As an independent insurance agency owner, time is of the essence. When your inbox is a flurry of emails from customers, carriers, partners, and others all at once – time management and streamlined processes are vital in order to ensure your customers are provided great service.

Below is a method for organizing your email to save time and energy, while ensuring nothing slips through the cracks.

Steps to Create a Rule for Sorting Customer Email and Forwarding to Proper Department:

  1. On Outlook main page, select “Rules” drop down and “Manage Rules and Alerts”.
  2. Select “New Rule”
  3. In “Step 1: Select a Template” – select “apply rule on messages I receive”
  4. Click “Next”
  5. Under “Step 1: Select conditions” – Select “with specific words in the subject or body”
  6. In the bottom in “Step 2 Box”, click on the blue text that says “specific words
    1. Enter the words you would like Outlook to search for (i.e.: ID Card, verification, etc.)
  7. Once all the word you want sorted are entered, click next.
  8. In “Step 1: Select action(s)” –
    1. Select “forward it to people or public group”
    2. OR Slect “move it to the specified folder”
  9. Once again in the bottom “Step 2” Box click the blue words link to determine the destination.
  10. Select Next
    1. On this screen you can choose and exceptions to the rule you would like to include. If there are none, Click “Next”
  11. In the final screen:
    1. Name the Rule
    2. Choose to Run the rule on messages in the current account
    3. You can also choose to “create this rule on all accounts” this will run the rule for all accounts on your outlook.
  12. Click “Finish”
  13. ALWAYS test the rule by send yourself a test message FOR EACH WORD SEPARATELY.

That’s it! You’re finished, and your email is now more organized and ready for your inflow of daily emails.

 

About the Author:

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Brandon Sherman, owner of S&H Insurance and an OAA member, has over seven years experience in the insurance industry and operates his business in Alva, Oklahoma. He has been an active member of OAA since November 2017. As an independent agency, he has access to thirty insurance companies; giving S&H Insurance the ability to find his customers the best coverage for the best rates. Connect with S&H Insurance on Facebook. 

Person Holding Pink Piggy Coin Bank
We recently had a Circle of Excellence (our regular informal discussion with high performing partners) discussion about the role of a Chief Financial Officer in a growing business. One of the great questions that came out of that discussion was how to prepare to borrow money from a bank.

I’d like to address that question here from the perspective of an active entrepreneur, bank board member as well as the CFO’s expressed perspective.

Essentially, it all comes down to building a relationship.

The smart business person understands that she may need to borrow money to grow the business, even out cash flow, buy assets, or for some other purpose somewhere in the business’s development. It’s very important, regardless of how you feel about debt, to prepare for contingencies.

The first step in preparing to borrow money is to do it before you need it. Wherever you have your business banking set up go meet a loan officer. Take them to lunch and talk about your business and your plans. Get to know the kinds of business, and the kinds of loans, his bank likes to make. Understand from his perspective what they look for.

What you’ll hear in that conversation is that they like to loan money to people who are well organized, know how to run their business and have a plan and solid ability to pay back the money. For new business people the most important thing may be an excellent credit score.

If you haven’t had a good set of financial statements prepared for your business and a comprehensive and a well prepared personal financial statement, get your CPA to assist you in putting them together. What is on there is important, but so is the presentation of the information. Ask your new banker friend what he thinks of your business and your financials. Are there things you could do to improve them? Are there areas he thinks he could assist that might speed your growth or boost your cash flow?

Even if you don’t need money now, consider asking for a small line of credit. These are profitable business for a bank and offer an excellent opportunity for you to begin borrowing and repaying financing. The point is, to get started well in advance of when you might really need to borrow. Perhaps you never will, but the wise business person is prepared.

Remember that your banker is a business person too. He needs to make loans to generate income and so has a genuine interest in loaning you money. He would also be grateful for referrals and is also able to give you referrals.

If you haven’t already established a lending relationship for your business, resolve to do that during the first quarter of the year. From a financial statement perspective, it’s a logical time to do it, and it is a great idea to go into the new year with new capabilities!

Clear Light Bulb Placed on Chalkboard

The fourth quarter is the time of the year when business people typically work on preparing budgets for the coming year. This is an important process that should involve all of the leadership of the business, in some capacity. Having a good idea about what to expect for sales, expenses, and cash flow, are critical to running any successful company.

But budgeting is not the same thing as planning. Though many business people operate as though, and they don’t understand the difference.

Business planning is the process of stepping back from the current financial picture of the business and asking questions, then deciding on answers. Questions to ask should include:

“What business are we in?” Are we in the personal lines, commercial lines, commission, fee, advice, service, sales or some other kind of business? This is a question about what we fundamentally do.
– The second question is “What business(es) do we want to be in?”
– Third is: if the answers to the first two are different, “What changes do we need to make?”
– The next question is, “What are our growth plans?” This isn’t a question about what is going to happen to us because of external forces (like commission cuts, rate actions, current trajectory of employees, etc.). It’s a question about what we want to happen and what we’re going to do to make it happen.
– Following logically the next question is, “What resources will we need (money, people, equipment, etc.) to make what we want to happen?
– Finally, “What specific steps, actions, investments will be required to do all of this?”

The list above doesn’t mention budget at all does it? That’s because the budget comes from the answers to the questions. The budget isn’t a document that just projects the current situation into the future (unless that’s what you determined from the planning process).

A big key to understanding whether you’re doing “planning” or not, is to see who drives the process. If it’s the accounting department, you aren’t planning. If the driver is the visionary and operating leadership, it may be.

Budgeting is critical to a growing business because it’s what allows you to execute the plan without running out of cash. But it, by itself, doesn’t grow anything.

Planning is the process that tells you where you’re going. As Yogi Berra said, “You’ve got to be very careful, if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”

In the insurance business, agents sell a lot of things. Distressingly, many sell a cheap price and others sell things like, “service” or “relationship.” Regardless of how you close deals, and what convinced your prospect to become your customer, the most important thing bought or sold is the promise to make someone whole after a “claim” occurs.

What is a claim? For those of us in the business that get frequent calls about wrecks, fires, floods and other kinds of “occurrences,” it is all too easy to think of them as paperwork, losses, problems, extra work or something similar. Something to be “processed.”

To our clients they are huge inconveniences. Disasters. Personal tragedy.

When a claim occurs our client’s lives are disrupted, and often permanently changed. This can mean large, unplanned for, and potentially personally difficult financial costs. It can mean permanent dislocation, or life trajectory changes, or massive pain and suffering. Claims are always a big deal to those they happen to.

My home flooded on New Year’s Eve. At the beginning, it was bewildering to move unexpectedly out of our home into temporary quarters. Then it was maddening as contractors and others made the damage worse, and frustrating and emotionally unsettling as every aspect of our lives from getting dressed and going to work, to what we would do in our free time, suddenly changed. What followed was a period of nothing happening to get our lives back. That made us feel angry. Now we are faced with moving back into our home which fills us with dread at all the work ahead.
Our insurance company has paid the bills and been easy to work with, a not altogether commonplace victory. We’ve heard regularly from our adjuster, not just about money, but about how we are doing. They are building a raving fan customer for life, while fulfilling the promise they made when they bound coverage.

Our agent hasn’t had to even get involved, but how could they have been? They could have called regularly to check on how things were progressing, how we were getting along, asking if we needed recommendations on anything. In short, they could have reached out and, instead of just talking about “service” or “relationship,” demonstrated it, and they would have built a raving fan customer for life.

What do you do when a client has a “claim”?

Tony Caldwell used to specialize in Workers Comp. Let him tell you a little about the most profitable line of business in an insurance company.

Insurance companies have made agents’ work easier, by establishing claim hotlines and other services to assist when their customers have a claim. This reduces the agent’s workload, and usually improves the customer’s experience, with speed of settlement. But, it may also destroy an agent’s opportunity to create an unbreakable client relationship.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Certainly, the agent can still be involved in the processing of claim notices and the process of getting the claim properly and timely paid. The agent can be an advocate for the policyholder. These are increasingly optional tasks for many agents. If that agent is satisfied with high customer turnover, and focused primarily on building business through premium savings, then it may even be an acceptable business model.
On the other hand, if the agent is a good business person, she will recognize that customer retention is far more profitable than customer acquisition. She will see claims as the biggest opportunity she ever gets to build her business for the profitable long term.
Clients for life are not created when a policy is sold, they are created when a problem occurs. There is no bigger problem for a client than a life altering claim.
Here are some suggestions for ways to make a permanent relationship impact when your client experiences a claim:

1. Show up. Go to the claim whether it’s a body shop or a burned hulk that used to be someone’s home. Go visit in the hospital. Meet at the body shop.
2. Care. There are a myriad of ways to do this. Showing up is the first. Listening is important. Doing things that help instead of just offering to makes an indelible impression.
3. Communicate. At the beginning, and regularly, throughout the claim. Explain what to expect. Ask if expectations are being met. Intervene whenever, and wherever necessary to solve problems. Demonstrate that service is more than a slogan.
4. Explain. Help your client understand what they are entitled to, and when necessary, what they are not, and why.
5. Do the unexpected. Send a note, text, flowers or anything else that just says, “we’re thinking about you. Let us know if we can help in any way.” This used to be commonplace in life. It’s not any longer, so common decency stands out.
6. Wrap it up. When the claim is over, recap what happened including all the things that were done on the client’s behalf.
7. Ask. Did it go as the client expected? Worse? Better? Is there a way you could improve next time?
All of this is easy to manage and simple to do. I guarantee that if you do it, all the time, your retention AND your referrals will skyrocket.

About five years ago, every insurance company we represent suddenly got focused on something besides new business flow.  They began focusing on something they always knew about.  They knew it was important, but seemingly not as important as sales.  Then I guess they all went to a seminar, did the math, and discovered how valuable focusing on retention is.  Now, I don’t have a single carrier meeting where that number isn’t discussed, in detail.

It’s just as important for agents to focus on and it’s the best way I know of to make a lot of easy money.

Let’s consider an agency with $250,000 of annual commission income, and an industry average retention of 80%.  This agency is losing $50,000 of income every year!  Just to stay even they must have an incredible new business machine.

What if they could move their retention from 80% to 90%?  Obviously, changing this number would increase agency revenue by $25,000 per year, and agency value tremendously.

This was our challenge a year ago with an agency we acquired.  We aren’t there yet, but in one year, we’ve gotten to 89%.  Here’s how we did it:

  1. We focused on it.  That number is reported every month and everyone on our team looks at it.  There is an old business saying that, “what gets reported gets done.”  It’s true.
  2. We did a coverage review on every customer. This has all kinds of benefits, but it drives retention too.
  3. We shopped every customer’s insurance and we do it every year. Let me ask you, “what the hell good is an independent agent that acts like a captive?”  Captives only have one product to offer.  A huge part of the IA value proposition is choice.  But, if you don’t offer that, you’ve thrown away a competitive advantage.
  4. We quit writing monoline business. This business has the highest acquisition cost, the highest turnover, and the lowest profitability.  Why would you do it?  And, if you are going to do the second most important thing to drive retention up (cross sell) you need to lock the door on customers first.  Don’t write monoline!
  5. We aggressively cross sell. Our agency goal is 2.5 policies per customer.  We aren’t there yet, but we measure and report this number every month. Every study since the beginning of time shows that retention goes up when the policy per customer count does.
  6. We increased communication. We contact customers about something every month.  We don’t let them forget us.  The side benefit is there is a much-improved chance they’ll think of us when they decide they need some other kind of insurance.

What are you doing to drive retention, agency income, and value in your business?

I’ve written about the critical importance of cash flow, and the difference between that, and profits, before. These two things, and understanding them, are critical to the new business’s survival.

Critical to its continued growth is a healthy balance sheet! To revisit Accounting 101, the balance sheet is the other half of any business’s financial statement. Their report shows the assets of the business, its liabilities, and how much equity the business has.

Obviously, it’s important to have more assets than liabilities at all times, but there are a few other things every business owner should measure every month:

– Quick Ratio. This is the ratio of current assets to liabilities. The ratio should always be greater than one. If it isn’t insolvency on the horizon, you should be taking immediate action to collect or generate cash! Target a ratio of 1.25.

– Days of Working Capital. This is simply how much cash you have (some include short term receivables, but I don’t recommend this as you may not be able to collect when you need to) divided by your monthly overhead. In other words, without taking expense reduction measures, how long can you stay alive if you don’t receive the income you expect in any given month? Everyone has a different risk tolerance, and new businesses never have enough cash, but I recommend a minimum of 30 days. You’ll sleep better with 60 or more.

– Debt Coverage Ratio. When you apply for a loan, your banker is going to calculate this before he gives you an answer. If you want the answer to be yes, make sure you have free cash flow (not profit) for the last 12 months, and preferably 36, equal to 1.25 times the proposed debt service.

If you have Agency Bill businesses, or other receivables, I recommend 25% for 30-60 days, 35% for 60-90, and 50% for anything uncollected between 90 and 120 days. If you have receivables older than that you’re kidding yourself if you think you will ever collect. Write them off.

I find a shocking number of new businesses owner’s don’t have a balance sheet or don’t understand what it means. If that’s you, find an accountant to help you, and explain to you what you’re looking at and show you how to do these simple calculations. They will keep you safe and keep you growing!

I was having lunch with a very bright and talented young friend, this week, when he observed that he “should have” done something in his past. He was expressing regret for missing an opportunity that won’t come again.

Everyone has things like this in their lives. As we go through the years, sometimes there are too many choices for the time or resources we have available. There are also opportunities that we either don’t recognize or for which we don’t see value when they show up.

As we look back and recognize these missed opportunities, we have a choice about what we do with them.

Many, like my young friend, feel regret and a certain sense of wistfulness at the missed opportunity. Others punish themselves feeling that they were foolish, immature, or cowardly for not having taken a certain path. I believe such feelings are misplaced and potentially destructive because they tend to be confidence robbers.

When I was a senior in college I was accepted to Naval Aviation Officer Candidate School. But, I didn’t go. Years later the movie, “Top Gun” with Tom Cruise, came out and sent me into a tailspin of regret and self-criticism. When I finally pulled out of that I decided to let this experience be a lifetime teacher. I resolved not to see my decision as one of failure but of learning. I learned that when opportunity comes, take it.

This attitude is a risk forward way to approach life. I think it has been essential to my progress as an entrepreneur. It taught me that when I learn from experience, there is no failure. I now see my choice, not with regret and recrimination, but with gratitude. This experience, along with many others, have been my teacher and thus valuable.

So, as we think about roads not taken, experiences not had, and decisions we would like to have made differently, we have a choice. We can reflect on them in a way that is destructive to our confidence as we tell ourselves we, “coulda, shoulda, woulda,” or we can use them as motivators for our future, as we say instead, “can, will, and yes.”