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Next in Line: Plotting a Path to Agency Ownership

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Agency Focus

Finding and retaining talent has been on the minds of agency owners from the day I entered this industry. It is a top concern for agency owners in every survey I have ever read. With the current movement in our workforce, my guess is this topic will remain at the forefront for the foreseeable future.

When it comes to agency retention and perpetuation, the conversation typically focuses on what current agency owners are doing. However, I believe it is the responsibility of both the current owner and potential future owner to create a meaningful career and path to leadership within an agency. If you are a hungry, smart, energetic leader who sees the incredible opportunity that exists in the insurance industry, my question is, what are you doing to build your pathway to ownership?

Opportunity is Everywhere

According to the latest Agency Universe Study, there are 36,000 agencies across the United States. More than 49% of those agencies have owners that are 56 or older, which means that half, 18,000 agency owners, will be at or past retirement age in the next 5-10 years and thinking about transitioning ownership in their agency. According to the same study, the majority of agency owners want to transition internally to a current partner, employee, or family member.

There will never be a better time to position yourself as a future agency owner. In addition, independent insurance agencies are incredibly strong businesses – seriously, name another industry where 85-90% of your revenue typically renews. I am not suggesting that there aren’t challenges but, as far as opportunities go, this industry is rich! In fact, I still think it is one of the best kept secrets. So, the question is, with all of this opportunity, what are you doing to position yourself as a future owner?

Bridging the generational divide

We all talk about how to communicate with the next generation, but have you considered what you are doing to connect with the generations that came before you? Baby Boomers are wired to view hard work and commitment based on hours and time while that is far less important to GenX and Millennials who demonstrate their worth and commitment by making a difference and being innovative.

It's important for leaders to recognize their preconceived perceptions of others. Putting your perceptions aside can help bridge the generational divide and demonstrate your leadership abilities. Small things, like seeking advice and opinions from coworkers with diverse backgrounds, builds mutual respect and shows that you relate to different types of people.

Broadening your view

Have you ever heard that you should dress for the position you want, not the one you have? Using that same logic, you should think like the position you want not the position you have.

Long before you have the title of owner, you can think like one by broadening your view and considering all aspects of the business.. When a problem arises, ask yourself how the problem impacts all roles inside the agency, your customers and your partners. Ask questions about the business, and participate in creating solutions. Make the shift from sharing problems to sharing solutions. Leaders have to make some difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions, and it is incredibly valuable when others are able to rise above their own viewpoint and see the bigger picture. What are some ways you can do this and support the current owner? By taking this approach, the current owner will be able to picture you in a leadership role more easily.

Find your mentor and value their guidance

If you want to set yourself up for success, one of the best things you can do is surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, have different experiences and hold different viewpoints. We all have blind spots, so seeking out a diverse group of people who can make you think is powerful. They will be able to maintain a more holistic view of both the opportunities and challenges inside our industry. The industry is full of people who are willing to share and mentor each other, however, be cautious of surrounding yourself only with people who look, think and talk like you. The knowledge that many veterans in our industry posses can go a long way in helping you shape the future.

Planning for change

Often, young leaders are rich with energy, grand ideas, and aggressive goals – it is what makes you so incredibly attractive and, in many ways, frightening. For someone that has all of that energy, the current owner can feel like an anchor. For you, the inaction is discouraging and for the current owner the ready, fire, aim approach is frightening. The truth is your energy and approach may remind them of themselves twenty or thirty years ago. As with everything, the right path forward most likely lies somewhere in the middle.

I suggest creating a detailed plan for change that encompasses as many aspects as possible, including time, cost, training, and supporting data to support your plan. Share ways to measure the success or failure of the idea and a process to implement. The more comprehensive and well thought out, the more trust and confidence you will instill that your ideas have merit.

Financial commitment

In addition, if you want to be a future owner, are you preparing financially? Are you prepared to purchase an agency? In order to secure a loan, you will need sound credit and the ability to put 10% down. Becoming an owner will require taking on both the financial risks and rewards of the agency, so the more you can do to gain an understanding of the business and all that is involved with running the agency, the better prepared you will be to become an owner. This topic is sensitive, but expressing an interest to learn and understand how the business works will speak volumes. Don’t expect to get full access to the inner workings of the business the first time you inquire, start small and be patient. This process is a marathon, not a sprint, and with the right mindset and expectations, everyone involved wins.

Change takes patience and trust. For those who are willing to be thoughtful and participate in building a pathway to a future that meets both their needs and instills confidence in the current owner, there are endless opportunities and a very bright future ahead.

Remember, great effort and time went into building the business that exists today. The thought of trusting someone else with your life’s work is incredibly difficult. There are many ways to ease those fears and instill confidence that their legacy will be in good hands. So many agency owners are looking to find the right person to trust with all that they have built and provide them with the same opportunity as that given to them. To many, it feels like that person may be a unicorn. My advice to you is - be that unicorn!

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Carey Wallace

Agency Finance and Valuation Consultant