It’s been almost 10 years since my business partner Zack Gould and I started G&N Insurance. Since then, G&N has grown around 30 to 45 percent each year. We now serve 15,000 clients, and we’re on track to finish this year with about $30 million in written premium.

Of course, it didn’t start out that way. Those numbers are the result of refining our processes over time as we learned from our failures and mistakes. Zack and I started the agency from scratch after leaving the captive agent channel. In the early days, we ran ourselves ragged trying to grow – we were spending every night of the week at networking events, trying out different marketing tactics and writing clients in every possible niche.

So how did we achieve the results we have? It’s mostly the compound effect of finding our niche and focusing on networking within that niche for the last nine years.

Picking our niche and going all-in

Early on, we fell victim to “shiny object syndrome.” We said yes to every opportunity that came our way. We’d be writing a mechanic shop one week, a plumber the next, and contractors and restaurants the next. It was fun and challenging and brought in some big premium. But we were spreading ourselves too thin and frustrating our staff because they didn’t know how to service all the different niche accounts we were writing.

Trying to be a jack of all trades makes it really challenging to grow vertically. So, about a year in, we decided we’d rather be the best in the world at one thing rather than being mediocre at many things. We decided to focus on insuring homebuyers during the homebuying process. It was a natural choice for us at the time. Zack and I were both in our mid-20s, and I had just closed on my first house. Plus, after trying out several different niches, it was clear that much of our business was coming through real estate referrals, and those accounts had higher closing ratios, easier sales pipeline management, more policies per client and better retention and loss ratios.

Being a specialist rather than a generalist can set independent agents apart, because the big, direct-to-consumer insurance companies are generalists, and they’ve got billions of dollars to compete with IAs. In the long term, it’s really hard to scale profitably if you’re not a specialist somewhere.

For us, it’s much easier to move from insuring 5 or 6 percent of all the homes purchased in Massachusetts to 7 or 8 percent in the following years than it is to get more clients and premium by growing laterally.

Matt and Zack present to fellow agency owners at IAOA conference

Building a referral network

Insurance is an avoidance product; it’s not something people are excited about looking for or using. So when it came to finding clients, we decided we wouldn’t try to fight the direct carriers by marketing straight to consumers. Instead, we went upstream within our niche. We focus on networking with trusted advisors such as realtors, loan officers and financial advisors who can introduce us to people who need our services right now.

We’ve spent a lot of time in the real estate community and have become intimately aware of the pain points and struggles of those in the industry. When we meet with realtors and loan officers, we never talk about insurance. Instead, we developed several different programs designed to help them grow their business, use social media effectively, and access the information they need.

For example, we created a landing page for real estate agents in Massachusetts where they can input a property address and within a half hour, they’ll get an email with a custom template that includes the property’s permit information, flood determination, flood insurance and quote, a range for the home insurance quote, and more. This arms the realtor with valuable content and helps them look that much more professional and prepared with their client.

These kinds of programs have helped us create a large network of referral partners within the real estate industry who regularly provide us with warm leads. As a result, our closing ratio is three or four times the average.

Cultivating sustainable growth

Over time, G&N moved from a hustle-hustle sales organization to a well-oiled business machine. That happened because we realized we couldn’t scale through sheer grit and effort.

Agency growth isn’t just about the end results. For the growth to be sustainable, you must focus on long-term strategy and the behaviors that lead to the outcomes you want. You have to create processes and structures that organize your team, delegate responsibility, prioritize projects and create accountability. Otherwise, it’s too easy for all the weight of responsibility to fall on the agency owner.

For our team, we created weekly scorecards that track our projects and processes. This has helped fuel accountability and ongoing traction. We have a structured approach with objectives and goals for each quarter, year, three years, and beyond. These objectives are assigned to whomever in the organization is going to be accountable to see them through to the finish line. And then we use the weekly scorecard to check on the status of each project and make sure we’re staying on track.

This organizational system has allowed Zack and I to step back from the day-to-day operations at G&N and focus on strategy, vision, key relationships and culture. We also share our internal strategies with real estate professionals as well as with other insurance agency owners through our podcast, BobbleOn. We hope sharing some of these strategies can help other people grow their businesses.