Part 1, My Journey to Starting a Digital Brokerage:
BrokerBrett.com was originally built as a place to house online forms. I hadn’t used that site in that way since I had worked at an insurance agency, but I started to tune it back up a few months. It’s hard to get people to fill out insurance paperwork, so I put the bulk of the needed info into easy links, brokerbrett.com/homeowners for instance.
Using the site as an insurance agency, was born out of a want for independence, and the fact that today you can really run an agency out of the cloud and a briefcase. I still have an office, I like being able to go to the office, but my goal is to build up a team that’s able to work effectively from anywhere, that cares, and feels like they have skin in the game. Today it’s just me, and tremendous back-end support from Oli. I just get to do the easy / hard work of getting the customers.
I want to thank my friend, Nick Lamparelli, who I currently host a podcast with on the insnerds.com network, he helped encouraged me to start my own brokerage and introduced me to Oli Insurance. Oli Insurance is a member of the Heffernan Insurance group of companies, Oli helps brokers start their own agencies. They have a great team, solid carrier appointments, and they are extremely well integrated technologically.
I am proud of what I have built today and I wanted to share with you the tools I have used, in case you are thinking of setting up your own digital brokerage.
Part 2, Now for the How-To:
Squarespace (for websites) – I have messed with GoDaddy and WordPress, I have seen WIX, I know there are a lot of options out there, but I like Squarespace. Their stuff looks good, it’s easy to change, add content, etc., not tool is perfect, but I feel like they have a great set-up for non-programmers that are OK with a few limitations.
Google Suite – Google’s app makes it so easy to flip between email accounts and Google drives. I know Microsoft is getting there, but I have had Gmail for 13, 14+ years and I think they continue to make a great platform. They may scan my emails? But I am boring, so I am OK with that. They have a easy integration to Squarespace too.
MeetUp – This may not sound like an agency starting tool, but having a strong networking, and or helping build a community will be key. You need to be known to be a good insurance agent. Building up a professional group is a great way to do that, just make sure to have consistency.
Chambers are great too! (Props to my LA AREA Chamber Ambassador family, I miss you guys. The Newport Beach Chamber and Navigate group has been excellent as well.)
Mailchimp – Whether it’s for your agency, or your MeetUp group, Mailchimp is super easy when it comes to making campaigns and tracking them. Make sure to add value and keep your communications light in nature. Don’t sleep on email, for the right tight knit crowds, it’s still solid.
AirTable – This is a new favorite I found out about through Jason Calacanis and This Week In Start-Ups (a great pod by the way). Airtable is more or less an interactive excel file that lets you store and manipulate data a lot more. Excel was never meant to be a to do list, Airtable is. Creating different “tables” has probably helped me execute on the agency as much as anything.
Fiverr – These guys are a great for piece by piece design help. They’re not going to help you build -out a “style guide” for your company, but they can help you refresh marketing materials quickly and super cost effectively.
RingCentral – I am not using this service right now, but I have in the past. For something light and remote that you can use from your phone or computer, this service is hard to beat.
VistaPrint – I have always used them for flyers, business cards, etc. They have great template and their design tools are easy to use. If you can use Microsoft publisher, you can make good things happen with VistaPrint.
Department of Insurance – I can’t speak for all states, but I have been pleasantly surprised by how nice and helpful the people at the CA department of insurance have been. The website can be a little tough to navigate. There’s a lot to read / work through. But if you call the helpline and leave VM they get back to you with thorough responses. If there’s an issue with an app, their email correspondence is quick. Don’t be scared to reach-out.
Underwriters – I know not every carrier (or wholesaler) is the same but getting underwriters on the phone has always been highly helpful tool. My personal lines boss / manager taught me this, if you’re having an issue, just hop on the line with an underwriter. I use this move all the time. Insurance is complex, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the people that make the products, and really understand how it should work.
Raters and Agency Management Systems – I am hesitant to pick a dog in this fight, go with whatever you’re comfortable with. Just keep in mind if you want the system to be versatile on your phone and if you want API openness for potential integrations. These tools really aren’t one size fits all.
And then you still have to go out and sell. Build a niche. Cold call. It’s not dead, I swear. Make sure to have interest before full pitching (thank you Jordan Belfort), you don’t want to burn yourself out. All the cliches are true. It’s going to take a lot of nos to get to a yes, just make sure you’re learning as you go. You won’t find one magic bullet (I regularly have to remind myself of this), you’re going to have to work a few campaigns to build business, and keep working them. Build a routine.
My last two cents are be as polite and to the point as possible. The needs are out there. Make sure you have good carriers, and work hard do find the right customers for your products, as opposed to trying to make your customer fit your products.
You won’t know everything you have to get done – from a regulatory standpoint, from a customer acquisition standpoint, and more. You must just start moving and around the next bend the course will look different than you thought. And that’s OK. Make sure you’re moving towards your global goal, sometimes (usually) the bit by bit of how you get there will have to have slight adjustments made.
Some days you’re really going to doubt yourself, I would keep saying I couldn’t tell if I was dumb or smart, or if I made the right bet. The nice part about running your own business is you have the power to make your bet the right one. I did get some job offers just as I was getting going, two with a company I wanted to work with for two years, but I had to see this new road out. Don’t expect perfection, don’t expect ease, just stay in the fight and keep moving forward.
People have done more with less in the past, and there are so many cool tools and resources these days. If you want to build an agency (school, dog house, car, whatever) start building a plan and collecting related experience. Godspeed!