Are you nervous that the economy may be about to go kerblooie? I’m hearing from many writers who’re worried about the future of freelance writing. If you’re wondering what to write that will pay well and keep cranking in hard times, I’ve got a list for you.
You see, those of us who’ve been freelance writers longer than a decade have already been through this, in the big, bad recession of 2009-2010. That’s the timeframe when I actually doubled my freelance income and hit six figures for the first time.
So first thing to know: A downturn does not mean freelance work goes away. Far from it! Tough times create loads of freelance opportunity — if you know where to look.
Remember, when companies do mass layoffs, they often use more freelancers to get the work done.
Key thing to know, though: there are definitely some sectors and types of writing that are more reliable and lucrative in hard times than others. I’ve got a list of 10 niches to write in that are recession-proof:
1. Stay healthy
Whether the economy is hitting on all cylinders or it’s hit a bad patch, Americans keep smoking, drinking, and not exercising. And that means the healthcare industrial complex stays busy. Healthcare is nearly 20 percent of the U.S. economy, and it’s only projected to grow over time, due to rising costs.
There are so many niches within healthcare that can pay great: writing for hospitals or about medical devices, healthcare info-tech, and biotech companies that are creating new drugs.
Think about where healthcare spending goes, and find a big-money area where you can specialize.
2. Be a contractor
Have you noticed that every politician pledges to shrink government, but it never seems to happen? One of the biggest opportunities in all of freelance writing is being a government-contracted communications or marketing writer — and it’s an opportunity few writers check into. If you’re looking for a lower-competition environment, this could be it!
Hard times often mean new government programs aimed at helping, such as the mortgage-forgiveness program we saw last time around.
This year, the Feds are committed to spend $1.2 trillion so far. I say, let them spend some of it on your writing services! Yes, there’s paperwork to qualify as a government contractor, but it’s worth it. (You can also skip the paperwork by find past winning bidders in public records of contract bids, and target them for subcontracting work.)
In the U.S., you may have heard about all the unfilled positions in federal government today. That means there’s likely more contracting going on than ever. Don’t forget state, county, and city opportunities, too. Businesses may close their doors in a downturn, but governments generally don’t.
3. Focus on the arcane
There’s a basic rule in freelance writing: Pay is low where there are lots of writers who can do the work, and high where there are few.
An economic downturn doesn’t change this basic law of supply and demand. Your job is to find sophisticated niches where price is not the primary concern — they’d kill to find anybody who can write interestingly on their topic. Hard times won’t change how desperate these industries are for good writers, so pay tends to remain high.
I’ve personally been well-paid to write about advanced washing-machine technology, and recently, about chemical-ingredient purchasing methods. I’ve also had coaching students who’ve done well who wrote about metal-smithing, marina management, oil and gas resource development, and other oddball industries.
If you like writing for publications, think about targeting custom publications that companies create (hospital, airline, and grocery-store magazines are examples), and trade publications. They tend to be less affected by hard times than consumer pubs.
4. Think counter-cyclical
A recession doesn’t mean everybody loses — huh-uh. There are losers and winners when the economy reverses course.
Keep your freelance writing business stable by targeting the winners. Think about who sees business grow during a downturn, and target those counter-cyclical industries. Classic winners include:
- Outsourcing/outplacement agencies
- Crisis PR firms
- Relocation and refinancing firms
- Business consultants and business brokers
- Auction/liquidator houses
- Resale/bargain retail chains, and
- Companies that buy real-estate foreclosures
5. Follow the money
Where many people see gloom and doom in a downturn, big-money investors often see opportunity to start or grow new and emerging businesses. Venture capital and angel-investor money will keep flowing to promising startups.
Follow that money, because those companies will be spending much of it on marketing. And that means opportunity for writers.
6. Target ‘gotta-haves’
When money gets tight, consumers cut back on discretionary spending. But some items are considered essential.
Think about whether the goods or services you write about are ones consumers might forgo in hard times — say, buying pre-made meals, or hiring a house cleaner or dog groomer.
Make sure your stable of clients includes ones that are square in the ‘gotta have’ category, as ‘wanna have’ items may see cutbacks.
7. Sell the 1%
Know what happens to the very wealthy in a down economy? Usually, nothing. They’re so rich, it never touches them. So they’re worth $800 million now, instead of a billion? That’s not going to affect their lifestyle much.
The super-rich just keep sailing around on their mega-yachts, buying $1500 handbags, couture clothing, and luxury spa vacations. Focus on writing for and about high-end luxury goods and services companies, and you’ll be in a niche hard times will never touch.
8. Go big
While bigger clients are always better for freelance writers, that’s especially true during a downturn. Big companies will often increase their marketing when the economy wobbles, hoping to drive weaker competitors out of business and pick up their customers.
Even in spaces with many mid-sized competitors, you’ll see top brands double down on marketing, hoping to emerge from hard times more dominant. Look for companies with sharp marketing campaigns — they’ll be the ones looking to up their game and grow, while their competitors scale back.
9. Tell the story
If you’re a journalist, downturns can be a goldmine. I spent one of them writing reams about major corporate bankruptcies. Those suckers drag on for years, kicking out a steady stream of public documents you can use as starting points for stories.
Economic fluctuations mean change, and that means people turn to the media to try to make sense of what’s happening, and to learn what it will mean for their lives. From local publications to national networks, there will be a ton of angles to work on the impact of economic hardship on various populations, from consumers to business owners. Start tracking trends and build your idea bank!
10. Make sales
If companies cut back on their marketing budgets, know what they always keep? Persuasive copywriting — the writing that overtly sells their products or services.
They may be a little fuzzy on how their blog possibly makes them sales eventually…but they know that sales pages, product descriptions, services pages, email marketing campaigns and such need to continue. There’s a direct correlation between a strong sales page or ad campaign and sales growth, that companies can easily measure.
Cutting back on commissioning persuasive copy would be like cutting off their nose to spite their face. So when you’re wondering what to write in a downturn, learn to master persuasive copywriting. If you have the ability to make more sales for corporate customers, it’ll keep you in demand.
What to write? You decide
As you can see, there are plenty of solid directions to take your freelance writing business in a recession. Look at who your clients are now, and consider pitching some new types, if you need to shift gears to be better positioned to survive a downturn.