As I reflect on my career in the insurance industry, specifically the last 3 years I have spent at Smart Choice®, I think of the great mentors with whom I have been fortunate enough to work. My journey in the insurance industry started 22 years ago, when I was fresh out of college. I financed 90% of my college education by working nights and pushing through my studies to set myself up for something greater. While young and ‘corporate clueless’ I had a plan for my future after graduation and wanted to gain early experience. Answering an ad out of the local newspaper, I nearly missed the interview due to my lack of sleep from working nights. It was here that I met my first mentor - an Attorney by trade – businessman by family default. Although I had no idea where this job and decision would take me, it was the first step toward the career plan I envisioned, and I held myself accountable for making it happen.
Determined and yearning for experience, I began meeting with my mentor after work and school at the local diner. Over the next four years, I learned how to have a solid business plan, as well as some important tenants of accountability. Under his advisement, I planned out the next two years and stuck to my business and personal goals, adjusting course as the necessary. This early experience was key to my future success. A good mentor serves as a coach, who teaches the fundamentals, but also cheers you on while not doing the work for you!
Many people fail to understand accountability, its importance, and where it begins. Whether you are a new business owner or an experienced leader, it starts with YOU! Good leaders know how to foster a culture of accountability and execution. They make commitments and they keep them.
Accountability begins with you!
Accountability cannot be delegated!
Accountability defines success and failure!
After multiple moves, and a 14-year career at an International Commercial Insurance Carrier, I found myself at a juncture in my career and my personal life. I made the difficult decision to leave the security of my existing life and move to another state in order to support my spouse’s career opportunities. When I took this leap of faith, I thought I was making a risky decision by taking a significant pay cut and essentially “starting over” in a new role, at a new job. It was scary. It was uncomfortable. And I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing.
This is an important part of my story, just as it’s an important part of many independent agents’ stories. Many of you have taken a leap of faith to change course and go out on your own. However, no great reward comes without risk!
Little did I know this position would change my life, both personally and professionally. This decision would bring two of the most important mentors (and now dear friends) into my path. Upon arrival, I realized quickly that all I needed to do was dust off the tools I had acquired over the years and reinvigorate my busines plan and goals to stay the course. In the end, it was the relationships I developed in this new role that led me eventually to my position at Smart Choice. As I reflect over my last three years here, I can’t help but feel incredibly grateful for the crossroads in my career that led me to this point.
Without developing goals and plans to achieve them early on, and without the help of the mentors and relationships I forged along the way, I would have never had the opportunities I have now. Each new experience provided me with tools and wisdom in my career journey.
How does this relate to agency owners?
Business plans, both professional and personal, are so important in articulating strategy, providing measurable insight, and achieving execution. As an independent agent, you are on the front line, consulting with clients about protecting their most important assets, and positioning them to achieve their own secure future. You are a mentor and an advisor in a world increasingly driven toward faceless, online interactions.
This alone gives you a leg up on your competition. Remember you are accountable for your own success. Figure out how to leverage your strengths by clearly differentiating your business in the marketplace! Key pieces to a successful business plan are Objectives, Mission, Products, Local Market Analysis, and Strategy and Implementation. Objectives need to include: 1) How will you reach your customers, and 2) How you will help define their insurance needs. Will you be an order taker or a consultant? Pinpointing which customers you need to reach will assist in determining how you will reach this target audience. Define what YOUR unique value proposition and sales distribution strategy will be.
Also, it’s important to remember - clear objectives are great, but most small businesses fail on implementation. Make a plan for implementation and execute! Be accountable to yourself. The business plan will help you do this!
Getting off the ground in business requires a significant investment of your time, especially in the insurance industry, but remember that planning is paramount to your success.
Change is something we're all reluctant to face, even in the best of times. Mostly because it is uncomfortable and foreign. Last year was full of discomfort, fear, unknowns, and an entire host of other emotions. It was also full of new triumphs, and human growth. We can use our newfound adaptation skills to continue reinventing how we do business, why we do business, and how we can translate these changes into more success professionally. Check out the 2021 Issue 1 of Smart Choice Magazine for more.