In Business, All Roads Lead Somewhere

"Action is the foundational key to all success."
- Pablo Picasso

I have spent the past nine and a half years building my business.  It is hard work, do not get me wrong.  Sales is what you make of it.  You define who you are and how hard you work.  Your clients are your judges and it is my position to retain them year after year.  Yet, the real work was the road it took to get here.  When I was handed my college degree, a pat on the back and a go get them cheer from the Dean of Students, never did I realize what that all entailed.

I applied for jobs everywhere in the field of insurance which  I decided to turn to after foregoing law school.  I got the typical, QBNE rejection for months (qualified but no experience).  Then I received an acceptance offer for my first real BIG job paying real low bucks.  But as an optimist, I thought, I have room to grow and move up and will have health insurance, so we will take it for now.  Even if it was just to be a resume builder; because working through college at a law firm wasn’t enough, you know.

So after a quick 365 days I got a BIG promotion with a little more pay.  Part of my new job description was to teach sales agents.  So here is little young me teaching the soon to be big wigs.  I took my position real seriously until I realized, what the bleep I was doing.  For a measly pay I was educating trainee agents who were about to start making the big bucks.  It was then that I decided to get my insurance licenses for my state.

Pictures courtesy of Google Images

I passed with flying colors after a few back to back weekends in a state licensing class and was handed my two licenses.  Great, now what?  So I started to look in the newspaper (yes folks that is how it was done back then) and a little bit online.  Nothing to my defeat.  Then while in line for a hot dog and beer at a MLB game I over heard some well-dressed people comparing sales victory notes.  I ventured to proceed closer and closer to them acting like I was so into the crack of the bat while nibbling along on the dog.  Bam!  They were insurance sales agents and district sales managers.  Pot o’ gold I thought.

As a good judge of character, I tried to fish out who were the managers versus the sales agents and on my first approach, I succeeded.  I introduced myself and politely inquired, hoping I didn’t have mustard smeared on my face, as to how I could get some information as to becoming an agent.  They were so impressed that I was not a stalker I was so bold that I immediately was handed a business card.  I followed up the very next day with a phone call because in sales there is no such thing as a three-day wait.  After a very long conversation I was asked to come to the regional office for an appointment.

While at the appointment or interview, because you know they were so feeling me out, all I could hear was contract, contract, contract.  I was scared out of my mind.  I was given four big binders and was told to review them and go look for a place to have an office in a some rural town two counties away.  Huh?  Where is the glamour, the fun and what are all these contracts?  I was so intimidated.

Problem solved, I will just go to the next big name insurance company.  Now I know what to do and what to ask but I sure had no idea what to expect.  So, I call the regional office at the next company, indicate I am interested in a sales agent position and request an appointment with the district or regional sales manager.  I am awarded one on the spot.  I should have been skeptical but thought, another pot o’ gold.

Beep, Beep! Get out of my way!

The day of the meeting I arrive at the coffee shop early to gather my bearings and in walks a very well dressed male of my father’s age.  He has that look about him like he is looking for someone and I notice his portfolio bears the name of the insurance company.  I pop up almost spilling my coffee all over my skort suit (yep, we wore those then, shoulder pads and all) and put out my hand to him and say, “You must be Mr. Man.”  He looks at me and says, “I must be at the wrong place.  I was here to see Ms. Want-to-be-agent.”  I proclaim, “Yes, that is me, shall we sit?” He looks at me and says, “Oh, I picture you more of the drive a pink car and sell makeup kind of person.” “Excuse me sir, what,” I exclaim.

After a few harsh glances and an exchange of words he walks out.  Furiously I call the regional office and explain that I am very serious and determined to sell for their company and I demand an interview.  While I do not receive an apology, I do get an interview at the regional office.  Ha, done!  I never would have expected Mr. Man to be there let alone still working for the company when he greets me at the door to his office.  You have got to be kidding me, this jerk-off again?  I am ready to walk out when three more people greet us and proceed in and tell me I passed.

I passed what exactly?  “We wanted to see how you handle rejection and you passed,” they explain.  This is all wrong, they cannot do this but I am also a bit intrigued.  I do feel like a winner but I need to lay the ground rules that they will never use that talk with me or any future candidate again unless they want a lawsuit on their hands.  I might have omitted the part about the lawsuit, but I think I got my point across.

After months and months of interviewing, test taking, personality test taking, more interviewing, I get a letter that I have been accepted to their trainee agent program.  Thank heavens, as I am exhausted!  I am going to own my very own insurance agency.  Well sort of.  My contract says I will own all aspects except my book of business.  They will provide me with staff, marketing materials, ongoing training and the best tools in the industry to be successful.  Plus I will be backed by a big name company.  Yet, if I want to hand my hard work down to my children when I decide to retire it will be a no go.  But at the time I was a late twenty something unmarried, childless college graduate so I accepted.  After plugging away twelve plus hours per day, six days a week, I was becoming successful.  I was hitting all contests, levels of achievement and was considered one of the top trainee agents with the fantastic help of my staff mind you.

Yet, with all the success, I thought, here I am in my late twenties and owning some aspects of my business but something was missing.  Oh yes, the piece about owning my own business.  This is great, the  money was fantastic but I do not own anything when it is all said and done.  Yes, I will have a nice retirement with commissions streaming in after I retire and when they appoint someone to take over my agency, but this is not what I want.

Two weeks before my trainee agent contract was to expire and I was to sign the BIG one, I resigned.  They were shocked and I was elated.  Throughout all this time as a trainee agent, I had reached out to the man whose agency I took over.  He told me he had a son slightly older than me that worked hard for him everyday in high school, college and beyond.  He knew the ins and outs of the agency and all the customers.  The customers knew him and many since he was a little boy.  Dick was a fantastic agent and told me he would only consider his son taking over his agency if he valued all of his same ethical and business principles.  Dick was confident his son would preserve the integrity of his agency but the contract Dick signed many, many years prior would never allow for his son to take over.  So, when Dick retired so did his son.  What better of a person to take over the agency and here I am where his son should be.

Luckily Dick’s son went on to a place known as the uncaptive agency.  He persuaded me (not forced a contract) to venture down this path.  That August when I closed Dick and his son’s insurance office my office, on my last day, I never looked back.  The very next day I walked into my new office, down the road and almost ten years later I have grown a successful business on my terms and in my way.  Of course, there is contract signing but I do not mind the terms now.  I agree to honor the Founder of the company’s principles and in turn I own my book of business.  They advise against just giving it to anyone, family or friend, without careful consideration.  But like Dick, I would never have someone take over the empire I am creating so I can watch it fold in my retirement.

I never regret the path I took to get here, my own business, and the training and people I met along the way.  I truly believe your character is shaped not when you are on top but when you are in struggle.  That is the real test.  As for Dick and his son, Dick is enjoying golf on a daily basis in a warmer state and his son operates his own agency down the road from mine.  We are great colleages and his dad will forever be our mentor!

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”
                             –  Booker T. Washington

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