A six-figure freelancer, award-winning journalist, and bestselling author with her top tips on how to recession-proof your business.
A writer e-mailed me early last year asking how to recession-proof her career. I thought it was one of the most interesting questions I’d ever been asked and it got me thinking.
A recession-proof writing career? Whoever heard of such a thing?
It stayed in the back of my mind, that question. I started noticing trends and patterns in careers that lasted long-term and those that fizzled out and died quickly.
There are certain types of projects and styles of writing that are affected worse when things go south with the economy. Likewise, there are certain things that you can work on, projects you can undertake that might actually pay better in a bad economy.
I started keeping a list of these ideas on how to recession-proof your writing career. Here are nine of the best. If you’re looking for a truly recession-proof career, you should be doing a mix of all these things.
1. Create your own streams of income
I’m a huge fan of passive income streams but that’s not what I’m talking about here. The kind of income streams I’m talking about are anything but passive. This involves e-courses, self-published books, even products.
You’ll have to do a ton of marketing and build your own readership for them to take off. We all know that it’s hardly easy, but there are certain books and products that will do well regardless of the ups and downs of the financial market.
Romance novels, for instance, always sell because they’re escapism. And when do you need to escape your life more than when the whole economy is taking a hit and you’re watching your retirement funds disappear before your very eyes? Romance novels actually tend to sell better in recessions.
If you start thinking about non-fiction—books and e-courses—I don’t think it would surprise you if I said that people buy a ton of personal finance books during a depression. They’re looking for information on how to make money through alternate career streams. During a financial crisis, I think it’s fair to say most of us want to know how to make a living working from home.
And then there are the evergreen topics. People are still having babies, getting sick, needing to take care of aging parents. Books and information products about those topics will always sell because there will always be mums looking for information on toilet-training their toddlers and finding alternate health treatments for their husbands’ heart problems.
A good place to start recession-proofing your writing career is to have at least one specialism that’s useful in a bad economy.
2. Write for markets that are recession-independent
Parenting magazines, for instance. Or business publications. People magazine. You get the idea. Like with books, magazines that cater to a specific, niche audience almost always do well, regardless of the financial markets. If you can start getting regular work from these magazines, it won’t matter if there’s a dip in the economy. As long as they have their loyal audiences and advertiser base, you’ll be fine, too.
3. Write for businesses that flourish in a bad economy
Who makes the most money in a bad market? Insurance companies. Candy, cosmetics, and contraceptives always sell. Luxury retail is another one. Repossessions firms? How about education, discount retail, healthcare, waste disposal, gas?
All of these companies function despite a recession and sometimes because of it, so if you’re keen to make your career recession-proof, picking up some content marketing writing work won’t hurt. Those are the kinds of businesses you should be targeting.
4. Work on building relationships
Freelancing is all about building relationships and getting repeat assignments from your clients and editors. This is even more true when things are tough.
Think of it this way: If an editor has a limited freelance budget, is working under immense pressure, and is worried about her own job and paycheck, isn’t she going to rely on freelancers she has worked with and trusts over those that are new to her?
Pick up the phone. Talk to your existing clients and editors about what they need. Are they suffering, too? Can you go over and above and help them with a few extra things? Be the person your editors can rely on in the good times, and they’ll trust you in the bad.
5. Make marketing a part of your every day
I think it comes as no surprise that I’m a huge proponent of making marketing a part of your everyday life.
If you want a recession-proof career, learn how to like (if not love) marketing. Keep sending out your work, learning new techniques, and reaching new people. This strategy alone will ensure that you’re never out of work.
If you don’t have enough work, there are only two reasons:
(1) You’re not marketing enough, and/or
(2) Your marketing sucks.
Take care of both those things and a recession-proof writing career is yours for the taking.
6. Get rid of clients who don’t pay on time
This is a bit harsh but as a freelancer, especially a freelancer who pays bills with freelancing, your cash flow is extremely important.
I never used to do this because if they finally pay your invoice four months after they said they would, they’re still paying, right? Meh. Sort of. I’ve found that clients who are consistently late on invoices take up far too much of my time and energy. If I can afford to, I will let those clients go, kindly but firmly. If I can’t, I’ll be working towards it.
Do I love writing for some of these clients? Sure. But you know what, I have a business and a family to run. Chasing invoices between five and seven times takes time out of my day that I simply don’t have.
It doesn’t matter if you’re new to the business or not. If you’re serious about recession-proofing your writing career, this is a hard step that you’re going to have to take. Step away from clients who don’t pay on time. You’ll find yourself with more time, more money and less stress.
7. Continue adding to your skills
Let’s talk about journalists. We like to write, we like to report, we like to tell stories. This is all true. But you know, as a group, we’re extremely resistant to change.
The only way to survive in today’s world—recession or not—is to keep adding to your skill set. To learn how things work, and then to practice doing them until you’re good at them.
Take courses, see what other people are doing, challenge yourself. I get really tired of hearing from people who refuse to learn about SEO or can’t install a basic WordPress website, forget anything more complicated. Your competition, that young journalist who not only knows how to install a WordPress website but then add users to it, is going to be so much more valuable to an editor than someone who refuses to change with the times.
On Twitter, I’ll sometimes see people proudly declaring themselves “old school,” and while that’s fine, I can bet when editors (who are pretty young and savvy these days) see that, they’re thinking “out of touch.” I know I do.
Stay current. Learn things. Challenge yourself.
8. Under promise, over deliver
When there are budget cuts, who are the people to get the axe first? The under-performers, of course. Then the good people, then the great people, then the people editors cry at having to let go. Be that person. There’s no guarantee that you won’t be let go, but you’ll be the last one.
And as soon as they’re ready to hire again, you’ll be the first person they think of.
9. Go international
Simple question: If your own country is facing a downturn, can you make a list of the countries that are not? Target them.
Even when your own economy is not in a recession, it’s a fantastic idea to diversify, not only for the international credits, but so that all your clients aren’t always suffering at the same time.
Here’s the most important thing: You don’t build a recession-proof career in the midst of a recession. You build it when things are going smoothly and there’s money in the market. In other words, NOW.
How to Pitch: Pitching guidelines for 200+ publications
We know that finding markets to pitch your story ideas, understanding what they’re looking for, and making sure they pay an amount you’re comfortable with can be the most time-consuming and frustrating part of the job. So we’ve tried to make it easier for you.
Here’s a list of publications, organized by subject and with a note of their pay rates, each with a link to their guidelines.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Publisher, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more.
She is the publisher of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators.
Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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