Benefit agency owners seem to share a few steadfast ideas that create a mental logjam, preventing them from reinventing their businesses like they really should be doing with all the changes in the industry. Here’s how to clear through these roadblocks.

Mental jam No. 1: People won’t pay for services outside the scope of insurance products.

People will certainly pay. There are entire businesses based around adjacent and complementary services to insurance, and these companies make a good living providing the services. Chances are pretty good that you provide some of these services to your own clients, but don’t actually charge them anything.

Here are a few examples of products offered by specialty companies (these are also ideas of what benefit agencies can consider providing as fee-based services):

  • Employee benefit communications
  • Employee financial education
  • Employee retention consulting
  • Performance management tracking and consulting
  • Employee surveys and consulting
  • Wellness programs and consulting
  • Flexible work environment consulting

Notice a theme here? Educating people through specially designed programs and consulting are commonly needed by employers now. Businesses that value their longevity and their employees will pay for advice, consulting, tangible programs and project management from outside consultants to help them improve their operations and profitability. When clients use the services under an adviser’s direction and the results are obvious, they are happy to pay for it.
Mental jam No. 2: The competition doesn’t charge for or provide that service — so I can’t either

Nonsense; clients want choice. If your business is focused on being just the same as your competitors, there are no differentiating factors to sway prospects in your direction. If prospects are talking to you but choosing to stay with their current broker, you have not given them a compelling reason to make the switch.

Different levels of service are great for competition and for the economy. The more you can separate yourself with your service offering, the better. Even if that means charging for things competitors are giving away. Companies that charge fees believe in the value of what they offer and know they can make a difference in clients’ businesses. That confidence is attractive to a business owner.

People will pay for what’s important to them. Which, of course, means that not all companies will pay for consulting services to improve their business. Clients will sort themselves into the levels of service they need and want. And what they need most is choice. If everyone offers the same services at the same level, where is the choice?

Mental jam No. 3: My business model has worked for years; I don’t need to change it.

All models need to change eventually. Some of the most staid industries have completely reinvented themselves due to technology, changing consumer demands and economic pressures. Nowhere does it say that you get to keep the same business model until the end of time. And no one owes you a functional business model. Not the government, not the insurance carriers, not your clients, not your employees.

The big problem holding agencies back is that they’ve never had to invent their own business model. The independent agency model is a cookie-cutter approach to building a business. You may have to figure out specific processes, but largely the same model has been replicated by thousands of agencies.

Creating your own model that deviates from this standard can be scary. When you’ve always looked to someone else for ideas — like carriers or competitors — you need to completely change the places you look for inspiration. Look outside the industry; read publications and books about being an entrepreneur and reinventing business models; look at how your clients are changing their businesses. Take risks on ideas you’ve not tried before or seen your competitors try. Scrutinize every aspect of your business to see what parts of it are holding you back. Status quo in the insurance industry is not going to move you forward.

Take some time to really challenge yourself on each of these points. Think through it and ask what your current beliefs are around each of these idea jams. Write down why you think each of these mental jams are actually accurate, and why I’m wrong. And then look for one reason, one example, where there might be some bit of truth in this idea holding you back. And finally, bring it all together to discuss with your team. Challenge one another to look at both sides of the issues.

You only need one reason to make a change. My challenge to you is to find that one reason and take action.

Keneipp is a partner and coach at Q4intelligence in the Seattle area.

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