The number of independent insurance agencies is growing. “After declining from 44,000 in 1996 to 37,500 in 2006, the number of independent agencies has grown to 38,500 in the past two years.” So how do you stand out from the crowd? If you would like to start a successful independent insurance agency, you need three primary skills to establish, build and excel at your job.
You Need to Be a Relationship Builder
One of the primary roles of an independent insurance agency is to work with multiple carriers so that the clients get the best coverage and pricing possible. You need to cultivate relationships with each of those carriers. Working with underwriters and customer service agents and building relationships with them will give you important contacts within each company. As your clients have issues or questions, you have the ability to reach out to the company directly and get the client’s issues resolved quickly.
You also need to build relationships with your clients. As an independent broker, your clients need to trust and communicate with you. The first step in meeting your clients’ needs is to understand what they are. If you put in the time and effort to listen to your client, you will get a much better understanding of the coverage he or she needs. Relationships with clients are important because it is not enough to simply get them into a good policy. Your service and skills must be ongoing. Your client’s life is constantly changing and the best independent insurance carrier will know about those changes and make recommendations regarding coverage accordingly. You need to know what’s happening in your client’s life so you can make sure their insurance matches their evolving needs. As people purchase new cars or homes, coverage needs to expand. If a teenage child is about to get his or her driver’s license, you should start researching coverage now.
Happy clients will send friends and family your way as well. If you continue to build relationships with each referral, your client base will grow exponentially. Your ability to listen and provide a needed service—while maintaining your ongoing client relationship—will be invaluable to your business and your clients.
Networking can take a moderately successful business and help it grow. When you reach out and build relationships beyond your current clientele, you make yourself a networking partner. When you establish trust between yourself and another professional, you create a mutually beneficial partnership. It takes time to find high quality referral partners but they can be worth the effort. Your clients will appreciate quality referrals when they are needed for items such as financial planning, moving companies and realtors. Meanwhile, you can benefit from the growth of your business.
You Must Be Knowledgeable
Each insurance carrier has different pricing structures, coverage options and specialties. Your knowledge of each carrier and their offerings will help your clients and your business.
Some insurance companies specialize in high net worth clients. If you have a client with a high net worth that travels around the world, he or she will may need specialized coverage. There are several companies, such as Chubb and Ace, that can meet these needs. More expensive assets will require higher coverage amounts and additional riders that standard insurers may not be able to offer. If you are able to demonstrate your expertise and best serve your client, you will earn a loyal customer and his/her business.
While most insurance companies use the same information to determine rates, the way that information is used can vary by company. Some auto insurers may automatically cancel a policyholder that is convicted of a DUI, while others may only impose a moderate rate increase. If you are knowledgeable about each company’s offering and terms for pricing, you can get your client the coverage needed for the best price possible. You can also recommend changing policies if and when needed. When running your own independent insurance agency, knowledge directly correlates to providing the best service possible.
Communication Is Key
It is critical that you keep open lines of communication at all times. You must talk to the insurance companies on a regular basis. Legislation, industry changes or just time can bring sweeping changes within a company. Staffing changes can also bring widespread policy changes. It is important that you know about policy changes before they happen so you can give your clients a heads up when needed.
The fundamental skill needed for any meaningful relationship is communication. You need to communicate openly with your clients and encourage them to do the same. Life changes could necessitate important changes in their insurance. For instance, if a client becomes recently engaged, he or she may need to revise their coverage to include a new, expensive wedding ring. Communication with clients will allow you to anticipate and address their changing coverage needs.
If you have mastered relationship building and are incredibly knowledgeable about the insurance products and companies available, the next step is to communicate to the public at large. You need to be your own best advocate. Whether you are networking with a group of professionals or having brunch with family, don’t be shy about vocalizing what you do and how you help people. You are your own best billboard, so don’t be shy about advertising.