Can Copywriters “Recession-Proof” Themselves?

Copywriters are hardly immune to the financial crisis. Current, and future, economic events threaten the livelihood of almost everyone – whether they’re employed, self-employed, or own a business.

Fortunately, however, you have advantages as a copywriter that allow you to protect yourself. It’s an edge most people lack.

Trust me; I know. For more than 30 years, I was a freelance copywriter. I discovered a strategy that helped me survive and prosper in all sorts of markets and economic conditions.

You see, in addition to writing, I 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.

You, too, possess knowledge about copywriting and marketing that is of potential value to others. You may be able to communicate it in any or all of the above ways – and make money in the process.

So what does all this have to do with protecting yourself in this painful climate? The answer is simple …

By diversifying, 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. This strategy gives you an “insurance policy” of sorts against a recessionary economy.I confirmed this while researching The Versatile Freelancer, my new AWAI ebook. I wrote the book this year, during a period of economic gloom, unemployment, bank failures, foreclosures, plunging stock indexes, and fears of recession.

Yet all the people I interviewed, copywriters included, told me their businesses 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. 

The experience of Barbara Kaplowitz, a veteran copywriter, is typical. Her primary work keeps her busy in prosperous periods, while consulting and critiquing assignments pick up in bad times, such as those we’re living through now.

Just yesterday, October 23, I asked her how the most recent financial disasters were affecting her business. Here’s her response:

“Tough economic times are not necessarily bad for consultants who are proven performers. Although a number of my clients are holding off on new product launches, they’re still trying to make current marketing efforts as strong as possible. Surprisingly, in the past few weeks, inquiry calls have been more related to ‘old school’ direct-mail copy.

“On the consulting side, I’m seeing the focus on improving communications plans for an integrated, multi-channel world, and on retaining customers – whether through improving renewal series or creating value-added items.”

This helps explain why career diversification can work so well in a down economy.  

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 appealing 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.

You say you’re not equipped with 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 are always well-received. 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, and achievements. Do you have a track record of proven accomplishments – for instance, writing copy that pulls and beats controls, increasing revenues and profits, cutting costs, solving problems, coming up with innovative ideas? These are all “bottom-line” benefits that companies value, even – or especially – in tough times.
  2. Determine who might pay you for that knowledge. Consider firms or organizations where you have contacts, or others you can research. 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.

Aside from money, these “presentation activities,” as I call them, bring you numerous other rewards. I can testify to that from my own experience.

First, don’t forget that whenever you speak, train, consult, or critique, you enhance your reputation and boost your credibility as an expert. That, in turn, helps you land new clients. In fact, speaking may be the single best self-promotional and business-building strategy.

In addition, you win applause and acclaim. You have the satisfaction of helping people, especially younger colleagues in your field. You’re stimulated and energized, especially if your regular work has become boring or routine. You might have opportunities for expense-paid travel, possibly worldwide. You benefit from all sorts of valuable contacts and synergies.

Let’s say it again: Whether from your copywriting work, or the career you had before you made that transition, you have a great deal of valuable knowledge and experience. You can share what you know – and get paid for it. In the process, you create a form of insurance against difficult times.

Of course, limits exist. According to a Wall Street Journal article, no industry or profession is 100% 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 climate.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

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Published: October 24, 2008

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