One thing I have heard over the last couple weeks in my industry is the word “trailblazer“.

If you think about it, that is a pretty powerful word.

In essence it’s really what we’re all trying to do on a daily basis in our space.

We are trying to brand ourselves as different from the masses and be open to adaptation.

This my friends is way easier said than done though:

Being a trailblazer in a century old business is to say the very least, challenging.

We have to be constantly thinking about the next step, or as I like to say, “find the need and fill the void“. This is what breaks you apart from other insurance agents.

This is the gold folks.

The reality of this business is that it’s always been a man’s business.

mans business

Gosh, I hate that phrase. What exactly does that even mean? A “man’s business”?

Whether I like that phrase or not, it’s something that women have been up against since when we first broke into agency ownership and is still happening today. If I had a dime for every time a client asked me if they could speak to my “husband”, or my boss, or even asked how old I was — I’d have a nice little side spending account right now.

Whether men want to admit it or not, we are faced with some challenges that you might not ever think about, and can’t always relate to.

I don’t think I need to elaborate on the fact that we are expected to do all things in heels as well, right?

No little girl has the aspirations of growing up and selling auto insurance. Baby, doctor — sure. Veterinarian, absolutely. Maybe even professional ice dancer (OK fine that was just mine). But insurance agent — how can I say this nicely? Not a chance.

As a mother of 4 myself and owner of Integrity Insurance Services and Arizona Wedding Insurance,  I know all too well the reality of balance, and making a name for yourself in a business that’s not “built for Queens”.

If I listed every single woman in this business who have directly shaped my life in becoming an agency owner I would need 54 more pages and a heck of a lot more words. We as an entity have gone completely against the grain in even venturing into the world of insurance agency ownership.

As I have continued to move forward in my now almost 11 year insurance career, I am now just in awe at not only how far we have come, but how women are completely changing the game in the insurance space. I am privileged enough to get to feature a small few of these elite women here.

Using Niche Demographics to Shift the Feel in the Industry

It’s no shock that in this day in age, women tend to still “run” a household.

Not only are we running households but we are also running, businesses, kids, and local community events. The insurance world is still pretty new in the “niche marketing” arena however one female licensed agent in Washington is not only embracing it but completely changing the game when it comes to niche marketing in the community.

Meet Erin Gross:

She is a beautiful Mom of 2 and decided to capitalize on a market our industry is completely missing the boat on.

Erin Gross, Insurance Mama

Erin Gross, Insurance Mama

Young and Growing Families where the Mom is at Home during the day.

When Erin decided to start her family, she spoke with her Agency Owner, Claudia McClain, about leaving the insurance agency. However, together they decided while she was making this giant adjustment Claudia would continue to keep her insurance licenses active just to make sure getting out of insurance was really what she wanted to do.

In being involved in kids activities (trust me there are alot of them) Erin soon realized that there was a significant void in the “stay at home” mom world for insurance.

There was a trust between families and Mom’s that no insurance agent would be close to tackling without the “In”. So with a force of confidence behind her thanks to her Agency Owner, Claudia McClain, she launched Insurance Mama.

Trust me, I understand the dilemma of needing to take care of important family business (like insurance) while having little “helpers” all around me who bring to me their joys and owies and conflicts… in the midst of a phone conversation.  And let’s admit that going out to an appointment with young children isn’t necessarily the easier option.”

According to a study done in June 2014 by Ameriprise Women are not only leading the way in making household financial decisions, but there has been a 44% growth in female business owners from 1997-2007.

Younger women feel educated about financial matters and are eager to teach their daughters what they know. “

That is a powerful thing.

Not only are women in business getting stronger, but as Mom’s our newest driving force is to instill this confidence and drive into our daughters so those numbers continue to grow. What Erin Gross has done here is not only capture a niche market but she has spoken directly to it and nurtured it in a way that has the potential to expand nation wide.

Brilliant.

Of course as she mentions on her website Insurance Mama that you don’t need to be a Mommy to work with her, but what an amazing way to completely change the way niche marketing is done.

Using mentorship strategies to Shape the Future of the Industry

I’m sure I’m not the only one out there who has felt a sense of “peace” when you are talking to a colleague in your arena and together you just give each other those “that a girls”.

The insurance world has not always been a space that has been open to women coming in and shaking things up.

However with Insurance Woman of the Year, Tracey Carragher, behind you it’s almost impossible to believe you can’t accomplish something. Tracey is one of those women that I look on from afar

Tracey Carragher, APIW named Insurance Woman of the Year 2015

Tracey Carragher, APIW named Insurance Woman of the Year 2015

and think, this will be me someday. She is to me a celebrity in the insurance world.

Why?

To be honest it has nothing to do with the fact that she is probably one of the top producing insurance agents in the country or even the fact that she has over 250 employees, dozens of offices throughout the country, or even the fact that she has international notoriety.

Albeit that is extremely impressive the thing that impresses me the most is the Strategic Alliances she has created for women to be educated about the insurance space and also become forces in their own right.

According to APIW,

Ms. Carragher is also an extraordinary role model for women in the insurance industry. She conducts mentoring sessions for young women at Breckenridge and encourages flexible work arrangements, recognizing family priorities to both women and men raising children, caring for aging parents and those who care for pets. Ms. Carragher also started the influential Women’s Networking Group at Target Markets Program Administrators Association.

The article continues to recognize her many other achievements such as being named “Top 50” women by Business Insurance Magazine her service on many not-for-profit boards.

So when was the last time Ms. Carragher wrote an auto insurance policy? Welp… that I couldn’t answer for you however what I can answer and can guarantee is that she has focused on shaping the

#bossbabe credit

#bossbabe credit

next generation of female insurance agents to be able to accomplish their “next big things”.

For that I owe her a big thank you because without even knowing her she has allowed me the space I need to not only grow but to do it with force.

She has blazed a trail for other female agents to develop something that is extremely hard to come by in a “man’s business”.

Confidence. 

So how is confidence a game changer?

Confidence is the difference between an agent who sell’s insurance policies and an agent who builds brands.

Reinventing Networking with other Business Owners

We have all been there, sitting across from another business owner at a local networking event thinking “is he going to eat that” when we should really be listening to the 30 second commercials being giving by our peers around us.

The reality of it is networking is dry, boring, and scheduled.

In my opinion, the day of the modern day “networker” is gone. Sitting around a round breakfast table exchanging business cards is a very “old” way of building business. In this day we as insurance agents have to find new ways to develop relationships and trust.

An example of doing this is through things like mentorship programs, strategic networking groups focused on community growth, and also creating an online networking presence to speak to the very business business owner/baby builder as I like to call them

Seraina Maag,CEO and President of AIG EMEA Photo Credit: Joanne Dugan

Seraina Maag,CEO and President of AIG EMEA
Photo Credit: Joanne Dugan

Women like Seraina Maag, CEO and President of AIG EMEA , on a massive level changed the way we view networking in our world and has allowed me a model to follow in going forward in re-branding and launching my own networking group, Southern Arizona Business Referral Exchange.

She started mentoring fellow agents and also started a women’s network at her company according to Property and Casualty 360

Networking is another important step toward success. Many of these women had organized women’s networks within their businesses. Typical is Seraina Maag, chief executive, North America Property, XL Group, who spearheaded both a formal mentoring program and a women’s network at her company. Being able to discuss leadership issues, industry expertise and work/life balance with other women helps build confidence and pave the way for career advancement, she said.

By creating diverse networking outlooks, groups, and alliances she was able to quickly move up the ladder and be seen as the authority she was in the insurance space.

Networking can not always be about the immediate “referral”.

Networking is like cooking that delicious pot roast in a crock pot. You need to throw in all of your ingredients set that baby on slow and get all the rest of your work done while you wait for it to cook.

You notice how I don’t say just watch it cook? You know how I tell you to get the rest of your work done while it is cooking? I say this because networking is about the consistency you put into developing and nurturing the relationships you have created.

Women in our space have a serious need for relationships, because just like that crock pot we are slow roasters. Female insurance agents who are creating the value in networking by focusing on nurturing other young female business professionals know what it takes to grow in both their businesses and in their lives.

These women are game changers.

They Know the Power of a Brand

The one consistent you will find in the insurance space no matter where you go is a substantial amount of branding.

“Let’s throw our logo on this, let’s trademark a new slogan, or even let’s come up with a new mascot”.

This is all well and good but what female insurance agents like Claudia McClain are capturing is that branding is so very much more than putting your logo on something.

Claudia McClain, Agency Owner McClain Insurance Services

Claudia McClain, Agency Owner McClain Insurance Services

After personally being able to speak with Claudia (talk about humble folks) and doing an extensive amount of research on both her career and her agency growth

she continues to amaze me at the level in which she provides service to her clients and still continues to grow her agency.

I will never forgot entering the insurance space in a time where women insurance agents were almost laffable. I had always heard the term… girls in the office… and knew that quite frankly, had to go. I would load up my kiddos and drive to my office where we would have office “slumber parties” only so that way when the kids went to bed I could get to work. Sure it was alot of work but that is what it took to build my agency. In the process my kids didn’t follow me into the business however they developed their own hard work ethic and sure did make this mom proud.

What Claudia probably didn’t even realize at the time was not only was she building her agency but she was also building her brand.

No, when Claudia started she didn’t have access to an amazing website platform for insurance agents, and she didn’t have a fancy logo, or even an outlet to where she could grow what we now see as defining your brand.

However, what Claudia had done is build a brand around a commitment.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if more agents would stop focusing on the shiny things and start focusing on the things that matter? Get back to the roots if you will.

Now, not to take away from the shiny things because let’s be honest if I could make branding a person I would marry it because it is one thing that drives my passion to another level. However, to successfully brand an agency you must marry the feel and the look together. This is how you build a successful agency.

All too often, in my opinion, we are so focused on what our brand looks like that we are forgetting what it feels like.

The feel is what defines the tone of our agencies. A talent Claudia McClain has mastered.

As I mentioned above when speaking of the “Insurance Mama” what I didn’t mention was the unbelievable grace in which Claudia gave that situation.

She allowed Erin Gross a space to grow and also in turn gave her a blessing to expand her own personal brand.

This my friends is branding at it’s best. Adaptation.

They break the Mold on industry standards

It goes without saying that female business owners are a different breed.

I would like to think that we exude hustle, can take unexpected blows, and also aren’t afraid of the word No.

You would be shocked if I told you the amount of times I have been told in my space that I wasn’t “ready” to be an agency owner. Now if you don’t know me personally then you are probably thinking, “wow this chick thinks she has it together”.

I want to clarify in this case.

I spent 9 years of my career making other people look amazing.

Linda Fisher, Agency Owner at Cardinal Insurance Group

Linda Fisher, Agency Owner at Cardinal Insurance Group

The people I worked for could do no wrong and I made sure of that. What is that old saying? “If you don’t build your own dreams, someone else will hire you to build theirs”.

That is exactly what happened to Independent Insurance agent Linda Fisher.

After speaking with Linda I found myself in awe of how she completely broke free of the industry standard and ventured on her own when not many before her have had the courage to do so.

I started my agency from scratch after being in an agency as the top producer. I had built an agency based on hustle, never giving up, and of course with my customer relationships in mind. This to me was all that mattered, my customers. I was put in a position that was comfortable.

I was 100% commission based, I made decent money, but then I realized I didn’t have the freedom that should have came along with it. After successfully getting pregnant after a 14 year effort I needed to make an adjustment. After being told I was about 10 years out from being ready to go into agency I made the decision to stop allowing myself to be held back.

She broke the mold. Here she is 12 years later and still continuing to out produce most agents in her space. She has been called a “trailblazer” for female agents in that she not only cares for her clients but also that she continued to give back through organizations like Make a Wish. She has shown the insurance world that insurance isn’t the same.

Insurance isn’t a “I need it now product”. Insurance it a relationship based purchase.

Linda has allowed agents like me to open my mind and stop looking at the bottom line and focus more on the give back aspect of the community. By not worrying about what she will get back it has allowed the relationships to do the talking and dubbed her an industry leader in referral based business.

Conclusion

I am humbled to be in an arena where all of the woman above have paved a way for me to have my “Why the heck not me?” moment. They have put themselves out there and tried things that have gone against the conventional way of thinking and even the industry standards.

Just since I have started in this industry it has changed immensely. So what makes these women different?

They have completely changed the game.

They have adapted their businesses, brands, and babies into fully functioning forces. I am honored to be in their space and inspired to continue to go against the grain in this industry built by kings.

Maybe 5 years from now we will look back and continue to have more Queens building and shaping the insurance space.