February 2010
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Silver linings

Not everyone is suffering in the new economy. The people who tell the rest of us how to cope are having a banner year.

Financial talking heads Jean Chatzky and Suze Orman have become near-constant presences in the media. Forbes calculates that last year, Chatzky's TV, radio and print appearances were up 77% over 2007. Orman, who made 24% more media appearances in 2008 than she did the previous year, disclosed on 20/20 in January that she earned $6 million last year. This year, she says she hopes to clear $10 million.

Beyond TV personalities, life coaches--who don't necessarily have advanced degrees or professional certification--help clients tackle career and personal problems. They often charge up to $200 per hour depending on the region of the country, according to the International Coach Federation. The organization, which provides official certification, says some of its 17,000 members worldwide report that business is "booming," especially those who specialize in career coaching.

Talane Miedener, owner and founder of LifeCoach.com, has seen an uptick in demand for her more expensive seminars and workshops. "The people who have jobs, especially high-level executives, can afford my high-end fees of $700-$900 a month," she says. "They're afraid of losing their jobs, so they are preparing for the worst and using coaching to help them decide on an alternative career in the event they do get the pink slip."

"When times get bad, people look for happiness and fulfillment," says Jeff Wasserman, an Atlanta life coach and founder of the U.S. Life Coach Association, a service for coaches and the public. He estimates that requests for information from prospective clients are up 40% in the last eight months, and 200 of his active members reported in a recent survey that their business has increased 15% since June 2008. People want to know, he says, "how to see the happiness in their lives."

People are also looking for ways to generate cold, hard cash. "Our most popular classes right now deal with making money," says Steven Schragis, a spokesman for Learning Annex, which offers hundreds of classes across the country. He describes the adult education how-to behemoth as a "barometer" for the economy.

"For every four people who didn't sign up for a dance class, 10 more are signing up for 'How to Start Your Own T-shirt Business,' " says Schragis, adding that dance classes aren't even offered anymore. Considering that enrollment for classes like jewelry-making have dropped 20% since September and money-making classes are up 30%, he estimates that Learning Annex's revenues are up 10%.

Those real estate-investment expos that were a Learning Annex staple for years? Gone. Instead, the company has launched "MoneyFest--The How To Make Money Expo," featuring, according to its Web site, "business and wealth experts"--including Orman. "When a trend comes, we jump on it," says Schragis.

With a record number of houses on the market, sellers also are looking to stay ahead of the curve these days--even if it means paying someone. New Yorker Barbara Brock, who owns A Proper Place, offers professional "staging" guidance to help homeowners de-clutter and spruce up their houses for maximum appeal. "Professional staging is one of the fastest-growing professions," says Brock, who claims her business is up 50% since 2007.

Even penny-pinchers are helping certain businesses thrive. Coupons.com, a leader in the current crop of online coupon clipping services and Web sites based in Mountain View, Calif., is looking to hire 40 more people in the next three months. As the value of their coupons grows 20% to 25% month over month--with users saving as much as $500 million in 2008, according to company spokesman Bennett Kleinberg--"Coupons.com is doing very well."

As for Orman and Chatzky, both have well-timed new books. Suze Orman's 2009 Action Plan, a quick advice paperback published in December, has become a best-seller.

Chatzky says she now gets "hundreds of e-mails" weekly about her fans' debt fears and other financial problems. Her newest book, The Difference, which hit stores in early March, looks at why some investors cope well with market downturns while others struggle.

"I've been pointing people toward this prescription for optimism, resilience, making the best of whatever job situation you're in, using your skills, being in a better earning position," says Chatzky, who has plugged the book via her regular gig on Today and her XM Radio talk show.
Despite her current success, however, Chatzky isn't taking chances. In fact, she says, she's "saving like a crazy person."

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