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Websites

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As consumers continue to move online for virtually all their shopping needs, it has been stated countless times how critical it is for an insurance agency to have a website.  By now, there are few agents who can possibly survive without one.  Chances are, you have a website up and running – but have you rebuilt it in the last 24 months or so?

If you have not, you may want to take a look at your competitors, so as to understand whether or not your website is keeping up with them.  Better yet, take a look at those you frequent and ask yourself if your website is as engaging and easy to use.

Are you using video at all?  Estimates show consumers spend 88% more time on sites with video.  What is more, video increases organic search engine traffic over 150% and 300% more monthly website visitors.  Video doesn’t have to be difficult to produce.  In fact, at OAA, we have even used our iPhones to create compelling and engaging videos.  Start with something, watch your analytics to see what improvements you get, and go from there.

Get rid of as much text as you can.  We are all so busy and distracted; truthfully, we don’t want to read a lot on websites.  It is wise to go through your website and get ruthless with words.  Consider replacing words with image.

Optimize for mobile.  About 25% of Americans only access the web on mobile devices.  If one out of four of your prospects and customers have to scroll around your pages trying to read itty- bitty type, they’re not coming back!

I remember ten years ago, when we thought websites were just brochures in cyberspace we could print once and forget.  Then a few years ago, new and fresh content regularly became important. We learned that in order to be effective, regular attention must be paid to them.  Also a few years ago, we realized that we needed to create websites from scratch every two or three years.  In the same period, we learned that we needed to link them to all the online social media outlets.  Now, they need video, less writing, and mobile optimization.

I don’t know what’s next, but I do know it will come fast and that keeping up is even more important to attract and retain today’s increasingly demanding consumers.

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.

Is There a Future for the Independent Agency?

jimOAA and its 135 member agencies, held our Annual Success Celebration last week where we gathered to celebrate our collective success in the past year.  That event was highlighted by the attendance, and remarks, of Jim Masiello the founder of SIAA, which OAA is a part of.

During one session with Jim I asked “how confident are you about the future of the independent agent?”  I pointed out that he has two 12 year old grandsons and I have to sons in college.  I asked “would you recommend that they consider the business for their careers?”  Without reservation Jim’s answer was yes!

Interestingly, the current issue of the Insurance Journal contains the results from the “2017 Young Agents Survey”.  The results indicate that young agents agree with Jim.  According to the survey 58.1% are very optimistic about their career while 29.2% are optimistic.  Thirty seven point nine of these same agents are very optimistic about the future of the independent agency system while 41.5% are optimistic.

Overwhelmingly, those in whose hands the future of our industry rests, believe we have a bright future!  I agree with them.

Those who read my postings here will note I believe that our business will be changing over the next few years.  But I also believe we aren’t going away.  The independent agent’s fundamental value proposition of choice, advocacy and trusted relationship is more valued than ever, by more consumers than ever, as indicated in other surveys of consumer attitudes.

With all of this optimism it is certainly a privilege to participate in the creation of dozens of new agencies each year here at OAA!  How can we help you move forward with your business and career?

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?

“You Just Got to Want It More Than Other People” – Russell Westbrook, Thunder Point Guard

 

 

If you are a fan of NBA basketball, you know who Russell Westbrook is.  If you’re not, let me introduce him.  He is not just an incredible athlete, but someone who is focused single mindedly on playing his absolute best every minute he is on the court.  Russell’s comment quoted in the headline came after an incredible 57-point scoring night in which he single handedly created a victory for his team in the second half of a game where they were down by 21 points at half time.

Russell Westbrook is the epitome of a competitor.

In the business of building a company, whether an insurance agency or any other kind, we are competing with many others for the dollars of prospective customers.  As business owners and sales people, we are competing every day in a zero sum, win or lose, game that determines the future for our business, our careers, and our families.  How many of us play with the single minded focus of a Russell Westbrook?

I believe that there are some valuable lessons for us to learn from Russell.  The first is continuous progress and improvement.  As I’ve watched Russell’s career develop over the last nine years, he’s gone from a wild, almost out of control, inconsistent performer with tremendous ability, but not much to show for it, to superstar.  That’s happened as he has gradually worked on his focus, his team work, and his fundamental skills.  As business owners and sales people, do we do that every day?  It is a key to success for every star player.

Russell seizes opportunity and takes risks.  This year his long time team mate and team leader departed.  His team was widely considered washed up, but the absence of the other super star gave Westbrook an opportunity to develop greatness if he stepped up and took the risks.  He did, and the result has been one of the best seasonal performances in history.  As business people, we are faced with new challenges and opportunities frequently.  Do we conquer our fears, as Russell has, and take on the challenge and risk or settle for the status quo?

As he has improved his performance, Westbrook has also worked to improve the performance of his teammates.  He has made them better, and in so doing, they have contributed increasingly to his success.  Most of us aren’t in business alone.  We have team mates, too.  What are we doing to improve their games?  This is an incredibly powerful key to continued and increasing business success just as it is in basketball.

Finally, Russell Westbrook simply wants to win and does everything he can, without any excuses, to make that happen.  What about you?

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!

The Importance of Firing

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I’m reluctant to write about the topic of terminating someone’s employment involuntarily because it is fraught with emotion, misunderstanding and legal liability.  Yet I have been thinking about something I read recently on the subject and want to explore it.

In a recent blog Steve Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon, quotes well known venture capitalist Naval Ravikant as saying “the secret to business success does NOT necessarily involve hiring the right people.  We just think it does.  The real secret to success is firing the people that you discover to be the wrong fit until you END UP with the right people…. But a good leader knows which employees to fire and does it quickly and humanely.”

This is as insightful as anything I’ve read in a long time.

Anyone who has been in business very long has likely faced the necessity to fire an employee.  It is never pleasant and is one of the things that I think just about any decent person would not want to do without necessity.  After all, when you fire someone you are making a very serious, usually negative (at least temporarily) impact on their life.  And there are real risks if it isn’t done properly.

Because of this, my experience tells me that many business owners delay, avoid or deliberately refuse to dismiss employees who don’t fit in their business.  Clearly this only exacerbates whatever problems exist when you know you need to terminate someone and rarely, if ever, improves to a satisfactory point.

Since reading Ravikant’s comment I’ve been surprised how many conversations I’ve had with business leaders about their need to let someone go.  Perhaps it’s just coincidence or maybe it’s like learning a new word and I’m just seeing conversations I’ve always had in a new light.  But it’s clearly an issue that needs more discussion and thought.

As I’ve reflected on my own experience I can’t think of a single example of someone who I thought needed to go who either didn’t ultimately go on their own or that I had to fire.  And in my reflection I have realized that each time I have delayed, for whatever reason, the business (and sometimes me personally) have paid a price that wasn’t worth it.

So, I think Ravikant is right.  While it’s important to get the right people on your team it’s critical to get the wrong people off.  The sooner the better.  For everyone’s benefit.  And this last statement is important.  I think it’s part of what Ravikant means by “humane”.  Sometimes employees that need to go are troublemakers or cancerous.  But often they just aren’t cut out for the position you have them in.  When you let them go you are freeing them up to go somewhere where they will be more productive, useful and perhaps content.  Regardless, as he says, it’s the leader’s job to do what is necessary.

Persistence

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How do you know when you’re going to be successful?

I remember when I started my career as an insurance agency owner and commercial insurance producer.  Each month I called on an endless succession of business owners asking for X dates and it seemed like forever before I got to actually quote.  Then I sold a few policies and could begin to see that I’d eventually have some income.  I remember going home and telling my wife we had victories to celebrate!  Nursing an infant, working full time in her own business and exhausted her question was “where’s the check?”

It’s really tough to start and build a business.  Most people can’t do it.  But those that do have something highly unusual going for them.  Persistence.  They simply won’t quit.

I saw the movie “Founder” last week about Ray Kroc and the building of McDonalds.  It was inspirational to me.  Ray was an entrepreneur who started, and apparently failed, at a lot of things.  Early in the movie we see him carting a mixer from drive in to drive in with little success.  Each night he is staying in a flea bag motel, alone with nothing more than Canadian Club whiskey for company.

He also had a record player, with a single record about persistence.  As he falls asleep each night the voice quotes Calvin Coolidge saying:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.   Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Kroc of course goes on to build McDonald’s into the world’s largest restaurant chain and becomes fabulously wealthy.  At the end of the movie he rehearses a speech about what made him, and his company, successful.  He begins “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence…”

How can you know you’re going to be successful?  By making the commitment to never give up!