My best friend’s daughter was born the day after I was let go from a job, so it’s an easy timeline to remember, June 28th, 2018. Sometimes you’ve had a few bad beats and you want something different, I was in that mood. After 6 years and some success in one role, I had a couple of quick sales jobs, and I was ready for something different
My only real major insurance job was a Personal Lines role with the ability to network into Commercial and I had sold B2B commercial services before, but still hadn’t had a ton of Commercial Insurance experience. Nevertheless, after talking through things with my friends and wife, I decided to start bartending more and stand up an insurance brokerage.
I had my Premium targets and goals. I had emerging markets I was gonna chase. There were a lot of plans and ideas.
SELL THINGS PEOPLE HAVE TO BUY
I was starting a brand new brokerage. My theory was “grow with growth markets,” but there were a few shortcomings to that methodology. I was trying to push Cyber and Cannabis insurance in 2018 / 2019. Cyber was tough. I would call companies and if I could get into a conversation I tried to sneak in some facts, but more often than not the response would be “ok great, thank you, I’ll call my broker about it.” I had no “wedge.”
Cannabis Insurance was very interesting at the time too. Again, minimal markets with it being newer, plus I wasn’t really integrated into the scene. I picked up one client, but it was because they needed the insurance for a building lease. When it came to the Cannabis Insurance market a lot of the gray market people weren’t interested in Insurance if they didn’t have to have it, and the white-collar VC-backed ones were already lawyered and insured up.
After a couple of weeks of this, a good agent buddy and I were at coffee, and he said something along the lines of “dummy, sell insurance people have to buy.” Between that and Andrew Correl’s Insurance Requirements podcast, I learned to love the “Insurance Requirements” vernacular.
Insurance Requirements — the part of a commercial contract in which the types and minimum amounts of insurance the parties agree to provide in connection with their performance of the contract are specified.
PLAY NICE WITH GOOGLE AND BE SEEN EASILY
I started off my brokerage by trying to use a website I had from before, “brokerbrett.com.” Originally it was a forms site for home, auto, etc., then a blog about insurtech startups, “brokergizmos.com,” then I turned it back to BrokerBrett.com and tried to use it as an agency.
While Broker Brett has been an awesome name and brand for industry-facing work, I realized consumer-facing side I didn’t really have a strategy to build a brand around it, so I started kicking around other names. A good friend came up with “Newport Beach Insurance Center,” which I thought was brilliant.
Hearing 5 letter domains are ideal, NPBIC.com seemed like a phenetic mashup that could work (NPIC.com was taken). Trouble is that’s a mouthful to try and get out while cold calling, “ N-P-B-I-C,” haha. I have 949insurance.com and insurance949.com and going to keep the name, but try and drive traffic through there.
The new domain fits my marketing buddy’s advice, “people need to know what you do if you’re driving by at 60 miles per hour.”
For the SEO side of this. I was working out of a friend’s office when I got started. He gave me a phone, a desk and a whiteboard, and regular motivational speeches. He didn’t pull any punches about what I needed to do to survive from his perspective.
My SEO was going pretty well from his office, I got active on other social ad referral sites, then I made a misstep. Google doesn’t validate mailboxes. I moved the company’s official address to a Newport Beach mailbox and killed my blossoming SEO.
Good places to have your company listed:
- Twitter for niche audience interaction
I am in the process of transitioning back to an office address.
CHARACTER NOTES FOR AND BOOKS FOR SALES FOLKS
I have a long way to go and am hesitant to consider anything I have done so far successful. If I can contribute the traction to anything, it’s a few key thoughts and I’ll expand more:
My (salesman and actual) Dad – People like working with happy successful people.
Protect and keep your energy up.
My actual Godfather and a Salesman – Everybody’s bored to tears
He’d bring funny cards and trinkets to clients, if you could keep it light it’s helpful
A Sales Buddy – People are always judging how much stress you can take, that’s why you have to present yourself and be sharp
One buddy we called “Tha Hammer” after a famous 70s TV Character who loves routine for sales “I don’t care how late you’re up or how many drinks you have, you hit the gym and you hit your calls.”
Those were some foundational points that I think helped, plus some great books from a friend’s dad, classics How to Win Friends & Influence People, The Richest Man in Babylon, The Greatest Salesman on Earth, and later 48 Laws of Power gave me a good lens once I was out in the working world, & Never Eat Alone really helped me appreciate the network effect too.
The biggest random opportunity came from first writing for Insurance Nerds (thanks Tony), then co-hosting a podcast with Nick Lamparelli, and eventually taking it over. I always say it was a lot of “sures,” there wasn’t a master plan, just openness.
STAYING OPEN TO UNUSUAL OPPORTUNITIES IF THEY ALIGN
I am trying to figure things out on my own, cold calling, bartending etc., and I start building a very interesting relationship. I get a call from a Canadian startup, and hear what they’re working on sounded cool and interesting. I had been around an API-driven project in LA, around Personal Insurance info, they were talking about APIs for Life Insurance. Six months later I found myself in Toronto meeting the whole team. Conceptually what they were working on really lined up with a product I liked and was a big success in Commercial P&C, so I was in. I made the comparison of being in a rowboat, and a gunship (or something quite a bit bigger) comes along and asks if you want to help. I hopped on board to work with FINAEO and it’s been a phenomenal life-changing experience ever since.
Right up there on the happy accident scale was finding SmartChoice. I was serving and Bartending at a corporate mall restaurant, trying to help keep the lights on while getting the brokerage going and I was starting to consult insurtech with Insurtechs (shoutout to Lance Poole and Juniper Labs!) when I made buddies with a regular that transplanted from New Jersey and was in the Insurance industry.
It turns out the friend my new buddy came out to work with was a bit of a mess, and he went back to New Jersey and opened his own office. When I was looking for carrier access, I reached out to him. This guy is loud and opinionated and fun. When he had nothing bad to say about SmartChoice (except get direct with carriers asap) I was in. Years later I now have the privilege of being able to rep and recruit P&C agents to the SmartChoice fam too.
I write all this to say Consulting and being open to things around what I was doing kept the lights on, and I still get to work on my brokerage, and I get to make sure I am writing good business. I brought up being self-conscious to my Accountant that I had a few irons in the fire and he said he thought it was smart, that too many people “burn the ships” and rely on one source of income and don’t make it. It kept me independent.
BEST PRACTICES I’VE SEEN
BNI – A lot of great professionals build-out of these groups. Especially being virtual a good portion of the time now, these groups aren’t too costly and really helpful to building a career. I might finally break and join one.
Friends and fam – Don’t be afraid to sell to them. Again, I have to take my own medicine here. I have not sold into my personal network nearly as much as i should have. There’s definitely a “I want to make it on my own” blocker here. The people you know have to buy insurance, why not from you?
Niche – “Get rich in your niche” is a cliche phrase in insurance for a reason. I have sold everything, Group Benefits, Life, Personal, Commercial and more. I would not consider myself successful in the traditional sides of our business yet. Niche down, you won’t be mad at yourself. You will lose your mind trying to be a Generalist, I know from experience.
Embedded – I always say “become the insurtech monsters we’re scared of.” Not so much today, 4 or 5 years ago there was a big “disrupt” movement. InsurTechs and other startups were gonna “eat out lunch.” It was a good battle cry from their side, and it got the industry nervous.
Some of these companies did some damage. Some got acquired, but the landscape hasn’t really changed. In the wake of these companies thinking they’d “displace brokers”, a lot of them pivoted to enablement. You may be able to find an InsurTech or Legacy carrier that has a Direct to Consumer tool for your vertical, and you may be abel to leave that on your site, or get to to referral partners for their workflows.
Community activity – The LA Chamber served me very well as an office-loving salesman (6 years), unfortunately, the chamber I joined as an Insurance agent didn’t have any leads group openings. (I still have to find one.) Not to reiterate the BNI point too much, but those groups do work.
The other note I like making is that it doesn’t take too much more effort to run something than it does to participate well. If you are not seeing a leads group or an associate that you believe in, maybe strike up your own? The biggest thing is consistency. MeetUp and Eventbrite are great places to look for and promote groups too.
Partnerships – This may play more on the startup side, but it’s a huge part of why Insurance agents are successful too. Mentoring, sharing networks, and sharing connectors are huge. We can’t double our books of business overnight, but we can double potential contacts and opportunities through the right networking.
M&A (ugly books) – I know a lot of friends that like to buy “paper agencies,” or books of business that are less desirable on paper, and a lot of DIC and Fair Plan policies in CA. They buy these uglier books on the cheap, and clean them up or round them out. Good opportunities aren’t always obvious.
Commercial – The general consensus over the past few years has been “personal lines is getting commoditized, head to commercial.” I think this is generally true and good advice. If you aren’t versed in Commercial there are a lot of InsurTechs that make it easier to sell Commercial these days too.
Life is slept on – Similar to the note on Commercial IsnurTechs, we’re making Life sales easier at FINAEO. A lot of P&C agents don’t want to touch Life, even when they’re licensed, but I think it’s a great way to be profitable in year one (in Personal Lines) and build a relationship. Life talks are much deeper VINs, driver’s license numbers, and addresses.
I don’t really think there’s a right or a wrong to build an agency. The big thing I’d say is have a plan and try and be consistent. (I haven’t.) Then you know if things are working, and or if you need to tweak things and make adjustments. “What gets measured gets improved” as they say, so keep track of the inputs and outputs and make things happen!
WHAT’S GOING ON TODAY
I feel very blessed to be starting my 5th year of running Newport Beach Insurance Center (keep an eye out for that transition to 949insurance). FINAEO is in all 50 states and we’re regularly bringing on agents. I got the nod to help recruit agents for SmartChoice, I have brought a few in, and am loving working with small business owners and agencies and seeing how they’ve found success and how we can help fill in gaps.
Last Fall I was extremely complimented and excited to be an Advisor for a very cool NYNY startup called Marble, we’re building a personal insurance policy wallet with points to incentivize activity. It reminded me of HONEY right away and I was in.
Small side note, my 3 rules for taking on an advisory role (1) Trust and like the Founders – Life’s too short. (2) See the concept or tech working somewhere else but not in insurance yet – This was easier a few years ago but still works. (3) Believe the team can succeed.
I have remained active with Insurance Nerds too. It’s a phenomenal community of passionate giving Insurance Professionals, that I can without a doubt say I would not be having the opportunities I feel fortunate to have without.
I am here to help and don’t plan on going anywhere. Please feel more than free to reach out if I can help with P&C carrier access, coaching on cross-selling Life from P&C. Content creation, and startup ideas.
There have been some good wins and bad beats not fully listed above. Thank you to Stephen Goldstein, Blake Maxwell, Ed Arango, and Spencer Witcher for helping me as I was lost in the woods. Thank you to other great professionals like Deidra Wright and Kate Terry that helped me really believe in my own skill and reach.
Too many people have been good to me on this journey to mention. I’ll see you all on that great big Insurance and InsurTech road!
Brett Fulmer || Office D (949) 209-5661 || firstname.lastname@example.org
CA Insurance License # 0I83384, licensed in all 50 states, NPN # 17234208
Carrier and Technology Access through SmartChoice (P&C) and FINAEO (Life), please let me know if you’d like to know more.