Market Yourself as a Professional Remediator

Does it seem like nobody is buying anything, hiring for anything, or contracting for anything? Do you wonder what you can do for a living in a dreadful economy? Some people thrive even in a bad business climate. One way to do it is by cleaning up messes that absolutely must be cleaned up. Look for one that has been left in the way and offer to take care of it. Cleanup work isn't just janitorial. It's a way to build a reputation and an income source by riding to the rescue.

Nobody Needs You Unless They Have a Problem

(In case you wonder, the photo is damage to a relative's house from Hurricane Rita. A lot of work needs to be done after big storms.) Early in my career, I worked with a magnificently solid operating system and solidly built software that ran on it. Unfortunately all of that is so well built that systems from the 1980s still keep running with only rare replacements of hardware components that wear out. I support some of these systems. They can run five years between reboots and often go for a year without more than an hour of my attention.

The clients who need me most don’t use those systems. They use computer systems that are riddled with bugs, unstable, and lose their minds over the least glitch in the electrical supply or the network. Those customers are struggling with a mess someone else left them. They need help time and again. The world is filled with such problems. If you're desperate for a way to make a living, find cleanup work you can do. Don't worry—doing cleanup work doesn't necessarily make you a mere janitor.

Look Like a Genius, Not a Janitor

When you have been beaten down by circumstances, taking on cleanup work offers special benefits for your reputation and ego as well as your wallet.

While you are cleaning up the mess someone else left behind, the customer can't help but compare you with whoever left the mess, not with Einstein. Without needing to be half as smart as people on the leading edge, you look like a genius. As far as your customer is concerned, you saved the day! This does wonders for your self-confidence and your image around town.

Example: A Specialized Temp Agency

Think back to the oil bust when Resolution Trust Corporation sold vast numbers of foreclosure properties after the savings and loan collapses. A friend of my brother took a one-day job through a temporary agency. Her job turned out to be hosting an open house for a foreclosed property. She started a business to host open houses for RTC in Houston and made good money.

Example: Following Mad Max the Bad Programmer

In the middle 1990s, when I wrote more software, I started a contract with one of my clients immediately after a fellow I call "Mad Max" persuaded them to let him revamp a lot of software in the core of a critical production system. After a couple of months, my client's management realized that had been a mistake and got rid of him.

He left them in a quandary. They needed new features that were part of his work, so they couldn't keep using the old version of the software—but his version wouldn't run. He had broken two fundamental rules of good software design.

The rest of that software group weren't experienced enough to know how to untangle the resulting knots. I did. More than that, I spotted an area where he had made obvious blunders. By reworking three of his modules, I shaved an average of 45% off the amount of time it took the software to do its job.

My client thought I walked on water. I looked brilliant, but all it took was basic competence.

Look at Problems Upside Down or Sideways

You should be noticing a pattern. Opportunities can hide behind a problem. Sometimes you can only see those opportunities when you look upside down or sideways rather than head-on.

You sell computer systems but have no new orders coming in? Chances are that you already have some computer service people to support the systems you sell. Offer technical support, perhaps on a managed services model. The support services can provide you with steady income using technical people already on your staff. That will also give you routine contact with customers. The next time they want to buy a system, you will be at the top of their minds. (If this is your situation and you need guidance, feel free to contact me.)

Do you sell real estate and find the market too dry? (This is not a problem in boom times, but it is when the business cycle for real estate is down.) Consider property management. People in the USA move to cheaper homes or apartments when they get anxious about their finances. A lot of residential rental activity is a boon for property managers. If you are in a state that requires property managers to have a real estate license, the competition you have to contend with is automatically limited.

You can use this concept anywhere.

In Britain, most people try to ride out a bad spell without moving. Bad economic times don't lead to a boom in leasing fees like what happens in the USA—but squatters' rights are more potent. When a property goes into foreclosure, the lender has a bigger need to guard the property to avoid losing it to squatters. Special companies protect vacant properties against squatters by putting reputable people in as short term tenants. The tenants pay dirt cheap rent in return for watching over the property. They keep minimal belongings, easy to transfer so they can move in or out on very short notice.

Do the Right Kind of Cleanup

There is always someone who needs the right kind of cleanup done. Don't think of that work as janitorial. Think of yourself as the Lone Ranger, riding to your client's rescue.

Books About Cleaning Up

My great grandfather stowed away on a ship when he was 12 or 13 to go to America. The crew found him during the voyage and allowed him to work for his passage. He landed in New York with no shoes, no job and no English. By the age of 15, he had made his way to the South and made a living selling kitchen wares to people who lived in backcountry that he reached by carrying his goods on his back. He ended up helping to found a merchant association that, through mergers, became a significant bank at a major USA port.

You can climb the ladder like that too. Some of these books suggest specific fields where you might do well by cleaning up.


Cleaning Up in Your Service Business (PSI Successful Business Library)


The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur: The tell-it-like-it-is guide to cleaning up in business, even if you are at the end of your roll.

Personally, I don’t like potty humor… but this book so consistently wows its readers, keeping it to myself would be mean!


Cleaning Up for a Living 2nd Edition


Lighten Up!: Free Yourself from Clutter

There are people who make a living by helping others de-clutter and organize their offices or homes.

Cleaning Up a Computer Mess: A Guide to Diagnosing and Correcting Computer Problems

I do this type of cleanup work at a much higher level than your desktop PC, and my work often sorts out human procedures as well as IT systems.