Can You Recession-Proof Your Income?

It’s scary. Today’s financial crisis threatens the livelihood of almost everyone – whether you have a full-time job, are self-employed, or own a business.

Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself. Here’s one strategy.

For more than 30 years, I was a freelance advertising copywriter. Although writing generated most of my income, I simultaneously had several lucrative sidelines…

  • Public speaking: I spoke at industry conferences, professional seminars, trade lunches, and similar events.
  • Corporate training: I taught and coached at client companies, helping staffers sharpen their copywriting and marketing skills.
  • Consulting: I showed publishers how to get better results from their direct-mail campaigns.
  • Critiquing: I evaluated companies’ advertising and suggested ways it could be improved.

For each assignment – and most didn’t require a lot of time – I charged between $2,000 and $10,000.

But I’m far from alone. Many other people, in numerous fields, have successfully made this transition…

A career counselor became a consultant and corporate trainer. A psychotherapist morphed into a wildly popular speaker at business gatherings. A travel writer gives travel-writing seminars. A book editor critiques manuscripts for authors, and is so busy that he has a waiting list. An employee quit his job, turned his former employer into his first client, and wound up making twice his previous salary – for one-fourth the time.

Consider a friend of mine. For a while, he was well compensated by a major airline – for teaching its mechanics how to write better! Who would have guessed?

Whatever work you do, you have knowledge and experience that are of potential value to others. You may be able to communicate it – and make money in the process.

How does this help in the current painful climate? Diversifying the skills and services you offer gives you an “insurance policy” of sorts against a recessionary economy.

This is the subject of The Versatile Freelancer, my new e-book. I researched and wrote it this year, during a period of economic gloom, unemployment, bank failures, foreclosures, plunging stock indexes, and fears of recession. Yet all the professionals I interviewed told me that their practices were unaffected and that they were doing as well as ever, or even better! Many attributed that happy situation to their versatility: Their services and specialties include some or all of those cited above.

Why does career diversification protect you? The answer is simple.

You can boast a wider portfolio of skills and services. You have not just one source of revenue, but “multiple streams of income.” If one declines, another can take its place.

And there are more reasons. During tough periods, companies trim their staffs or don’t hire as they normally would. An outside consultant or trainer, a one-time project, a lower-priced service – these can be attractive options. You’re also in an ideal position to promote yourself by speaking at business conferences and other industry events. When people are desperate, they’re eager to hear solutions.

The experience of one veteran copywriter I know confirms all of these points. She told me that her primary work keeps her busy in prosperous periods, while consulting and critiquing assignments pick up in bad times such as those we’re experiencing now.

You say you don’t have terrific public speaking abilities? No problem. To do these things, you don’t need to be a spellbinding speaker. I’m not, yet my presentations were always well received. How come? What’s most important is the quality of the content you deliver.

How do you begin? Try this three-step procedure. For best results, do it in writing.

1. Take an inventory of your background, experience, skills, achievements. Do you have a track record of proven accomplishments – for instance, increasing profits, cutting costs, solving problems, coming up with innovative ideas?

2. Determine who might pay you for that knowledge. Consider companies or organizations where you have contacts, or others you can research. As my example of the airline-mechanic writing tutor demonstrates, hidden opportunities lurk in the most surprising places. Think creatively.

3. Match your expertise to the market’s needs and approach your targets. Submit a proposal. If you know the appropriate executives, you have an edge. Cold calls are more challenging, but not impossible.

Of course, limits exist. According to a Wall Street Journal article, no industry or profession is 100 percent recession-proof. But expanding the range of skills and services you provide may come as close as possible to the perfect strategy for protecting yourself in all types of economic climates.

[Ed. Note: Don Hauptman writes ETR’s Saturday column, “The Language Perfectionist.” The above article was adapted from his just-published e-book The Versatile Freelancer: How Writers and Other Creative Professionals Can Generate More Income by Seizing New Opportunities in Critiquing, Consulting, Training, and Presenting. The book comes with a free bonus report and a 100 percent money-back guarantee of satisfaction. Order your copy without risk here.]

Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.