You Can Survive and Grow Your Business During This Crisis – Here’s How

Dec 13, 2021

This is my fourth financial crisis.  I started my commercial real estate career in 1984. My first crisis began in 1989 when the San Francisco earthquake hit. I later experienced the 2001 Boom and Bust market. Then again the 2008 financial collapse.  And now an economic collapse initiated by a global health crisis, COVID-19.

The good news for me is that I feel I know what I need to do now to not only save my business, but take advantage of the situation and grow it.

Reflecting on the down markets I’ve lived through, my experience with coronavirus reminds me more of a similar financial impact that we had felt in 1989 with the earthquake. At the time, we were enjoying a relatively strong financial marketplace when a natural disaster hit suddenly.  Being a broker in San Francisco, our market just stopped in an instant.  We could not go back to our offices until buildings were determined safe to reenter.  We did not have the technologies we do today to continue business  during the crisis. In fact,  I recall our cell phone service was cut off, so we could only do calls on our landlines. We could not communicate with our clients at all. We didn’t know the what the impact would be on our clients, and we had no way to communicate. The overall fear was thinking maybe another, much larger, earthquake would strike again. Everywhere you looked, you could see our city was broken.

Uncertainty became the norm.  The earthquake hit in October 1989, but a perfect storm was about to occur as a serious national recession (some called it a depression) began to unfold in 1990.  Now, the market was in serious trouble and all salespeople began to wonder how they were going to survive.

I am a born and raised San Francisco native who never left the city. But at the time, I had a young family  and couldn’t help but feel fear and hopelessness.  We began to look for alternative places to live and came close to moving to Seattle.

I was always a top producer wherever I worked. Instead of leaving San Francisco and giving up, I began a reflection process and my natural instincts of drive and determination began to kick in.

Rather than throw my hands up,  I decided to start my own firm with partners who felt the same way.  Starboard officially opened its doors in February of 1991.  That year, and the following two years, I had the best years of my career. Most people thought we were crazy to start a new brokerage company in the height of such a down market.  We all saw it as one very big opportunity.

What learned quickly as we approached landlords that they saw the situation very different than we had. As a new company, we approached a building owner who had four significant downtown buildings. We spent hours working on our first serious listing presentation to make sure it was perfect.

When we get to the appointment, we expected and hoped for a long meeting with a lot of questions and answers, but instead the meeting lasted less than a half hour.

The owner cut it short and said he was giving us all four of his buildings as listings.   We never opened our written presentation.  When we thanked him, we asked why he would give us a shot without us letting us tell him our plans to get his buildings leased.  His response was, “If you are crazy enough to start a business in this market, you are crazy enough to get my buildings leased. You cannot afford to fail.”

Today, reflect on sales challenges you’ve had and what you did to overcome them. Let your natural determination kick in.  If you are sitting on your hands, just waiting for something to happen, you will be out of business (if you’re not already out of business as a salesperson).

Call up your existing clients, past clients and show you care. If you can provide any assistance and help your clients right now, you will grow your business in the future with them.  Calling new clients today will also pay huge dividends in the future. New clients will pick up the phone and answer your call. They too are desperate to figure out how to survive this crisis. You as a salesperson need to be proactive and help.

To date, as President of Starboard Commercial Real Estate,  I have received only two calls from my vendors. My banker and my IT person called to check in.  We have received some emails from other vendors, but that’s it.

You must call your clients. Don’t text or email.  They are tired of zoom meetings and trying to keep up the explosion of emails. Call your clients. If my firm is one example, then very few salespeople are doing this.  Be different. Bring back your drive. You will not only survive this crisis, but you will come out on top  and  grow your business by the time it’s over.

Written by: Hans Hansson

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Hans Hansson is President of Starboard Commercial Real Estate. Hans has been an active broker for over 35 years in the San Francisco Bay Area and specializes in office leasing and investments. If you have any questions or comments please email [email protected] or call him at (415) 765-6897. You may also check out his website,