From the December 2012 issue of American Agent & Broker •Subscribe!

R&O nGI: Bright Young Things

Make an impact--or understand your new hire--with the insights from our panel of Millennials, who discuss social media, legislative issues and mentors.

How do you use social media in your job?

Christopher M. Paradiso: Social media is woven into every aspect of how we do our job. It’s part of how we attract new clients, communicate with current clients and brand our agency in our community. With regard to creating social media networks, the best way to understand that is to emphasize that you should always be expanding your network. Ask your clients to "Like" you on Facebook. Connect with your peers and business contacts through LinkedIn. Make sure that you’re backlinking on the websites of your business partners. Social media is not an "event," but rather a day-to-day way of doing business.

Rachael Rizzi: First and foremost I use it to stay current on coverages, products and services of carriers and allied partners. While newsletters, email blasts and product lunch-and-learns are great, my time is spread thin and often does not permit full attention in those mediums. However, quick snippets via Facebook or Twitter posted by carriers and other allied insurance industry companies provide me the "CliffsNotes" version of what’s happening and allows me control to filter what requires further research.

I also use it to stay connected with my clients and help promote their businesses. In Nevada, laws regarding gifts and other types of "thank you" gestures are pretty strict; I use social media all year long to support events, promotions, etc. Nothing says "thank you" and keeps a client loyal like helping them succeed in their businesses.

Next, I use it to learn from other professionals in the industry as well as business in general. I have groups on LinkedIn where I review hot topics and trends with industry professionals all over the world. This includes engaging in conversations and attempting to help others solve issues.

Finally, I use it to keep tabs on my competitors and key contacts. If a client or prospect becomes friends with a competitor, it is a pretty good sign that the client is shopping. This changes the way that I approach a renewal or new business meeting. Most importantly, if a key client contact makes additional connections, I can use that information to get introductions and referrals.

Brent Kelly: I use social media daily in my job. I see social media as just another extension to build and develop relationships. I still love networking in person and face-to-face interactions, but social media has allowed agents to further engage and build solid relationships.

I slowly created my social media network over time. I use all of the different social media platforms in different ways. I also started a blog, brentmkelly.com, to provide value and better engage my followers. I have found it very beneficial to network with other peers in the industry that are using social media to continue to learn and be more efficient with social media. 

Next: The panel tell what legislative issues interest them.

What advice do you have for young agents struggling in this industry?

Rizzi: The great thing about young people is that they typically have high ideals and a ton of passion. When they enter the workforce, they are ready to conquer the world. This can be a downfall because they don’t yet have the training or experience to bridle those ideals and passion in a productive and profitable way.

My advice, to borrow a page from Johan Galtung, is that "we must be realists in our brains while keeping the flame of idealism burning in our hearts." It is important to keep two perspectives of the world in mind: one of the way the world is now, and one of the way it could be. Keep that optimism and conquer the world, but do so while having your feet planted firmly in the ground. Respect your capabilities where you are now and ask for help from mentors.

Kelly: The first few years in the industry can be overwhelming. There is so much to learn, and some of the best learning comes from failure. I think young agents need to understand that they will sometimes get knocked in the teeth and fail, but the good ones not only get back up, they learn and grow from mistakes.

I would suggest that all young agents find great mentors. These do not necessarily all have to be insurance people, just successful people in business. Great mentors appreciate the fact that you want to learn and get better. Successful people generally want to help you be successful, so use their knowledge and experience.

Also: Read, read and read some more. One of my favorite quotes is, "Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers." 

Paradiso: During their first few years, young agents struggle to understand what the brand of their business will be. They admirably say that "they’ll write anything" and later realize that they have spent an inordinate amount of time chasing after clients that would soon be running away from them.  I would encourage them to develop a brand—who you are and what will be the "guiding principles" of your agency. Balance your business plan with what you will give back to the community.

 

What legislative issues interest you? 

Paradiso: It’s hard not to be worried and concerned with healthcare and its future. So many unknowns make it incredibly nerve-wracking for all of us.

Kelly: Workers’ compensation reform is a big issue in Illinois, which is not very competitive with our surrounding states, and many business owners are very frustrated with the system. I am hoping to be a conduit to provide information and resources to my clients on this issue.

I also specialize in cyber liability, so I’m very interested to see how the federal and state governments respond to some of the data breach issues and privacy laws. This is going to be a big topic in the coming years.

Rizzi: On a local level, I hope to see three big challenges make it to the legislature this session. First, Nevada is infamous for difficult construction defect laws and regulations. The hope is that Chapter 40 will undergo some significant changes—specifically to include the right to repair as well as to redefine construction defect in a way that allows for a more fair process. Additionally, we have massive DMV reporting issues with our DMV insurance verification system. While it plagues individual insureds, it is causing chaos for owners and insurers of commercial fleets. There are several bills scheduled to go to the legislature this session that would look to preclude commercial fleets from the current verification system. Finally, there is a lot of discussion on the possibility of reforming the ways that self-insured groups (SIGs) do business in Nevada. Currently the rules and regulations are applied differently to SIGs than to other types of insurance companies. Given the high risk of these types of groups, this approach doesn’t seem to make much sense.

On a federal level the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and how it affects the service that licensed, independent agents provide is the main issue that I follow. Luckily, Nevada’s exchange system, the Silver State Exchange, is one of the best in the country and we have an amazing Insurance Commissioner who understands and believes in the value that we bring to the table. The other focus within the PPACA is the medical loss ratio. Including agent commissions as overhead has devastated the many brokers financially and forced several to close their operations. In the absence of the advice and advocacy of licensed independent agents, consumers are left to negotiate with insurance companies on their own. It is therefore critical that the MLR exclude agency commissions in order to ensure the prolonged viability of the independent agency system. 

Next: The panel discusses mentorship qualities and struggles.

What qualities does your mentor need?

Rizzi: The No. 1 quality of a mentor is a willingness to learn. A lot of people view a mentorship as a one-way street where the educated imparts wisdom on the ignorant. However, the mentor-mentee relationship is a two-way street in which each party learns from the other. Don’t misunderstand; the lessons each retains are different, but equally as important. Where a mentor provides guidance on proficiencies and skills, a mentee provides feedback as to a mentor’s leadership style as well as challenges to old ways of thinking. I have, in every instance, learned far more from those I have mentored than I taught them.

Kelly: Integrity, strong work ethic and passion, to name a few.  Good mentors care more about making their industry better than about personal success. The great mentors are so passionate about their business that they understand success is about making a difference.  They have a cause bigger than themselves and enjoy sharing with others so they can pass along their knowledge.

Paradiso: I believe that the most important quality a mentor can have is to help create a network of people that can provide guidance in areas that the mentor may not have.

 

What was the biggest challenge you faced in 2012 as a young agent, and how did you handle it?

Kelly: The biggest issue in 2012 has been determining my value proposition.  There are so many agents and other competition out there, that it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle. I have learned that you can’t be all things to all people. As a people pleaser, that can be tough.

I developed a written value proposition that tells my prospects and customers exactly what to expect. I have targeted my strengths so I better provide value to my ideal clients and learned that although you can’t be great at everything, you can strive to be the best at where you are already great. Delegation, focus and preparation are key.

Paradiso: My greatest challenge in 2012 was the definitive branding of my agency. Instead of limiting myself to being an insurance agent, I needed to redefine my role as a business owner. While that may seem like a small change, it brought into focus the need for me to focus my leadership on every aspect of my business and bring the day-to-day tactics—staffing, advertising, company relationships, IT—into alignment with my overall strategic goals.

Rizzi: Finding the right balance between retaining current customers and actively pursuing new ones. Operating in Nevada, one of the hardest-hit areas in terms of economic downturn, presents many challenges in and of itself. First, you have a market that has traditionally been highly dependent upon new construction and growth. In a market like that, there is more than enough new business to go around. After the meltdown, construction ceased and growth slowed to a snail’s pace. Companies with traditionally strong financials continue to close their businesses and new ones are not being opened as fast. Thus there is a drastic shrinkage in the marketplace. Accordingly, the competition for not only new business, but the retention of key accounts has become fierce. Add to that being a relatively new kid on the block and you have a perfect storm.

In terms of dealing with this situation, the first thing I did was get my head in the right space. It’s easy when the going gets tough to sacrifice ethics and to take short cuts. I had to develop a thick skin and strengthen my integrity so that when I lost a current client or didn’t land a new one, I focused on the positives and potential rather than getting caught up in the drama and financial loss. I focused on my strategy, first protecting the accounts that I already had in an effort to deliver stability and then picking very carefully the new business opportunities that I went after. Specifically, I adopted a plan that will take longer to produce results; however, it is something that no one else is doing. Through this effort I found that the key to thriving, as opposed to just surviving, is approaching things from a different perspective than everyone else in the tank.

Next: the panel discuses age-related workplace conflicts and technology.

Have you experienced any age-related workplace conflicts? How were they resolved?

Kelly: I haven’t experience any serious conflicts, but I have certainly seen differing opinions among different generations.

I think the key to resolving some of these conflicts is to reinforce that everyone is on the same team and that we should all learn from each other. Communication is huge. I know there are stereotypes across generations and often that causes people to assume things that aren’t necessarily true. Different generations can offer tremendous value to each other if they are both willing to listen and respond to each other. They may not always agree, but at least they can better appreciate their point of view.

Rizzi: I was born on the cusp of where most experts split the Gen-X and Gen-Y delineation. This puts me in the unique position to appreciate the hard work of baby boomers like my parents, but also connects me to the ideal of pay for performance embraced by Millennials. In my workplace there is a cultural shift taking place from entitlement to accountability. In my opinion, this shift has much to do with the age of the folks involved. While this is a concept that I wholeheartedly embrace and support, I often find it frustrating when others fight against it. What seems like a clear and logical way forward to me is viewed by some of my older counterparts as a betrayal of their loyal, tenured service.

Fortunately, as I work for a fairly small independent agency with a strong corporate structure supported by a “mom & pop” shop culture, there are a lot of opportunities provided for discussion and input, strategizing and planning. As we have worked together over the past several years to cut costs, increase revenues and augment efficiencies, the process of this shift has become easier and easier, with more people understanding why the shift is necessary and embracing it.

 

With technology, Millennials are fast workers. How do you direct your remaining work time in a way that works for you?

Kelly: I believe many Millennials are results driven versus schedule driven. With technology, we can perform most of our work from outside the office. Although I think this can make us more productive, it also can lead to lack of focus and purpose. It is very important to have distinct tasks and goals for a given day. This provides focus and clarity to get the most important projects done and not get sucked into emails and other less important items.

Paradiso: With the availability of smartphones, tablets, laptops and wi-fi, businesses have unprecedented flexibility when it comes to getting things done. We have to adopt the mindset that “business happens”—undefined by specific location or time zone—and we need to be aware of that dynamic and embrace it to its fullest. When your staff has clearly defined goals and the tools to meet those goals, the “where and when” the process takes place becomes secondary to the completion of their objectives.

Our office culture is to give our all and enjoy what we do. My staff shows enthusiasm for their positions here at the office, takes pride in their work and most importantly, enjoys life. We are a very close-knit group, yet have the ability to separate work from personal. The affinity we have for one another and our profession is exuded in our work, the office atmosphere and our attitudes. It’s contagious.

Rizzi: I am extremely fortunate that the culture of my company allows for flexibility to balance work with life, particularly for folks in my position. As a child of the technological age, using technology comes easy and naturally for me. Consequently I am able to do many things faster than others in my position do. The surplus of my time is spent participating in activities that either enhance my professional or personal life.

On the professional end, I currently serve as the president of the Independent Insurance Agents of Southern Nevada (the Southern Nevada chapter of the Big I) and as the president elect/vice president for the Nevada Young Agents Committee. Planning meetings, mixers/events and educational seminars for the furtherance of our industry enhances my network of carriers, allied partners and agents throughout the state. I also participate in other industry and business association meetings, mixers/events and education seminars. Finally, I write—including guest columns for Nevada Nonprofit News and the Las Vegas Business Press and blogs for American Agent & Broker, putting out my experiences and expertise.

As far as the personal interests go, as a wife and mother of two small children I use the remaining surplus time for them. For example, every Wednesday morning I take 20 minutes out of my day to read to my son’s kindergarten class or I’ll take half a day off and go to the movies with my husband. I choose the times I do this when I have a mixer or gala to go to later that day or on the weekend. I also often work for a few hours at night or on the weekends from home once everyone else has gone to bed or are busy doing activities. This allows me to balance the time I spend away from the office for a class party or doctor’s appointment with the tasks I have to complete.

There are two rules that I subscribe to that ensure that the balance never tips to one side or another. First, I focus 100 percent% of my energy on what I am doing at the time. If I am working then I use my tech savvy skills to crank out what I need to get done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Alternatively, if I am with my kids I try not to check work emails or take work phone calls. The other rule is that I seize every opportunity to be productive. Don’t get me wrong, I have and enjoy as much down time as the next person, but if there is an opportunity to get something done in a space that is filled with nothing I take advantage of it.

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