Is There Such a Thing as a Recession-Proof Client or Industry?

I do these group dinner gatherings to little ethnic holes-in-the-wall every month or so. Always fun. I put a menu together with the restaurant and anywhere from 15 to 50 people show up, pay a flat fee, and enjoy. Nice way to enjoy good food, community and conversation.

This one couple comes to most of them. At the last one I did a few weeks back, as they were leaving, he says, “Oh, make sure you tune into the news at 11 tonight. They’re doing a little piece on Judy!”

Ah yes, that would make sense. After all, Judy is an estate liquidator. If ever there was a recession-proof business, that would be it. And she knows it. The worse things get, the busier and more profitable she becomes. Got me thinking. Are there such things are recession-proof businesses that are good prospects for commercial freelancers? Businesses that are doing well right now because of the economy and as a result, have the money and the inclination to spend it on getting the word out about what they do?

I’m working with a commercial writing client right now who’s awfully close to fitting the bill. She’s a consultant to small colleges, helping them increase enrollment – whether in times of upheaval (internally or externally generated) or not. And she’s got such a great track record that she stays as busy as she wants to be. And some of these colleges are so small (300-400 students) that adding just 20-30 students a year is huge for their bottom line.

I started out doing marketing materials for her own business, but pretty soon, she realized that I wasn’t half-bad at this writing thing (and yes, I’m getting my rate), and she started introducing me to her clients. Sweet. I’ll be talking to her later today to go over a whole list of projects one client wants done over the next few months and to give her an estimate.

There will always be a market for her particular skills among schools looking to bump up their enrollment, and everyone wants that – in bad times and good. And as long as I keep doing good work for her and those clients, the prospects for continued referrals are pretty bright.

Have you worked with any clients in recession-proof businesses or industries?

What might be some recession-proof businesses commercial freelancers could pursue? I can think of funeral homes, the alcohol industry, pawn shops and yes, estate liquidation and other bankruptcy-related businesses. Some more promising than others for sure. Any other thoughts?

29 replies
  1. Mike Klassen
    Mike Klassen says:

    I’m cheating here and providing a link I found:

    This was written from the aspect of finding actual jobs within recession-proof industries. But it’s just as useful for copywriters needing a good idea or two for potential copywriting jobs.

    From that list, I’ll vouch for the medical industry. My wife is in healthcare and there’s big bucks if you can get a hospital using your products no matter how big (large equipment) or how small (cotton swabs). These companies that target the medical industry realize that they may have to cultivate a sale for years in some cases, especially when getting expensive equipment purchases into an annual budget. So they can’t afford to stop marketing for a year or two until the economy is better. They have to keep pushing or they lose any momentum they may have gained.

    One industry from my own head… casinos. We have a lot in this area and the parking lots are always full. The logic would normally be “don’t squander what little money you have.” But there are plenty of people who believe they can use Lady Luck to help them out of tough times. Many of these casinos also operate hotels, restaurants and theaters for live concerts. So there are marketing opportunities for all those related casino operations.

    This isn’t so much an industry as it is a niche for writers: grant writing.

    When the economy is good, there’s more money that organizations can potentially go after. Thus, more opportunities for grant writers.

    When the economy is bad, a skilled grant writer is going to have an edge in getting money from a finite pie. So a good reputation is going to keep you busy.

    One other copywriting niche: press release writing. With some companies cutting back on their marketing, press releases are fairly cost-effective, especially if you get them on some of the PR sites that help raise your company’s search ranking.

  2. peter
    peter says:

    Great, Mike – thanks. You are just a wealth of information… And hadn’t thought of casinos, but unfortunately, it makes sense. Ditto for the lottery industry – even less of an investment, but spending will likely stay the same or go up in bad times… Thanks for the ideas. Good stuff.


  3. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    What about writing for credit counseling services/financial planners/financial consultants? More people are getting into trouble with credit and money, so my guess is that credit counselors are doing good business right now.

  4. Lillie Ammann
    Lillie Ammann says:

    One of my clients is an executive coaching firm, and one of their primary services is “career transition.” Companies who are laying people off hire my client to present workshops to their departing employees. They also coach executives who are laid off, providing resumes along with the coaching services. The company keeps me busy preparing workshop materials, proposals, and resumes for their clients.

  5. Jill Gormley
    Jill Gormley says:

    I’ll second Mike’s healthcare suggestion–my healthcare clients are keeping me quite busy right now– and note that many health insurance companies seem to be stepping up their marketing efforts. I spent a few hours cold-calling health insurers in my area recently and got a terrific response.

    How about companies that offer tutoring and test preparation services? College students postpone the job hunt to go to grad school, so those folks who offer test prep for the GMAT, LSAT, etc., should be booming.

    Financial services firms need to either repair their reputations or distinguish themselves from the “bad guys;” there should be opportunities there.

    I’ve done work in the past for state agencies and have had a couple of inquiries from them so far this year. We’ve had a state hiring freeze in place for some time and lately some government layoffs, and the state agencies are feeling the staffing crunch. There are still some documents and materials that they must produce, and that provides an opportunity for people like us. And once the stimulus money arrives I expect state governments will need more writing help, as they’ll have to publish explanations of programs and funding applications, etc.

    BTW, I got myself listed as a “woman or minority owned business” on my state’s vendor list. I believe many states have policies requiring that the state direct a certain percentage of its contracts to women or minority owned businesses…the paperwork took the better part of a morning to complete, but now I get calls from state agencies looking for a writer to update their website or produce promotional or explanatory materials. If you can qualify as a woman or minority owned business, I suggest you look into getting listed as such on your state’s vendor registry–any leg up is helpful these days.

    Finally, I think any industry that is seeing or will soon see a significant impact from the change in administrations is going to need writers. Whether the change will be good or bad for them doesn’t matter as much to us as the fact that there is a change–for example, the solar energy company will be seeing demand for its product increase and will need writers to produce information for prospective customers, but the coal company will need materials explaining that there is still a place for coal even in a time where the emphasis is on clean energy. Any news story indicating increased government promotion or regulation means that there are opportunities for writers in that industry.


  6. peter
    peter says:

    Hey Jill,

    Wow – really terrific ideas here. Seriously. I had a feeling this was going to be a good topic. Hadn’t thought about testing services or the impact of bailout money. And the note about women- or minority-owned businesses? You guys who fall into those categories listening? Excellent. See? I need you guys watching my back… 😉 I may have to “re-purpose” this content in the ezine. Thanks for contributing such great ideas…


  7. Debbi
    Debbi says:

    You mention funeral homes as being recession-proof, but I think they may not be the case necessarily. In lean economic times, people may choose a plain pine casket over a fancy mahogany one. Or they might choose to conduct a “home funeral,” which is not only less expensive, but a “greener” way to inter the dead.

    FYI, I’m not a mortician. 🙂 I know this from writing an article about “green” weddings and funerals.

  8. Julia
    Julia says:

    A couple of jobs came to mind as I was reading this post:

    1-Collections agent. People are _always_ overextending themselves financially, regardless of how well or bad the economy is doing. As I live in Canada, being a bilingual collections agent (French & English) would make this job even more recession-proof.

    2-Pharmacy tech. People always get sick and will always need medicine, regardless of the economy. That would be one of the places where people aren’t going to skimp, you know? You might stop going out for dinner when money’s tight, but if you need your insulin (for example), you’re going to make sure you get it.

    I’ve been thinking about this topic lately as a friend of mine was lamenting that she was sick of dealing with the stress of working in the IT industry. We both went thru the bubble at the beginning of this decade, and it wasn’t terribly fun. She’s got a family now, so she’s even less enthused about what’s going on right now. So she’s talking about switching industries completely. I should point her to this post to give her some ideas!

  9. Monica
    Monica says:

    Hey Peter, just found your blog through Anne’s. Good stuff and a very interesting article! I wrote about this recently on my blog (capitalizing on trends). In a nutshell, I think writing is fairly recession proof as long as you remain flexible and open-minded. As for other industries, teaching for sure. I’m actually picking up some extra work teaching part-time for the Open University. My sis in the foreclosures industry, a secure position at the moment but not exactly heart-warming. Then there are all my friends who can program computers – that skill never seems out of fashion (though James Kuntsler might disagree!).

  10. Debbi
    Debbi says:

    Really good point about collections. Can’t get blood from a turnip. Plus I believe they work off commissions and 10% of zero . . . well, you can do the math.

    I suppose “repo men” might be doing, all right.

  11. Marci Diehl
    Marci Diehl says:

    I had a long term client until a year ago — a very large, historic cemetery. I loved the work and the people I worked with. It opened my eyes to the “death industry” (yes — they call it that officially). Yes, people are cutting back on funeral expenses, but this cemetery didn’t hold funerals, sell monuments, etc. It was all about pre-planning. I like to say — it was a different kind of real estate. But I think of that industry as one recession-proof.

    I also have a friend who has been in environmental waste management and recycling — aka garbage. Another area I should explore. Recycling scrap connects to the construction industry….

    It’s always a good exercise to use our imaginations in developing our business. We’re writers! We can think creatively!

  12. Alan Stamm
    Alan Stamm says:

    Another one:

    Time magazine says dental practices are doing well — a possible opportunity for newsletter services, web updates, ad copy or direct mail text.

    “With average profit margins at 17% [in ’08], dentistry outpaced accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping and payroll services, legal services and mining support services among the top five performing professions in ’08,” the newsweekly reports [].

    Recession-linked reasons include deferred cleanings and checkups, tooth-grinding, nervous eating habits and a rush by insured workers to hit the chair while they still have coverage.

    Chew on that to stay well-fed, fellow FLCWs.

  13. peter
    peter says:

    Thanks, Debbie, Julia, Monica, Starr, Marci and Alan,

    Great discussion, great ideas. Thanks for all your contributions. In the case of my client (and my proposal seems to have gone through without a hitch, which translates to staying nicely busy for months, knock on wood) and their direct client (the academic institution), here’s a situation where NOT spending the money essentially isn’t an option if they want to increase their enrollment. Just a handful of new students (far less than my client will no doubt deliver) will more than pay both our fees many times over. So, needless to say, those are great situations to be shooting for…


  14. Will Carpenter
    Will Carpenter says:

    One of my former employers (who shall remain nameless, like most former employers), for whom I now write the occasional brochure or technical manual, is in the “boat bidness.” Not the runabouts you see on the lake, but the 150-foot-plus vessels that serve the offshore oil business.

    The last time we talked, he said, “What recession? I’m rentin’ these things for ten grand a day. and payin’ the four man crew less than two thousan’. Until we all drivin’ electric cars and the oil companies goes belly-up for lack of demand, it’ll just get better.”

    And I’ll keep writing his brochures and technical manuals, too.

  15. Mike Klassen
    Mike Klassen says:

    Just read an article today in our local paper. The paper was reporting on an area industrial park and how the businesses in that park were doing these days.

    One business handles maintenance, facility and janitorial services for companies. The quote from one of the company folks was: “Buildings still need to be cleaned and landscapes attended to despite the economy. From the roof to the parking lot we take care of it all and fill a niche. We consolidate services and therefore actually save companies money.”

    So that’s another target niche… companies that handle those types of business services for other companies. I would imagine that because of the economy, businesses who need that type of thing won’t cancel the services, but might be more inclined to shop around. Because of that, you can’t afford to drop your marketing efforts for fear another service company will swoop in and grab your contract.

  16. Star
    Star says:

    I killed my health humor site after 3+ yrs (pix too expensive and I wanted pix) and started a new one–how to cope with the RecessDep. Come visit– and Do the Hopey Copey with me! Want to write a guest post on something…email it to me…Another chance to write free. Exposure? Please, be real.

  17. Alan Stamm
    Alan Stamm says:

    Eight days in and this thread keeps on growing . . . this time with a poignant — and potentially fruitful — excerpt from Atlantic mag blogger Andrew Sullivan.

    He recently started a ‘Your Recession’ series with reader comments about personal financial changes, and today posts one from a former software technical writer who became a FLCW specializing in resumes and cover letters. A relevant part of her or his tale:

    “Business was creeping along without much excitement until September. That’s when the phone started ringing and the e-mails started coming in faster than I could manage, even without a physical office or any advertising except a Web site. People just Googled for the city and resume writer, trying to find somebody local to work with. Suddenly I found my part-time, home-based business turned upside down. I quickly hired a freelance copywriter and found avenues for subcontracting my overflow work. I no longer had much time to write; instead, I found myself managing projects, editing, and proofreading. And meeting with lots of job seekers.

    “I’ve interviewed dozens of job seekers in the past couple of months, from the recently laid off Starbucks store manager to vice presidents of Fortune 1000 companies. Some are seeking their first resume in a decade. Some want to replace two part-time jobs with one full-time job with benefits. I can usually tell when a company is about to announce layoffs because their managers start calling a couple weeks ahead of time. . . . I know I’m helping these people, and they’re immensely more confident in their job search knowing that their resume is professionally copywritten.”

    Full post:

  18. Maryan Pelland
    Maryan Pelland says:

    Chiming in a little late here – some good points in this post. I will say, don’t look to casinos to spend money in this economy. I do a lot of work for casinos and right now, they are, in all geographic areas of the U.S. laying people off and tightening the belt. Business for them is not on point. I still get assignments, but from casinos, few and far, as they say.

  19. peter
    peter says:

    Thanks Alan! (and Starr, Mike (again) and Will,

    I need to get this post out far and wide. I think we’ve created an amazing mini-knowledgebase on the subject. Thanks to all of you who’ve contributed. That’s what I love about this blog. It’s not about my posts. It’s about what follows. I’m just the catalyst – the pump-primer. Let’s keep it going…;)


  20. Ron Kirksey
    Ron Kirksey says:

    I’ll mention an obvious one: A large part of my freelance writing and PR work is in crisis communications. Lately, we have been busy helping businesses and non-profits communicate budget reductions and layoffs. These clients are businesses and organizations who have either cut their communications staff or never had staff with this expertise.

    I’m not talking about just a press release and some media training. What these people need — from writers — are also scripted internal communications for meetings with staff who remain and who are let go; message points for the community and all the organization’s audiences; letters or phone scripts to anyone affected (customers, clients, employees, board members, local politicians, donors, partner agencies and businesses, even scripts for the people who answer the phone and will be the first to get media and complaint calls); a written strategy plan with a timetable of important logistics; fact sheet, backgrounder on the business/agency and Q&A, all for distribution and posting on the Web site; perhaps a series of emails to staff or a newsletter format to let the community know of ongoing changes; and writing help with other Web posting materials.

    Estimate how much time all that might take and multiply by your hourly rate. Unfortunately for the organizations, these are the results of the times we live in. But our job is to help them communicate that bad news, as well as help them build a plan for recovery.

    Ron Kirksey

  21. Peter
    Peter says:

    Again, late to the party on this one, but here’s my two pennyworth.

    I have a major client in the online gaming industry – doing very nicely, steadily expanding.

    Someone mentioned the debt counselling industry – I had a client in this sector, but it’s becoming crowded, and they got into difficulties (oh the irony).

    And as someone said, change in general is good for writing opportunities. It’s like brokers and the markets – it doesn’t matter if it’s going up or down, as long as it’s not static.

    Here in the UK, there’s currently a lot of encouragement for people to start their own businesses. And businesses need websites…

    Lots of good tips in the comments by the way – thanks.

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