The beginning of June marked the first anniversary of my employee benefits agency, and I took some time to reflect on my experiences during the past year. While starting any new business is stressful and success is not guaranteed, I made a few key decisions in year one that have had a huge and positive impact on my success so far. Of course, there are some choices I might have made differently if I knew then what I know now, but the following five things have served me well and have propelled me into year two:

1) I started with a written business plan. The value of writing down goals is well documented. My business plan was the road map that kept me focused and on track, and I reviewed it regularly, and used it to identify the highest impact actions I should be taking each week. While I was creating it, I shared it with people who were already successful building what I wanted to build, and I incorporated their advice. At the end of 2015, I created a new business plan for the new year, and it still guides my daily activity.

2) I focused immediately on building a pipeline of prospective clients and communicating with them regularly. I didn’t allow administrative tasks to distract me from my most important activity: revenue generation. I did not invest time or (non-existent) money into a website. Instead, I invested in a well-designed logo that was authentically me (more on authenticity below) and got that onto business cards and into my email signature right away. And then I got out there in the world and spent the majority of my time — at networking events, on social media, in one-on-one meetings, and in a monthly newsletter — telling prospective clients and strategic partners how I could help them with their employee benefits. By the end of 2015, I had eight clients, which exceeded my goal of five. This year, my website is part of my business plan.

3) I surrounded myself with people who were much more experienced and successful than me. I fully subscribe to the idea that if you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. There are so many people that I have had the good fortune to learn from. I consider these people my strategic partners, and they make me a better consultant to my clients because I have the benefit of their wisdom and years of experience. Key strategic partners in my first year included a general agency, carrier representatives, a sales coach, agency management gurus, marketing specialists, a CPA/financial planner, HR consultants and so many peers in my industry who were so generous with their time and encouragement. I also invested in a membership with the National Association of Health Underwriters, which provides up-to-date, industry-specific webinars, seminars, conferences, newsletters and continuing education.

4) I used social media as my marketing platform. As I have written previously, social media was a very important tool because it allowed me to build my agency without a marketing budget. By staying focused, being authentic and investing some time each day, I was able to build my agency’s online presence, and to connect in a meaningful way with prospective clients and strategic partners. My involvement with social media has opened up both speaking and writing opportunities which further promote my agency, as well as a paid teaching opportunity that will be a new revenue stream this year.


5) I stayed authentic to myself and my goals. It may seem counter-intuitive, but I knew I did not want to grow too much, too fast. I was careful to take clients that were a fit for my skillset and resources, and I did not try to be everything to everyone. I developed a niche market (groups affected by the ACA small group expansion) and a unique client service (employee education seminars) early on, and my passion for those was obvious when anyone asked about my agency. I also chose to share my experiences as an agency owner — both positive and negative — openly on social media, which helped to establish my authentic voice.

When I look at the metrics in my business plan — revenue, profit, client retention — I know that my first year was a success. But I also look at the things that are less tangible — quality of life, sense of satisfaction with the work I do, positive feedback from clients and strategic partners — and I know that I am in the right place. I am grateful that I was able to incorporate these five things into my first year as an agency owner, and they will continue to be an important part of my business plan going forward.

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Amy Evans

Amy Evans

Evans is president of Colibri Insurance Services, an employee benefit insurance agency that helps small businesses (up to 100 employees) design and execute comprehensive and cost-effective employee benefit strategies.