I have been in business now for 10 years which is amazing to me. I’d like to share some thoughts of what those first ten years have been like.
Starting a new business is an interesting endeavor. Starting two businesses, having a baby and buying a house in a 12 month period, is almost stupid. My wife Heather and I both started businesses from scratch back in 2005. I opened my Farmers agency, she started her Psychiatric practice. Now, when you start a business, no one walks up to you with a play by-play book and says, “here is everything you need to know to run this business”. There are a thousand things to learn, and about 978 of them you don’t even know you need to learn them.
I did have some support with Farmers in the form of a District Manager and there were trainings on product and sales. I came from the employee world where I was told, what to do, how to do it and when it needs to be done. I was under the impression that my DM was my boss when I first started and it took me about a year before I realized, “Oh man, everything is entirely up to me”. It was a frightening and freeing moment at the same time.
The first few years were crazy and the farther we get away from them, the crazier is seems. When you start a business, you don’t make any money. When you start two businesses, you still don’t make any money. So we were living at my in-laws house (they weren’t living there at the time) which was an incredible help. We found out we were pregnant with our first child and realized that our health insurance policy had a $5000 deductible for maternity. Having the baby was going to cost about $10000 and we probably were going to make about $20,000 for the entire year.
So we sold our ’02 Mustang GT, and bought a ’96 Chevy Cavalier and put the difference in the bank to help pay Dr. bills. I swear, 3 weeks after we made that trade, the engine threw a rod and when I popped the hood, I saw a hole in the engine block the size of a half-dollar and oil everywhere. Apparently, this is bad.
We are now down to one car because we don’t have the $1300 to put a new engine in. So for about 4 months, We leave for work together at about 6:30 am, drive 45 minutes to Heather’s office, drop her off, and drive 40 minutes to my office. At about 6 pm, we do that in reverse. This was in a ’98 Durango getting 15 miles to the gallon. This was also the summer that gas went from below $2 a gallon to over $3 in about 2 months so we were spending about $100 a week on gas. We were doing all of this while my poor wife was in her third trimester. Then her Grandparents let us borrow their car and in two months, the head gasket blew. True story. Back to the Durango.
The strange thing is, neither one of us panicked and we stayed the course. There was a mix of sheer ambition, mixed with naivety which seemed to be the proper combination to endure such obstacles. We just figured, this is what people do right? Looking back we were doing things the hard way, but that is what makes it so worth it in the end.
We had our son in June and bought a house the following month because in 2006, an 11-year-old with no credit, running a lemonade stand could buy a $250,000 house.
Over the next few years, my business started to take shape. I worked hard at the things I felt I needed to learn to succeed. I found a mentor, devoured marketing and sales books, and worked early morning and late nights prospecting for business. I moved out of the district office into an office with another agent which was our first leap of faith. We went from very little expenses, to very many expenses. We had rent and employees to pay for now which adds an entirely different level to any business.
I was soon finding myself near the top of the district in new business production which meant we were performing admirably. This was very healthy for me to see as I am hard-wired as a competitive person. When I was in the employee world, I always wanted my boss’s job. Here, I had other agents to chase down to try to outperform. Soon we were the top agency in my district of 27 agencies in new business production and that felt very good.
In 2011 we bought an agency, and then another in 2012 and opened another office in the neighboring town of Nampa. We had 4 employees split between the two offices. Our production was putting us in the top 3 agencies in the state and that is where we have been for the past 3 years.
There have been wild victories and crushing defeats in the sales world. The staffing carousel is the thing that has given me the most grief. Finding good employees who are invested, will work hard, do what they say they will do, and are self motivated has been the greatest challenge. Thankfully, I have two incredible professionals who work for me now, Gina and Kelly, who have all of those traits. It took us about 17 employees to find them, but we found them.
The other thing I have found, is that I am always switched on when it comes to the business. Actual thoughts of mine through the years:
How can we improve?
Are we efficient enough?
I hope the good employees stay.
I hope the bad employees leave.
What do you mean someone broke into my office and passed out on the floor by my desk? (true story)
I have to get paper for the printer.
What is this bill for?
Why is the internet down?
Why are my phones down?
Will we have enough to pay bills this month?
How can I get in front of more people?
How can I get the most out of my team?
I have to hit my numbers by the end of the year.
I have to change the locks because that employee termination didn’t go very well.
Whoops, I went to the wrong office for that appointment.
Why isn’t anyone home? I set this appointment yesterday.
Am I doing the best I can for my family? My employees, my clients?
My tax bill is how much!!!!!!!
It is a never-ending dialogue that is with me 24 hours a day.
What I have learned so far, is that I really enjoy insurance, but I love running a business. Every day is different and presents itself with fresh new challenges to navigate. I have to use an entire set of skills to get through a day. Management skills, delegation skills, sales skills, marketing skills, coaching skills, patience, understanding and empathy to name a few.
I look forward to seeing what the next 10 years will bring!