Building Your Agency – From The Ground, Up

As many readers know, we have the unique experience of visiting as many as three agencies each week for a wide variety of consulting activities. It is interesting that the look of the agency often portends its organization, its history and even its future.

Take a NEW look at your own agency and evaluate whether its construction is what you want, expect or desire for the future.

Every organization, like any building construction, has common features, foundations, walls, a roof and windows. Many companies have “dressed up” their look, but the components remain the same. And, like in the construction of buildings, the components of a business define its history, its current use and its future potential.

Foundation – The leadership of owners

When we begin an association with any agency we conduct a GPP Analysis (Growth, Productivity & Profitability). Continuing our construction analogy, the GPP tests the agency for areas of strength and weakness and points out what can be done to strengthen the existing entity. We ALWAYS begin with the owners because that’s where the company’s greatest strengths and its greatest weaknesses often lie. Depending on the ego and personality of the owners, we can confirm what they already suspect or we can point out their areas of strength that hasn’t been fully developed or areas of weakness that must be addressed for the growth, profitability and well-being of their organizations.

Unless the owners are willing to turn inward first, all of the efforts to strengthen the Agency’s walls, roof and interior are wasted. The staff cannot be developed nor can the agency production team be changed if the owners’ culture remains the same.

The Chinese definition of insanity is “to continue to do what hasn’t worked in the past and expect different results in the future.”

Walls – Production capabilities of your staff.

Are you underground (no production capabilities)?

Do you have a one-story bungalow (you are the only producer)?

Are you a “split level” – a few producers who are also servicers and janitors?

Or are you building a skyscraper – a solid enough foundation to support many stories of growth and constantly adding sales and service capabilities?

If you have a foundation (through your own expertise) but recognize that you are not a producer and have bought or inherited your business, you live in a “bunker.” You may be an excellent technical agent or have a good service staff, but you will never grow above the ground because you have no capability to grow. You need producers!

You may be a good producer and technically capable. You built your own agency from “scratch.” But you now have $500,000 to $1,500,000 in revenue, a staff to take care of it AND NO TIME LEFT TO PRODUCE ANY SIGNIFICANT GROWTH. You are the Lone Ranger of the insurance industry – the one-story bungalow in our analogy. You’re snug and comfortable, perhaps earning a strong living. But you are the example of an insurance agent, not an insurance business. You built your own house. It’s tight, comfortable and warm. You can live in it the rest of your life. And that’s perfectly O.K. – unless you always dream of having a skyscraper and are frustrated because

• your staff keeps on “using” you (instead of you using them)

• your clients make excessive demands on your time with requests that should be routinely handled by your staff

• you must handle all problems and underwriting matters yourself because the staff is simply TOO BUSY to do the complex work.

IF THAT’S YOUR DESCRIPTION, BUNKY, YOU ARE CINDERELLA DREAMING OF THE CASTLE WHILE LIVING IN THE HOVEL. You can either continue dreaming your career away or you can do something about it! These are the agencies that cry for an Agency Makeover that converts them from the Mom & Pop Shop into a professional business with growth options and opportunities.

Da Roof (Da Roof, Da Roof is on fire…) – the strength of the support team.

Is it a thatch roof – a few home-grown service reps that are basically clerical staff that do what you ask them to?

Is it a shingle roof – experienced CSRs who know the system, the products and the carriers well enough to manage service with or without producer intervention but can not (or will not support growth)?

Or is it a professional grade roof; strengthened every year to avoid any “leaks”?

A purchased small agency, an inherited agency and many start-up agencies only develop their staff to do what the owners tell them to do. They “check their brains at the door at 9:00 AM and pick them up again at 5:00PM”. They’ve been second-guessed, double-checked, and criticized enough to realize that while the owners are o.k. people and pay their salaries, they are their own worst enemies and only want the employees to do their bidding. So the employees develop in the way the owners ACT, not the way the owners TALK. This stifles growth, professionalism and makes the agency stay in the same Mom & Pop mold forever. This may include the “Little Old Lady in Tennis Shoes” who has been there forever (at least two generations of owners) and has no intention of progressing in her role. She knows that she is the “sacred cow” and will not be touched because she knows everyone in the town and is a fixture of the agency. What she doesn’t realize is that the owner will die or sell someday and the new owners will certainly not have that level of loyalty to her.

Those same “little old ladies” may not be little, old OR ladies. They may just be fixtures who know their jobs but were never asked to develop. Either you, or the agency’s next owners, may be able to develop these employees into more than they already are. Development plans for employees every year is the best vehicle for repairing and strengthening those simple shingle roofs.

Agencies with strong development plans that upgrade and add staff to match production capabilities are the ones whose roofs can support the load, however high the walls may get.

The Windows – how your clients view your agency.

Does the agency look like a 1950’s office with desks loaded with paper, files overflowing and everyone sitting with permanent “kinks” in their necks from holding the telephone between head and shoulder?

Or does your agency reflect a professional-looking business, quiet, clean, paperless with staff attentive to the needs of clients instead of to the needs of the paper-flow?

You don’t have to live with a 1950’s agency in the 21st Century. Small agencies and large, urban and rural are converting to paperless environment every month. Most major agency management systems can support this environment. But the technical changes are only complexion, not substantive. The real change is in the minds of the owners and in the systems and procedural changes of the staff. When you act better, you look better. When you look more professional, you act more professional.

What do your customers see when they peer into the windows of your agency?

In many cases, we can change the construction of our agencies to better define the business the way the owners would like it to develop. Foundations can be strengthened and shored up (owners can improve themselves). Walls can be reinforced or replaced with stronger walls (retraining, incentive compensation programs, better management for producers or adding or replacing them). The roofs can be sealed against further leaks and, if bad enough, can be ripped off and replaced (systems and procedures and training and managing service staff). In the worst case scenario, when you purchase a building that is in a great location with strong potential but with foundations, walls and roofs poor enough to warrant demolition, we can destroy the current structure and rebuild it from the foundation up.

If you are happy with your agency, making a good living and have no desires for changes, that’s WONDERFUL. If you have “CASTLE” dreams and wishes while living in a bunker or bungalow, call us – we can help you (800-779-2430).