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May I Recommend Chris Burand to You?

captureChris Burand is an active consultant in the independent insurance industry specializing in financial analysis, sales, and marketing.  Chris writes a well-respected column in the “Insurance Journal,” and I find his writing to be entertaining, informative and thought provoking.  I frequently find myself quoting him to agents, or groups of agents, with whom I speak and work.

In a recent column, Chris has written one of the best defenses as well as criticisms of independent insurance agents!  Without attempting to summarize his writing here, I would just like to suggest that you read it.  If you’re not a subscriber, simply go to www.insurancejournal.com and select the April 3, 2017 issue.

Scared Spouse

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A number of my friends are entrepreneurs or business owners.  As a result, we frequently discuss issues that arise in our various businesses whenever we get together for breakfast or lunch.

One of the problems that comes up fairly often is spousal interference in the business.  In fact, I’ve been surprised how often this arises as I talk to my friends.  The common thread is either a spouse that doesn’t work at all, or is not active in the business, but who exercises some form of veto power in the business.

This is a frustrating issue because my friends hear some version of “no” when they discuss things they’d like to do in the business with their spouse.

Most people are not cut out to be an entrepreneur or even a business owner.  They don’t have the knowledge, they don’t have the experience, and they don’t have the guts.  Because of this, they are incompetent to give advice or approval to someone who does in my opinion.  Entrepreneurs are by nature risk takers.  Employees or non-working spouses are not – by definition.  So, they have no business with veto power.

The problem is that my business owner friends are married and want to stay that way!  They want to continue to grow their businesses.  They are on the horns of a dilemma.  What should they do?

I think they should limit what they tell their spouses.  I’m not suggesting they be dishonest, but I don’t believe in giving people information they aren’t prepared to handle.  That just scares them.  Why scare your spouse?   When you do, they are miserable because they’re scared, and the entrepreneur is miserable because she’s stuck.

It’s far better to share business information with your employees, your banker, and your spouse on a “need to know” basis!  What do you think?

What’s up with the Unemployment Rate?

I’ve been reading a lot of optimistic news about the future of the economy lately.  And, I count myself as one of those who are pretty optimistic.  One of the measures of optimism that economists track is hiring plans.  The more businesses who plan to add employees the more bullish businesses are seen about economic prospects.

As one of those bullish employers, I watch the “unemployment rate” carefully because it helps me understand how easy, or hard, it’s going to be to find help.  It also gives me insight into how much employees are going to cost.

As I’ve contemplated all of this recently, I’ve been a bit perplexed.  The “unemployment rate” both locally and nationally is improving.  That is it is falling, but I’ve noticed that we are receiving more responses to our advertising for new employees.  That’s counter to what I expected.  Why?

I think part of the answer lies in lies.  You see there are multiple “unemployment rates.”  The rate that is always published in the press and talked about by commentators is the “U-3” rate, but that statistic only counts people who have looked for a job in the last four weeks.  Currently, the national U-3 rate is about 5% (considered “full employment”).  There are other rates of unemployment, and they are a lot higher.  The “U-6” rate includes part time workers who want full time jobs, discouraged workers who have given up looking altogether.  That rate, at the end of the year, was close to 10%.

This “real rate” of unemployment is probably the one we employers looking to hire should be focusing on as it’s the rate of people who are available for full time employment.  What the current rate tells me is that there are a lot of people out there who need and want jobs.  It tells me the job market, though improving, is still pretty soft.  It squares with my current experience.  Check out the U-6 rate easily found on the internet.  I think tracking it will give you more insight into how many people are looking for work when you are hiring.  I hope you are hiring – because that means you’re growing!

Circle of Excellence – Q1

OAA hosted the first Circle of Excellence of the year at our new facility!  OAA has a new training room at 1220 N. Robinson Ave in downtown OKC.  We had lunch with our Elite OKC members and discussed Sales Forecasting.  Each member received a sales forecasting tool developed by Tony Caldwell.  We will be hosting the OKC Masters group on 3/15 and we look forward to another informative meeting.  Thank you to all our Circle of Excellence members for your  participation!logocoeteacher12

Why Do Some (So Many) Small Businesses Fail?

reason-small-business-failureIn my last post, I discussed the varying views on how many small businesses don’t make it.  There is debate on the rate of survival but not on the difficulty.  Many experts have theories, and, while I’m not an expert, I have helped over 100 people start a small business and watched some of them fail.  Here are some of my observations about why.

  • Lack of planning. I see a lot of business plans.  Most of them are too vague and nonspecific.  The ones that most often succeed are highly detailed in terms of how they will attract prospects and convert them into customers in a given period of time.
  • Lack of capital. Stories of starting a business with virtually no money are legion.  I started mine that way, but, in a small business, the founder needs to identify how he and the business will survive the inevitable financial challenges that come in a new business.  It can be spousal income, savings, investors, or other sources, but very few businesses and their owners can survive the time period required to establish regular cash flow with only the income from the business.  A realistic assessment of this is almost always lacking in failures.
  • An unrealistic marketing plan. The number one job of a founder is to create revenue, but many budding entrepreneurs way underestimate the number of prospective customers that will be required to get to a certain level of income.  In addition, they have no certain means identified to produce those prospects in necessary numbers.  Most insurance agency startups are created by sales people.  Many of those don’t understand how to make the phone ring.  Before you hang out your shingle, make sure you do.
  • No Unique Selling (value) proposition. The failures I see think that a lower price than the next guy is enough.  It isn’t.  It never has been.  It won’t ever be.  Especially in a day in which customers can easily shop many sources quickly, being cheapest isn’t enough to stay alive.  Since virtually all agencies tout “service” as their USP, that doesn’t work well either, unless it’s really true, and it usually isn’t.  What is your USP?
  • Inadequate work ethic. How much time should a founder expect to invest in their business on the way to success?  I’ve heard a lot of theories.  My answer is: all of it.  To be successful in starting a business, the founder needs to be ready to commit all of their time to it, except the time required to eat, sleep, and eliminate.  I’m not kidding.  Look at those who made it, and that’s what you see.  Yes, starting your own business should (eventually) allow you freedom of time, but it won’t for the first few years.
  • Wheel reinvention syndrome. There are many startups who invent a new product and become fabulously successful.  Legions more who don’t, but in the small business arena (like insurance agencies), usually success involves following well established paths to success.  When involved with companies like mine who have a well charted set of success strategies, follow them.

 

This is the land of entrepreneurs and the “overnight” success story that often takes many years.  There are lots of paths to success and some pitfalls.  The ones I’ve listed here are common and 100% preventable with some effort.  Good luck to you if you head down the path to independence!

Grow Your Growth Rate – A Lot!

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I have a very simple idea, one that everyone knows about, but my idea is so simple that no one ever does it.  Sound crazy?  Of course it does.  But stop and think – how many great ideas have you heard in your career where you think “of course!” and then go right back to not doing it?

I’ve had that experience – a bunch of times.

So, before I give you my idea, promise yourself you’ll try it!  Ok, ready?

Not so fast!  Let me ask you a question first.  What was your retention rate the last 3 years?  Subtract that from 100%.  What then was your slippage, non-retention, etc?  For the average small agency, it was about 15% per year.  This means that if you’re average you’ve lost 45% of your customers in the last 3 years.

What if you could have one third to one half of them back?

If you could do that, in a year, you’d grow by 15% to 22.5% right?  Divide your growth rate last year by that number.  The average growing agency grew about 5% last year, so if you could do this and you’re average, you’d increase your growth rate 300% to 450%.  Regardless of your actual numbers, I hope you get my point.

Ready for my idea?

It’s really simple.  Call your old lapsed customers back!  Almost ALL OF THEM will be glad to have you quote!  What’s your conversion rate?  It’ll be higher with these people because they know you, trust you already, and will be happy to come back!  I have a partner who has a department of people who focus solely on this, and they win back a huge per cent of those they call.  Here’s another great idea – do what they do and hire someone(s) to focus solely on this.

Let’s do the math.  Assume a $2 million book of business and a $2,000 average account size.  That’s 1,000 customers.  Forty five per cent of that number is 450. Assume you can resell a third of them.  That equals 150 “new” customers at $2,000 premium each or $300,000 in new business.  That’s $45,000 in “new” commission income.  For a $300,000 revenue agency, that is a LOT of new business.  Multiply or divide for your agency’s size.

This is such a simple, powerful, and profitable idea that only the most successful business growers will even try it.  Are you one of those?

What Are Your Biggest Opportunities?

prioritizeThanksgiving has passed us, so it must be planning season!  Planning season in the insurance agency business involves not only thinking about where you are relative to your short and long range business goals but also receiving a lot of input and sometimes pressure from others.

Most successful business owners are pretty focused people.  They understand that resources like time, capital, and people are limited.  Regardless of their relative level of optimism (an absolute requirement for success), they understand that they can’t do everything or at least not all at once.

Another hallmark of successful people, as compared to those who are not, is that they have an abundance of opportunity.  They not only see lots of different opportunities, but the more successful they become, the more realistic actual opportunities are for them.  So, as they go about building a bigger and bigger future, choosing which opportunities to pursue becomes an ever more important task.

During planning season as we face the next year and the demands of many others who want us to focus on their priorities (opportunities!), choosing those things we will concentrate our efforts on becomes a critical decision.  Last week, I was having lunch with a successful entrepreneur in a completely unrelated business to mine.  He asked me a wonderful and powerful question during our meal “what are the best opportunities in front of you right now?”

That question really focuses the mind.

I was able to give him an immediate answer and listed for him four priorities for me and my team.  We have more than four opportunities in front of us, so I was interested in my own immediate reaction.  You see, like most entrepreneurs, I am constantly seeing opportunity and weighing my capabilities and interests.

I answered my friend with four things and a quick note as to why they were important and valuable for our business.  The question really helped me to focus, prioritize, and verbalize what I want to capitalize on out of the many choices.  It happened in an instant and will now guide us as we plan for the next year or two.

What about you?   What are the best opportunities in front of you right now?  Those are the ones to focus your planning around!

Get On or Off

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Everyone I know, including me, procrastinates.  I’d like to think that I am a self-disciplined individual, and I have worked for most of my career on being goal focused and using time and task management systems to stay on track.

Yet, I find that each quarter when I do my personal planning, there are always a few things that are lingering on my lists.  Usually, those things have been there for some time.  Sound familiar?

During my quarterly Strategic Coach session, Dan Sullivan tackled procrastination head on.  He said dealing with procrastination begins with “telling the truth,” which requires asking yourself “why you’re procrastinating.”

The answers to the question of “why” points to the “what” that needs to be done to get in motion and strike the task from the list.  The answer could be that it’s not something you’re really equipped to do.  So, perhaps the answer is finding someone else on your team to do it who is.

Perhaps the answer is you’re afraid.  That is one that I’m very familiar with, but one I have come to welcome when I recognize it!  When I’m procrastinating out of fear, it’s almost always because I don’t think I can do it (whatever “it” is).  Well, who in their right mind embraces fear?

One of Sullivan’s most brilliant concepts is “The 4 C’s Formula” which he details in a small book available here:  http://private.strategiccoach.com/store/products/186.  Sullivan says that fear is the creative force entrepreneurs use for progress.  It is the tension between commitment and capability (two of the four “c’s”).  When I procrastinate out of fear, it’s because I’ve yet to commit to something, and again that’s usually because I don’t think I can do it (capability – the 3rd “c”).  When I recognize this, my learned reaction is to have courage (the 2nd “c”) and get on with doing the task and developing the capability to make it happen.  In my experience, this always results in increased confidence and a terrific feeling of accomplishment (the 4th “c”).

Other times when I procrastinate, I recognize when I “tell the truth” it’s something I just really don’t want to do.  Perhaps, it sounded good at the time I wrote it down, or it was someone else’s priority or maybe my plans have simply changed.  When I recognize this, I give myself a guilt free pass to strike it off the list!

So, to narrow down your list and begin to make real progress, consider ending procrastination.  Get on or off the pot!  Begin by telling yourself the truth.  Then, either eliminate the task or recognize your fear, commit to overcoming it, and the capability you need will begin to appear.  Don’t forget to celebrate with the newly created confidence you will have!  This is the fuel for the next round…

What’s Your Warranty?

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I just read the most complete, comprehensive and entertaining warranty I’ve ever seen.  I invite you to take a look at Saddleback Leather’s (whose slogan is “They’ll Fight Over it When You’re Dead”) warranty at www.saddlebackleather.com.

Saddleback offers a 100-year warranty, and the owner offers to have the customer’s descendant’s contact him if they have a problem!  Powerful.  Direct.  No excuses.  Remarkable.

There are thousands of leather goods companies in the world selling products.  Saddleback’s goods look nice, but let’s face it:  leather goods are a commodity.  Really, when you look at their website, they are selling some version of the stuff everyone sells.  But they are selling it for a premium price, and they make no excuses for that.

What Saddleback Leather is really selling is themselves, not leather goods.  In this regard, they aren’t really any different than a typical “designer” product like Louis Vuitton for example.  Vuitton makes nice products, but what they are really selling is their name.  Same for Saddleback.

The difference is that Saddleback doesn’t have the international reputation or the marketing budget that Vuitton does to drive up the value of the product.  All they have is quality and confidence.

The things I really like about Saddleback’s warranty is their confidence in their product’s quality and their willingness to stand behind them.

Something else I like is that they tell the truth to the customer about what they won’t do.  If you get fat, they won’t take their belt back. If you damage the product, they won’t give you a new one.  They make it clear that they expect their customers to have integrity, too.  In essence, they tell the world the kind of people they want to do business with.

This is a compliment to prospective customers and also a power selling technique in itself.

Contrast this to the typical insurance agency who guarantees essentially nothing.  The agency makes a lot of promises but backs those promises with nothing but hot air.  How powerful would it be if an insurance agency offered a money back guarantee or something similarly different, unique, power, direct and without excuses?

What about your agency?  Do you offer a warranty of performance of any kind?  What would happen to your sales and your retention if you did?  Take a look at Saddleback for inspiration!

New Year’s In July

OAA’s CEO Tony Caldwell explains why July is a great time to look back and reflect and begin anew.  Watch the video to see how New Year’s in July is important to your business plan.