Fortunately for insurance professionals, the opportunity to start and grow a successful independent insurance agency has never been more obtainable.
Two key dreams in American life are the dream of owning a home and the dream of owning a business. Both dreams encapsulate our national ideals of independence, success and self-determination. As daunting as the homebuying process may be, the process of starting and sustaining a successful business can be even more overwhelming.
Fortunately for insurance professionals, the opportunity to start and grow a successful independent insurance agency, though still intimidating, has never been more obtainable.
Here are three questions you should ask yourself before starting your own agency, as well as some best practices to address those questions and get you on your way:
1) How will you stay alive until you thrive? I've been privileged to work with literally hundreds of agency entrepreneurs, and this is always the first question I ask. The capital requirements for equipment, inventory, rent and other costs for a new agency are modest in comparison to many other startups. But it often takes far longer to build agency income to the level required to sustain the founder's personal living expenses, much less allow for the hiring of employees necessary to sustain growth.
While it may come in different forms, the answer to this question is preparation. Preparing a plan to support yourself is absolutely critical to ensuring your new business survives. If you can't pay your personal living costs, you will be forced to close what otherwise could have become a thriving business.
Among other things, building and ensuring the stability of your spouse's income, if applicable, can also be critical steps in ensuring you are prepared to launch a business, as well as knowing the assets you have available to sell should you need to create ready cash. I suggest having savings for a year of personal expenses in the bank. Often that is more than enough—with strategic budgeting and cash control.
Careful preparation will not only create confidence as you begin, but ensure you have the staying power to succeed.
2) How will you begin to achieve success? In my experience, the reason most agencies fail is because the founder didn't develop and follow a well-thought, realistic business plan with a detailed, carefully researched financial forecast or budget. A great plan, broken down into weekly and monthly forecasts and tasks, will allow you to maintain your confidence during the startup period and greatly increase your odds of success.
That plan needs to include comprehensive details on who you will market and sell to, including how you will do it. The plan should also detail the products you'll sell and the insurance carriers you will represent. A very important but often ignored component: The plan should include the activity levels required to achieve projected sales. Finally, the plan should include a projection of closing rates and cash flow timing.
The good news is that a plan isn't difficult to develop. Your sales activities can usually be forecasted realistically based on your previous experience—if you realize your time will be occupied with tasks other than sales activities as you assume your new role as chief cook and bottle washer. Further good news is that great data, in the form of benchmarking studies and more, is available from sources like the Big “I" both nationally and in your home state.
3) Who can help you? Years ago, while attempting a rope course, I failed repeatedly to complete a challenge. Finally, the course instructor said, “You are making something very easy quite impossible because you won't accept the help your friends are freely offering!" That day changed my life. I realized to accomplish my plans and goals I needed to bury my pride and recognize that no one truly succeeds in life all by themselves.
There are endless people and organizations that can and want to help you succeed. Start with your friends and your family. Make sure those closest to you share in your vision and are committed to helping in any way they can—whether it's money, encouragement or buying insurance from you.
The Big “I" and its state associations have tremendous resources to help you. In fact, I used their resources when I decided to get into the agency business, and I'll always be grateful for the advice, support, tools and fellowship I received.
Additionally, in terms of carrier access, new agency owners can partner with companies that serve as market access providers or aggregators. These organizations can make carrier availability simple and profitable to obtain. Also, state governments, local universities, vocational schools and chambers of commerce have resources to help startups. Finally, entrepreneurial coaching organizations offer recipes for success and customized support and coaching.
The important thing is to be humble, look for help where you can find it, and take it willingly. You'll be amazed at how others will respond to your requests for help and assist you in realizing your dreams.
Starting your own insurance agency requires faith in yourself and a demonstration of courage as you seek a better life and a bigger future for yourself. And while a significant challenge, it is imminently achievable with good planning, preparation and a little help.
Tony Caldwell is an author, speaker and mentor who has helped independent agents create more than 250 independent insurance agencies. Learn more by visiting www.tonycaldwell.net.