21 Recession-Proof Businesses That Thrive in Hard Times
Recession-proof businesses are those positioned to survive and thrive during an economic slowdown, like the one we’re experiencing now.
It might seem like a recession is a kiss-of-death for business owners, but that’s not always the case.
In fact, my previous business — a website for bargain hunters — had its best year in 2009, the peak of the Great Recession.
Whether you’re looking for business or side hustle ideas, or you’re just curious the types of businesses that do well in a recession, this post has you covered.
Table of Contents
What is a Recession?
First up, it’s probably worth describing what exactly a recession is.
Per Oxford, a recession is a “temporary economic decline … generally identified by a fall in GDP in two successive quarters.”
What Happens in a Recession?
What does a recession mean in real life? Let’s put that economist’s definition in real terms.
During a recession:
- Unemployment rises
- The stock market tends to decline
- Consumer confidence goes down
- Discretionary spending goes down
- Interest rates tend to fall
In other words, they’re not a lot of fun. The good news is — like everything else — they’re temporary.
Still, there are many recession-proof businesses that can prosper through the hard times. Here are few to consider.
1. Rental Properties
During the Great Recession, millions of homeowners lost their homes to foreclosure. At the same time, all those people still needed somewhere to live, so they turned around and began renting instead.
Naturally, more renters puts an upward pressure on rents.
That means that long-term real estate investments can be a recession-proof business. Even if home values decrease, occupancy and rental rates should remain high.
If you have the means, a recession could be a good time to pick up a rental property or two. Check out a platform like Roofstock, which makes it easy to shop for and compare properties across the country.
(In fact, some friends of ours picked up some killer deals from 2009-2012!)
Related: Retiring Early with Real Estate: $15k a Month in Passive Cash Flow
2. Mobile Notary Service
In many states, loan signing agents help walk new homebuyers (and refinancers) through their stack of mortgage documents. In exchange, they typically earn a $75-150 fee.
Since interest rates tend to remain low during recessions, that leads to more people refinancing and strong demand of mobile notaries.
Becoming a mobile Notary is relatively low startup cost business that allows for flexible hours. (One Side Hustle Show guest called it “the best-kept secret in real estate.”)
3. Virtual Assistant or Remote Freelance Service
As companies cut costs to stay afloat, they may consider remote work arrangements or virtual hiring. This saves them the overhead of maintaining office space, and potentially other employer burdens like payroll taxes and benefits.
Setting up shop as a virtual assistant or remote freelancer is pretty straightforward. You probably don’t even need to register a business — by default, you’re a sole proprietor.
Then, it’s just a matter of figuring out what service(s) you can provide and connecting with clients who need your help. Depending on your skills, you could bring in $20-100+/hr working from home.
If that appeals to you, check out my friend’s free video training that covers:
- Where to find thousands of potential clients.
- How to make a full-time living working from home.
- What clients are really looking for in a VA. (hint: it’s not prior VA experience)
Click here to learn more about becoming a virtual assistant.
4. Used Clothes
During the last recession, thrift stores saw increased sales as people looked to save money on their wardrobe.
If you have an eye for fashion and bargains, you can turn thrifting into profit by reselling on eBay and elsewhere online with apps like Poshmark.
Along those same lines, consumers may look to extend the life of their current clothing through alterations.
I can’t say I’ve ever operated a sewing machine, so this probably wouldn’t be the best recession-proof business for me, but could be a side hustle to consider.
6. Flea Market Flipping
Recessions can create a perfect storm for savvy resellers, or flippers. First, motivated sellers may be willing to part with valuable inventory for cash quickly.
Then, on the buying side, buyers may consider buying used to save money.
If you can insert yourself in the middle, you’ve got yourself a profitable recession-proof business.
My favorite flippers are Rob and Melissa Stephenson, who consistently earn thousands of dollars a month simply buying low and selling high. (I love seeing all the random stuff they pick up!)
They put together this free training on how to get started and make your first sales in as little as 2 weeks.
7. Online Content
While online content can thrive in good times, I believe it can certainly be recession-proof as well. By online content I mean creating your own website, podcast, or YouTube channel.
If you focus on creating helpful, informational content on topics people are looking for, you can make money in a number of ways.
Among them, advertising, promoting affiliate products, and selling your own products or services.
My livelihood revolves around this business model, and I find it to be a great creative outlet, intellectually stimulating, and (eventually) financially rewarding.
8. Mobile Mechanic
Similar to the clothing alterations idea, people tend to keep their vehicles longer during recessions. But cars still need maintenance and repairs, which means mechanic shops and services are recession-proof.
One of my favorite side hustle examples of this type of service is Matt Bochnak of Chicago, who began repairing motorcycles in his garage. At first, he earned a few hundred extra dollars a month — but years later, it’s a $50,000+ per year side hustle.
9. Cover Letter and Resume Writing
When unemployment spikes and competition for jobs becomes fierce, an attention-getting cover letter and resume can make all the difference.
Side Hustle Nation member Mike McRitchie charges $550 and up for his resume and LinkedIn makeover services.
When people can’t find work, many end up going back to school to level up their skills. Starting a tutoring business could help them with entrance exams, study materials, and challenging concepts.
Top tutors command $40 an hour and up.
11. Online Courses
For many, the cost of traditional education is prohibitive. Even as interest in going back to school increases in a recession, some simply can’t afford it.
That’s where online courses come in. These typically cover a specific skillset or process, and range in price anywhere from $10 to $2000.
Compared to college credits, they’re remarkably affordable and often promise a higher level of support upon “graduation.”
For instructors, online courses allow you to serve thousands of students and build a solid income stream.
What could you teach? Here’s a simple framework for setting up and selling your own online course.
12. Land Flipping
Reselling parcels of vacant land has been a popular side hustle business model for several years, and during a recession you’re more likely to find motivated sellers.
This means a better chance to pick up properties on the cheap — from people who’ve fallen behind on their taxes, live out of state, or just need money quickly.
Then, like Roberto Chavez explained on the podcast, you can resell the parcel to a new buyer on a monthly installment plan to generate predictable cash flow.
To learn more, grab your free copy of “The Land Geek” Launch Kit (normally $97).
13. Handyperson Services
When things around the house break during hard times, more people opt to fix them vs. buying a replacement. That spells increased demand for handyperson services like:
- Appliance repair
- Painting and flooring
- Electrical work
- HVAC repair
- and more
Skilled professionals in this space charge $50 an hour and up for their time and expertise. If you’re just starting out, consider platforms like Thumbtack or NextDoor to connect with customers.
14. Food and Beverage
People will always need to eat, and comfort foods, affordable treats, and alcohol tend to do well during recessions.
While fewer people will be dining out, I expect grocery and household essential delivery services like Instacart and Shipt to remain popular.
As a delivery driver for these services, you can set your own hours and earn up to $22 an hour.
15. Knife Sharpening
With more people cooking at home instead of eating out, knife sharpening could be a recession-proof service to offer.
When I connected with side hustling knife sharpener Matt Rowell, he was earning $30-50 an hour in his spare time.
The upside? Every house and restaurant in the country is a potential customer!
16. Child Care
While birth rates tend to drop during a recession, child care is one of those essential services with steady demand.
Parents struggling to make ends meet will still need child care support so they can go to work. In our area, rates range from $1000-2000 per month per child, depending on the child’s age and other factors.
17. Bookkeeping and Accounting
As business owners look to trim costs, they’re more likely to pay close attention to the books and rely on the advice of a trusted professional.
Becoming a bookkeeper does take some training and education, but can pay well (up to $70 an hour) with flexible work hours.
Similarly, demand for accounting services remain strong among both businesses and individuals navigating a recession.
The reason? A complex tax code and fears of making mistakes makes both bookkeeping and accounting highly recession-proof businesses.
If you want to learn more, here’s a free training on how to get started.
18. Commercial Cleaning
Along the same lines, a commercial cleaning service is likely to keep its contracts during a recession — unless a client goes out of business entirely.
Customers and employees have an expectation of cleanliness so this is considered an essential service in most retail and commercial settings.
Cleaning services have minimal startup costs and charge anywhere from $25-100 an hour, depending on location and complexity of the work.
19. Product Licensing
Licensing ideas from creative people (like you!) is a cost-effective way for companies to innovate and introduce new products.
If you can come up with an idea that complements or improves their existing product line, you may be able to strike a deal.
According to inventor Stephen Key, licensing deals often range from 5-10% of gross product sales.
20. Home Staging
During a recession, workers may be forced to relocate to new job opportunities, which means putting their house on the market.
Homes that are professionally staged tend to sell faster and for more money than their un-staged counterparts. That makes staging a worthwhile investment for home sellers.
If you start this business, you can command rates of $1500-10,000 per home, but will have the upfront costs of furniture and decor to consider. (Plus storage when its not in use.)
21. Storage Unit Auctions
The reality TV show Storage Wars made this recession-proof business popular. If storage unit owners fall on hard times and can’t pay their fees, the unit will go up for auction.
The auctioneer will open the door but you can’t go in to inspect the items. Instead, you place your bid based on what you can see from the outside, and then hope to re-sell your newfound treasure for a profit.
Is a Recession a Good Time to Start a Business?
Yes! According to Business Insider, Microsoft, CNN, GM, HP, Airbnb, and many other prominent businesses got their start during recessions.
Still, I’d recommend starting as lean as possible. Validate your idea with real money from real customers as quickly as possible.
If you keep your risks low, you keep your options open.
And remember, a recession isn’t the end of the world. If you’d like to jump into entrepreneurship, the timing will never be perfect — you might as well get started!
Recession-Proof Businesses: Conclusion
As you’ve seen, businesses of all shapes and sizes can perform well during a recession.
Sometimes you’ll need to make a quick pivot in response to market conditions, but in every crisis there’s opportunity.
What recession-proof businesses have you encountered? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll add to the list!
Frequently Asked Questions
What does recession-proof mean?
Recession-proof means you see no negative impact during an economic downturn, and perhaps even see an increase.
What businesses do well in a recession?
Consumer staples, secondhand goods, and handyperson services all tend to do well in a recession. Real estate-related services like rental properties, notary services, and home staging services can also benefit from an economic downturn.
What are the best businesses to start in a recession?
Starting a business during a recession follows the same rules as starting a business any other time. If you solve a specific problem for a specific customer, you’ll set yourself up for success. The full list on Side Hustle Nation has some ideas to consider.