5 Reality Checks to Ensure You’re Ready for Agency Ownership

This article was written by David Tralka and published in IA Magazine.

You’re at the top of your game. You’ve worked hard to become the No. 1 producer in your agency. You’ve won all kinds of awards. So, what’s next?

For many, owning an agency is the ultimate prize. Being an owner gives you the opportunity to build your own business, create a lasting legacy and then, reap the financial rewards when it’s time to retire. Think agency ownership is in your future? First, you need to take a good look at yourself in the mirror.

Here are five reality checks to make sure you’re ready to become an owner:

Do you think like an owner? 

Owning a business is not the same as working for one. Becoming an owner means you’ll need to make sacrifices. It may mean getting more education or moving to another agency where there’s more opportunity.

To find out if you’re ready, put yourself in an owner’s shoes. To gain this insight, talk to owners to get a taste of management and the decisions they make. Are you ready to make hard decisions about operations and personnel? Are you ready to have tough conversations with employees who have been with the agency for decades? Are you willing to spend less time selling and more time managing?

Do you understand the value drivers? 

Do you know what markets you want to be in? What will your book of business look like? How will you acquire new business and retain existing customers? More fundamentally, do you understand the various revenue streams of an agency and how some of them generate more cash flow than others?

You need to be familiar with the operations side of the business, understand how investing in new computers, office equipment or phones may be necessary to grow, and be up to date on agency management systems and how they help increase productivity.

Is your financial house in order? 

Show me a successful owner and I’ll show you someone who successfully manages their own money—the two go hand in hand. Take a hard look at your spending and saving habits. What’s your credit score? Do you have outstanding loans, a large mortgage or a second mortgage?

Take the time to consult with a financial planner and discuss your goals with your family. If you’re in debt, create a plan to get out of it.  Agents often have expenses associated with their business—such as entertainment, travel or a country club membership—that can be trimmed, so start saving money to invest in your future.

If you want to buy an agency, the chances are you will need financing. And if your personal finances aren’t in order, the odds of getting a business loan are virtually nil.

Do you have an organic growth plan? 

Whether you want to acquire an agency or eventually sell one, you need an organic growth plan. Organic growth is the value you create when you invest in your agency. Call it sweat equity. In contrast, inorganic growth is when you buy another agency or a book of business that someone else has developed.

Organic growth takes time and discipline but has the highest rewards. Organic growth comes from investing in marketing, office automation and producers.

If you’re thinking about buying an agency, look at the growth potential. What are the agency principals currently investing in that will lead to higher returns? How are they improving cash flow? Have they done anything to improve productivity and create a more efficient operation?

Do you understand the numbers? 

If you’re in the market for an agency, you should know exactly what are you buying? Do you understand how all the numbers fit together?

Essentially, you need to understand the costs of generating business, such as how many producers and CSRs you will need. You need to be able to see where the opportunities lie, and part of that is accessing and understanding the agency’s financials. Therefore, you must learn the basics of accounting. Do some digging and ask questions.

Finally, ask yourself: What’s my relationship with my principal? At some point, you have to raise your hand and say, “I want to own.” I’ve seen agencies sell and producers complain afterward, “I would have bought it. Why didn’t they talk to me?” Owners will say, “I didn’t know they were interested.” Spend some time with the owner of your current agency. Let them know that you want to own. That might be the best starting point.

Preparing yourself to be an owner begins with an honest self-assessment and a willingness to work on the fundamentals. Then, communicate your aspirations to those who can help you make ownership possible. Whether you’re a young agent wanting to own or an older principal wanting to sell, don’t be afraid to give a voice to your dreams and work on making them a reality.

David Tralka is president and CEO of InsurBanc. He is responsible for keeping the bank focused on being an innovative provider of financial products and services for the independent agency community. He is an expert on agency mergers & acquisitions, agency perpetuation and financing. He has also presented at numerous venues nationwide.

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