Sitting Out the Global Recession?


I’m about to get on a plane and head out to Washington, D.C. by way of Seattle and Chicago. After a few days there, I’ll begin a longer journey to several countries in Southern Africa. Expect more about the trip later. For now, something else has come up – specifically, the small matter of the global economic recession.

Unless you live on another planet (you never know), I’m going to assume that you’ve noticed it too… and there are probably as many opinions about what’s happening with the economy as there are readers of this post. Today I want to look at one specific question:

“Is it possible to completely avoid the effects of a serious global recession?”

The motivation for thinking about this comes from the dozen different mass marketing emails I’ve received over the past couple of months with headlines of “Sitting out the Recession” and “What Recession?” The mentality behind these kinds of messages is that with enough Internet marketing savvy, you should be able to rise above the tide and remain unaffected. In other words, when it’s you versus the recession, you will win if you work hard enough.

On a certain level, of course, this is true. As we’ll see below, personal responsibility is a prerequisite to thriving in a challenging environment. But I think these kinds of headlines still miss the mark somehow. The recession is real, and it’s not only stupid people who are affected by it.

Unemployment in the U.S., for example, is currently 7.6%. Almost anyone who puts their retirement savings in the stock market, which is what we are supposed to do according to conventional wisdom, lost at least 20% of their net worth last year.

In other words, I’m glad some people are still making millions of dollars with their product launches, but it’s fair to say that for many (most) of us, our lives are different now than they were a couple of years ago. Therefore, I don’t think we can completely “sit out” the recession. Instead, I think we are forced to reevaluate what’s important and how we make fundamental decisions.

At the same time, if we want to thrive no matter what else is going on, we can’t simply blindly accept the downturn or blame it for whatever problems we have. For that reason, even though the marketing theme of the season misses the mark, the media isn’t doing much better. Earlier in the week I read this recent MSN article (hat tip to Yanik Silver – see you tomorrow, Yanik) that offers “52 Ways to Earn Extra Money during the Recession.” The list includes delivering pizza, waiting tables, and cutting grass in the summer. Among other things, you can also drive people to the airport and “sell yourself” to advertisers who will tattoo their brands on your shaved head.

Oh, and you can also DO SOMETHING FOR YOURSELF. Hidden throughout the list are a few entrepreneurial activities, such as #8: Write an ebook. But unlike the wholehearted recommendations to become a part-time valet driver, writing an ebook comes with a warning:

“I hesitate to put this one in here because an ebook by itself usually doesn’t make money unless you’re an excellent marketer. What a great ebook can do, though, is act as a sales lead to one of your other online businesses.”

In other words, waiting tables (trading time for money) is a good idea, but creating an asset that works for you is a risky idea. You think?

For the record, I think writing an ebook, or doing anything else that allows you to earn money without being physically present, is a great idea.

I don’t think I’m an “excellent marketer,” but I’ll earn my living this year from the ebooks and related products I create. I only mention them once in a while, and I usually go out of my way to explain why not everyone should buy them. It’s effectively an anti-marketing policy, but people are still buying. (Thank you, by the way.)

I get this question a lot: “Does it really work?” It often comes in forms like this one:

Hey Chris,

I know it’s rude and somewhat offbase, but I will be upfront, do you actually make much money selling these ebooks on your site?

I’m thinking of some ideas of my own and since I know you’re a successful blogger, I wanted to see how you’ve done.

As a new reader, I have really enjoyed your site.

Take care,

I told Adam I didn’t think it was a rude question at all. Most of the time, you can’t tell what’s really happening behind the scenes with bloggers or any particular web site, so I’m happy to be a case study for anyone who cares.

The answer I gave Adam is YES, it works. I will arrive at my hotel late tonight and write quick thank-you emails to people who have purchased something while I’ve been sitting in airplanes all day. It’s not magic – it’s hard work (see How to Be Awesome for an idea of the workload required to do this well) but overall, I’d rather spend my days this way than cleaning people’s houses or any of the other conventional ideas offered by MSN.

Remember, my long-term goal is to EXPAND THE PIE. (Thanks to all of you smart people who added so much to Monday’s article – I am in your debt.) I’m not getting rich at the moment – that’s not the goal for this season of life – but I’m certainly better off than I would be waiting tables.

If ebooks don’t work for you, that’s fine. The point is, this isn’t just about delivering pizza versus creating products. I believe it is reflective of a greater, incorrect mindset. In fact, while I don’t want to pretend that we as world citizens can completely avoid an economic crisis, here’s what I see as the answer for any of us as individuals:

The only way out of a recession is Personal Responsibility and Creative Thinking.

Personal Responsibility – because no one will do it for us. The government can send us an $800 check, but then what? Most of us need to earn a lot more money than $800, and we need it every month.

Creative Thinking – because what worked before won’t necessarily work now. Houses and IRA accounts no longer return an automatic 10%+ every year, for example.

I do not mean to pretend it’s easy; I just want to make sure we are looking at the problem correctly. Sure, you can go get a side job. There is safety and security in that. No one will question you.

Alternatively, this may be the perfect time to question conventional views of car-washing and table-waiting. Is working for ourselves really more risky than getting a job? If your value to an employer is so great that they can afford to pay you every month, what would your value be on your own?

Again, for those of us who are not internet marketing superheroes, it will definitely not be easy. As for me (not one of the superheroes), I can’t claim that I’m sitting out the recession. But I’m working hard against it, and I won’t go down without a fight.

What do you think about the economic recession? Are you sitting it out, fighting it, or struggling?

Feel free to share if you agree or disagree with anything in this article. See you next from the road!


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  • Nomadic Matt says:

    I have not been effected by this at all, although my parents have. Marketing and SEO on the internet have become more important, thus I make more money now. Viva la recession!

  • Summer Foovay says:

    Excuse me while I indulge in an evil chuckle. It seems to me the people who are most afraid of the recession, and who have felt it the most, are in the $100,000 a year and above bracket. Welcome to the world the rest of us have been living in for ten years or more. Having lived at or below the poverty line most of my life, I can’t get too afraid of the whole recession. I already know how to live on less than $1000 a month – I’ve been doing it for years. It can be done. In fact, I think in some ways I live better than some people who have more money.

    I’d also like to underline your opinion as to writing an ebook, or having websites, anything that offers you a passive income as being very useful. My websites have never made what you’d call a living wage, usually well under $100 a month – however, a couple of years ago when my husband was unemployed those little checks arriving now and then quite often bought a few meals we might have otherwise missed. Don’t underestimate it. And you can keep right on getting those while you also wait tables somewhere if necessary. You don’t have to write a whole book if you don’t feel up to it – there are a number of sites like Squidoo that will do all the work of moneytizing your articles if you would rather start small.

    I’m a published author and artist as well as a webmaster. I also clean houses sometimes and am glad for the money. 😀

  • Chad says:

    My wife and I own our own business which is in a very high end niche. Our products are not a necessity, so we have to work twice as hard to make less money. We are also using more creative marketing channels now as well. To keep things going, we have to be more creative, so the situation has helped us learn things about business we may not have learned otherwise.

    My focus now is in creating other sources of income so that we don’t have to depend solely on the business. I work all the time, but because every project I work on is my own, it doesn’t seem like work.

    Things are a bit tough for us, but we would never just sit down and give up because of the economic situation. Too many people buy in to what the media tells them, but I would guess that anyone smart enough to be reading this blog isn’t one of those people.

    Keep up the great work Chris and have a safe trip!

  • Laura says:

    My husband and I are implementing our expenditure-reduction plan, centered around food. Food is one of our largest monthly expenses. We’ve already gotten past the stages of eat in more, eat out less; and cook more, eat out of boxes and cans less. This year we’re moving closer to grow more, buy less; and buy in bulk more, shop less. Oddly enough, this way is also healthier. 🙂

    I’ve also got a notion to sell handicrafts this summer, when the tourists arrive in town. There’s a market right now for sturdy re-usable grocery bags, for example. Musicians can record a CD and sell it on CDBaby and iTunes. Anyone can barter for goods and services; exchange lawn-mowing, house-cleaning, baby-sitting, etc. for that bike your neighbor wants to get rid of. Oh yeah, bike/walk more, drive less. Buy used. Sell used. There’s a bunch of ideas right there. 🙂

  • Slinky says:

    I’m ignoring it. 🙂 I have enough cash set aside to pay my essential bills for about 5 months (without unemployment benefits). My fiance also has money set aside. His job is in the home care and hospice industry (recession proof!). We could live on only one income if we needed to. We have plenty of options so there’s little need to worry.

    It’s not like we’ve never had a recession before and it’s not like you shouldn’t be considering the possibility of one in your plans.

  • Cody Foss says:

    If you can create a product (or service) that provides real value, you’ll be fine. It’s the people who try to sell crap that are the ones who will suffer.

  • Russ says:

    I still work a 9-to-5 job, but luckily my job is in no danger at the moment. As someone who is trying to break out of the corporate world I want to thank you for your past few posts. It’s articles like these that show people like me that even in today’s economy it is possible to do more with just a bit of creative thinking and a little motivation, and that any bumps along the way are completely normal. Keep up the inspirational writing!

  • Chuck says:

    I am in IT in the insurance industry and our company is feeling the affects. I think that the best thing people can do is have savings. If you listen to any of the finanical guru’s (Clark Howrd, Dave Ramsey) they all preach that you have to have liquid savings in the event you would loose your job. Plan, Plan, Plan.

    Luckily my wife is a nurse (mostly recession proof) and I teach college classes part time at night so we can survive on this income if I loose my job.

    We are fighting this recession all the way. We put a down payment on an inground pool last year and are going to move forward with the installation this spring!

    As far as writing goes I am interested in trying this. Not so much for profit (althought that would be nice) but to share what I think are some great stories with others.

  • Stacie says:

    Great post! The recession has prompted us to get off of our lazy butts and go see the country. We are putting everything in storage, and packing up our dog and our computer stuff and hitting the road. Since so many people are foregoing vacations this year, renting great vacation homes for a month or two at a time is as cheap as staying in one place. My husband and I have always lived way below our means, saved our money and not accrued any debt. It has made us in a much stronger position to do this year long trip around North America, as we are seeing rental owners willing to deal. In answer to one commenter about “those that make over 100K a year” being the only ones that are feeling the pinch…I disagree with her assessment. This snarkiness towards folks that work hard and save their money and don’t apologize for it is getting to be very alarming. Good for you for being able to live on 1000/month…but I tend to want a bit more of a stable life for myself…don’t get on such a soapbox about it because my ambitions are different from yours. I cleaned houses, did my time and after getting a higher education that I worked my butt off for, I make no apologies for not buying more house than I can afford (no matter what the evil lender tells me, I happen to read contracts that I sign and understand what interest means.). I am hoping to have a fantastic year traveling around our great country and “helping” out those vacation rental owners that are sweating out the fact that no one can afford a vacation this year. If I can live in a great place for a month, and cover the rental owner’s expenses…well….it’s all good, isn’t it? Great site…I am a big believer in self reliance…and also taking advantage of a recession based economy. Gotta think outta the box!

  • Marie-Josee says:

    “What do you think about the economic recession? Are you sitting it out, fighting it, or struggling?”

    Your questions made me think about why resist? What makes us struggling, suffering, reacting is when we go against reality. I’m in thinking about that what if we “Go with the flow” would be an alternative, follow the reality without going against it and find out the blessing in disguise… for this turning point in my life. Do without doing, feel the way, the new way, direction to go. There is always the same amount of money, ressources out there it is just somewhere else. It is only transformed in something else. Where to put our attention now, in what direction? How to follow on in a smooth sailing way?

    Only thoughts to share. (sorry if my english writing is not understandable, first time here, maybe the last if not appropriate)

  • Ayo Fashola says:

    I agree with Cody Foss. create and deliver Real Value: That ‘s the solution to economic turn around.

  • Chris says:

    Hey gang, I’m checking in from D.C. as mentioned earlier. It’s after midnight EST, so I should get to sleep – but thanks for all your comments and for adding value to the conversation.

  • Carolyn says:

    Interesting post. I think things now are a little easier to cope with for people who have learned the difference between needs and wants.

    We’ve chosen to be a one-income family and my husband’s work is seasonal, which means we’ve had to live without a lot of the things our friends considered “necessary.” We’ve built a nice side business that sustains us through the lean months–even now–without regular income from his job. We know how to find ways to cut back and/or bring in more cash. Who knew those “life lessons” could be worth more in peace of mind and satisfaction than a college degree?

    Last year we had two cars and a computer go down and we were able to pay for replacements from savings. No car payments, no credit card debt.

    Our rules of thumb: Keep it simple. Never buy retail. Spend less than you earn. Follow the family motto (passed down over generations): Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. 🙂

  • jen says:

    Being just 25 this is the first “recession” that has really effected me and we’re coping surprisingly well in my house at the moment! My boyfriend has no work (being a building contractor with no building going on around us) and yet somehow we are getting by on just one wage – which leads me to wonder what on earth were we spending his wages on before?? If nothing else the recession has definitely taught me not to waste money because you don’t know when it will be gone! I don’t get paid a massive amount but a bit of creativity goes a long way (plus inviting ourselves to my parents for dinner helps once a week helps).

    We’re lucky as building work is due to be kick-started locally in the next few weeks (fingers crossed) so we should be ok (although this has lead to a pretty much major set-back for the travelling plans of 09 – but I’m not dwelling on that just yet!).

    I think there’s a lot to be said for a positive attitude and at the end of the day there are loads of people worse off than us and at least we know that somewhere down the road destiny with throw out a life line! jen x

  • Ann Victor says:

    Personal responsibility & creative thinking – yes!yes!yes! That’s the future if the human species wants to evolve spiritually. I love your thinking.

    And, if your tour of Southern Africa includes South Africa, travel well!

  • Michael says:

    It occurs to me that this global crisis might be just what the earth needs. Perhaps those of us in the consumer nations will ratchet down our endless consumption. Perhaps we will learn to actually live within our means. It might just be exactly the slowdown we need to get back in touch with what is really of value.

    I don’t plan to sit it out, I plan to engage with the situation as it is, learn something from it, do what I do and do it better, and be grateful that I have the habit of not buying on credit and being content with that I can afford.

  • Carl Nelson says:

    I’m riding out the economic recession on the road after losing my job in November.

    I pulled up my roots and left NYC.

    Have only a cell phone bill to deal with.

    I am taking the tremendous amounts of free time I have by developing my skill set and creating projects that benefit communities I am a part of.

    It can be a lot of work some days, can be lonely on occasion, but it is an incredibly rewarding experience.

  • The Global Traveller says:

    Maybe I’m an optimist at heart, but I think recessions can be a great time and an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.

    Think about life goals and where you’re headed.
    Do something you never dared to before.
    Pack up your stuff and take a year off just to travel on the cheap.

    I’m hoping that I’ll grasp at least a couple of the opportunities that present themselves.

  • Soultravelers3 says:

    Excellent post!

    We are a family who sold our home, cars and almost all of our possessions in 2005 and mostly got out of the dollar because we saw this coming.

    It seemed like a perfect time to take an open ended trip around the world which we have been doing for almost 3 years now. We live large on 25K a year total costs for a family of 3, so we have found we can travel the world for much less than we live at home and we are loving the experience.

    We do see the economy affecting everyone from from Denmark, to Ireland to our tiny village here in Spain where we are spending our third winter. We are affected in some ways, but mostly our happy life just continues.

    I do think everyone should be pro-active ,preparing for both the best and also for the worst possibilities. It is important to look ahead and understand things like demographics. I am an optimist, but I also understand that things could get much, much worse than most seem to be aware of yet.

    I think we can learn from people who have survived collapses like in Russia or Argentina. Just to be on the safe side, everyone should have a stockpile of beans, rice, seeds, and a -20 sleeping bag. I think this has just barely begun.

    Hopefully, it will not get as bad as some are saying, but if it does, are you prepared? I think we all need to think out of the box and listen to out of the box thinkers.

    It was the out of the box thinkers who wrote books that warned about the problems that are here today. Most of them were exactly right, while the established media laughed at or ignored them. You won’t find the answers in the established media or politicians as they do not think ahead.

    I listened to the out of box thinkers and LOTS of different voices and it helped us make good choices that have served us well. I did not think there was going to be a problem at Y2K , but just in case the worst scenarios happened, I prepared and put in my first winter organic garden.

    The worst did not happen, but I really enjoyed that garden, learned a lot and continued with that pattern until we sold our home. I call that a win/win and that is what I always try to get out of life and will do it with this recession/depression as well.

    I don’t shut my mind to the best voices, or the worst voices, but listen to all, take calculated risks and have an inner commitment to make the most out of whatever life hands me and be happy no matter what. If figure the only real choice you have in life is to go through it laughing or crying, and I would rather laugh.

    “The only way out of a recession is Personal Responsibility and Creative Thinking. ”

    I agree with that very much, but I also think community will be important. We will need each other more than ever, especially if things get really bad and it goes on for many years. Relationships will be key. That is a good thing.

    Perhaps we will find even more blessing though what ever challenges show up. Love is all that we need in life and if the challenges bring us all to a more simple way of being, I don’t think that is a bad thing. We can all learn more about what is truly important in life and let go of “things” and focus more on experience and connecting.

  • Cherie Hanson says:

    One of the things that make it easier to live through a recession is having skill. When dinner is decided by going to a drawer and pulling out a delivery menu, the recession can create severe life style changes.

    My husband and I are both artists, he is a jazz musician when he isn’t working occasionally as an electrician and we have found having skills has really helped.

    Can you make soup? Do you know how to go out the door with a list of necessary items for purchase in your head? The thrift shop, the second hand store, the 75% off table pushed out at the front of the store are treasure troves. All of the years that we have spent making do are now paying off, literally.

    It is those around us who have lived with consumption as recreation, who haven’t learned how to make a good soup, to launder their own clothes, to ride their bikes to a job or how, when and where to find a “deal” that are in panic mode.

    So why aren’t these skills taught to each and every student in school: home management, bookkeeping, auto repairs, cooking, sewing and shopping for value? It could save countries millions of dollars. What do you think?

  • kate says:

    Great post — and some great comments so far.

    I didn’t notice this in these postings, but one of the things that has frustrated me is the paternalistic attitude I hear sometimes about the Recession, about how those affected are somehow to blame for the struggles they now face. I’m a voluntary simplicity proponent, so I agree with comments about consumerism and an environmental break for the earth. At the same time, it’s not just those with sub-prime mortgages or latte habits who have been affected. Jobs are being lost all over the place, by people who have been both responsible and frugal.

    My family’s been hit. I’m working as many hours as my employer will allow, while my other half (who was laid off months ago from a failing industry) looks for work and tries to get training for a new career. We’re lucky in many ways (with both food and shelter — and miraculously, satellite TV, even after we had it shut off), but it’s not easy either.

    So riding out the Recession? Well, we’re getting by. It’s making us stronger, I think. Also, it’s been a boon for our creative pursuits. Who knows? Maybe something great could come of that.

  • Skylab says:

    I just wanted to add something real quick here. The Grays Papaya in the picture – is my favorite place to eat. The sign shows that they are taking this recession into a marketing campaign.

  • Kristine Maitland says:

    Like some of those who have posted, I too have opted to mark this recession by travelling to one of the most expensive cities in the world – London, England.

    Why? Because it is cheaper to fly to England than it is to fly from Toronto, Canada to Canberra, Australia where my best friend lives. Instead, we will meet in London where he will work on his Ph.D research while I will visit as many museums and galleries as possible. The theatre costs less, many museums are free and I will happily make a diet of Indian food. So it evens out in the end.

    I will also work on expanding my creative base and think about how I can earn an extra income while making a change of pace.

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