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Well, this idea certainly flies in the face of conventional wisdom!

I’m sure that you, like me, have read and heard all your life that you must capitalize on your strengths to be successful.  Certainly, this is the accepted common-sense approach to life and usually “common sense” is correct.  While it is valuable to understand your strengths and “play to them,” I’d like to offer a different perspective.

When I was a skinny teenager afraid of bigger kids and bullies I looked for a way to not only defend myself but avoid the problem in the first place.  I discovered martial arts in the process and learned how one skinny person could reliably defeat bigger foes and many bigger foes simultaneously.  I realized I couldn’t out muscle the bullies, but I was faster than they were.  I learned I could hit them many times before they could recover, and I could use their size against them and to my advantage.  For the first time I realized my weakness had tremendous value.

In business if we don’t understand our weaknesses and only focus on our strengths we inevitably find trouble.  I find that most agency owners are excellent sales people and can sell more insurance than they can take care of.  Ultimately this leads to client dissatisfaction, defection and growth either stops or goes backwards.  If the agent understands this from the beginning, she can focus on finding people who complement her strength by bringing their own strengths to her weakness.  This is a powerful formula for never ending success.

Unfortunately, if we don’t understand this, we will focus on “systems” or “processes” or other means to deal with our weakness.  Not that there is anything wrong with this approach, but in my experience, it isn’t sufficient.

What is necessary to build and sustain success after we understand what we lack is to find the person(s) whose strengths and weaknesses complement our own.  When we do this, we move from thinking about “what” or “how” to “who”.  This is a subject Dan Sullivan explores in his book “Who Not How” available here: www.strategiccoach.com/go/whonothow.

The more I work on this idea the more I realize that I’m not equipped to backstop my weaknesses.  I need someone else to help me.  That is how I came to be in the national karate championships at the age of fourteen.  I learned to cooperate with those who had the strength of bigness to magnify my own strengths of quickness and agility.  The reliable result was winning.  It took me a long time to understand that the principle is the same in business and to build a company on that principle, but the result has been two decades of increasing growth and opportunity for us and dozens of others.

What are your weaknesses?  “Who” can make those into strengths for 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.

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?

rope

In 1992, I experienced my first ropes course.  For those of you who have not had the experience, a rope course led by an insightful guide is a series of physical challenges designed to teach you about life.  One of the challenges that day so long ago was to move from one tire swing to another.

After repeatedly failing to get from one swing to the next, I learned that to move forward you must let go of the past.

This is not as obvious as it seems.  If it were, we would not have as much trouble changing our business to suit the current environment as we most often do.  Actually, most business people cling to the past, and the habits and practices that made them successful.  This is normal and natural.  There is security and comfort in old habits.  New challenges present risk and discomfort.

See, to succeed in the ropes course, and move from one swing to the next, you have to let go of the swing you’re on to be able to reach out and grab the next one.  If you don’t do that, you either don’t move forward or you crash to the ground.  The difference between the swings on a ropes course and business is that business isn’t static, and failure to move forward often doesn’t just mean maintaining the status quo but death.

What are the future opportunities available to you and to your business?  What must you let go of to embrace them?  These are the questions of the rope course swing challenge.  Let me encourage you to embrace them.  Let go!

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Much has been written in the last few years about the challenges to be faced by the independent insurance agency industry in the coming years.  Some of that by me.  The conventional wisdom is that significant market share will move to online vendors disadvantaging small agents.  I agree with this.

However, I also strongly maintain that most consumers want the personal advice and expertise that a relationship with a local human agency is still, and will be, best able to provide.  Consumer surveys continue to show a strong preference for this, and this is particularly true among millennials who are now the largest U.S. generation.

The fear of older agency owners of the future is now driving increasing numbers of them to the exits.  They believe that the future looks darker than the past.  At the same time, a new generation of independent agency owners is taking their place by starting their agencies from scratch.  According to industry analyst and commentator Chris Burand “approximately 6,000 new independent agencies…have been created in the last five to eight years.”

And these agencies are creating most of the organic growth in the industry according to a recent article by Burand in “The Insurance Journal”.  Of the new agencies “almost all are writing through other organizations”.  By this Burand is referencing SIAA (of whom my firm OAA is among the largest regional Master Agencies) who has assisted in the creation of over 4,000 new agencies and numerous, much smaller, competitors.

What all of these means, in my opinion, is that ten years from now we will still have 30-35,000 independent insurance agencies in the U.S. but that they will be different agencies.  A very significant portion of these agencies will belong to organizations like mine not only for carrier access but increasingly for the carrier leverage and market sophistication that a larger organization can bring.  To me, this is very exciting because it means a unique marriage between small, local, entrepreneurial agents focused on building relationships and creating growth opportunities for themselves and larger development organizations focused on providing the resources for these agencies to thrive.

The result is the beginning of a new Golden Age for small, local independent insurance agencies where it is easier than ever to start and build a successful small business.   A Golden Age is upon us where entrepreneurs in their local communities can be rewarded for the value they create in ways only large agencies were in the past.

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!

warranty2

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!

OAA’s CEO wants you to take a vacation!  Watch the video to see why he says vacation is vital to growing your business.

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.

Business growth

Last week about 200 people gathered to celebrate their collective success as members of OAA.  At the meeting we celebrated the nearly $5 million dollars in insurance company profit sharing and bonuses that had been distributed among the 125 member agencies in 2015.

While $5 million dollars is a lot of money, the fact is that most of those receiving it would not have made any of it on their own!  Our average member writes about $2 million in premium and in the normal course of things would not be able to qualify for profit sharing based on their individual production.  But as OAA and SIAA members they do.  Not only that but because of our collective size they receive, on a per cent basis, bonuses similar to what national brokers listed on the stock exchanges do.

This is magical!

And it was a magical evening.  It was a tremendous privilege for me to hand agent after agent checks for $50,000 and more.  Our top ten money earners each received over $100,000 and most of those agents have been in business for less than 10 years!  The largest check this year, as it was last, was nearly a half a million dollars.  Magic!

The other thing that we celebrated was the financial security and personal dreams these dollars represent for our members.  After all, $50,000 in profit sharing that you’ve never received before is – pure profit.  And when it comes time to sell the agency that money represents nearly half a million dollars in value that wasn’t there before OAA came along.

I hope that if you were there, you left as excited as I did!  And if you weren’t – but would like to know how you can have some of the magic for yourself – call me!