Harold Flecknoe knew exactly what to do when his business dried up and his income dwindled to a trickle.

He went out and bought a $2,000 facsimile machine.

An aerial photographer whose specialty was snapping construction sites, Flecknoe wasn't surprised to see orders fall off. A number of his clients, after all, had gone out of business. The fax machine will allow him to attract new ones, he hopes, by transmitting sample photos from his Silver Spring home faster and with better quality.

"I'm taking a gamble," Flecknoe said. "Since my regular customers aren't ordering as much, I have to reach more people. I'm spending more money in order to stay alive."

Flecknoe is a one-person business, but compa-LISTENING TO BUSINESS THE REGIONAL ECONOMY nies large and small across the Washington area are feeling the same kind of financial pain and adopting new tactics to respond.

For nearly eight years, firms had only to sit back and watch the revenue roll in. Growth was so fast and automatic that it was hard not to make money. Now, the slowdown has hit everyone from plumbers to accountants to defense contractors. Each has had to develop strategies to cope; for each the business of doing business has changed.

"There is a softness in the economy," said Mo Sussman, co-owner of Joe and Mo's restaurant on Connecticut Ave. NW. "The people who were greedy and fat are going to get hurt. As a business person, I have to ask what am I going to do about it?"

The large corporate failures, such as those of Garfinckel's department stores and the National Bank of Washington, have been highly publicized.

But they are only the most visible and most extreme examples of the adjustments being undertaken by companies that are desperate, in trouble or only a bit worried.

Business has not been this bad for some time. Job growth in the area has fallen to its slowest pace in nearly eight years and the unemployment figures to be released next week are likely to show that almost no new jobs have been created here in the last 12 months. Consumers are spending less, according to retail sales figures, and home sales have fallen sharply.

There are two basic responses to any business slump: cut expenses and generate more income. But each has its variations and the responses are as different as the companies. Here are some of the ways in which Washington's businesses are coping with Washington's slowdown.

Cutting and chopping. The work force at Paul Friedman's Rockville plumbing company is down to 30 people now, half what it was last year when new homes still were being built and new toilets were being installed. About 15 of the departed were laid off. Some of those who remain work three- or four-day weeks.

Friedman has parked several of his older trucks and canceled insurance on them. Purchases of office equipment have been postponed. "You gotta cut your expenses to the bone," Friedman said. "I've never seen it where there was such a lack of work."

Defense giant Martin Marietta Corp. is cutting back on advertising and on its charitable gifts and grants. So are USAir Inc. and Atlantic Research Corp. The reductions in federal defense contracting have led McLean-based BDM International not only to cut down on publications, library space and librarians, but also to cancel the company picnic and the annual holiday party.

John Olsson of Olsson's Books & Records is ordering his stocks more carefully, as sales are slightly down and he over-ordered last Christmas and had too many leftovers. Olsson also is taking advantage of the five-store chain's computer system, which can tell him what books are selling.

Even moneymaker Giant Foods Inc. of Landover is looking for ways to save: It is experimenting with small delivery trucks that operate using natural gas.

Looking for business. "Weddings are up. People are still getting married. We are making a big push on weddings just in case the corporate thing dries up," said David Magsumbol, president of Knoppel Catering in Alexandria.

Companies are entertaining, but less lavishly and for fewer people. So Knoppel has enlisted a chain of local jewelry stores to promote its catering services to customers buying diamond rings. "The thing to do is be the first to hit them, as soon as they get engaged," Magsumbol said.

Mark Bisbee, who began selling carpets 15 years ago when he was a student at George Mason University, has added three sales representatives to the staff of his Vienna-based carpet company this year for a total of nine. "You just can't sit on your tush in the store and wait for a customer to walk in these days. You have to sell aggressively," he said.

The diversification strategy behind Flecknoe's fax machine is widely emulated. Engrava-Print, a District printing firm, produced a new catalogue to market its services to new customers. Sussman added a Saturday night dance band to supplement Joe & Mo's diminished weekend business. Balmar Printing and Graphics is pursuing smaller accounts, emphasizing stationery and letterhead.

Law firms unaccustomed to operating as businesses are looking for ways to attract clients. Even conservative firms that once eschewed the idea of publicity now are likely to have an in-house public relations expert or a marketing expert to help expand their searches.

"Firms have been taking a look at better marketing and management efforts for a while now," said Jay Jaffe, a marketing consultant to law firms. "It's been very trendy. But now, because of the economy, it's no longer a luxury, but a necessity."

Auto dealers, always looking to make a sale, are selling harder. Two days after a customer brings his car home from the service department of Courtesy Jeep-Eagle in Rockville, he or she is contacted by a customer relations specialist and asked for complaints.

Hedging. Lawyers at Washington's Galland, Kharasch, Morse & Garfinkle recently agreed to "associate with" the Baltimore firm of Miles & Stockbridge. Each firm has agreed to refer clients to the other if, for instance, special expertise is needed. While the Washington firm does a lot of work for airlines, for example, it has no bankruptcy lawyers. Because the Baltimore firm does bankruptcy work, the two could combine to work on an airline bankruptcy.

"There is definitely a downturn in business in general and people are starting to prepare," said Robert Morse, an attorney with the Washington law firm. "Even in our firm, we're doing well, but that could all change, and change quickly. {The association} is a hedge against that kind of change."

Developer S. Jon Gerstenfeld looked for 2 1/2 years for a restaurant willing to open a new location on the ground floor of his renovated building on 15th Street in the District, to no avail. So he decided to create his own restaurant there, an Italian eatery named Notte Luna, at a cost to him of $1.5 million.

Many companies appear to be taking longer to pay their bills, according to their cash-strapped suppliers. "We're a small company and I probably have $100,000 out there on the streets that hasn't been paid to me," said Michael A. Salkind, president of In-A-Bind Inc., which produces vinyl binders, folders and restaurant menus. "In any crunch, we feel it first."

Bisbee's firm, Liberty Carpets, is owed several thousand dollars by a home builder who laid his carpets in a fancy new home in Great Falls. That house has been on the market for eight months. When it sells, Bisbee will be paid, but in the interim he must cover the loss. "You have to carry some of these people, especially if you've done business with them for a long time," he said.

Swallowing hard. When business dries up, what do you do with those excess employees? The D.C. accounting firm of McQuade & Capron puts them to work for clients that can't afford to pay. The clients -- only a few qualify -- get service and develop loyalty to the firm and the employees get to keep their jobs.

"We spent a long time trying to build a good staff and I'm not going to dismantle it because of a slowdown," said partner Jeffery P. Capron. "If a client for whom future prospects are good is down, why not make an investment?"

Law firms also are scrutinizing bills before they send them to clients and are providing itemized detail where before they merely presented a figure. And lawyers are becoming increasingly willing to sit down with a client and look for ways to pare legal costs.

"Companies are fed up with financing the bulldogs of the bar, the gladiators who just aren't happy unless they're spilling blood -- and money -- in the courtroom," Toohey said. "Having a client as opposed to not having a client is quite preferable, even if the billing is less."

For MNC Financial Inc., the region's largest bank holding company, hard times mean a change in emphasis. The parent firm of American Security Bank, Maryland National Bank and Equitable Bank, which formerly boasted of its loans to real estate developers and leads the nation in its exposure to risky construction loans, now virtually has stopped lending for real estate.

Its dozens of real estate loan officers now spend their time meeting with developers, trying to work out plans under which the developers can keep up with interest payments. And the bank has launched a new advertising campaign that focuses on serving checking-account customers, evidence of MNC's new-found interest in retail banking.

Hoping. F. Davis Camalier of Camalier & Buckley, the leather and specialty goods store, is morose. "We are holding our breath and hoping that it will not be as bad as it looks," he said. "This year will shake a lot of weaker players out."

Staff writers Jo el Glenn Brenner, Warren Brown, David S. Hilzenrath, Jacqueline L. Salmon, Sandra Sugawara, Kara Swisher and Sharon Walsh contributed to this report.