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Starting a Business

Best Recession-Proof Businesses

Even in a recession, you can start a business. Find out which ones were voted most likely to succeed.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the February 2002 issue of Subscribe »

Q: I'd like to start my own business, but I'm in a recession emergency-behind on my bills, savings gone and no start-up capital. I have been unable to make enough doing temp service work, etc, to cover basic expenses. What are the best recession-proof businesses?

A: Some businesses actually do well during recessions; they're "countercyclical." For example, as both business and consumer debt mounts in a recession and companies need to collect every possible dollar they're owed, debt collection agencies, companies that specialize in repossessing items and bankruptcy attorneys are at their busiest.

If you're good on the telephone, probably the most feasible of this type of business is a collection agency. The American Collectors Association offers a CD-ROM that will provide you with some training, and you can either buy or lease collection-specific software from a number of companies.

If you're down to emptying your piggy bank, for less than $100, you can paint street numbers on curbs for homeowners or provide household cleaning services. One specialized kind of cleaning service that requires little more than a pooper-scooper and some plastic bags is cleaning up dog dung from people's yards. Some people are earning more than $50,000 a year doing this. These may not be businesses you want to do indefinitely, but they may provide you with some income to help you pay the bills and save some money for a different business.

Need more start-up ideas? Be sure to check out these resources:

During hard times, stress is higher, and therefore people's health suffers, causing a greater need for health care. Traditionally, health care was considered recession-proof; however, during the '80s, health-care providers took their hits, too. Still, health-care-related businesses like medical coding and medical transcription can do well. But these do require training that takes time and money.

Other businesses that tend to do all right during a recession are:

  • Repair services, when it's less costly to repair something like a computer than buy a new one
  • Résumé writing, because lots of people are seeking work, and the better their resume, the better their chances of getting an interview
  • Secretarial services and bookkeeping for small businesses for which outsourcing their work is less expensive than having an employee do it

For many people, starting a business in the midst of an economic storm has led to success, probably because the lack of slack leads to more disciplined, well-thought-out marketing and spending decisions.

Paul and Sarah Edwards' most recent book is Changing Directions Without Losing Your Way. Send them your start-up questions at or through us at Entrepreneur.

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