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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!

HelpingHand

I have the opportunity each month to sit on the Boy Scout Eagle board of reviews and talk to really outstanding young men.  One of my favorite questions to ask is, “Who, besides yourself, is most responsible for your being here?”

I love to hear the answers.  Usually, the young men have trouble limiting themselves to one person.  Isn’t that true for all of us who have ever succeeded at something?

Life isn’t an individual endeavor.  Business certainly isn’t.  We all stand on someone else’s shoulders.  In the insurance agency business this is particularly true. It’s virtually impossible to be successful without a lot of assistance from a variety of people.

At OAA, our business is built on helping others succeed.  Perhaps because of that, I’m particularly mindful of those who have helped us on our path to success.

Helping others is a great business strategy.  When a business owner hires a promising young person and mentors them the business benefits.  When we go out of our way to assist another business owner we are ultimately rewarded, as well.

Which leads me to the follow-up questions I always ask outstanding young men on the cusp of Eagle, “What are you going to do to repay those who helped you?  How will you help others?”  I’m very proud to tell you there is never any hesitation before I receive a reply.  These young men always have a plan.  They’re prepared to give back!

So, what about you?  Who has helped you on your path to business success?  How will you repay them?  Something to think about as you develop your plan.