Have you always wanted to start a small business, but were unsure how you might fare? What would happen if the economy got worse? What if your business approach didn't pan out the way you planned and you had to switch gears?
Keith Beausoleil of Fortified Insurance Agency in Manchester, NH has gone through both of these situations. He made the switch from one small business to another in order to achieve his goals, and did it all successfully during the recession.
We asked him to give us some insight into how he approaches running a small business. Read on for Keith's advice on the best tools you need for your business and what one thing he recommends you have in order to increase your chances for success.
Tell us about your business.
We're a local independent insurance agency specializing in personal and commercial insurance offerings. We attempt to know our clients to the extent they are willing to share details of their lives so we can offer insurance coverages that fit their specific needs. We are really dedicated to creating strong relationships with our customers, insurance carriers, and employees.
As an independent agent, we can partner with the best insurance carriers to provide you with a choice. We can tailor a program to fit your needs by placing you with one insurance carrier that covers all of your needs, or place your coverage with separate carriers. It's all about choices.
Why did you start this company?
I am a career insurance nerd and worked on the corporate side in Boston for years -- commuting from Manchester (about a 1 hour drive). I wanted to do something in my community that was related to insurance and use my background to start a new business. I actually started an Allstate Insurance office in 2005, but closed it in 2006 because we were limited in what we could offer our clients; one product line. We then opened what is now our independent insurance agency and can offer more types of insurance products that fit a more diverse spectrum of customers. This allows us to better serve new customers, existing customers, and is a better overall business model, in my opinion.
What's your favorite thing about running your own business?
I cannot say it's time off, as I've never worked this hard in my life! It has to be that what we do makes or breaks us. If we cannot retain our customers or secure new ones, we fail to be a sustainable business and cannot take care of our employees or our own families. In short, the business is what you make it. I like that risk/reward proposition.
What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced in growing your company?
We've been able to grow the company through my lifetime's biggest economic slump. This has certainly challenged us and the smaller insurance agency business model. The economic environment impacts us from many different directions. For example, a tough economy can mean more clients file more and larger claims. That creates more service work than usual, and more time we spend servicing existing clients means less time working on new clients (current clients come first). Also, carrier margins get thinner resulting in lower commission schedules, etc. Despite the slow-growing economy, insurance carriers like us to bring more new clients, and on and on. With a tough economy, everyone gets squeezed...including us.
Of all the ways you're marketing your business, what has been most effective?
Without a doubt, it's spreading the word. When we get a new customer, we typically get their friends and family, too, so referrals and word of mouth. Everything else in small doses seems to help.
What's your must-have office product / service / tool and why?
We could not survive without reliable computers. Everything we do involves using our carrier websites for quoting and servicing our clients. Without power, a solid internet connection, and computers, we're dead in the water. Before my time, it was a pencil and paper...I wish there was some kind of backup!
Is there anything you would do differently if you were starting over again?
One thing...I wish I could have started this when I was younger.
Final words of wisdom for anyone wondering how to get started:
Talk to other folks in the business. If no one talks to you, keep looking until someone does. Make sure you understand how much investment (money, time, sacrifice) it takes to get going. Find a good business coach, adviser, or mentor to help you along the way. You're going to need someone to talk with about ideas and business plans. I had one and I can tell you, I wouldn't be writing this right now without them!
Photo credit: Fortified Insurance Agency