Has the looming recession got you scared yet?

The mainstream media sure hopes so. Sells more newspapers, boosts cable ratings on CNN and Fox and MSNBC, makes the populace hyper-aware (like jittery squirrels gathering nuts in a dog park), and gives advertisers a tidy little narrative to help position their products.

An audience with frayed nerves is an audience paying attention. They like that.

Entrepreneurs and small-biz owners can be especially vulnerable to economic downturns. Or even talk of an economic downturn. Frequent news stories about financial doom tend to bring on the “Yikes, we’re all gonna die!” response. Even in people who should know better.

My pal Perry Marshall reminded me of the “should know better” part the other day, when he sent out a blog-alert e-mail titled “My rant about this so-called recession.” Basically, he noticed that his readers seemed to self-select themselves into two distinct categories: (1) the whiny 95 percent, who seem to almost welcome economic disaster (as definitive relief from the anxiety of waiting for the hammer, so they can blame any pending failure on “outside circumstances”)… and (2) the “Alpha Warriors,” who barely acknowledge anything the mainstream media says about the economy.

Perry thought the Alpha Warrior segment of his readers hovered around 5 percent. When I called him (to congratulate him on an insightful post), we agreed that it’s probably closer to 1 percent in the general population. In other words, in a room of 100 people, the folks ready to latch onto recession fears as an excuse to crawl into a fetal position and suck their thumbs would dominate the discussion, the physical space, and the mindset.

There would be one lone dude, in the corner, ignoring them and getting on with business.

This is an important observation. The narrative of your world-view can deeply affect how you act.

I hear from entrepreneurs all the time who were shocked, saddened, and even discouraged by the cacophony of negative voices around them when they decided to try their hand at marketing. If the opinions of your family, friends, co-workers, and even future colleagues matters to you… just skip starting your own biz. Cuz you will rarely hear an encouraging word. Most folks don’t like change, and resent the turbulence you cause by ignoring obstacles and overcoming problems to go after a goal.

Consider how many people around you base their world-view on the idea that “You can’t fight City Hall” or “The Man controls everything” or “The little guy doesn’t stand a chance.” No dream of independence or getting rich can survive that kind of negativity. If they HAD a dream, it’s gone now. And you’re kind of throwing that sad fact back in their faces by going after your dream.

Not everyone is like that. But do not be shocked when you hear about even close friends secretly rooting for your collapse or taking delight in the struggles you encounter. If you fail, they are proven right. (You never really stood a chance. What a fool you were for even trying.) Worse, if you succeed, you very likely will drift away from the slacker world they are so comfy residing in. You’ll force them to come up with new excuses for their own lack of movement.

And that’s a horrible thing to do to friends. You naughty person, you.

The media loves a recession, because it means no slow news days for a while. Every utterance from the Fed is a headline, weekly columns write themselves (just pick two recession cliches from your cliche file and rub ‘em together), and “man in the street” interviews will always yield some nice emotional sound bites.

Great marketers see a recession as something else: An economic burp that may or may not affect them. If it does, you adjust accordingly. If it doesn’t, then it’s full speed ahead. No hand wringing allowed.

As Perry pointed out, it’s now a global market, dude. The dollar’s fade is the euro’s goose (and, if you’re exporting, the best news you could ever hear). Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs doesn’t vanish just because the gross domestic product does a pratfall.

People still need to eat, still need a roof over their heads, still demand luxury. And still need advice. Maybe more than ever. Many will need new jobs. A recession isn’t fun, by any means, and neither is it a joke. However, neither is it an excuse to fold up shop and go hide.

I happen to know the number one real estate broker here in Reno. The market went from being one of the top five hottest housing booms just a year or so ago… to becoming one of the worst in the nation. Prices, values, and capital are plummeting. Yet, people still need houses. They move away. Or move here from somewhere else. Or move up or down, as the nest requires more or less space.

Sure, the easy days of the boom are gone. Have a good cry, wipe your nose, and get back to the job at hand. Adjust your strategy to meet the challenge.

This guy was the top realtor during the boom, and he’s the top realtor now that the market has lapsed into a fever. He just adjusted. It’s the same with every other market I have hooks in. The smart guys note the nuances of how things have changed, and redirect their energies to what works NOW. The not-so-smart guys shriek and lose sleep and curse cruel Fate. And pine for the good old days, when their limited bag of tricks was effective.

Take it from someone who’s weathered multiple recessions, the collapse of entire financial institutions (I was a rookie copywriter writing financial direct-mail packages when the S&L crisis lopped an entire arm from the banking community), and the meltdown of more hot markets than I can count (from Pet Rocks to McMansions).

Ignore the doomsayers. Focus on the fundamentals – good products, good value in your offer, good traffic generation, and the dedicated nurturing of your house list. If it feels right to downsize (either in your life, by living debt-free, or in your biz, by trimming the fat), do so. If your old way of doing things isn’t producing the results you need, try something else. Test more diligently. Study your market for pain that needs attention, and attend to it.

I like that term of Perry’s, “Alpha Warriors.” But in my mind, you’re really just the Adult In The Room when you continue to take care of biz when everyone else is freaking out.

You may be the only adult in the room, too… and you may be trashed for your refusal to panic. But when you know a fresh game is afoot, you gather your resources and engage anyway. To succeed as an entrepreneur, you gotta be your own best friend.

[Ed. John Carlton is an expert copywriter, a pioneer in online marketing, and a teacher of killer sales copy – and he knows marketing inside and out. Discover how to get your hands on the kick-ass secrets of the world’s smartest, happiest, and wealthiest marketers.

And be sure to read John’s insights, tactics, and advice on copywriting and marketing at his blog.]

John Carlton

John Carlton slyly refers to himself as “the most ripped-off copywriter on the Web”, and almost no one on the inside of the online entrepreneurial world disagrees. His sales copy has been stalked for decades by many of the best marketers both online and offline… and they freely admit using John’s ads as templates for their own breakthrough pitches.