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.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Employee Benefit Adviser content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access