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.

www.kybredinsurance.com

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:

More Referral Strategies for Your Business

referral giftOver the past month in researching the ways that successful insurance agencies and businesses have garnered referrals, there are a handful of specifics that I have hinted at but never fleshed out.

In this post, I am going to give detail to those strategies.

1.  Make it easy for customers to refer.  Businesses that are successful at generating more referrals create templates that customers can use.  They give the words to say.  This really works well with email.  You can provide a message that they can easily forward onto their friends and associates.

2.  Generate testimonials.  This is more of a passive referral, but can be easily mined from customer experiences.  Anytime a customer has a positive experience with you, whether it is through a new purchase, a service experience, or a positive claim process, ask for them to provide a testimonial.  Surprisingly, this can be hard for a customer, but you can help.  Ask them to describe their experience and what they liked, then type it up for them, and ask for their stamp of approval to use.

3.  Strategic Partnerships.  I touched on this in the first referral post.  Find business and associations that you can help and they can help you.  In personal lines, credit unions, realtors, mortage brokers, financial planners, boat dealers, motorcycle dealers, etc are perfect partnerships.  On the commercial side, join associations that fit niches you write.  Offer to promote their business on your website or in other marketing you do.  Being a referral giver is often primes the pump to receive referrals.

4.  Creative Offers.  This can be sticky in the insurance industry due to rebating laws.  Most state DOIs have limits on how much you can gift a customer or lead source, and they only allow you to give based on the referral and not whether you sell it.  One agency I know did this, and found himself paying for terrible referrals, names on napkins and bogus phone numbers.  He cleaned this up by requiring qualified referrals.  The customer had to allow him to quote the business before a referral gift was given.

There are more things we can do for referring customers that provide a value.  Charity promotions are a great method.  For every referral written you give 1% of the premium dollars to charity in the referrers name.  You can provide seminars and workshops.  In PL, this is easily done for banks, credit unions, and realtors.  I have done this one behalf of agents within realty companies, and it has created nice referral streams.

Don’t be afraid to spend money to generate referrals.  This should be treated like any marketing effort.  If you know the value of a customer, then it is easy to figure out your money limits.  For example, if you have 750 customers that generate $100K in revenue, then each customer is worth $133 annually.  So you know, that your budget should allow you to spend at max. $133 to acquire 1 customer.  Spend less if you, but you know where you can’t go beyond.

5.  Local Media Resource.  Develop relationships with local journalists at the daily paper, local news, or business papers.  Curate insurance news and send their way.  Become the spokesman they go to when they have insurance questions.  This becomes free promotion, and makes you a trusted source of insurance.  

6.  Social Media.  This is really an extension of the old-school print testimonial.  You create online communities where you share experiences and information, allowing people to create reviews on your business.  Reviews become the social currency that their friends use to make buying decisions.  Don’t look on social media as some high tech foreign concept.  It is just a powerful way of generating testimonies and referrals.

I hope you enjoyed this series on referrals.  Our email newsletter should hit inboxes within days, detailing next month’s topic, and sharing some referral data that didn’t make it into the posts.

What has beneficial for you in generating referrals?  Comment below.

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

 

photo credit: NMinTO via photopin cc

Make Your Agency Referral-Worthy

Referral ConfidenceThe previous post, Improving Your Best Source of Business:  Referrals, was posted on a G+ community page and insurance professional, +David Berry, commented:

“I’ve never asked for a referral in my life. They just come because I’m good at what i do and am a master at seo, blogging, and social media. Perhaps I’m just spoiled, but it’s the truth.”

I have a feeling if David needed to ask for a referral, he would, and would do so fearlessly, with full confidence that he deserved it.  The confidence that he projects in his ability to offer incredible value to his customers is the magnet that sends referrals to his door.

Whether we ask or not, we need referrals, or our business would dry up.

So what can we do to do to become referral-worthy.

Confidence!

Do you have confidence in your ability to dominate your market.  How do you know if you and your office have confidence to ask for referrals?  No one is embarassed to ask.  One major way of combating fear is knowing who you are and why you are valuable as an agency because of the value you create for your marketplace. 

How do you create a culture in your agency convince of their unique value?

1.  Interview Your Best Customers.  These are the ones you wise you could clone, and guess what you can.  Their friends are just like them, and clones are what you will get.

Take them to lunch or dinner.  Ask, “Why do you do business with me?”  Of course they will say “service” or something generic and meaningless.  Ask, “Why is that important to you?”  A flood gate of data will rush out with specifics that matter to the customer.  Keep asking why, until you have reached the bottom.*

2. Interview Your Staff.   Ask you staff to brainstorm individually without filters as fast as possible in order to generate as many ideas as possible no matter how ridiculous or stupid.

Have them refine the list to at least five ideas?  Then coming to the group, begin sharing ideas (including the customer feedback), refining the best ones with commentary from the group.

Try to determine 3-5 things that set you apart and make you better than your competition in your market (your ideal customer).

3.  Tattoo your value on your agency’s soul.  Build some structure around those items to further ingrain their truth in your company psyche.  Find examples of you doing those items, look for testimonials regarding those items.  Have you received praise from companies and customers on your items?

Come up with as many anecdotes and testimonies as possible.  Use these to convince yourself and your people that this is really you.  This is what makes you different.  This is your brand and you can shout it proudly to everyone:

“If you want these things there is no agency better.” 

“If you have friends that need what we do, and we are great at it, you have told us, so then send them our way.”

Embarrassment and fear evaporate when the proof of your excellence is shouting at you. 

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

P.S.  What makes you stand-out among your peers?  What do you do that generates confidence within your agency?

*idea taken from The Power of Why by C. Richard Weylman.

photo credit: mahalie via photopin cc

Stop Asking For Referrals

small_22237769Stop asking for referrals!

In the midst of a series on generating referrals, I have decided to throw a curve-ball.

Don’t worry. Keep reading, and it will all become clear.

 

Not long ago, a successful sales person I greatly respect mentioned they don’t ask for referrals anymore they ask for introductions.  

Maybe it’s just a semantic change, but he swears by it, and it’s worth a shot.

The idea is that so many people react to the word “referral”.  It feels like you are turning them into a sales person (not that it’s a bad thing), and most people don’t see themselves in sales.

Asking for an introduction is something most people do every day.  Think about your own day.  Someone new walks into the office, you immediately introduce them to your staff.  You head to lunch, and while eating someone you know walks by, and of course you introduce him to your lunch-mate.

Everyone does this.  They don’t need special skills or training.  It’s natural.  They are selling and don’t realize it.

Here’s a test that might help determine whether this works or not.

Send out a referral email to your best customers, but split test it.  If you don’t split test marketing, this is a perfect way to get better and better at your copy and generating results.

It’s simple to do.  Send the same email out but tweak one feature, and see which one performs better.  I’ve done this recently with my own newsletter (you can sign up here), and learned something significant.  One batch of emails went out with the newsletter title followed by the term “May Newsletter”.  The second batch reversed the order by placing “May Newsletter” at the beginning.

Do you think there was a difference?  It was dramatic.  The email that placed “May Newsletter” at the beginning had a significantly better open rate.

So here’s what I propose to test this “introduction” idea, but if you do it, please report back.

Send out the following:

Thank you for your business. I truly appreciate serving you as your local agent.

If you’re happy with our services, I hope you’ll take a moment to refer your friends
to me.

To make a referral, forward this email to your friends, asking them to “Contact my Insurance Agent.”

When it comes to protecting what matters most, trust is important.

By referring your friends to me, you can trust that I’ll meet their insurance needs with outstanding coverage, value and service.

Again, I want to thank you for your business. If any friends are in need of assistance with their insurance, please send them my way. I am happy to help.

Of course, change the text as you see fit, but make sure both messages are identical except one big change.  Where the word “refer” or “referral” is found change to “introduce” or “introduction”.  If my sales friend is right, you will see very different results.

Be Productive,

Theron Mathis

P.S.  Don’t forget to report back with results, or if you have found this change to work for you.

photo credit: Afroswede via photopin cc

Improving Your Best Source of Business: Referrals

I am in agencies every week, and here’s a recent but frequent conversation.

“Good morning, <small talk> Where do you get your new business?”  I wanted to know how they were marketing and what was working.

Can you guess the answer?

It’s the same answer I get 99% of the time I ask:  Referrals.

Then I asked, “What do you do to generate referrals?”

Silence

“Do you know the referral sources?”

Silence

“Do you have any process to encourage or generate more?”

No answer

If this looks like your agency, don’t feel bad.  There is rarely an office I work with that doesn’t respond the same way.

Business is hard, and creating systems for productive activities often gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do list.

If this our #1 source of business, doesn’t it make sense to create a system around it to make it better.

This is the first in a series of articles discussing ideas and systems that agencies have used that help make referral generation intentional and not accidental.

medium_7158670888We could categorize referrals in at least three ways:

1.  Internal.  Your current customer base.

2.  External.  Lead sources and networking groups.

3.  Cross-Department.  Sharing referrals between commercial, personal, and life and health.  Let’s ignore this one for now, and save it for when we talk about cross-selling.

So what are some basic tips:

1.  Ask.  Make everyone in your office do this, and not just producers.  Anytime you have a positive interaction with a customer, especially at the time of new business, it is a good time to ask.

2.  Networking Groups.  These are groups like BNI, Kiwanis clubs, and Rotary.  BNI comes with the expectations of referrals, but civic organizations are different.  The key within civic organizations  is to build relationship and create value for people that often fall outside of your specific business interests.

3. Business Partnerships.  I am not referring to formal legal partnerships, but businesses and industries that need your product so they can sell theirs.  Within the insurance industry what comes to mind are realtors, mortgage brokers, lenders, auto dealers, boat dealers, motorcycle dealers, etc.  Developing relationship where you help each other grow.

Over the course of the month, we will examine each of these and talk through ways that you can implement strategies in the agency to track and enhance your best source of business.

Theron Mathis

P.S.  If you are doing anything today that is successful around Referrals, please share.  We want to hear from you.  

photo credit: aquopshilton via photopin cc