A business associate of mine once shared a list of some of his favorite small business adages. He has owned and successfully sold several businesses over the years and is proud to have regularly implemented changes to his operations by following some of his own nuggets. He is semi-retired now but always thinking of ways to make operations and procedures better, to produce positive results.
One of his nuggets that I particularly like relates to strategies. For those who have developed a written business strategy in the first place, his advice is to "change the spokes on your wheel rather than reinvent it" - his variation of the common adage.
Sometimes a small change is all that is needed to steer your strategy back in the right direction. We too often get overwhelmed thinking that we need to change everything when business is not coming-in as we had hoped.
This is particularly important to remember when refining the strategies within an agency marketing plan. It could get you where you want to be without a huge amount of changes.
Sometimes referred to as ‘business on the books’ or ‘renewals’, etc., ‘policy expirations’ is also an often loosely used term that to some refers to the book of business that an agency has or will develop over a period of time. At its very essentials, it is what stays on the books. However, “expirations” really encompasses more than that alone. It also includes various information and data about your clients - your valuable customer relations information.
Agents need to clearly understand the wording and meaning of their rights to retain and possibly move their developed business at the termination of an agency contract, for whatever reasons. Also, they need to make sure that their hard-earned and valuable clients’ data does not get jeopardized in any way.
This is just one of the critical points in an agency agreement that needs to be fully understood.
I always recommend that the agency principal have a legal review of the contract, from an attorney who is well-versed in insurance carrier developed contracts.
In some States, both the Independent Insurance Agents Association (IIA) and the Professional Insurance Agents Association (PIA) have archive libraries and related services that can help with contract reviews for their members.
I have known unfortunate agents who have been blind-sided in agency termination situations because they signed an agreement that contained one or more such important sections that they really didn’t understand.
I posted a blog addressing this subject once before - about four years ago. However, it is so important, I am emphasizing it again.
I refer to them as "Agency Networks" based on my past relationships. They have a lot of other names within the P&C world, such as: Agency Groups, Clusters, Premium Aggregators, Agency Franchises, etc. They serve a very important role in the P&C industry. Choosing the proper agency network for affiliation should provide a solid base for an agency to succeed. These agency networks can be a very effective way for an agency to acquire markets and services that might otherwise be difficult or not likely attainable in the P&C marketplace.
However, when evaluating any of them, you need to ask a number of critical questions and you must receive clear and understandable answers, in writing. Believe it or not, here is one question that I sometimes see overlooked or misunderstood, in the course of an agent’s due-diligence evaluation of the best options for him or her to proceed in building the agency.
You must ask: Who owns the business that I produce as a member of your Network?
Obviously this question is critical but I have known agents who have joined agency networks without asking for clarification about it and have paid the price, as a result.
Make sure that you are totally clear and comfortable about all of the circumstances regarding ownership of the business before you sign a contract. Your business future may hang in the balance!
If you want my list of other questions to ask, please contact me.
Agents often ask me for ideas about how they can make their on-line presence more effective, particularly in terms of attracting more eyes to their websites. I am certainly not an expert but I have collected many ideas over the years and try to stay as current as possible with them. I often share them with my clients but thought I would also start doing so on some of my blogs.
Here is one idea that has proven successful for agencies that write commercial lines. Consider conducting brief, monthly interviews with the owner or owners of small businesses in the area, who are your current clients. Use YouTube videos if possible. Interview a different client each moth.
After brief introductions, ask them to describe their business operations in two sentences or less, adding a few comments about how their services benefit the community. You might ask a few other related questions and even add some comments ...but keep it all short and to the point. It can be helpful to have the interviewees comment on what they do in the community and what might be scheduled events of possible interest to others. They might also want to briefly describe a claim that occurred and how your agency may have helped in the resolution of it. (But don't make the interview a "love-fest" about your agency.)
Then post their interviews on your agency website, as "featured client/guest of the month" or something of that nature. Also, share the interviews on your social media accounts and give a copy to the interviewees for posting to their accounts, if they desire.
"Do you have a current, written marketing plan?"
When I am talking to insurance agents about their markets needs and determining how I can help them, I find that very few of them have a current written marketing plan. Maybe 10%.
In my 45 years in the marketplace, I have determined that there really isn't anything an agent can provide that is more important. In addition to showing initiative and providing your own road-map plan for success, having a written plan is important to carriers and agency networks, as it educates them on how you are going to attract the kind of profitable business that they want to write.
Toward that end, a useful marketing plan does not have to be lengthy at all. Actually, I have seen one and two page plans that are perfectly acceptable since they effectively define the path.
A "good plan" is one that does the following:
Always be prepared! (Who said that?) Before you talk to carriers about possibly accepting you to represent their respective companies, you must do your research about them. With the technology at-hand these days, there really is no excuse for not being knowledgeable about each carrier's history, news, current published plans and at least a little bit about everything in-between. It helps you "stand-out" from the competition. You can also talk to other agents who already represent them. Among your other preparation strategies, you need to show initiative in the form of interest in them as potential business partners.
Just as importantly, don't get caught in a discussion with them without a written marketing plan. It does not have to be elaborate and some carriers will require that you complete one in their desired format. However, when you are asked if you have a written marketing plan and you have to answer "No", it puts you in an uncomfortable position and saddles you with a decided disadvantage.
A good marketing plan does not normally have to be a complete business plan, with extensive financial projections. Carriers are typically more interested in how you are going to attract and write the desired, profitable business they want. Additionally, the marketing plan does not have to be ten-plus pages in length. A few pages will usually suffice - definitely think quality vs. quantity. Start with general contact info, of course with experience backgrounds, including specialties. Then describe your agency operations in a couple of paragraphs. Next, express your strategies for acquiring the prospects you will hope to turn-into clients and carrier customers. It is important to be realistic. You should expect to be asked exactly how you are going to implement each strategy and the obstacles you may need to overcome to do so. Be as specific as possible.
There is a lot of free information available, to give you some good ideas as to what to include. I can also provide you with my thoughts, if you want them. I collect marketing strategies.
Always be prepared. It will serve you well in your efforts.
There are of course several ways to approach carriers in your efforts to get appointed. However, there is one good approach that is often overlooked.
Assuming you have developed some extent of a network of agency friends and business acquaintances, find out which ones already represent the carrier or carriers that you have determined will be best for your needs. Ask them if they will refer you, in terms of a simple call by them to their carrier rep or someone in a higher position, if feasible. Beforehand, give the potential 'fellow agent referrer' a list of your references, along with key strategies you will employ to attract the kind of profitable business that you have determined the particular carrier likes to write. You should know this based on your prior research about the carrier.
A P&C Agent and I were talking today and discussing his options with regard to the agency network group that might be best for him to consider, based on his particular circumstances. He asked for my opinion.
I explained that I do not normally recommend one group over another as I want the agents to make their choices based on their own evaluations. I supply some of the tools and related advice to help them make the most informed decisions but they decide on the final choice.
To help them in the decision-making process, one question that I like to ask is: “What do you really want to do?”
It sounds simple enough but the agent needs to decide if he or she wants to be inside an office, fielding calls, processing business, supervising other production people, etc. or does the agent want to be free to produce outside the office and not be involved with the day-to-day activities of running an agency. Of course, there can be a lot of room in the middle of these two scenarios but the answer to the question: “What do you really want to do?” is often not asked of agents. The answer is really very helpful in the process as many agency network groups offer variations to their main program models, to accommodate different agents’ needs.
It is too easy to assume that all agents want the same thing in terms of their involvement in the insurance business. My image is often not their image.
I see a lot of questions from the insurance public about this important coverage. Renter’s insurance policies provide a considerable amount of coverage for a relatively small premium. For starters, it is extremely valuable coverage in the event of a loss to your personal property from perils such as fire, smoke, theft and several other common loss circumstances. It also provides some coverage for liability which can be of significant value. Other desired coverages can be economically added.
From a personal standpoint, my Wife and I saw the value first-hand when our Sons had a severe kitchen fire in their apartment in Raleigh, NC a few years ago. Fortunately, no one was hurt but the apartment became totally uninhabitable as a result of the fire and smoke damage. Because one of our Sons was astute enough to have purchased a renter’s policy (…he finally listened to his Parents!…) they were reimbursed for all of their burned and smoke-damaged possessions. Additionally, they received full reimbursement for living expenses elsewhere while restoration was being completed. When the landlord sued them for negligence related to the cause of the fire…which was quickly thrown-out in court…the insurance carrier provided them a defense for the allegation of negligence, including the presence of a defense lawyer during the formal hearing.
All-in-all, it cost our Sons their very affordable premium and a small loss deductible to get back to their lives. Without the renter’s policy, they would have been ‘hurting’ for a long time!
Lately, I am making it a point to ask many people I encounter daily in business settings – both formal and informal – if they are on LinkedIn. Most are and I ask them if I can connect with them after meeting them. It is an easy way to make more meaningful connections. Just change the automatic invite message wording to a more personal one, possibly referencing your conversation earlier in the day or mentioning something significant or mutually interesting, that you discussed together. The chances are that this practice will result in stronger business connections for you. It has worked well for me.