Examine the following relevant information you need to know in order to open your own insurance agency. Once you have made the decision to work for yourself, take a look at the skills you already possess and the resources that are already available to you. Let’s say you have a good track record in sales and you have connections with other business professionals but have not worked in the insurance field. The next question: Are you interested in becoming an independent agent or working for an established national insurance organization such as Farmers or Allstate?
If you opt to go into business with a national insurance company, you will find that they have their own training structure and will help you obtain your license and get the training you need. If you choose to be an independent agent, you have some hard work ahead of you; however, you are making an exciting investment that will pay off in the future.
Starting out as an independent agent, your first priority is to get licensed. Contact your home state’s department of insurance to learn the requirements for becoming an insurance agent. Each state regulates the insurance industry and its agents in order to provide consumer protection and to establish a fair and efficient way for insurance professionals to compete. They also have processes for investigating and regulating agents and investors in order to protect against fraud.
While reviewing the state requirements, you should decide what type of insurance you want to sell. The types of insurance are personal lines, property and casualty, and life insurance. Personal lines are the most common and include non-commercial products such as auto and homeowners insurance. Property and casualty lines cover advanced personal and commercial insurance like professional liability and commercial auto insurance. Life insurance is a good product to add to your products because typically this type of insurance pays the best commission.
Now you are ready to pursue the education and training required to obtain your license. Some educational resources available online include Kaplan University, AdBanker and WebCE. These organizations offer professional and continuing education courses to help prepare one for licensing exams and to satisfy the state requirements for license renewals. A word of caution: if you take online classes, verify that those courses meet the requirements in your state. Note that most states require some form of specialized training in ethics and some specific area such as flood insurance. Check with the department of insurance to learn what these requirements are in your state. Keep in mind that once you have obtained your license you need to meet continuing education requirements in order to renew your license each term.
Let’s move on to the business side of opening your business. For small business owners, it is wise to consider forming a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation in order to protect yourself from personal liability claims. Discuss this issue with your attorney and/or accountant. They will be able to advise you on this subject and assist you in obtaining a business license. By establishing a legal business entity, you can protect your personal assets and make your business more credible.
Next secure protection for your venture. You need to get a surety bond. A surety bond is similar to insurance in that it pays the consumer if a contractual service or agreement has not been fulfilled as agreed. You will also have to obtain errors and omission (E&O) insurance. Most insurance companies that you work with will require you to have an E&O policy in place.
Get ready to secure funds for starting your business. Consult your attorney, accountant, public relations professionals and business experts as resources in evaluating your needs and for assistance in developing a focused business plan based on your objectives. The Small Business Administration in your area can offer beneficial advice on what you need to do to secure financing for your new venture. If you are seeking financing, be prepared to provide detailed information about your start-up expenses and any capital needs you may have. Lending institutions will examine your objectives and insure you have a solid business plan before they assume the risk involved in making a loan to you. Another beneficial resource to consider is your professional associates or friends who may be willing to invest in your business.
Once licensed, begin making those calls to get appointed by insurance underwriting companies. As an independent agent, you will have to contact the insurance carriers and sell yourself. Consequently, you need to be ready to share your business plan and plans for growth so that they can determine if you are worth the risk or investment. It is helpful if you have an inside connection who can assist you with the appointment process. This undertaking will probably be the hardest obstacle you have faced so far. If you have trouble getting appointed by these companies, initially you may want to use a surplus lines broker or managing general agent (MGA) such as Insurance Noodle or Smart Choice. Typically, these MGA firms charge a membership fee and take part of your commission for providing access to insurance companies that quote and underwrite your policies. Another avenue for a start-up agency is to join a cluster, alliance or network group such as ISU Network which uses the power of the group to gain appointments. Even though those fees add to overhead expense, it gives you versatility in the products you can offer and allows you time to build up clientele and experience.
Determine your target market and prepare to sell. If you have previously worked as an agent for a captive or national insurance company, give attention to any non-compete contracts with those companies before you solicit your previous clientele. If this contract exists, discuss the restrictions with your attorney so that you do not violate any state laws. If you are just starting out as an agent, note that deciding on the right agency name can be a strategic part of your business plan. Using your name in the agency name builds recognition and helps clients find you more easily. Make sure to investigate the local advertising avenues such as the yellow pages, your local newspaper or chamber of commerce depending on your target market.
Setting up a website should be an essential part of your marketing program. Have it up and running from day one. And do not neglect the great opportunity to promote your business via social networking sites like Facebook. By utilizing these resources you can inform people about your new business and set the stage for referrals and building your client base. Be sure to keep these posts personal with an occasional marketing blurb-you don’t want to be tagged as a spammer.
As you assess your office management needs, you need to review your plan for retaining records and keeping abreast of information that can affect your business. Many insurance companies purchase various software systems such as insurance rating systems and customer relation software in order to be more efficient. You should place a priority on purchasing an agency management software system to aid in efficiently managing your customer database and their policies.
Opening an insurance agency is no small task. If you are ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work, with some determination and lots of perseverance you will be proud of the investment you have made in your future and the lucrative business you have cultivated.
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