Habits for Success in 2018

2018 will be here in a little over a week! What are you doing to increase your chances of finding financial growth and success next year? Here’s some advice of effective life habits small business owners should employ:

1)Surround yourself with successful people

American entrepreneur Jim Rohn once said: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
Let that sink in for a minute. We all develop habits and mimic the behavior of our friends without meaning to. What kind of people are you surrounded by on a daily basis? Try spending time with people who are successful, positive and confident. It’s almost a given that the behaviors that have been the catalyst for their success will rub off on you!

2)Don’t let burnout get the better of you

To do this, you must adopt a world view that isn’t jaded. Do the right thing for the right reasons. What does that mean? It means give the best of your services and advice to each and every client who comes through your door. Make it your agency’s mission to provide a valuable service instead of just a commodity. When the monotony of our daily tasks becomes overwhelming, it’s tempting to just mark off tasks on our checklist and get through the day, but real success and growth comes when we are able to remain focused on that mission of providing value and doing the right thing. Keep your clients’ best interests at heart, and you’re no longer just working a job, you’re making a difference in peoples’ lives.

3) “Hope is not a strategy”

This famous quote is right on the money. Don’t let hope be your strategy in 2018. If you want to grow, you have set clear, defined goals, and most importantly…if you want to reach those goals, you absolutely must have a plan. Your goals are worth nothing without one. First, write down what your dream agency would look like. How many people work there? How much annual premium are you writing? How many customers do you have, and what’s the average client look like? What lines of business are your writing?
Now, contrast that to what your agency currently looks like. How far away are those numbers from your dream agency’s numbers? Take the difference, and divide it into three to five increments. Use those benchmarks to make a plan for the next three to five years. You now have a small attainable goal for each year of growth that ultimately will take you to your end goal. Take the first year and decide what needs to happen to reach each number goal you set – number of clients, of premium per client, etc. – until you have a goal for each quarter of the first year. Sometimes, the vision of our dream business seems so far away and insurmountable that we feel burnout before we even begin. Having a five year plan and strategy for success each year can invigorate our efforts and keep us moving forward.

Increase your book of business using existing clientele

One of the best ways to increase the size of your book quickly is by tapping into your existing base of customers. There’s almost always more business to be had with your existing clients. Start by doing a review of coverage with each client. Then sit down with them and ask the right questions to elicit and uncover coverage gaps you can offer to fill. Use that opportunity to make them more loyal to you when you offer to shop their coverage and find them better coverage at a better price.
Start with your top premium clients and work your way down – selling personal lines to commercial-only accounts, and ascertaining if your personal lines clients have businesses you could potentially write for them. You already have a number of P&C clients on your book. What better place to look to increase revenue, than the people you already do business with? Not only does this increase retention and loyalty, it makes less likely your client will want to shop and move their business elsewhere down the road.

Part 4, Fees: Should I Join An Insurance Aggregator or Agency Network?

Many independent insurance agents, both new to the industry and established agents, at some point find themselves asking the question: “Should I join an aggregator or agency network?” Independent agents aren’t tied down by the restrictive contracts and obligations that captive agents are – but they face their own set of challenges as an independent business owner. This ongoing blog series investigates both benefits and drawbacks of agency groups.

Drawback #1: Membership fees
Agency networks exist because there are many insurance agents who need access to markets for their customers. The networks provide a service, and have to be compensated in some way to make money and stay in business. Therefore, they charge fees to the agency owner in exchange for access to markets. For an agency owner who’s just starting out in the industry and needs markets, but has little profit and cash-flow, this can be a problem. Agency networks typically charge fees in one of three ways: Monthly membership fees, initial start-up fees, or commission splits.

Some agency networks charge agency owners fees in MORE than one way, requiring a start-up fee, a monthly fee, AND a commission split on business written through their program. While others only charge a commission split. The commission split charge in some networks is taken on income earned through the carriers the agent accesses through the group, and/or on the commissions agents earn on the carriers with whom they have a direct appointment.The agency owner must investigate the contract of each agency network, and decide which network offers them the best markets for the littlest cost.

Part 3: Should I Join An Insurance Aggregator or Agency Network?

Many independent insurance agents, both new to the industry and established agents, at some point find themselves asking the question: “Should I join an aggregator or agency network?” Independent agents aren’t tied down by the restrictive contracts and obligations that captive agents are – but they face their own set of challenges as an independent business owner. This ongoing blog series investigates both benefits and drawbacks of agency groups.

Benefit #3: Access to training and other resources

Often an agency network can help with a variety of different types of training to help keep your agency current and competitive. They can set you up with specialized product training through the carriers with whom they partner, including keeping you updated on current carrier appetites in your state, and new products and services. In addition, they can assist you with learning to add other lines of business to your agency, such as education on commercial quoting procedures, or specialized markets. The best part is that you’ll often have a dedicated customer service representative available for questions as they arise, so you can learn as you build your business. Some may even provide marketing and sales advice in some capacity.

Part 2: Should I Join an Insurance Aggregator or Agency Network?

Many independent insurance agents, both new to the industry and established agents, at some point find themselves asking the question: “Should I join an aggregator or agency network?” Independent agents aren’t tied down by the restrictive contracts and obligations that captive agents are – but they face their own set of challenges as an independent business owner. This ongoing blog series investigates both benefits and drawbacks of agency groups.

Benefit #2: Higher Commissions

Another great benefit of an agency group is that they’ll likely be able to offer you better commissions with the carriers you access through them. Why? Because they’ve negotiated higher percentages paid out by their affiliated carriers on both new business and renewal business. Basically you have the benefit of being part of a large group which means you’ll have access to commission rates that are typically only given to larger, more established agencies. An additional commission point or two can make a big difference! This benefit can help off-set the fees or commission sharing required to become part of the agency group in the first place.

Should I join an insurance aggregator or agency network?

Many independent insurance agents, both new to the industry and established agents, at some point find themselves asking the question: “Should I join an aggregator or agency network?” Independent agents aren’t tied down by the restrictive contracts and obligations that captive agents are – but they face their own set of challenges as an independent business owner. This blog series will investigate the different types of groups that exist in the insurance marketplace, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of aggregators and agency networks.

Benefit #1: Access to markets and carriers

Perhaps the most obvious advantage, and the reason a majority of independent agents seek out these types of groups, is access to markets. What does that mean? It means independent agents don’t automatically have a carrier or insurance company they represent. They have to actively seek out contracts with multiple insurance carriers in order to offer their clients insurance coverage. The advantage for independent agents is that by representing multiple carriers, they can offer their clients more options, including TYPE of coverage plans, AND at the best price. Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult to get markets when an agent first starts out in the business because they have no history with the carriers in the industry. They have to gain the trust of the carriers first. Agency networks and aggregators can help the agent achieve this by establishing a relationship with the carrier first. This means that the agency network is directly contracted with the carriers themselves, and then – with their pre-established relationship – helps agents they’ve vetted and contracted with themselves, become appointed to write business with those carriers.

Stay tuned for more in our blog series!

5 Ways for New Insurance Agents to Gain Customers

5 Ways for New Insurance Agents to Gain Customers

 

It can be difficult for an agent just starting out with his or her own office to know where to start finding customers – and it’ll take a lot of hard work to get to a point where you have a steady flow of customers coming in the door. Here are some tips for getting off to a great start and creating lasting practices to help you achieve success.

1) Look Professional

If your office looks shabby and so do you, you’ll lose trust of potential customers almost immediately. Dress the part of a professional by wearing a suit. Keep a clean and tidy office. Post pamphlets, education tools, posters and window labels from your carrier partners. Have a designated waiting area that’s bright, comfortable, and separate from where you speak with clients. If you want people to buy from you, you want them to feel at ease and comfortable in your presence.

2) Partner with as many carriers as possible

This can be difficult when you’re first starting out, because you are likely a smaller agency and may not yet have a relationship with your local carrier representatives. To gain recognition and trust with carriers, you can partner with an “agency cluster group” which will help you gain appointments. Don’t be afraid to reach out and network with your local reps either. Set a meeting and buy them lunch. Interact with them on LinkedIn and other social media networking sites.

3) Use your customers for referrals

Starting a book of business from scratch will require you to build on your successes, and that includes not being afraid to ask for referrals from the customers you win. When you write insurance for someone for the first time, send them a “care package” welcoming them to the agency. Provide a folder with information on their carrier, information on how to file a claim should they need to (a great idea is to have a wallet sized or glove-box sized card for them to keep with step-by-step instructions on who to call first when claims arise), a small giveaway like a key chain or pen with your agency’s information on it, and 4 or 5 business cards for them to “refer a friend.”

4) Sell multiple products

Don’t limit yourself here. You should offer personal, commercial and life insurance products if you can. This will broaden your potential customer base exponentially. Not sure how to sell commercial and life? Smart Choice has programs that will enable you to submit your customers’ information and have the business written FOR you, and you’ll still reap the commissions. Click here to find out more about these programs (Commercial and Life).

5) Partner with a local real estate agent or office

Real estate agents are fantastic networkers. They also spend a lot of face time with their clients, and usually keep lists of recommended resource providers for all kinds of things for new homeowners. If you can become the preferred agent of a real estate professional, you’ll get steady stream of new customers coming in the door each month.

Tips For Being Your Own Boss

If you own your own independent insurance agency, then at some point you likely decided you wanted to work for yourself rather than for a captive company. Independent agents have to work especially hard to do their own marketing and customer recruiting, in addition to serving multiple other roles in their agency. But any small business owner should abide by some basic rules.

In honor of National Boss’s Day on Friday, here are some tips to be successful at being your own boss, no matter what business you’re in:

  • Do something you love. If you aren’t invested in your work, your business will suffer and cannot possibly be sustained. Make sure it’s something you’re passionate about so you get enjoyment out of building and refining something each and every day.
  • Re-invest in your business. It’s hard enough to maintain a small business on a day to day basis. Once you’re up and running and have a strong client list, you need to take the time reinvest in the places the business is vulnerable. This means education workshops for yourself so you don’t lose your creative spark, business coaching, hiring people to expand, new offices, refreshed website and branding, etc. Take your hard-won earnings and continue to grow and evolve your business!
  • Work a regular schedule. While making your own schedule is certainly one advantage of being your own boss, you can’t expect to run a successful business if you aren’t in it very often. You have to work regular hours to be able to serve customers when they need to be served. Be open. Some local businesses in town are only open three to four days a week and at odd hours that aren’t convenient to many shoppers. Their business suffers because of it. Be available!
  • Take time off. On the opposite side of the spectrum are the business owners who overwork themselves. Treat yourself as you would any normal employee. You can’t expect to adequately serve customers if you’re burned out. Find reliable people you trust to work in your business. Everyone needs good back-up.
  • Value yourself. Most of all, value your time. Use your time wisely. Charge accordingly. Recognize that you’ve worked hard to bring your business to life, and you can’t expect to sustain it without valuing the time and effort you put into it each and every day.

Three Marketing Tips for Independent Insurance Agents

Are you looking for new marketing ideas for your insurance agency in 2016? Here are three ideas you can implement TODAY to gain new business as you plan for 2016!

Be an information resource: Use a blog on your website, email newsletters, social media sites, etc. to be a resource for your customers. This is called “content marketing” and you’re essentially gaining website traffic from search engines by using keywords that consumers are already searching for. Consider that scores of customers are searching for specific insurance information every day – if they are searching for something you have posted yourself or re-posted from another site, you will gain more traffic and visibility in the community as a resource.

Run a referral contest: Run a referral contest through your social media sites! Many agents already rely heavily on referral business, but a contest that provides compensation to the customer is a great motivator to consumers. The prize you offer should be substantial enough to entice customers to make an effort. Cash gift cards are more versatile and work better than rewards like televisions or iPads because they’re more likely to entice. Post several times a week about the details of your contest, and make sure you include contingencies that will ensure the contest brings your agency more commission money than the money you’ll be spending on the prize!

Pick a niche market: What if you chose a niche market to be an expert in each quarter? This idea has the potential to earn you additional business from existing customers in ADDITION to new business throughout the year. One quarter you can advertise being an expert in writing policies for teen drivers and their parents. The next, you can advertise being an expert in small business or whichever niche with which you’re comfortable. And you don’t have to break the bank to advertise these capabilities. If you have a good online presence established, you can advertise in multiple ways for free:

  • Promote the market with a new fact about it each day on your agency’s Facebook page, Twitter account, and LinkedIn profile. Write an “announcement” – an informal press release – to post on your agency’s LinkedIn page.
  • Include a blog post on your website where you write about various options and policy types available to customers. Talk about the pros and cons of different coverages. Include stories and testimonials from customers who were saved from disaster by their insurance policies – this is especially good for coverages people don’t consider necessities, like umbrellas or life policies.

Like what you learned here? The October issue of Smart Choice Magazine will have even more tips! We’ve devoted an entire issue to marketing!

Smart Choice® Offers Special Commercial Opportunity for Nationwide Agents!

Smart Choice has a special opportunity for Nationwide Agents that provides access and support to a diverse group of competitive Commercial Lines markets. These markets are available immediately, and will enable Nationwide agencies to expand their access to quality, top-rated Commercial markets, receive higher commissions and bonuses, and gain training and support services from Smart Choice representatives. Nationwide Insurance Agents were recently given a letter of authority from Nationwide to begin working with independent Commercial Lines carriers and managing agent programs like Smart Choice in order to access additional commercial products and services.

Smart Choice is the fastest growing agency network in the country, with an agency base writing over $3 billion in premium, collectively. Through our program, Nationwide agents will receive the same great benefits including:

  • Access to top-rated, competitive Commercial Carriers
  • No startup or monthly fees
  • Ownership of 100% of your book of business
  • Ability to earn 100% commissions
  • No restrictions on adding non-Smart Choice carrier appointments
  • Direct access to carrier support and underwriting
  • Fast quoting through our Smart Start Commercial Program
  • Bonus and Contingency sharing opportunities

 How Does it Work?

Smart Choice shares a commission split with the agent, up to a certain level each year. When this level of commission has been reached, the agent receives 100% of commissions above that level. Smart Choice does not own an equity position in your agency—you own 100% of the agency and your book – nor does Smart Choice limit your ability to add direct appointments obtained through other carriers!

Two Ways to Access Commercial Markets through us

Smart Choice gives you two ways to access Commercial markets through their program.

  • Subcode appointments: To gain direct company sub-code access agents will need to commit to production and flow requirements and will have:
    • Lower production requirements through Smart Choice® (varies by carrier)
    • We provide Commercial Lines business plan assistance
    • Provide Commercial Lines marketing /business plan assistance
    • Dedicated Commercial Lines staff
    • Commercial Lines lead sources
    • Proven Commercial Lines track record
  • Smart Start is an online platform that allows agents access to commercial lines carriers in a user-friendly way, without needing an appointment. With Smart Start, agents simply use the easy-to-navigate carrier preference guide to determine the proper underwriting market, fill out and submit a prospect opportunity form to Smart Choice®, who processes and submits the form to our carriers’ in-house sales centers. The work is done for you!

Carrier access includes CNA, Grange, Liberty Mutual, Travelers, MetLife, Starr Companies, The Hartford, Foremost, Allied, The MainStreet America Group, and more!

Are you currently a Smart Choice agent taking advantage of our Commercial lines program? Let us know in the comment below!