People are losing their jobs, as we know from the headlines. In our city, people’s income is going down, as we know from my intrepid reporting. We are all nervous about the immediate future, with good reason.

It seems that many people are busier than ever earning money and trying to trim spending. There isn’t yet quantitative evidence to support an assertion that we’re busier than ever, but I expect that it will be coming.

One measure of busyness is the number of people holding two jobs.  Both in sheer number of people and as a percentage of all employed people, the measure was down in November compared to past years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). It could be that there are fewer second jobs to go around, or it could be issues like not being able to afford transportation or childcare in able to work two jobs. It’s hard to tell.

The BLS’s American Time Use Survey is the best gauge we have on how people are spending their time, but it always lags one year behind. So the best we can do is to observe and make general observations. It does appear that as jobs are being cut, the workload falls to others, who then work longer. Other people are working two jobs, while still others are busy hunting for a first, second, or new job. Nonprofits are certainly overworked these days, with need increasing but donations and volunteer hours decreasing.

In short, people’s time is still limited, but at the same time our nervousness about the future compels us to prepare ourselves by honing our skills. That brings us to the third problem you can solve in 2009 for fun and profit.

No. 3: Continuing Education

Problem: People have less time.
Assets: Meeting space is more affordable; desire to learn is up; Web technologies are abundant.

Online universities are thriving in the current environment, as people want to go back to school but have limited resources of time and money to spend. There’s a strong market out there for other entrepreneurs to reach.

Supplement online learning with face-to-face meetups in physical classrooms and take low-residency education local. Photo by Flickr user Cherice, under a Creative Commons license.

I personally see the greatest potential not in webinars, online courses, how-to blogs, or Web-based professional networks, but rather in combining those media and technologies with face-to-face interaction. Take low-residency local.

“Low residency” is a popular way of offering master’s degrees. I can get an MFA from Seattle Pacific University without moving to Washington state; I simply fly out there a few times over the course of a couple years, and do the rest of the work from home. I think the situation is ripe for local low-residency offerings, and not just from traditional higher-ed institutions.

Every time I need to leave where I am (like home or work) and go somewhere out of my way, the educational experience becomes a degree more high-residency. High residency equals inconvenient.

At the same time, people are hungering for something more than discrete mini-workshops. Find a way to offer a series of face-to-face mini-workshops (especially with a networking element added in) where participants can continue learning online between meetups, and you’ll have a very marketable product. Spread hours of instruction over several weeks by chunking it out and conducting at least half of it online.

Cheap space: The nice thing is that there is a lot of real estate just sitting around right now. Company offices have conference rooms that they’d love to rent to you or let you borrow. Hotels and other traditional meeting places are getting less business, so rates are more negotiable than ever. All sorts of buildings sit empty in the evenings and on weekends.

Who’s going to take this opportunity and capitalize on it in 2009?

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Read Part I – Construction
Read Part II – Journalism
Read Part IV – Lending