A COUPLE of years ago, I was having a bad time. Sales were down. Business was non-existent. The wind had gone out of my sails. I had a sinking feeling, like I was going down for the third time . . . and I couldn't even recall the first two.

Yet, each time someone asked me: "How's business," I would reply, "Good." It is a natural reply to a rhetorical question. No one really expects an answer. No one wants to hear bad news, or so you would think.

One day, however, a friend asked the same question and I replied: "Horrible." His response was: "You, too?" We then openly shared information about how we were coping, and what we thought the problem was. I left the conversation feeling much better.

A day or so later, I visited my supply store, where I have ordered video and photographic equipment for years. I looked around and asked: "Where's Jorge?"

I was told Jorge didn't work there any more. I was shocked. So, my next question was: "Who took his place?" The response was even more revealing: "You can't replace a Jorge."

Business was down so badly that they had let go one of their best employees. He was a business resource with a vast knowledge of photography and equipment. This did not make me feel better. It was actually a little frightening, but it was interesting information.

A short time later, a really good friend of mine asked the "How's business" question and I thought I recognised a forlorn look in his eye. I replied, with candour and his next statement said it all: "This is the worse July we've ever had . . . and we keep records."

The next month, business improved for me, and for my fellow entrepreneurs. It is strange, but I think it was the sharing of the bad news that gave me the strength to continue. By finding out that others were having as tough a time as I was proved that it was not just my business that was in trouble.

The business gods were not out to make an example of me. It meant to me there were possibilities of improvement. I had hope. I felt encouraged.

When people ask a rhetorical question, it might have more meaning that a simple greeting. Think before you answer. You may find that others are in the same boat. The boat may not be sinking, but merely taking on a little water.