How to muscle through an economic hailstorm

In March 2008, I started my agency.

I can tell you it was the toughest thing I had to muscle through at the time. No question.

I had a one-year-old son and zero working capital to start the company.

Right before I started the company, I was doing real estate with a guy who was less than ethical and essentially, I was out a significant sum. Ok, moving on.

The idea hit me for my current company. I started to write that down and build it.

I took the last $3000 to my name and locked in an office lease. I negotiated 3 months free because I knew I’d need it.

From there we got busy. Very busy. We set up the LLC, bank accounts, credit card processor and so forth.

We created a simple two-page site to pitch what we did, and we walked across the street to record a short video pitch (which was terrible). From there we wrote a basic intro email pitch and created a simple contract. Our initial rate was so cheap, but we needed to get going so we undersold.

From there — I started emailing every business card and personal contact I knew to make a short introduction and say “hey, this is what I’m doing these days..”

I followed that up with phone calls to each one.

In 5 days — we landed our first two sales. $2000 total. Small but desperately needed. We paid ourselves and focused on next week.

Keep in mind, this was a time when no one was lending money and hardly anyone was spending money or could spend it. As far as business goes — it was the hardest thing I’ve had to do.

I kept thinking — if we can weather this storm and get to the other side and build a culture of toughness — we won’t be stopped.

The tough patch lasted about 2 years. Maybe 18 months. By 2010 things started to get better for us. The agency was on track winning some prominent clients and doing consistent sales.

I read in the Tony Robbins money book that statistically any crash lasted about 12 months. That’s it. Also — there’s always a crash every 10 or so years. So, knowing that you just have to realize that there will be market crashes and it will only last 12 months or so.

So, you need to be able to grind it out through that period.

Will it take dramatically more effort? Oh yes, it most definitely will. But you can do it.

The noise of the economic collapse was deafening. It was all over the news. We were reminded daily.

It really was fight or flight and we chose to fight.

Our single, tunnel-vision approach was to hammer sales. I was utterly committed to becoming the greatest salesperson ever. I read everything I could on the subject, made zillions of calls, recorded myself to listen, tweak, refine and took notes which later lead to me writing my book, What Works

Sales handled all. That was my motto.

Yes, we need to iron out any production issues, work out systems, form policies and build every facet of the company but ultimately, sales coming through the front door allowed us to fund everything we needed. We could hire better people. Fill holes. Pay for expansion.

It’s easy to lose sight of this and focus on non-essentials. People can come with convincing arguments about how we need to focus on this or that but they all amounted to distractions and the thing that was really sacred, our primary objective was sales.

But in order to win sales, we needed to hammer marketing and PR to gain as much attention as possible, drive a staggering amount of leads and then sell sell sell.

We encouraged our clients to do the same. That’s become our market strength — helping companies drive attention and sales through things like direct response campaigns, sales enablement campaigns, enterprise sales demand gen, videos for product launches, etc.

So we sold and grew and weathered the storm.

The economic environment made us tougher and built a culture of productive paranoia.

Right now we’re experiencing a similar amount of noise and chaos. There’s obviously a very real impact from what’s going on and we’ll need to be smart to get through this.

As it relates to business — I know this, the people who get tough, who take extraordinary action and innovate, pivot and learn to weather the storm, that’s who I’d put my money on.

People will falter — but it won’t be because of the economic impact, it will be related to how they react to it and what they do about it.

— Robert

About Robert Cornish: Robert Cornish founded Richter in early 2008 to build an agency focused on communication strategies that support sales growth for business to business technology-related companies. Bootstrapped with zero capital in the middle of the financial meltdown, Richter went on to make the Inc 5000 list comprised of the fastest-growing companies in America five times. Richter made the Silicon Valley Fast 50 four times and the Entrepreneur360 award two times. Robert has been featured in Bloomberg Businessweek, Selling Power Magazine, Inc Magazine and IDEA magazine. He’s been a guest speaker for ACG Los Angeles, IASA Summit, West Point and been interviewed for 33Voices, EnTRUEpreneurship Podcast and IDEA Magazine by Northwood University. In 2012 Wiley & Sons published his book, What Works, about the lessons he’s learned while growing his agency from start-up navigating his way to a multi-million dollar agency. Robert currently owns four companies.

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Robert Cornish

Robert Cornish


CEO of Richter, an Inc 5000 company (fastest growing companies in America), author of What Works and Host of Revenue Leaders Podcast on iTunes