Writers Need to Recession-Proof Their Businesses Now

With another Great Recession (or worse) upon us, this is the moment to take preventative action.


Jefferey Spivey

2 years ago | 6 min read

With another Great Recession (or worse) upon us, this is the moment to take preventative action

Just before the Great Recession, I’d been living in New York for less than a year. I was a twenty-something, entry-level manager at a huge clothing store on 5th Avenue — the biggest, highest-grossing store in the company.Given that we were in a prime location in one of the nation’s most populous cities, we were doing well, and we were handsomely rewarded with monthly bonus checks.

When the Recession hit, my life was minimally affected. I was a valued employee, and I easily survived a round of layoffs that slimmed the leadership team down to its bare bones. We stopped making our monthly bonuses — and the bonus structure shifted to reflect a new set of criteria that we rarely satisfied. I missed the extra income, but I still had a decent salary, benefits, and health insurance at a time when a lot of people weren’t even employed.

I wasn’t politically engaged or interested in the news during that period. Other than my boss sharing stories about Occupy Wall Street protestors she encountered on her way to work, everything about the Recession existed in the periphery of my life. None of the impacts seeped in far enough for me to worry. I didn’t feel the pressure to build up my emergency savings or update my resume in anticipation of losing my job. For the most part, I carried on, business as usual.

But now is different.

I’m a full-time freelance copywriter and editor, and I depend heavily on work from small and midsize businesses (SMBs). These are the businesses suffering the most devastating effects of COVID-19-related closures. 75% of SMB owners report experiencing a negative impact on their businesses because of the pandemic. And with shutdowns and restrictions expected to last into summer — and fears of a second wave of infections in the fall — some of these businesses may never recover. It’s almost certain they’ll need to cut costs, and surely, paying their employees and their bills will take precedence over hiring a writer to craft a catchy blog post.

Unlike my stance during the Great Recession, I am very aware of what’s happening right now. I’m far more politically engaged, and I follow a lot of business news and trends. I take in all the gloomy economic outlooks during my breakfast each morning. I even started an emergency fund. In short, I’m worried.

I wonder if freelance writers will be affected. If I turn down a prospective client based on my pre-recession criteria, am I flushing money down the toilet? Am I being ungrateful? Should I say yes to everything, out of fear that work might not be as plentiful in the coming months?

I’m in a position now, as are most writers, to start recession-proofing my business. We’re most certainly in a recession, the likes of which could be the worst since the Great Depression. I can’t operate my business as usual. I need to do something. All writers need to do something.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been furiously researching preventative steps I can take to protect my business during hard times, and there’s a lot of valuable advice out there. But there are ten action steps in particular that could be helpful for most writers (and entrepreneurs in general).

1. Diversify your portfolio

I think of this as a two-fold concept — don’t rely on a single platform to book all your clients, and don’t rely on a single client for all your work. It’s like investing — to build a Teflon portfolio, you need to spread the wealth across commodities, stocks, and other asset classes. Do the same with your income. A little Fiverr here, some Upwork there. Cold call today, follow-up with past clients tomorrow. Don’t assume that today’s cash cow will always be there.

2. Upskill

This is the time to fill your skills gaps. Maybe clients always ask you about managing their social media accounts, but blog posts are really your thing. Sticking to your comfort zone may have worked during normal times, but these are not normal times. You need to demonstrate your worth, and one way to do that is by offering more than one service to your clients. Take a course about social media best practices or running a digital ad campaign. Think about skills that are natural add-ons for the services you already provide and look for relevant courses on educational sites like Learn from Fiverr, Coursera, Udemy, and Lynda. If you can offer more value for your clients with your new skills, they’re more likely to keep you on when other costs get cut.

3. Upsell

Once you’ve honed your new skills, circle back with your clients and offer them more. For example, if you previously wrote a blog post for them, offer to promote it on social media and track the analytics. Or, offer to draft a content strategy and execute it on their behalf. Learn more, offer more, earn more.

4. Target recession-proof industries

It may not seem like it right now, but there are some businesses that are booming during the pandemic, namely grocery stores, pharmacies, and online marketplaces. It’s important to find clients in stable industries so you can remain gainfully employed when the rest of the market is in chaos. Odds are, if you target business in an industry that’s performing well, that client will have a tremendous need to keep engaging their customers, and they’ll likely have the cash flow to pay you.

5. Retention

Remember the customer that you wrote a whitepaper for back in January? Now is the time to check in with them. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get new business, but by checking in, you’re reminding them that you’re available. As their content needs surface, you’ll be top of mind. These follow-ups are a way to cultivate business for later. But it’s important that you acknowledge the gravity of this moment when you reach out. Don’t go straight to business — ask how they’re doing, make sure they’re okay, and approach them from a place of empathy and compassion.

6. Drop problematic clients

These are clients who don’t pay you on time, who always haggle over pricing, who are unresponsive, whose messages make you cringe. It’s time to let them go. It may seem counterintuitive to drop clients at a time when you need to safeguard your business. But think of it this way — these bad clients suck up a lot of time and energy, two of your most precious assets as a writer and solopreneur. If you have to follow up with them constantly, you’re losing out on the chance to win new business and serve your other clients to the best of your ability. And it’s highly likely that your earnings from these clients’ projects aren’t commensurate with the headaches they cause.

7. Keep marketing yourself

Stay active on social media so that you remain visible. People won’t know you’re there if you don’t remind them. However, don’t spam people with links to your Fiverr profile. Observe the rule of thirds, in which one-third of your content promotes your product or service, one-third is personal, and the last third is curated content. You can also gather testimonials from your best clients and post them on your website, so other people can share the story of how valuable and talented you are.

8. Assess your business

Take a hard, honest look at your business in its current state. What can you improve? Maybe you haven’t updated your pricing or services in years, or you don’t upsell enough. It’s important to take stock of what’s working and what’s not. An economic downturn could exacerbate your weaknesses, but there’s less chance of that if you take action now.

9. Network digitally

Social distancing shouldn’t stop you from building your network. Add all of your existing clients on LinkedIn so you can stay connected. Use apps like Shapr to meet people in your industry or cross paths with potential clients. Reach out to your current network for referrals. Interact with people on social media. Put yourself out there. For many writers, a typically introverted bunch, it’s easier than ever to build up your digital Rolodex and eschew the awkward coffee meetings.

10. Don’t operate with a scarcity mindset

Don’t start saying yes to everything out of fear. You need to uphold your standards, understand your deal breakers, and protect yourself mentally and emotionally. Vet your clients. Make sure you have the knowledge base and skill set to do the work you’re taking on. Continue to focus on producing high-quality work. The worst thing you could do during this time is to act out of desperation and end up overloading yourself, missing deadlines, delivering work below clients’ expectations, or overlooking problem clients’ red flags. Recession-proofing means making a lot of changes to your business practices, but your standards shouldn’t be one of them.

This is a scary time for everyone — the people on the frontlines, those with the virus or caring for someone with the virus, the business owners. It’s also scary for writers. There’s no guarantee that we too won’t feel the effects of a slowing economy, but we can still do something. We can prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and with some sweat equity, we’ll keep our writing businesses afloat.

Jefferey Spivey is a full-time freelance copywriter and editor, Top Rated Fiverr Pro, and Top Rated Upwork Freelancer. You can read more of his work at


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