running a lean, mean, digital agency machine

Erin Nutting
Reading Time: 5 minutes

I didn’t set out with the intention of creating a completely digital insurance agency.

I wish I had some fancy story as to why I set out to “change” the insurance model, but as a captive insurance agent turned independent, I had no choice but to adopt a lean business model (and a lean budget). I started my agency from scratch out of the master bedroom in my house.

Almost five years later, my agency, Integrity Insurance Services, has expanded into a team of producers and even “out of bedroom” office space. Who knew? We run completely as a digital agency, and we continue to keep the buckle tight on our lean business model.

Here are some things I’ve found key to success as a digital insurance agency owner:

you must adopt the mantra: “You don’t have money for that”

In the early days of launching Integrity, I would often pause to remind myself, “You don’t have money for that.” In a business surrounded by “shiny objects” it was something that I continuously struggled with.

As an independent agency owner, it can be easy to think that you have to adhere to the same business model as everyone else. Agents often have an ideal of what an insurance agency should look like, and this can cause them to shell out for things they don’t really need. Example: my paperclip addiction of 2014 when I didn’t have a single piece of paper to actually clip (insert eye roll here).

You don’t need the excess, you just need one great idea that you can take and make your own.

Figuring out that idea that can change your business and your life takes some trial and error. Most outside people will only ever see the success of the risk – they will never see the 100 ideas you threw at the wall; they will only ever see the one that actually sticks. So it is crucial to keep those ideas close to you and to allow yourself the room to grow within your agency without trying to impress the industry or other agents.

find the right customers for your agency – not everyone can be your demographic

With a minimal budget, I had to learn to play to my strengths. As a digital insurance agency, this meant conditioning customers to the idea of not having an agency office.

I’ve also learned not to accept the wrong kind of client for my agency. For example, if a customer doesn’t have an email address, or prefers dropping off payments at a walk-in business, we’re not a good agency for them. We won’t be able to communicate in the way they need, and ultimately won’t be able to meet their expectations. It’s better to be up front about how we operate and make sure it’s a good fit. It’s kind of the “it’s me not you” conversation that no one really likes to have – we just have it up front.

Finding your “demographic” is the one reason I always tell people to know the average age of their books. If your agency serves an older demographic, you may need more printed materials such as auto ID cards, brochures or even notepads (oh my). If your clients tend to be younger, they may be more conditioned to digital communications.

Integrity’s average client is 37 “ish,” meaning we’re catering to an audience that is not quite millennial, but is also not entrenched in the old way of doing things. This gives us the opportunity to teach our customers how to buy insurance in a different way. It also allows them to communicate with us on their timeline, whether it’s by live chat, email or scheduling calls through our live links.

Knowing this also gives us opportunities to cater to the specific needs of our audience. Finding a niche in wedding insurance, for example.

use websites as storefronts

If you’re going to run a digital agency, you have to be willing to play online. If you don’t have a physical office, your website has to be great. This is not a short-term play – this is the end game. This is where all your preparation counts. This one matters.

Since Integrity is a completely digital agency, our websites serve as our storefronts. Instead of asking new customers to come by the office for a meeting, I send them website links so they can quickly and easily fill out forms online or simply know where to go if they need information.

At the same time, one of the things I’ve found key to success as a digital agent is being willing to listen to what my customers want. For example, if your customers are frustrated because they can’t get ahold of you on the phone, find a good phone service.

automation is your friend

When you’re running an agency on a tight budget, automation can save you time and money. You don’t have to hire a service to be successful with it; there are plenty of budget-friendly options that will let you set up automated campaigns for things like onboarding, renewals and birthdays. This will make you look like a rock star because you’re continually following up with your customers.

Setting up automation can start with just a few steps:

  1. Find software that works for you. At Integrity, we use Active Campaign to manage automation and customer tracking. Your agency may have existing software that has an automation component. Or you can do some research to find one that will work for your needs. (Helpful tip: When it comes to learning how to use the software to set up a campaign, YouTube is your bestie.)
  2. Start by setting up an automated process for onboarding new clients. Choose a personal email template and set it to automatically go out to new clients to welcome them to your agency and thank them for their business.
  3. From there, ask yourself what you want new customers to know – do you want them to save your phone number, write an online review, meet a team member? Then set up 12 to 15 casual touches with that information spread out over the onboarding period.
  4. Use the software to tag customers with things to follow up on later. For example, if I get a new client who buys a home policy but not auto, I tag them in the system with “home no auto.” A few months later, the system will prompt me to follow up to see if they need auto insurance.

Automation has been a game-changer for saving me time and keeping me organized.

don’t be afraid to ask for help

As I started and grew my agency, I often asked other agents for advice. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for a collective of about 10 agents who have helped me, mentored me and encouraged me. They were and still are my tribe.

I, without any hesitation, believe that independent agents need to be helping each other. There is enough business for everyone, and your only competition is yourself. If we work together, we can truly make an impact and drive the whole channel forward.

about the author

Erin Nutting
Owner, Integrity Insurance Services

Erin Nutting is a Mommypreneur who’s focused on changing the insurance space. She has more than 10 years of experience in insurance, first as a captive agent then building an independent agency. She’s passionate about all things caffeinated, helping protect her customers, and finding new innovative ways to grow in life.

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I’m in a similar situation- was captive and went out on my own recently. Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing, Erin!