen your bank statements.

As results of our 21st Income Survey reveal, optometry is not immune to the effects of an ailing economy. After all, if your patients don’t have money or jobs, they often won’t turn to you for care. They’ll wait it out until the future starts looking a little brighter. And, let’s face it, so will many of you.

If you were practicing in the early 80s, you know the drill. It doesn’t make it easier to swallow the roughly 10% decrease in income you’ve likely taken, but it helps to believe that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. And, it is precisely that light which you should be focusing on. However, the key is to drive yourself toward that light. Think of yourself as the train’s engineer—not just one of its many passengers.

Check out this month’s Review of Optometry Income Survey for a clear picture of just how bad things have gotten. But, before you despair, read the rest of the report. In “How to Market in a Down Economy,” Anthony Diecidue, O.D., offers a plethora of ways that you can use marketing to your best advantage, even on a stripped-down budget. If you stick with it even during the hard times, he says, you’ll come out ahead.

Staff is another area that we recommend you take a closer look at. This is a big investment and, as such, you want to make sure you get a good return. You can do that by following Timothy Coronis’ detailed formula for maximizing the full potential of your employees (see “Make the Most Out of Your Optical Staff”).

I often think that young O.D.s, fresh out of school within the last few years, are an incredibly lucky bunch. I know many would disagree, citing the extreme difficulty of starting your own practice right now, with astronomical student debt and difficulty in getting financing. But, young O.D.s expect that. They have no delusions that it’s going to be easy. They walk into it knowing that they will have to fight every day to get to the top and build the kind of life that they see their mentors enjoying. They are not complacent. They are always thinking of novel ways to earn or stretch a buck. They know that they need to be the engineer if they want to reach their destination.

What about you? Are you conducting business as usual, perhaps simply making a few cuts here and there while you ride out the storm? Or, are you thinking that there needs to be a sea change?

If you look at every aspect of your business—as you did when you were first starting out—and take a dozen little steps toward improving it, where would you end up? In the short term, these changes might seem like they’re more trouble than they’re worth. But, if you start sowing the seeds now, then in the long term, when this country finds its way out of the woods, you’ll be sitting in the middle of an orchard while many of your less industrious colleagues are counting how many square feet of scorched earth they’re left with.

Editor’s Note: It has come to our attention that the graphic technique used to create the June 15, 2009 cover may have offended members of some ethnic or religious groups. Our intention was the complete opposite—we wanted to ensure access and build bridges across cultures. We sincerely apologize for insulting any of our readers.