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The multi-billion-dollar self-help industry

January 21, 2014

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Lots of businesses rely on people needing more than encouragement when they try to get fit.
weight loss lineup Vernon White
Weight loss proof: Montage from April 2007 through March 2008 by Vernon White.

Before that fresh new-calendar feeling wears off, you might want to take time in this early part of the year to check up on the various practitioners in the self-improvement industries.  Coaches, counselors and purveyors of wellness products are enjoying their peak season right now, and whether you seek advice and caveats for consumers shopping for self-help, want to find some interesting small businesess to profile or even craft a careers story for would-be helpers, you’ve come to the right month.

Dieting and smoking cessation are among the biggies, and represent some of the most well-established self-improvement industries; the research firm Marketdata Enterprises said last year that the weight-loss services industry had topped $60 billion, though as this press release indicates, the market growth is slowing a bit. That’s an observation you can follow up on now with local services, practitioners and sellers of weight-loss oriented foods and supplements.  Are people cutting back on diet help because they can’t afford it, because they are working longer hours and don’t have time to attend meetings and sessions, or because a greater acceptance of plumpness in the United States is prompting one-time reducers to throw in the spinach?  An interesting question, and you might develop some good stories out of marketing efforts that aim to get dieters off that spending plateau.

Smoking cessation is faring better; here’s an MSNBC report on the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Surgeon General’s report on the hazards of cigarettes, which starting snuffing out the habit, albeit slowly. There’s a lot of good background about smoking, costs, advertising spending and the like  in the MSNBC report, if you want to take a look at commercial smoking cessation courses in your area.

Beyond those two areas, though, are myriad other facets of life in which people strive to improve.  Depending on your beats, you might take one of the following  themes and explore local businesses that cater to them, personal finance angles and other helpful consumer info:


Jobs — hanging on to, or the lack thereof — represent on of the top worries in most households these days.  In addition to general life coaching and career counseling,  in poking around, I find a number of niche specialties in this realm:  sites touting “career transition counselors” and “interview preparation” offer help with specific skills and job-search milestones.  A number of professional groups represent these specialists, from the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches to the National Career Development Association to the Career Planning and Adult Development Network.  (Note that some of these and related groups represent people who work for non-profit agencies as well as commercial enterprises.)   And there are many life coaching groups, from the International Coach Federation to specialty organizations that represent religious life coaches, executive development, coaches for “mindful attorneys” and even coaches that specialize in helping people with ADD and other conditions.   In addition to profiling such businesses and providing consumer info about rates, services and expectations, you might check with your state’s attorney general and other watchdogs for consumer caveats.


From non-profit credit counseling services to credentialed financial planners to 12-step groups for debtors, spenders and shoppers, organizations that help people get a grip on their finances are big this time of year.  Personal finance is such a broad topic that you might select one angle — credit-card debt, retirement savings, frugal living — or one demographic, from recent college grads to seniors in debt — and focus on the businesses and professionals that cater to those needs.  Don’t overlook psychiatric practices, too, when it comes to dealing with issues of over-spending and debt.


Here’s a media release from a plastic surgeon ready and waiting for those clients who take “new year, new you” very seriously;  check with area practitioners regarding the market this month for surgery to augment or whittle down various body parts, as well as facial nips, tucks and injections.  (Don’t confine your calls to plastic surgery practices; I know of at least two gynecologists’ offices who are doing a brisk business in Botox and the eyelash-growing drug Latisse.  (In fact, I would suggest that non-cosmetic specialists getting themselves trained in the administration of some minimally invasive cosmetic procedures is another viable story if you’re on the health care beat.)   Obviously, salons, spas, personal shoppers, personal trainers and many other small business persons likely are getting new client inquiries this month as consumers aim to spruce up their bodies, wardrobes and overall apperance.


From matching services to date schedulers, the business of mating and relationships is big — about $2 billion a year and expected to grow nearly five percent annually, according to market researchers at IBISWorld.  This is a self-help story you can line up ahead of Valentine’s Day; in addition to the obvious profiles of services, look for the quirky:  One near me calls itself EduDate and promises to improve one’s “confidence, savvy and skills” via services like etiquette counseling, flattering photography, conversation skills, date planning and even a dry run on a mock first date.


From destructive video-gaming habits to substance abuse, how are firms that help and counsel addicts faring?  How is occupancy at rehab units and recovery centers?  What new specialties are developing to address tech addiction and other 21st-century pitfalls?  Check with medical schools, credentialing boards and trade groups about emerging issues and lines of business.


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