South Carolina agent, Jeremy Powers, opened his independent agency on January 1, 2020 – only three months before the start of the global pandemic that would dramatically shift the business landscape over the next year.
It was a huge leap of faith, and a shock to those who knew him, after spending ten years as the Agency Manager for two captive agencies that had been ranked in the top three percent of sales in the Southeast region. A guaranteed yearly salary, and a booming business made the decision seem out of left field. “Everyone was completely flabbergasted when I told them I was leaving to go independent. Ultimately, I was doing very well and had a great, comfortable job, but unfortunately, I had reached a plateau and couldn’t go any higher unless I decided to leave and be an agency owner myself,” said Powers.
"I had reached a plateau and couldn’t go any higher unless I decided to leave and be an agency owner myself.” -Jeremy Powers, South Carolina agent
The decision did not come lightly to Powers, who had been researching going independent for some time. As someone who takes the nature of his career as a risk advisor very seriously, he was looking for a better way to serve insurance customers and be a force of change in peoples’ lives. “To me customer service really means looking out for your customers above all else. When you only have one company, it's hard to prove it's the best fit for every customer that comes your way, and you end up hoping you don't lose the customer over it. I didn't like that," Powers said.
As he pondered his options and investigated what it would take to get started, he came across Smart Choice, and reached out to South Carolina Territory Manager, Rick Matthews, to ask a few questions. Although he didn’t make an immediate decision, the two formed a friendship and stayed in touch over the next three years. When Powers finally decided to take the leap, he said he never really looked into any other networks in depth because of his relationship with Matthews, and the counsel Smart Choice provided about opening his own agency.
“I did have a few other agency groups reach out to me, but honestly because of the relationship I formed with Rick, I never looked at another avenue seriously. I believed that if he had been with the company that long, then Smart Choice must really stand behind what they do. Usually, people don’t stay with a company they don’t believe in,” Powers said. “I’m a pretty loyal person, and I chose to stay with Rick and Smart Choice because they did a really great job of helping me understand what the independent world looked like.”
That trust gave him the confidence he needed to move forward, and because of the amount of prep work he had done, he said the agency was fully running in just under 60 days. Powers’ agency started strong – so quickly, he noted, that the South Carolina team offered to help him with back-office details so he could focus on selling.
“I know how to sell and build relationships, but the daily aspects of running a business were challenging. Having advisors at Smart Choice help me learn how to navigate things was a godsend and an amazing resource,” he said. “They helped me put a strong foundation in place so my agency could succeed immediately. I think they help agents grow the RIGHT way – and that’s really important."
"The daily aspects of running a business were challenging. Having advisors at Smart Choice® help me learn how to navigate things was a godsend and an amazing resource.”
Even in the midst of the global pandemic, the agency grew from $0 to over $1 million in business in just 15 months. Powers credits this rapid growth to his ability to get appointed with major carriers from the beginning. “If I hadn’t partnered with Smart Choice, I don’t think my agency would be near what it is today. I don’t think I would have known how to get the major appointments I was able to get – simply by them having built relationships with these carriers for years. They gave me instant clout."
They set me up with a major carrier who hadn’t appointed anyone in the state in two years, and the rep met with me solely because of the Smart Choice South Carolina team. Their relationship and history were so solid and good that I was able to get that meeting simply because they vouched for me.”
One of the biggest challenges Powers found himself facing was having to learn so much about so many different carriers, after coming from captive background where he only had to be an expert in one.
“As a new agent, I believe I’ve been able to do better with my individual appointments because of the confidence that Smart Choice gave me in the markets available to me. It’s been a huge shift going independent, but if you’re willing to put in the work, MAN is it worth it for your customers. I 100% made this leap for my clients and not me,” said Powers. “I feel like if independent agents are willing to put in the work and they really do care about what we do – then we have the ability to find the right risk and company that’s perfect for our customer. We’re able to provide what they really need instead of just having to HOPE that the company we represent is going to be the best fit.”
As it turns out, doing the right thing pays off, and the transition has been well worth it for his career. His office is currently expanding to add Commercial, and to accommodate additional staff. “Things are going so well that at this point, I’ve already crushed my goal for 2021 and we are only four months into the year,” Powers laughed, as he added that his close ratios have gone from 30 percent to 85-90 percent since his transition to the independent world. “I haven’t spent a penny on marketing and I’m a million-dollar book of business in one year. I’m a big networking person and I rely heavily on referrals. I really believe relationships make you successful. When I was in the captive world and people would send referrals my way who were willing and ready to sign up with me, I might be way out in left field on the quote I was able to give – but now I’m able to show them four to five different companies and find someone who is the best fit.”
Being able to offer his customers coverage with carriers he trusts are a good fit and will provide the best options makes the sale easy, he noted, adding, “Honestly, we hardly ever lose these days. If they call us, we’re almost certain to write the business.”
Despite his success, Powers says his purpose in going independent was never about money but recognizes that being able to help people inevitably requires a certain level of achievement. When he first decided to go independent and start his own agency, Powers took all the right steps to carefully put in place a plan, and quickly recognized he would need a quality business partner. He simply wanted to make sure that any business partner he took on would share his values and mission. Powers said he found that in Smart Choice.
“My mission is much bigger than worrying just about filling my bank account. The whole reason I became an agency owner is because I wanted to give people a place to go to work where they’re happy and fulfilled. The culture Smart Choice has created was very apparent in the way their field reps behaved and loved the company. Loyalty says a lot. Seeing the length of time people spend working with Smart Choice just further cements in my mind that the company is serious about their mission and serious about what they do.”
Powers said he believes Smart Choice shares the type of work culture he believes in and strives for “Even their in-house staff is a gift from above. One of their staff, Angela Limbaugh, has spent countless hours helping me with minute details, and I can't thank her enough for being willing to help me be successful," Powers laughed. “They employ people that are some of the most giving people I’ve ever met in my life."
“Smart Choice has been such a crucial part of helping us build a foundation..."
“Smart Choice has been such a crucial part of helping us build a foundation, and I feel like my agency is only barely scratching the surface of it’s potential. So, whenever the business completely takes off – there’s no way my agency is going to falter. Money is just a by-product of what I do. I wanted to do right by my clients. I couldn’t do that working for just one company. I want to change the landscape of insurance because I think it’s so important. Everyone thinks it’s about price, but it’s not – it’s about value – and Smart Choice gets that. The people you spend your time around is who you will become. Smart Choice is the kind of people that an insurance agent who wants to prosper and be something more than just a glorified salesperson needs to be around – that’s who you want to be partnered with. To me that’s worth way more than money.”
An Evolving Commercial Marketplace
Businesses in the future will definitively want to be prepared with emergency plans in place for future interruptions. Insurers will want to see that small businesses have better business continuity plans in place – which most will after surviving 2020. Check out the 2021 Issue 3 of Smart Choice Magazine to see how independent agents can help businesses and commercial clients hit the reset button and navigate an evolving insurance marketplace as we move forward.