Chief Zen Officer
Blue Lotus Insurance Brokers, Inc.
When Rachael Rizzi, 39, first started her insurance career, she was not only one of the only woman producers—she was also “pretty young.”
But after over a decade in the business, Rizzi went on to start her own agency in 2014.
What advice does Rizzi have for other young women trying to make their mark on insurance? “If you’re not in a position to change the rules of the game, right now today, then you have to figure out how to play the game better than the people in your cohort.”
COMPETING AS A NEW AGENCY?
I like to compete in places where there’s either not a lot of guys, or there’s not a lot of people fishing in the pond. One of the reasons I picked nonprofits as a specialty is yes, it’s great to help people who are helping other people, but also, who sits on nonprofit boards? Rich and powerful people who own companies.
All those business owners have people knocking on their front door all the time, saying, “Let me quote your business.” For me, it was, “Let me help you with your heart, and then you’ll open your wallet.”
I try to be totally different from what everyone else is doing, whether it’s a product nobody knows anything about or early adoption of technology—whatever’s going to give me a competitive edge and make me able to do it better, faster, stronger and wiser than my competition.
YOUR APPROACH TO DIGITAL?
I’m actually in the process of redoing my website, because I think people get in this set-it-and-forget-it mindset. I’m a Gen Xer, so I’m kind of a generational translator. I get where baby boomers are coming from because that’s my parents’ generation, but I also understand millennials.
I love the fact that you can have social media and if you just take a little bit of time to plan out your strategy and what you want to say in your post and your content ideas, it’s pretty much free marketing other than your time. It’s a quick way to test your message without having to spend tons of dollars on things where you don’t know if it’s going to have the ROI you’re looking for.
As a new company, brand awareness is huge, but I also have a limited budget. The best way to build my brand is by building a digital presence, and it’s drawing in the kind of customers I’m looking to go after. That’s just really the way the world works now. If you’re not in the digital space and you don’t have a digital presence, you’re going to get left behind.
I named the company Blue Lotus, and I call myself the chief zen officer, and that’s a key differentiator. Everybody names their business after themselves, and I think that makes the relationship transactional. For me, I wanted our clients, potential clients and the general community to connect to our culture, to our core values, to the way that we treat people—for people to understand that above and beyond just the relationship and the pricing and the product, it’s about people and being good humans and doing business the right way, rather than just making a profit.
In a lot of our messaging, what you get is we put people first and money second—that we’re an insurance agency with heart. We’re really trying to do what’s best for our clients, and sometimes that’s at our expense. But when you do the right thing, eventually the money starts to follow.
Part of making the leap from being just a salesperson working for someone else to being a CEO, particularly as a woman, was giving myself permission to stand 100% in my authenticity. I initially struggled with whether I was going to say “namaste” instead of “kind regards,” but now, when I email people for the first time, almost all of the response I get is positive feedback. When they email me back, the first thing they’ll say is “namaste,” or “I love that you said that.”
It’s a better way to acknowledge and communicate with people, and it’s different, and it’s really, truly me. A lot of the philosophies and the way I run the company are based on those core values in terms of the way I treat people and the way I ask our staff to treat people. The way we communicate is really just about trying to pull those values through everything we do—even something as mundane as sending an email.
It’s a started-from-the-bottom-now-we’re-here kind of story. I’m second-generation—my mom has been in the business for about 40 years. She worked at the same agency for most of my years growing up, and when I was in college, I needed a good job.
I started out as a cert tech, so I issued certificates all day long—that was my only job. Then I moved to a different agency and was an assistant, moved to another agency and was an account manager, and then I spent about 10 years with another agency where I started as an account manager and later moved to inside sales. About four and a half years ago, I decided to go out on my own.
GOING IT ALONE?
I’m the kind of person where if I’m not climbing the mountain, I’m not living. My last agency was cool—they were very good to me, and I could have stayed there. But the job didn’t really challenge me. I really wanted to move up.
WHAT’S TO LOVE?
I got a nickname at my old company as the cleaner, because whenever there was something complicated or difficult or a client who was upset about something, they gave it to me. I thrive on the challenge of taking complicated cases and figuring out how to make them work.
We’re about 90% commercial, about 5% personal and about 5% group benefits. Most all of our group benefits accounts are over 50 lives, so we’re in that big group space, but we really only do it as an accommodation to commercial clients. Personal lines is not really something we go after—that’s also an accommodation to commercial clients, friends, family, referrals.
There are three agents, and we all have different verticals we go after. My biggest is nonprofits, and I also do some technology, real estate and construction. One of my other salespeople does contractors, restaurants and property, and the does personal care, med spas, day spas, tattooing, that kind of stuff. But we’re really a generalist. I have everything from small mom-and-pop restaurant shops to complicated international stuff.
My husband and I have been together 23 years this year, and I have two kids who are fairly small, so I spend a lot of time outside of work being a mom. The great thing about owning a company is that I get that work/life balance, like yesterday I spent half my morning chaperoning a field trip for my daughter. I work late at night or whenever I can, so I get a lot of work done—it’s just on my terms and when I’m able to do it.
BEST ADVICE YOU EVER GOT?
“Write your mission and vision in pen, and your business plan in pencil.” You should always have your end game in mind—that should not waver. But you have to be flexible about how you get there. You have to be able to pivot.
Photo by Tomasz Rossa