Starting from Scratch
Now celebrating its 5th anniversary, Judy Bell's startup brokerage has grown at a rate of $1 million in premium per year
Vice President: Judy Bell
In November of 2007, I was an office manager at an insurance firm in Ajax, Ont. At that time, in my mind, I thought I would spend the rest of my days in that place. However, before the year was through, I was forced to reconsider my career. In the wake of this shake up, I realized I needed something that I had ownership in. So that’s how Beyond Insurance Brokers Inc. came to fruition.
After spending over 30 years in the business, I did have a large network to draw inspiration and support from. That included my soon-to-be mentor Peter Blodgett, principal of Darling Insurance in the Peterborough, Ont. He believed in my vision and ability to start a new brokerage, even in an era of consolidation and the weakening of the broker channel. He became Beyond’s president, donated office furniture to us and began calling his contacts to drum up business. Meanwhile, I reached out to friends, family and the larger community to let them know I was starting a brokerage and needed their support. I had a handful of loyal clients that wanted to help me get started. That’s one thing I have learned from this process: If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
In those first weeks, Peter said to me “If we can write $1 million in premiums in three years then we’ve really got something.” We did our first million in under a year. I was so excited the day we hit that first milestone. It was in that moment I realized we were going to be successful. Peter and I and the office staff shared champagne to celebrate. Since then we have grown the business by $1 million every year. As we celebrate five years, our staff has grown and and we are shifting our focus from growth to balancing our portfolio. When you’re a new brokerage, people don’t put their commercial business with you. We have been developing those relationships and now that side of the business is snowballing. However we continue to focus on client service and retention. Almost half of our new business last year came from referrals and we intend to keep it that way.
After all, insurance is all about relationships. A trusted advisor only becomes one after she develops a solid relationship with a client. Part of what makes me sad about the trend of smaller brokerages being bought out by larger ones is that customer focus is lost. People are hungry for a personal touch in service. I think that’s part of why we’re growing so much and why we’ve been able to open a second office in Thunder Bay.
The other reason for the growth is my team. In my years in the industry, I’ve known some really fabulous insurance people, but the industry has lost them because of management apathy. Peter and I recognize that and we won’t let that happen here. The second motivation for starting Beyond was to offer a place for such passionate insurance people to contribute and grow. Which reminds me of the other thing I learned in this process: You maintain a good business by having great people working with you and you working with them.
–As told to Leigh Doyle
Copyright 2013 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the May 2013 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.