Don't be afraid to do old things in brand new ways, invest in education, and other lessons from over two decades in the industry.
When asked about my thoughts on perpetuation in the insurance industry, I wondered if I should focus on individual agencies or the future of the entire industry—it's a big topic. As I thought about me and my husband Ted's journey, launching Insurance Licensing Services of America, Inc (ILSA) in 1997, I realized that the mindset needed applies equally well to either situation.
Here are five lessons we've learned from over two decades in the insurance and compliance industry:
1) Don't let others tell you there's no place for you in the industry. When Ted and I founded ILSA, people said, “What are you thinking? Technology is going to make insurance licensing a thing of the past!"
Needless to say, that dire prediction didn't come true. The needs and preferences of those we insure are constantly evolving—not to mention the laws and regulations that govern our industry. Digital technology means that companies willing to explore new ideas have never been more able to compete with established firms.
So, if others, especially potential competitors, tell you there's no place for you and your business in the insurance industry of the future, don't take them at their word. Do your own research. Talk with clients and potential clients to learn what their pain points are.
Then, create a version of your business that addresses those pain points. Alongside committing to building strong relationships with your customers in the way that works for them, this will take you forward.
2) Don't be afraid to do old things in brand new ways. One of the keys to ILSA's success was doing an old thing—like getting agents and agencies licensed—in a new way, through a highly-automated system. Don't assume that “the way we've always done it" is the only—or even the best—way.
Lots of new players are entering our industry. It's not the time to rest on past accomplishments. Creating a diverse team, drawn from different cultural and professional experiences, can be a great way to generate new ideas and perspectives. Networking with professionals from other sectors of the insurance ecosystem can also yield great insights.
Of course, that doesn't mean you can't build on your own expertise to offer new products and services. This is where a little lateral thinking pays off. Most of ILSA's new services started with requests from existing clients. Again, listen to your clients and prospects. If they say, “You're so great at helping us with X! I wish you could do the same for Y," pay attention. If you hear the same things repeatedly, that's an ideal opportunity to expand.
3) Invest in education. Nowadays, what you know is often as valuable as any product or service you sell. That's why it's essential to invest in education if you want your business to continue to thrive and grow.
Training your team is part of it, but don't overlook the importance of educating your customers and potential clients as well.
One of the best decisions we made early on was to never turn someone away with the comment, “Sorry, we can't help you. That's not what we do." You can't be everything for everyone, of course. But cultivate a network of resources that you can confidently recommend to get people the help they need.
People will remember and appreciate it. Referrals are the best, least expensive way to grow your business. Use your educational content to ensure that you're the company people think of first when someone they know needs help.
4) Build a team for the future. The insurance industry is constantly evolving, which is why it's essential to invest in training your employees on the latest tools and techniques.
Even if you have a limited educational budget, there are tons of free and reasonably priced resources on the internet. Cross-training is also a great idea. Employees will increase their knowledge and value to the team, and to use a sports analogy, you will build a deeper bench that makes your company more resilient. It can also strengthen the bonds between team members by giving them a deeper appreciation of how each person's work contributes to the group's success.
Teaching leadership and management skills is equally important. When you grow your own talent, they know not only how to lead, but know your business inside and out. That's a powerful one-two punch!
As you look to the future of your company, team-building is also important. At some point, you're likely to want to retire—or at least turn part of the day-to-day over to someone else—but your kids aren't interested in taking the reins. That's not an uncommon situation for business owners these days. Succession planning is the time for frank conversations. Your chosen successors need to have not only the skills to take over from you, but a true passion for your business.
5) Don't let the day-to-day stop you from planning for tomorrow. Two of the most common reasons people give for not preparing for the future of their businesses are: “We don't have the resources" and “We're too busy just dealing with current challenges and opportunities."
But despite the old adage, the future won't take care of itself indefinitely. It requires planning and preparation over years. It's as important as the day-to-day—and often yields unexpected dividends in the here and now.
Your business is part of your legacy in this life. In my office, I have a whole bulletin board filled with pictures of employees, their babies and grandbabies. We've watched them grow up along our own children. Some of those children are even ILSA employees now.
Arleen Taveras is the cofounder, president and CEO of Insurance Licensing Services of America, Inc.