Whether you’re new to the industry, or brimming with experience, starting an insurance agency is quite the undertaking. A tall order for even the most seasoned agents. Yet self employment provides unbridled possibilities by putting the reins of success directly in your hands.
Luckily there are many tools available to aid you in your quest to build a successful agency. We’ve come a long way since the clipboard and manila envelope. Today automation and organization are a must to succeed in this industry. For that reason I provide an overview of technology you’ll need to get the right processes in place to allow for growth. But first, let’s talk a little bit more about you.
Agency owners almost always fall into two groups, Builders and Hunters. The Builders are your young professionals eager to go into business for themselves chiefly because they couldn’t imagine working for someone else. Self starters with an entrepreneurial spirit and zeal for insurance.
Then you have your Hunters. These insurance agents have previously spent several years working for another agency. They love what they do and are damn good at it. So good in fact that they decided to break the shackles and venture into agency ownership.
This group by far makes up the largest percentage of agency owners. Hunters are accustomed to working hard and excelling at their job. They have the obvious edge over Builders in that they have experience selling insurance, handling claims, and dealing with clients. They are great with people and even better at selling. But amid all their strengths, they also hold one distinct disadvantage: their tendency to concentrate solely on growing their own book of business.
It’s not that they’ve learned bad habits by working for another agency. Rather, it’s that their scope was not broad enough. By laser focusing on increasing their number of clients, they naturally overlooked the systems and processes that were put in place to manage the agency efficiently.
This is a common problem, not just for insurance agents, but for most people that decide to start a business of their own. So prevalent that author Michael Gerber wrote an entire book about it entitled “The E Myth” (which I recommend every agent to read). Gerber explains that most business owners fall into what he calls the technician trap. Rather than focusing on creating systems that can be replicated by other people they simply work longer and harder. Great businesses revolve around people, systems, and accountability.
The Hunters often fall into this same trap. In order to manage a sustainable agency, they need to focus more on establishing processes that are scalable and easily managed. That is why technology plays such an important role in the most successful agencies.
Builders are generally a little more methodical when starting an agency. Lacking industry experience they are more reluctant to dive right in. Unlike Hunters they cannot simply replicate what they had done while working for another agency. Rather, they often research different technology that aids in organization and automation. They really want to get their ducks in a row before they begin.
Captive or Independent
Regardless of your breed, the first major decision any aspiring agency owner faces is ‘captive or independent’. When it comes to implementing technology there are considerable differences. Most captive agencies require you to use software that they have built in house—agency management, lead nurturing, etc. On one hand this forces you to get some processes in place. However most captive systems are quite limited and don’t offer the automation and flexibility that are available to independents. Each captive agency franchise has different software offerings and rules regarding the use of outside vendors. If some of the systems I outline below look attractive, you might want to take this into consideration.
Now for the list…
1) Agency Management System (AMS)
Deciding on the right agency management system is critical for organization and management of your clients and prospects. And let me tell you, there are a lot of options out there to choose from. They range greatly in functionality, price, and flexibility. In your search for an AMS there are a few core elements that should be in place if you are looking for the greatest options for automation down the line.
Hosted on the cloud
There are reasons why virtually all new software is now cloud-based. Namely updates are automatic, data is accessible from anywhere with internet, and it’s more secure. Client/server software is a thing of the past, and so are AMS vendors that offer it.
If your AMS looks like Windows 95 then you have a problem. Starting a modern agency requires modern software. Not to say all pretty software is flawless behind the scenes. But trust your gut. When it comes to software, if it looks like a dinosaur it will behave like one too.
Your AMS is not a swiss army knife; it shouldn’t be filled to the brim with features outside of its core purpose. Several AMS vendors try to pack every feature under the sun in their product rather than partnering with other companies. With this approach you’ll end up getting a bunch of features that don’t work well. What you do want is an AMS vendor that is open to working with other software products that have their own niche. A seamless integration is vital for putting together effective processes from A to Z.
For agencies focused on P&C my recommendation is to check out QQ Catalyst or Xanatek. From my experience, they are the most modern systems available today. When it comes to product integration I give the nod to QQ Catalyst. They pioneered the first AMS market place and have, by far, the most offerings for vendor integrations.
As for health and life agencies I recommend AgencyBloc. This company focuses on education, automation, and is constantly innovating their software and building out integration. It’s a modern company which is reflected in everything they do.
2) Marketing automation
When starting an agency you should put serious thought into implementing marketing automation for lead nurturing. There are several ways you could go about this. Either separate your leads and clients and use two separate systems for contact management—or—utilize an AMS that offers marketing automation or that integrates with software that does.
For new agencies start by putting together automated drip email campaigns for prospects. This process is intended to nurture prospects and lead them down your sales pipeline. Automation here is critical. Check out functionality across AMS vendors, their integration partners, or checkout Constant Contact or iContact.
3) Referral, Retention, Review and Relationship Automation
There are some really nifty tools available for new agencies to get the most out of their existing clients from day one. You will find that, as you grow, keeping in front of your clients with regular meaningful communication will become increasingly difficult. You will also want to leverage your early clients extensively to bring in referrals, and to boost your credibility in the community.
Your clients will expect you to reach out to them regularly on very personal level. Our research has shown that the number one reason clients cancel policies is because they perceive that you are indifferent with their relationship. Keep in mind, automating communication to clients is much trickier than it is with prospects.
For this reason you should consider putting a system in place that will group your clients based on their loyalty. Hands down the best tool for this is the Net Promoter Score (NPS). There are several vendors that offer the NPS as a stand alone service, including CustomerGauge, and SurveyMonkey.
If used correctly, the NPS will also lead directly to more testimonials and online reviews. As a new agency, social proof will be critical to landing new clients. You need to get them to speak up as much as possible. For a more in depth explanation on how to use the NPS for your agency check out this post.
I suggest getting these systems in place early so that you don’t miss out on any reviews or testimonials. It will also free up time for you to focus on other areas of growing your agency. At Rocket Referrals we have years of data of which strategies have lead to the most sustainable growth for insurance agencies. These best practices are hardwired into our software to offer the complete head-to-tail automated solution for referrals, retention, reviews, and relationships. For those of you who are new to this type of automation check out a quick demo.
Becoming an insurance agent requires that you know your stuff—which is good news for the rest of us. Each state has their own standards regarding certification and continued education. Discovering exactly what is required across states can be made much easier with websites devoted to providing organized curriculums for aspiring insurance agents. We suggest looking into comprehensive online resources rather than fumbling through thick books and large spiraled binders. Some websites make this much easier, including online education and test preparation. For Health / Life agencies we recommend you check out National Online Insurance School for your insurance training. They have a very user-friendly interface and effective training program designed to get new agents certified within a week or two. Property and Casualty we suggest you take a look at The Institutes for online study and test prep resources. Other companies we recommend for Life and Health pre-licensing and continuing education are www.prelicense.com and www.webce.com.
Insurance agency networks (e.g. SIAA / Smart Choice) were created as a way for new agencies to get support from their peers within a specific region. Benefits include profit sharing, growth bonuses, marketing support, among other things. They also have vendor partnerships for new agencies to access discounts across different software products. This could be a great opportunity to save on your AMS, comparative rater, and other software. If you go this route however make sure you perform the same due diligence when choosing your systems. The most popular option is not always the best.
Over the years I have spoken with hundred of agency owners. Every time I ask the story of how they got started there is a consistent theme; hard work and long hours. The beginning will always be somewhat taxing. But it doesn’t have remain this way for long. Implementing solid processes and automation from the beginning will not only pave the way for long term success, it will allow you to enjoy that free time and freedom you were seeking.