Tales of An Insurance Startup

Have you ever thought of starting a scratch insurance agency? Maybe you are on the edge of doing something, but fearful of taking the leap. Maybe you are an established agency, but could be invigorated by new ideas.

Here’s the story of someone who did it.

Matthew Carroll, began working in the insurance industry 6 years ago as a producer inside an Independent Agency. During that time, he learned a lot about lead generation and structuring follow ups for sales success. After a couple years, a State Farm agency reached out to him to become a producer inside an agency. He jumped at the chance, because it came with the hope of actually owning his own agency one day.

His tenure there was successful, but did not lead him to ownership as quickly as he imagined. So after 3 years of grinding away at production, Matthew took the leap and opened his own shop.

Granted this was no overnight leap in the dark. In fact, we spoke at least 6months before he pulled the trigger. He gathered all the necessary information he needed to make good decisions. He put together one of the best business plans that I had ever seen. Production targets were in place, as well as the marketing activities needed to get there. Then in Jan of 2017, he launched Kentucky Bred Insurance.


Matt came storming out of the gate, and was writing business and following his marketing plan from day one.

After 9 months, his growth has been steady and impressive. However, like any venture it has not been perfect and there have been a couple bumps along the way.

Recently, I sat down with him, and asked him about his first 9 months. Here’s what Matt has learned.

What things about starting and running the agency have been harder than you expected?

MC: The tension between looking at my goals to stay motivated, and remembering to do the day to day activities that will hit the goal. As things get hard, I have to look at the end goal to keep going, but it is really easy for me to fall into daydreaming about success, and forgetting to make my sales calls and marketing contacts. Yet, if I didn’t have those dreams the daily activities would grind on me.

Related to this is sticking to the activities I had set up in my business plan. There are times when the busy working of the agency takes over, and I don’t make time for the activities that will keep my pipeline full of leads.

Also, riding the wave of work/life balance. I’ve gone overboard in both directions.

Knowing where to spend marketing dollars had been really hard. Running quick calculations for return on investment isn’t difficult, but many of the activities I might do won’t have immediate returns. So how do I calculate for that? For example, say I run multiple Facebook ads, and I drives leads to me. That’s easy to calculate, but then 3-6 months later, a couple more leads trickle in from the campaign. I don’t mind spending money on activities that generate business, but because of the slow-acting nature of some marketing, it is really hard to make those decisions.

As I think about the future, and I realize that I need to start making hires. Planning for this has been harder than expected. Knowing which activities, I need someone to do, plus find them is becoming a challenge as I start looking.

What was much easier than you expected?

MC: Generating referrals has been much easier. In my other jobs as a producer, I would talk with family and friends and some would give me a shot at their business, but most wouldn’t. I don’t know what flipped when I started my own business, but I am getting more “yes’s” when I ask. Also I have had more people I know reach out to me to help them. I am not sure if it because they know I am the owner, and this isn’t some short-term job. Maybe my approach has changed because I have more confidence and urgency to sell as an owner.

A big surprise has been the amount of support I have gotten from other independent agents. There are several across the country that I talk with regularly, and they have been incredibly encouraging as well as very open about strategies and tactics inside the agency. My previous experience as a producer inside an agency was that everyone kept things close to the vest, and afraid of giving away their trade secrets.

What would you have done different?

MC: I would have been more aggressive at developing more and deeper relationships with influencers that are sources of business. At this point, I am doing more of that, but I relied so much on the low-hanging fruit of friends and family in the beginning, I didn’t work as hard on getting those lead sources in place.

What didn’t you know that you wish you had?

MC: I had no idea about the power of social media, especially Facebook, and its ability to generate business. Also how important content creation to drive business has surprised me. I am working on changing that and looking to outsource some of those activities.

Last question, what do you wish your companies would have done for you early on?

MC: In the captive world, companies do a much better job launching an agency. In my State Farm experience, there is a lot of marketing money given up front. Sometimes up to 50k, with other dollars trickling in to do marketing. Anything from a marketing side would have been nice. It could have been tents or banners for networking events, or even small amounts to help with lead generation.

Overall, I am happy about my decision, but not there is still a lot to do because I start realizing those daydreams.

Thanks, Matt!  To contact Matt go to his agency site, FB page, or LinkedIn account.

If you’ve done an insurance startup, do you have any advice for Matt? Leave your comments below:

The Lost Business Log: A Simple Customer Retention Tool

Don’t Let Quiters Ruin Customer Retention

The “Lost Business Log” is an easy tool you can use today that will help you get a handle on your customer retention.

not this type of log

This is a back-end tool that allows you to track customers leaving your agency.

You may be thinking, “How can counting my losses help me keep more business?”

The Lost Business Log does several things that will improve customer retention.

  1. It never lets you forget that customers are being lost and need to be replaced.  Even if you are only losing customers through death and moving, it is important to track because while there was nothing you or your companies did to send them away, they are still gone, and you need to replace them.  

  2. It forces you to change your marketing before it is too late.  Think about our first example.  If death and moving were the only reasons people were leaving, what does it say about your book?  Your demographics could be old or full of transitional type customers.  How does this change your marketing?  Reach out to younger customer or look for a more stable demographic.

  3. It gives you a crystal ball on at-risk customers. What are reasons people move: price, customer service, claims service, etc. The log forces you to ask these questions.  Perhaps it causes a followup call because they left without telling anyone.  You can send out an exit survey on why they left (email makes this easy). You can get them to commit to becoming a prospect again when things change. If possible find out their x-date, new company, and pricing. Then they become a prospect again.

  4. It can help you redirect referral sources.  If a particular lead source, whether outside like a realtor, mortgage lender, car deal, etc. or inside like a customer is the source of a lot of lost customer you can stop the lead sources.

  5. It can help you pre-qualify new business.  You may find in looking at your lost business that there are certain characteristics they all have in common.  They be monoline customers, multi-incident, single car, single driver, etc.  If you find these to be true, it can change how you quote and sell.

Here’s how to set it up.  You can use or paper or something like Excel, and include the following columns:

Customer name         Policy type         New company         New price         Xdate         Reason   

Don’t over-complicate the process.  Place a spreadsheet on everyone’s desk, and review as part of your month end checklist.

You will find this simple task will make a big difference, and help everyone feel the pain of losing customers, leading to conversations about how to keep them longer.

Theron Mathis


The Magic of Marketing Group Personal Lines Insurance

Group Personal Lines?  Is that possible?  Yes, but you have to be creative.

One of the best ways to cross-sell to your commercial and benefit accounts is through group personal line sales.


As we move into the uncertainty around the new healthcare arrangements  I have spoken with many agents nervous about their benefits departments.  They are not nervous because their products will suddenly vanish.  They are nervous because everything may become individual products, which could drop revenue through decreasing return on investment.

On the commercial side, agencies have just come out of a time when rates got soft and businesses contracted leading to dramatic drops in commercial commission income.

Group Personal Lines is a way of diversifying your revenue sources with leads you already have within your agency.

The trouble with marketing in Personal Lines is that you tend to market to one customer at a time.  Ultimately the sale comes down to person to person, but marketing one to one inhibits growth.  It does not scale.  You only have the capacity for so many marketing pitches.

Group Personal Lines allows you to market to a mass of people rather than one at a time.


What are the options?

Many carriers especially within the IA channel have special PL program for small businesses, associations, credit unions, banks, etc.

Once you start asking you will find multiple variations.  Some companies will discount every line of business for the groups, some will only discount auto, some offer payroll deduct, others give discounts on billing fees.  You will also find a multitude of different marketing options such as brochures, posters, payslips, letters, email templates.

The beauty of this as an Independent Agent is that you are not necessarily tied to the Insurance Carrier that provides the program.  Not all customers will fit, and pricing may not be competitive even with discounts, but don’t worry, you have a portfolio of company options.

It’s not about the discounts and special features.  It’s about lead generation.  It’s about getting your foot into the door to talk to 25, 50, 100 people about their personal insurance in one fell swoop.

Even if you don’t have carriers with special “group” programs, you can still do this.  Create your own special group program, because remember it’s not about the price or the features.  It’s about you and the value you create for customers.

You can design your own marketing toward that group.  You can create your own special features: annual reviews, email updates, dedicated claims people.

How do you do it?

1.  Think through groups where you already have current relationships.  These could be commercial or benefit customers, associations, or businesses you know.

2.  Make sure they are big enough.  I would always shoot for 50+ people.  If you go smaller, the numbers in the beginning will be frustrating, and you will be tempted to quit.

3.  Think through the demographics of the employees or members.  Do they match up with your ideal customer?  Are they people you have had good risk experience writing?

4.  You have your list.  Approach your carriers, and see if you can find any special deals.  Don’t get hung up here.  If there is nothing or little available, it is not a big deal, you can create your own.  Pricing is not the issue.

5.  Create a sales sheet to use to pitch to the group.  This is a one-pager that will be the start of your marketing efforts.  Don’t go further than this.  If they don’t buy, you haven’t spent too much time developing adwork.  Again ask your companies.  They may not have exactly what you need, but it can be a launching pad to developing your own.  They may have templates to use.

6.  Present to the group.

7.  If they are ready to go, get them to commit up front to the types of marketing you can do with them.  Create a checklist of options, and have them choose what fits in their group.  For example, access to employee email addresses, ability to call at work, regular meetings, promotions, break room or lunch room access, payslip stuffers, employee newsletters, etc.  Also get them to commit to how often you can visit.  Personally I don’t think you need to physically be there monthly, but you do need to have some type of monthly communication touch points

8.  Launch.  Make sure this is as big as you can make it.  Bring in food, have your marketing ready to hand out, have them bring dec pages and insurance questions.  If you leave with commitments, make sure you follow up quickly.

9.  Follow up.  Be consistent with your communication plan.  Schedule it on the calendar, and make sure you review consistently, and be patient.

10.  Repeat with another group.  Remember this is not magic and requires work, but the payoff can be big in time.

Theron Mathis

Bonus: Depending on how tech savvy you are you can make yourself look much bigger than you really are, and make them feel incredibly special by developing an internet landing page that captures customer emails and quote details.  This is much easier than you could imagine.  Your teenager can figure this out for you.  You can do the same with Facebook as well.  Email newsletters work as well.

Have you had experience selling PL to groups?  Any other thoughts or tips?


Best Business Podcasts for Agency Success

Do you listen to podcast further your business skills & success? Podcast

If not, podcasts are a great way to digest new content and enroll in automobile university (in the words of the late, great Zig Ziglar), and below you will find the best of business podcasts to help grow your insurance agency.

If you are new to the technology, podcasting is best explained as internet radio, but in the live streaming car radio variety.  They are episodic ranging in length from 10 minutes to an hour.  Anyone with a simple piece of software can record a show, save it to a file, then upload it to the net.

You will be amazed at how well produced some of these shows are and they are FREE!

If you own a smart phone of any variety, you have the ability to download and listen at your leisure. You can search iTunes and subscribe to every episode via your phone or iDevice.  For anyone with  a Droid, there are popular services such as Stitcher that you do the same.

Even the clunky Blackberry has a Podcast app built it.  It’s a little more work to subscribe.  You have to do some copy and paste of RSS feeds, but you can make it work.

If you need more help setting up your device, let me know in the comments, and I’d be glad to help.

I subscribe and listen to a wide variety of podcasts, but below are my business and insurance recommendations.  I would love to find more specific insurance related ones, so if you know please comment.

podcast 3

Here are my recommendations to you:

The Accidental Creative (iTunes / RSS):  The Accidental Creative is great for the business person looking to spur their own creativity in order to generate marketing ideas.  Full of excellent, short interviews.

The Advanced Selling Podcast (iTunes / RSS):  Two Sales Trainers and Consultants from Indianapolis provide short pithy tips for producers and managers on how to become better sales people.  Beyond the practical nature they will make you laugh.

Best Day Insurance News from AM Best (iTunes / RSS):  These are daily podcasts from AM Best, aggregating the latest in insurance news.

Beyond the To Do List (iTunes / RSS): This newer podcast interviews people across business channels around becoming more effective and productive at their daily work.

Content Warfare Podcast (iTunes / RSS):  Hosted by a fellow Insurance Agent, Ryan Hanley, Ryan rarely talks insurance, but he does gives tips on how he has applied the principles of content marketing to his business.  Along with his great tips, he secures excellent interviews with people who are successfully doing content marketing as well.  On an aside, his intro music is great.

The Entreleadership Podcast (iTunes / RSS):  Every business person should listen to this one.  This comes out of the Dave Ramsey organization and specifically from the business training he developed.  Episodes begin with a snippet from one of Dave’s business talks, then the host, Chris LoCurto takes over interviewing some of the best business minds of our day.  Recent interviews have been with people such as John Maxwell, Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), Mark Sanborn, Michael Hyatt, Patrick Lencioni, Robin Robins, Lisa Earle McLeod, etc.  If you enjoyed the interview, Chris LoCurto does and extended interview on his personal blog, and you can subscribe to that one as well.

Duct Tape Marketing (iTunes / RSS):  John Jantsch, of Duct Tape Marketing and the Referral Engine fame, runs this podcast.  This contains very practical marketing advice, discussions of social media, and referral generation.

Office Hours  (iTunes / RSS):  Dan Pink is a social psychologist, who has done an incredible amount research on how people are motivated, why they purchase, and how we can become better persuaders.  These are inconsistent, but when he release one, you will enjoy it and find plenty of truth to apply to your work.

Insurance Marketing Blog Podcast (iTunes / RSS):  This is a relatively new podcast.  John Carroll of InsuranceSplash has wonderful discussions of online marketing specific to the Insurance Industry. 

Mixergy (iTunes / RSS):  If you like interviews with entrepreneurs, this is your show.  The host, Andrew Warner, is a wonderful interviewer, pulling out the good and bad details of the entrepreneur’s journey.  You will leave each episode with actionable items that will make your business better.

The Smart Passive Income Podcast (iTunes / RSS):  This podcast is primarily directed at Internet Marketers (an industry that we as brick and mortar agencies can learn from).  Overtime it has morphed into general business tips regarding marketing and creating successful repeatable system inside your business.  Pat Flynn, the host, is a successful online business person, and he keeps these episodes lively and entertaining. 

Social Triggers Insider (iTunes / RSS):  Derek Halpern is an internet marketer who is obsessed with the psychology of persuasion.  Each episode will make you a better marketer and salesperson.

This Is Your Life (iTunes / RSS):  If you have never discovered Michael Hyatt’s blog, you are missing out.  He is the former CEO of book publishing giant, Thomas Nelson.  While there he became an uber-blogger, and remains an expert of productivity and creator a marketing platforms.  Recently he has expanded his blog to include weekly podcasts containing practical advice for any business person.

Zig Ziglar’s Inspiring Words of Encouragment (iTunes / RSS):  These are snippets from the late, great talks of motivator Zig Ziglar.  These are always wonderful pick-me-ups. 

Good listening,

Theron Mathis

P.S. Comment below with your suggestions.  Are there some you like that didn’t make the list?  What about devices or apps, any suggestions?

How to Get More Money from Your Insurance Companies

Money in the Cookie Jar

Do you need more money in your agency?

Of course!

Even if you didn’t, would you admit?  No!

There is extra cash hiding in the pockets of your companies, but there are a couple tricks to finding and securing it for your business.

So where are these hiding places, and how can you access them?

1. Profit Sharing Contracts.  It’s been my experience working in and consulting with insurance agencies, that most don’t optimize their profit sharing.  The biggest reason that this happens is that most of us are sales people and not accountants, lawyers, or actuaries.

The other reason is lack of standardization.  You have too many companies to keep up with the nuances of contract language.

Make sure you get your reps to explain the details at least twice during the year: when you make stop loss selection (if offered), and mid-year so you have time to adjust focus if needed.

Stop-losses can lose you a lot of money, primarily due to their cost.  Every company is different and some charge against your loss ratio, while others deduct points from your payout factors.

2.  New Business Incentives.  Company goals are different.  Some need more auto, others want to build their specialty book, umbrellas may be a focus, and others are looking for demographic targets.  Ask companies where they are wanting to grow and if there are any incentives for specific business, you might be surprised and could end up with a couple extra points of commission.

 3.  Marketing Money.  Whether a company has a formal co-op program or not, they all have budgets to spend on marketing.  First find out what kind of programs your companies.  If there is a co-op program, max it out early.  Budgets can change throughout the year, and will disappear if results deteriorate throughout the year.

 If there is no co-op, ask what their agency budget is.  This will give you a starting point so you know how much you can get.  If their budget is $4000 for their entire territory, asking for a $2000 sign will get you a no.

Here’s the real secret for getting marketing money.  Present a plan: how much you want to spend, how you will measure it, and how much it will return.  If you bring them a plan with real numbers attached with a realistic ROI, then you will get money.

The reason this works because your company rep has to make a business case to his superiors to get money for you, and you have made the case for them.

Remember, if it’s not measurable it will be hard to secure money.

4. Company Loan Programs.  Many companies have loan money, and you can use this to leverage their money for your growth.

What is even better is that many of these loans can be forgiven, if you hit certain production targets.

5.  Staff Incentives & Contests.  Whether advertised or not, companies have money that can help you incent your staff to round out accounts, cross-sell other departments, or sell new lines.

These can come in the form of gift cards, online money, catalog points, etc.

The great thing about these programs is that they allow you to give extra compensation to your staff without having it come from your pocketbook.

This comes with one big warning.  If you want to pool the incentives for the agency, rather than  it going to individuals, most companies will balk at the offer.

Did you notice the secret found in each tip?


Be shameless about asking, and get creative.

What are your tips?





1st Step to Get More Customers

Have you ever purchased a new car, driven it home proudly, knowing you had chosen well, a unique vehicle with special features and a beautiful color, only to suddenly pass several of the same vehicles within your first five miles?

Suddenly you see your smart purchase everywhere — in every other garage, in the carpool line, and at the mall.

I remember as a kid learning a new word, and believe it or not, that night on TV the news anchor used it, then it appeared on the pages of my bedtime reading.

Why does this happen?  Your brain is a filter and will only pay attention to what you tell it to and this is a secret to marketing.

The first secret to get more customers: know your ideal customer and you will find him.

There is no magic here, but you become attuned to what you want, then you start finding it.  Your marketing will be more attractive because you are not firing bird shot but arrows.

the perfect insurance consumer?

How do you determine your ideal customer?

1.  Look at your current book of business.  Pull out the top 10 to 25 revenue generating customer.

2.  Pick out the best of the best.  Of that group, would you consider any of those customers ideal customers?  Ask: “If I could clone this customer, would I? Does he pay consistently and generate little service activity?  Does he send us quality referrals?”  Try to find more than one of these examples in the list.

3.  List out the common characteristics of these ideal customers.  Don’t look at the characteristics above, but think about demographics: their likes, dislikes, marital status, income bracket, occupation, age group, zip code, children, education, outside interest.  How do they dress?  What do they like to eat?  What do they do for entertainment?  How do they like to do business?  How do they like to communicate with you?

4.  Create a clear picture of this person.  Just like you would draw up a job description for the ideal team member, create written description of your ideal person.  Get him in your head, share him with your staff, put his picture on your desk.

Then what?  After you do this, you will begin seeing this customer everywhere.  When you craft marketing, it won’t be to a general audience, but you will be writing to your perfect customer.  You will ask for referrals from people that will send you this person.

So, do you have an ideal customer?

Find Your Strength Zones

Copy of sept aerial

I fancy myself a vegetable gardener.  If you visited my backyard, it would look more redneck than zen.  I am afraid I am only one step away from planting in tires or bathtubs.  Even though my sense of gardening aesthetics is extremely lacking, I do understand zones.  If you garden, you understand what I mean.

Zones are geographical areas that have similar climates-mostly things like humidity, rainfall, avg temperatures, first and last frost dates.  You should quickly learn your zone because each seed packet will tell you whether the plant is appropriate for your zone.  This is common sense and non-gardeners understand this.  Bananas don’t grow in the arctic circle, and sugar maples don’t do well in the Sahara.

Your agency has zones.  These are places of deep fertility and abundant production.  Do you know where they are?  If you want to grow and improve, these are the places to start.

Think about what each individual in your office does really well.  Who is your most efficient CSR?  Who does the best job account rounding?  Who has the highest close rate?  That is a zone.  Now find out why that person is better.  Then either help them grow deeper and wider in that area or use their expertise to broadcast their skills throughout the office.

We often try to implement change in places where change is difficult.  It is much easier to become better in the places we are already good.

For example, one agency I know was discussing improvements to their agency.  In PL they had 5 people, we discussed the strengths of each person and they mentioned that one CSR in particular was always ahead in their work.  We went back and examined her behavior and used that to make overall workflow recommendations.  I have seen similar actions where the best closers are turned into your new business people and others are assigned to service related activities.

This is not only true with your staff, but in other places such as your referral sources.  Which ones are most fruitful today, and how can you develop it for greater success?  Are there any behaviors among sources that can be transferred?

Examine your strengths and multiply.

Do You Create Drive in Your Office?

DriveRecently, I listened to a book by Daniel Pink.  After finishing, I need the hard copy.  There is so much here that is applicable to what we do as leaders and managers.  The book is all about what motivates people, and is especially cogent to managers and owners in small business.

The book begins by dismantling the current carrot and stick approach most of us live with and practice to get results.  Then he replaces it with what he calls Drive or to be motivated by meaning.  He spends a lot of time fleshing out practical suggestions and does not discount the carrot and stick, but proves when to use and when it is counter productive.

His main argument is that motivation with meaning is comprised of three components:  Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose.

Autonomy is when we give more control to our staff than we are comfortable.  We allow them to be self directed to create areas of improvement.  One great example he gives is freedom days.  These are days or times that you allow the person to work on anything in the office that they choose.  This could generate needed efficiencies or greater marketing approaches in the agency.

Mastery is continual practice and help to develop skills that make them better.  See my posts on Talent is Overrated to get more detail here.

Purpose is helping the staff feel part of a greater mission.

There is a lot here that is applicable to agencies and needs to be studied.