Entries Tagged as 'Agent Resource'


Business Continuation – Planning for Success, Part II

Onward to Part 2 of our discussion on Business Continuation.  Randall Blinn is our author this week as he was for Part 1.  Randall is a professional financial consultant with Asset Strategies Group in Austin, TX.  Most insurance agencies are small to medium sized businesses and need to have an established plan for the new leadership taking the helm.  The tax, estate, and financial laws and rules can be confusing and complex.  You should seek counsel in each area.  Look at this like a chess match, you versus the governement.  Keep in mind that the government is betting that you are not going to take the proper steps to secure your estate and legacy for the next generation.  Because if you don’t, Uncle Sam gets more from you.  So please take the steps necessary to plan for specific scenarios before they happen.

Develop a Business Plan for the Future.  You should outline clear-cut short-, medium-, and long-term goals for your successor, along with an action plan for achieving them.  The business plan should include budgets and financial forecasts that can adapt to changing conditions in both the industry and the economy.

Choose a Transfer Strategy.  Depending on the type of business, its value, and your personal financial situation and goals, you’ll need to determine the best transfer strategy for your business.  There are a variety of ways to structure and fund buy-sell agreements.  For transfers to family members or charity, gifting may be a viable option.  Consult your tax and legal professionals for specific guidance.

Plan for Contingencies.  Regardless of your ultimate intentions for succession, it is wise to have an updated package of basic information on hand in case an emergency, such as death or disability, should occur before you have finalized your succession plan.  This should include the following:

  • A copy of your current business plan.
  • Updated job descriptions of all positions within the company, including details regarding areas of responsibility and delegation of duties.
  • A list of potential successors.
  • A plan to help ensure extensive hands-on training for your designated successor.
  • An estate plan to help ensure the availability of cash to help fulfill federal and state estate tax obligations.

Other Consideratations

 There are a number of financial, legal, and tax issues that a thorough succession plan will need to take into account.  For instance, how will a successor secure funds to buy out a retiring, deceased, or disabled owner’s share of the business?  What are the estate planning issue?  And, how can an owner minimize gift taxes resulting from the transfer of company stock to family members?  Answers to these and other questions can be addressed n a succession plan, which is often the result of a coordinated effort by qualified legal, tax, financial, and insurance professionals.

A Parting Thought

You owe it to yourself to ensure that you business will continue to flourish after your retirement, as well as in the event of death or disability.  Proper planning can help provide long-term security for your retirement, your company’s future, and your family.

Thank you Randall for the in-depth article on this deep and complex subject.  If you are interested in learning more, you may reach Mr. Blinn at rblinn@finsvcs.com.  Or you can stop by his online office at www.randallblinn.com.  – villageChief


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Business Continuation – Planning for Success, Part I

Having a fond friend stop by is usually a good time to catch up and to learn a few new things about what’s going on in their life. Recently, a friend of mine, Randall Blinn a successful financial planner in Austin, TX,  passed along to me a couple pieces of advice about business ownership transfer.

Successful business owners invest a great deal of time and effort in building their companies.  With the day-to-day demands, it is often difficult to imagine stepping down for retirement.  Yet, in order to help build financial security for retirement and ensure business continuation, it is important to plan ahead.  Business succession planning can establish retirement income for a retiring business owner, as well as smooth the transfer of operations and/or ownership to family or another entity.  In addition, a succession plan can also help provide structure for unforeseen events, such as death or disability.

Laying the Groundwork

It is never too early to begin planning for succession.  An early start can help you develop an appropriate exit strategy and allow you the time to choose the right person to eventually run your business.  It could take many years to groom a successor to manage the intricacies of your company.  With this in mind, here are some basic considerations to help lay the foundation for a successful plan:

1.  Valuate Your Business. A key aspect of planning for continuation is calculating the worth of your business.  There are a variety of techniques for business valuation.  A qualified professional can help you choose the appropriate strategies.

2.  Plan Your Exit Strategy. It is important for retiring business owners to thoroughly plot out their scheduled departures.  A sound plan can help ensure smooth operations during the time of transition, as well as facilitate the transfer of ownership.

3.  Meet with Potential Successors. If you wish to keep ownership and control of your business within your family, you will need to assess your family members’ interests and qualifications and how well they match the needs of the business.  Discuss with family members who will participate in the compnay and in what capacity.  Then, determine how working members will be compensated and what nonparticipating members will receive.

If you expect unrelated parties to carry on the business, you will need to meet with the key people involved for in-depth discussions about the company and its future.  If succession involves the sale of the business, be prepared to address such issues as what the purchase price will be, how it will be paid, and when the succession plan will be activated.

… Part 2 next Tues.!  – villageChief

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Your Agency’s Website – Part 2

Can you name a few of the worst movie sequels in history?  I’m sure a couple come to mind.  How about Jaws 4 – The Revenge?  Really, revenge on who, we’re on land, you’re wet, and I’m pretty sure ‘ol Jaws isn’t going to knock on my door.  The fish is skewered, we don’t need four renditions of it.  Or how about Rocky 5?  The movie didn’t even end up in a suspense-filled ring going toe to toe with a super-hyped villain like Mr. T!  Instead our tenacious Rocky ended up in a street brawl with a no-name!  Sad, but how about this one, Grease 2.  Don’t remember it, good I don’t either.  Michelle Pfeiffer was the only noticeable bright-spot and even that was tarnished when she danced in a scene wearing a giant Christmas tree!  Travolta was not cast in this sequel.  Instead you got his fill-in doing his best Al Gore impersonation. 

For the most part ,sequels fail to meet the shadowing success of their previous achievements.  Usually bad memories are all we’re left with when it comes to sequels.  However, that’s not true with the offerings of Web 2.0.  Allow me to brief you on Web 2.0 and why it has to be part of your web-presence and marketing efforts today.

What is Web 2.0?  According to Webopedia (online glossary for technical terminology) it’s the term given to describe the second generation of the world wide web that is focused on the ability for people to collaborate and share information online.  While Web 1.0 was just low-res. pics and text, this newest version is much different.  Hey, no bad sequel here, this is an upgrade.  Here’s a few examples.

1.  Blog – Like previously mentioned in the iiaVillage article on September 4th, blogging is sharing anything online with anyone.  If your agency publishes (or just sends out to clients) a newsletter, you may want to consider posting this article online.  Offer the viewer the choice to respond with comments.  Content is key.  Whether your article is informative or instructional (like teaching an insured how to read and understand their policy), keeping information fresh and engaging will ensure their return.

 2.  RSS – Real Simple Syndicate… and it really is.  I’m sure you’ve noticed orange icons from time to time on websites with RSS next to them.  RSS is an invitation to follow future posts.  So instead of frequently checking a particular website for updates, the RSS function will feed the newest article to your MyYahoo, iGoogle homepage or directly to your email automatically.  Again, if your agency offers a frequent newsletter, be sure to put it on the web and also offer the RSS feed capability.  FeedBurner is a good place to learn about and implement this feature.

3.  Videos – This used to shut down servers from coast to coast.  Then along came YouTube.  Express yourself, your agency, and your team visually with the world.  You have a viewer’s attention for about 10 seconds to set the hook.  Once their hooked, they’ll want to check out your short video (2 min. or less) posted on your website.  If you focus in a particular commercial insurance niche’, tell the world why you are the expert in this area.  A video will say so much more than a picture or texty website.

4.  Social Media – Got your homepage up and running?  Good, now add the Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter icons at the bottom so anyone interested in learning more about you can follow you.  This medium is here to stay.  And the early ones to adopt this technology will have a significant stake in the ground once the Millineal Generation (born 1977-1990) grows up to be a larger consumer base.  They will gravitate towards familiar communication mediums and the aforementioned are the leaders.

See, not all sequels are worse off than the original.  But technology is still moving at break-neck speed.  Now after 20 years of the internet, everything associated has changed.  But I promise the third sequel will be just as thrilling as Web 2.0.  I just hope there’s never a Good Will Hunting 2!   -villageChief

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Your Agency’s Website- Part 1

Whatever happened to most neighborhood homes having front porches?  America used to have hundreds of neighborhoods filled with beautiful front porches.  Today most homes have a garage on the front instead.  Fully functional and a necessity of course, but you’re not going to hang out in the garage with friends and catch up.  My theory is that most front porches have gone to the internet.  Yep, with today’s blogs, websites, and cell phone portals we catch up in a much different way than before. One neighbor might be more inclined to text the other neighbor to come over and share what’s on the grill, instead of walking over.  Your company’s homepage is your company’s online front porch (or landing spot).  Here’s a couple of ideas to keep your agency’s front porch warm and friendly.

Stay Up-To-Date – Keep all your links and information on your site current.  Remove any former employee information off your site.  Review all of your copy to make sure it is still pertinent and useful to the browser.  Content is so key to catching your viewer’s attention for as long as possible.

Quick Load Time – Don’t post large sized or super hi-res pictures on your site.  If your site takes longer than 10 seconds to load, the viewer will "bounce" from your site.  A bounce is a reference to the effect of a viewer leaving your website.  Make it a snappy load time.  And always keep in mind you may have a potential ‘A’ client checking you out online before the appointment.

Colors - Use standard colors that are easy on the eyes and that go together.  Don’t use florescent colors.  It shouts warning and most viewers will leave.  Also, don’t use blinking anything.  It’s annoying and distracts the viewer from learning more about your agency.  Ask others to give their opinion on their experience on your website.  Feedback is key to keeping a fresh and attractive site.

Text & Pics - There is a happy balance between posting text and pics.  The internet is visual so if you can make a point with a picture then do so.  For example, show what types of coverage you offer with pics instead of text.  Also, the viewer is interested in quickly understanding your agency’s message.  So deliver quickly. 

So invite all the neighbors and friends over you want to visit your online front porch.  The internet has no doubt grown from a cute electronic poster to a fully-functional engaging medium that we quite frankly can’t live without today.  So use this tool to engage with your clients and prospects.  Success will be measured by the leads and business you end up writing.  – villageChief

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The Fisherman’s Parable

@ squidoo.com/bajatravelAn oldie but goodie indeed.  You may have heard this before or may not have.  Either way, it’s always a great read.  This short story puts our feet back on the ground and puts life in check.  Whether your agency is small or large, domestic or international, urban or rural the message is the same.  Neither am I a big-stage motivational speaker nor have I been invited back to speak to my junior high for that matter.  But this story has a large message to a broad group that brings many things into focus.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.  

An American businessman was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.  Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna.  The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.  The Mexican replied only a little while.  The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? 

The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.  The American then asked, but what do you do with the rest of your time?

The Mexican fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life, senor."

The American scoffed, "I am a Harvard MBA and could help you.  You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.  Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery.  You would control the product, processing, and distribution.

You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA, and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise."

The Mexican fisherman asked, "But senor, how long will this all take?"

To which the American replied, "15-20 years."

"But what then, senor?"

The American laughed and said, "That’s the best part.  When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions."

"Millions, senor?  Then what?"

The American said, "Then you would retire.  Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos."  -anonymous


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Rainmaker Part 2: Heed the Biggest Buy Signal

If you enjoyed part 1 from Jeffrey Fox’s book, How To Become A Rainmaker, you’ll enjoy part 2 just as much.  Reading "buy signals" from prospects is key to understanding which ‘hot button’ you’ve hit.  Sometimes it’s subtle but other times you have to be listening to their words as well as their body language.  However, the most important "buy signal" is winning the appointment.  So Mr. Fox will take it from here…

 "A "buy signal" is something a customer does that indicates his or her willingness to purchase.  When you ask a group of salespeople to state the biggest (most important) buy signals, they will usually list "the customer smiles," " the customer asks about terms, " "the customer asks technical questions," " the customer says yes," and so on.  These are all important buy signals.  But the biggest buy signal is when the customer agrees to see you.  The biggest buy signal is the sales call appointment. 

Today’s decision makers are usually too busy to see a salesperson unless the customer has a problem.  Busy customers will not see a salesperson to chat, or talk about baseball.  Busy customers are not doing a survey on the latest fashions salespeople are wearing.  If the customer agrees to see you, it is because the customer wants something, needs something, has a problem.  It is our job – the Rainmaker’s job – to find out what that is. 

You find out what the customer wants on a sales call.  When the customer agrees to see you, he or she knows it is a sales call, knows that you are a salesperson.  The customer knows something about your product.  The customer knows something about you competition.  Consequently, the agreement to see you is a setting of the table to do business. 

Rainmakers understand this reality, and it gives them bedrock confidence to make the sale. 

And always show up.  Never blow off a sales call.  Never be late."  – villageChief


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Rainmaker Part 1: Agents Beware, Everybody You Meet Is a Potential Client

Agents, Principals, CSRs, and Office Managers, read this book.  How To Become a Rainmaker by Jeffrey Fox.  This is a must read for anyone in an agency who cares about its image and attracting new clients.  It’s a short read and hits home many points that sometimes get lost in the shuffle of the day-to-day hunt.  I consider it a reference guide to keeping yourself sharp when going after a new prospect you’d love to call a client.  This is part one of a two part series I’m doing on this book.  I hope you enjoy.  This is Chapter 17, Treat Everybody You Meet as a Potential Client.

"Rainmakers see the world, and everyone in it, as their market.  Rainmakers know the world is small.  They know that everyone knows someone.  They know that anyone can become a client, or refer a client, or recommend a client, or scuttle a promising relationship.

Rainmakers treat non-clients as they do existing customers.  They are polite to everyone.  Rainmakers view everyone as influential.  They know that business can come from unexpected places.  They know that something they did ten years ago might result in business today.

There are no "little people" to the Rainmaker.  They do not berate the waiter because the kitchen is slow.  They do not get angry with the person at the ticket counter because the airline delays or cancels a flight.  Everyone is treated with courtesy.  The Rainmaker is as respectful and polite to the guy who mows his lawn as he is to the president of the company that makes the lawn mowers.

A wire and cable salesman had a good relationship with the top management  of a client company in Florida.  The first person he met on every sales call at this customer was the company”s receptionist, an efficient, organized young woman.  Part of her job was keeping the sales appointment schedule. Although she was not the person who bought wire and cable, and was never involved in the decision making, the salesman always treated her courteously.  The salesman always waited patiently if there were delays, never making insistent demands–as did other salespeople.  The salesman never implied his importance by dropping the name of the executive vice president, the person he was there to see, as did others.  The salesman always thanked the receptionist for her help, and always made sure to say good-bye to her.

Eighteen years later, the receptionist is now the executive vice president of the company.  With her influence, her company became the wire and cable salesman’s biggest account.

Don’t make unnecessary enemies.  Why be unlikable?  Who is ever helped by unpleasant behavior?  Pleasant people often appear self-controlled and confident.  Customers like that.

The Rainmaker knows that anybody can help or hurt."  -villageChief

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Agents Who Pigeonhole Themselves = Insurance Experts

"When I was younger… I didn’t want to be pigeonholed… Basically, now you want to be pigeonholed.  It’s your niche."  – Joan Chen, actress

How true the above quote is but to really understand it takes a road of discovery.  For example, I recently ran across an agent that had started off as a general practitioner of selling property and casualty insurance to anyone who walked through the agency’s front doors.  You need an artisan policy, no problem.  You need classic car coverage, no problem.  The book of clients became wide with areas of coverage deep. So yes, the size and diversity of his book became the problem.

Furthermore, all the while building his book of business his out-of-the-office hobby was wine tasting.  He could explain to you vintages, aromas, grapes, vineyards, regions, and how all of these variables collide to deliver a single taste of wine.  But how could he use this passion and knowledge to benefit his career as an agent?  The answer was right under his nose (pun intended).

The Wine Connoisseur’s Four Step Process:

1.  Learn Your Niche - Identify what activity you would like to be surrounded by.  What are you passsions?  Can you reach out and connect with those involved and offer them a solution for their risks?  Of course you can!  Learn it, know it, and believe in it!  Your enthusiasm is contagious!

 2.  Find Your Market - Explore shows and online sites to find the markets that cover the risks you’re passionate about.  There are hundreds of MGAs and companies that specialize in key, narrow areas.   It’s just up to you to locate them and build that relationship.

3.  Get Involved - Be an ambassador for you and your agency.  Go to the trade shows and  (using the example above) vineyards and get to know all those involved.  Position yourself in their mind as an expert in the wine process and the risks associated.  You can help them cover risks they know about and others they may have overlooked. 

4.  Be the Expert - Don’t worry if you aren’t the certified expert.  An expert is really just defined in the context of selling your service as knowing more than your purchaser.  You’ll never know everything.  But  you should know more than your prospective clients.  Stay attuned to what is going on in the industry as well as the insurance markets as well.  Experts inform and educate others. 

Please don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a general practitioner.  There are general practitioners that are just as successful as a niche agents.  I’m merely illustrating a different approach to building your book of business.  If you have a burning interest in a particular subject, implement it into your daily practice.

Today our wine connoisseur / agent is known as the vineyard insurance expert statewide.  That’s all he focuses on and he’s known as the best.  Not a bad position to be in.  Cheers to you and your niche!  -village chief

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Networking – Part 2 by Thom Singer

When you seriously want to network and build a reputation in your business community, an independent insurance professional must embrace three points:

1.  Establishing your network takes time.

2.  Nobody else can network for you.

3.  Consistency is the key.

The mistake that many make is that they decide to establish relationships and expect to have real connections, friendships and referral business instantly.  This cannot happen.  It is much like dating.  You most likely did not propose to your husband or wife the day you met them.  You invested time and shared mutual experiences that led you to creating a more permanent arrangement.  Why are other types of relationships different?  It takes many encounters and the developing of an understanding to have a true bond.  It also means that you have to invest in helping other people succeed without any guarantee that they will return the favor.  The "what’s in it for me" mentality keeps people on the sidelines and allows the competition to become established.

Networking and building a personal brand to those in your community does not happen by accident.  It involves dedication and planning.  It cannot be delegated.  You cannot ask your secretary to go network for you, nor can you ask a young associate to go forth and make you a known entity to potential clients and referral sources.  You have to personally show up at the events and spear head your own follow up activities with those whom you wish to get to know better.

Finally, nothing replaces consistency.  If you think that you can network and participate in business organizations on those rare occasions when you are not busy and are in the "mood" to socialize, you will find yourself all alone at the networking station.  To create a professional sphere of influence means that you are always engaged with others regardless of your workload or other factors.  Those who are best networked have always found time for others.   -  Thom Singer

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Networking – Part 1 by Thom Singer

Today is a guest post.  It is part one of a two part series on networking.  If you don’t think networking is vital to your agency’s reach in community and / or industry, keep reading.  Thom is the director of business development for vcfo, an operational accounting, HR and recruiting firm.  He is also a professional speaker and the author of four books on the power of business relationships and networking.  More information at www.thomsinger.com.  Enjoy!

You don’t believe in networking as an important tool to grow your business?

"Thank You" says your competition.

Let’s face it, people do business with those they know, like and trust.  However, many insurance professionals hide behind their busy work and do not dedicate the time to meet new people and cultivate real relationships.  Since you work in a competitive industry, anything that you can do to stand out from the competition should be a high priority.  Those who avoid networking are handing their competitors a valuable gift.  Being top of mind with clients, prospects and referral sources is the only way to succeed.

 All opportunities come from people.  Because of this everyone should put a heavy emphasis on serving others.  Instead many approach networking as a "what’s in it for me" mentality.  This is short-sighted, as those who help others are always rewarded in the long run.  The more you do for others, the more successful you will be over time.  Every action you take does not need to directly benefit your bottom line, as most people appreciate those who do favors out of the kindness of their heart.

 Look at those who are at the top of the heap in you town or industry.  Most likely you will find someone who has a deep rolodex of contacts with people who admire and respect them.  Those who are selfish or cheaters get left in the dust.

 Look at your client list and determine whom do you know that should meet each other?  Being a connector who assists others to discover key individuals that can help them succeed will make you indispensable.  It is easy to fire your insurance agent, but it is hard to fire the person who is always sending you new leads, referrals and information.

Make meeting new people and advancing existing relationships part of your daily routine.  Do not bury yourself in your office and pretend that you are too busy.  We all know that you can find the time for anything that it is a priority, thus realize your networking efforts are important and act in such a manner. 

You will never regret establishing a strong network that can and will refer you additional business.  If you are not meeting key people in your community, rest assured that your competition is constantly trying to expand their reach.  If you sit back and let them establish the lead brand in agency choices, you will never catch up.  Start now to make, grow and keep your business relationships. – Thom

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