Avis rental cars has one of the most famous slogans in advertising: “We Try Harder.” The message is that even though Avis might not be the #1 biggest rental car company, their #2 status motivates them to try extra hard to satisfy their customers.

It’s no secret that the economy is tough right now. Lots of people are struggling to find jobs, and many Americans are feeling a sense of gloom, wondering if things are ever going to get better again.

At times like these, small business owners need to focus on what they can control – and one thing that is always within our control is how hard we try.

On an individual level, there’s very little that any of us can do about the economy. We can’t rekindle the housing market or cause a spike in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. But we can try harder.

Slate had an article awhile back about the idea of the “Avis Economy:” what if everyone in America just tried harder to improve efficiency and productivity? What if we all found ways to add a bit of extra income or cost savings to our own monthly bottom lines? Could simply “trying harder” help us escape from the recession?

Maybe this idea sounds obvious. After all, presumably most Americans are already “trying hard” to get jobs, keep jobs and save money. But what if we really rolled up our sleeves and tried even harder? What if everyone in America could start a business on the side, and earn an extra few hundred dollars a month? Could small businesses (not just full-time, but also moonlighting and side gigs) be the salvation of America?

Pretty much everyone in America has skills. Anyone who’s ever worked in an office can do work online. Yes, unemployment is high, but it’s highest among the least-educated, least-skilled people in the workforce – so if you have some good job skills, good experience, training, and connections, chances are you can find a way to “try a little harder” in your spare time and make some extra money doing something you enjoy.

What if everyone in America found a way to make some extra money cooking for people, or caring for the elderly, or running errands for people who don’t have time? What if everyone took on some additional online work doing administrative tasks or answering phones for customer service call centers? These are simple jobs; if you have highly marketable skills that command higher wages, you can do even better.

Ramit Sethi (blogger and author of “I Will Teach You to Be Rich”) had a great article in the New York Times about how to make extra money. He argues that instead of cutting back on cable TV and lattes, more Americans should consider working a few extra hours on a side business or freelance projects. I’m living proof that this approach can work. I started freelancing 2.5 years ago in my spare time, just to earn a bit of extra money after my wife quit her job to stay home with our baby, and now freelancing is my full-time job. Just by “trying harder,” I got started on a whole new career path.

My wife and I have a friend who is a single mom to two boys under the age of 5. A little over a year ago she started cooking dinners for her circle of friends, just as a way to have some fun and earn some extra money. Today, her business is booming – she has a thriving business as a private chef and caterer, and she’s saving enough money to travel to India for a 2-week yoga retreat. “Trying harder” made all the difference for her.

I recently hired a father-son team to clean the gutters of our house. Cleaning gutters is my least favorite chore. I’m not very good at it, and I’m scared of heights. So when we got a flyer on our door advertising a low-cost experienced gutter cleaning service, I was happy to give them the business. These guys already have full-time jobs, and they clean gutters at night and on the weekends. They did an excellent job, they were very thorough, and they cleaned our gutters is less than an hour (and it would have taken me at least three times as long).

So yes, the economy is lousy. And yes, there is a lot of bad news out there. But rather than focusing on all the bad news that we can’t control, let’s rededicate ourselves to “trying harder” to serve the needs of our customers and our communities. There are still plenty of opportunities out there for those who are willing to try.


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