What Are You Building?

Andrew Yang is an American that followed the track promoted for most youth. He worked hard, got good grades, was accepted to a fancy US University, got a degree, and went on to law school. He then worked as a high end corporate attorney briefly. He made progress on the road to riches and happiness that society had set out for him and encouraged him to take. Eventually, he figured there was more to life than this. He saw so many others like himself, smart, ambitious, and hardworking toiling away on the same path. He stepped off the train tracks before he could be run over. He went on to launch several businesses. He has graduated from the world of entrepreneurship to building an education business. He even dabbled in politics briefly throwing his hat in the ring to run for President of the US.

A few years ago, he wrote a book with a great title, Smart People Should Build Things. Yang through his writing and efforts is trying to nudge the next generation off the proven path of making money by getting a good degree and working as an investment banker, business consultant, or lawyer onto a less certain but more rewarding direction. Instead of herding transactions along through a bureaucratic mill, smart people should be the ones spearheading the development of innovative ideas. Personal fulfillment (according to folk like Yang) as well as society at large are both better served by pursuing this approach. Make don’t take. Add value to the economy, don’t be a burden to it. Build something that makes the world a little bit better.

Several smart people have suggested that Marc Andreessen’s article, “It’s Time to Build,” should be considered the read of 2020. Andreessen is principal of famed investment firm Andreessen Horowitz. It was released in mid April 2020 and rings true a year later. Andreessen observes that much of our collective struggle with the Coronavirus pandemic is a result of our own unwillingness to prepare. He criticizes all Western societies for simmering in a smug complacency which spurs “satisfaction with the status quo and the unwillingness to build” pervading all aspects of our society. Andreessen observes that it’s not an absence of resources that breeds our problems but a dearth of desire. Andreessen is echoing Yang’s theme. We need to allocate the attention and abilities of our best and brightest towards building things not preserving the status quo. Andreessen writes, “Every step of the way, to everyone around us, we should be asking the question, what are you building? What are you building directly, or helping other people to build, or teaching other people to build, or taking care of people who are building?

“What are you building?” It’s a great question, even more so in the context of COVID. What role do insurance brokers play in the building process? How are you helping your insureds build?

In 2020 did your brokerage sell any policies to start ups? Did you in some way support the efforts of those trying to build something new in 2020? It’s not just new businesses but established ones continuing to create things that your efforts are supporting. Through the policies you sold, were you in some way able to participate in propelling others forward to take a risk to build? Whether a standard Commercial General Liability policy, or an E&O policy, or specific equipment policy, businesses aren’t able to do their part until their investments are somehow protected through P&C insurance products. Insurance brokers are an integral part of the entrepreneurial economy. Even more so in the context of a scary and uncertain world. We need brokers to support the efforts of those willing to try to create something new.

If there’s a positive to come from COVID, perhaps it is that we have an opportunity to reflect on where we find ourselves. Are there things we can consider adjusting? From both a personal and business perspective, COVID has clarified that we had become caught in a current of complacency. Maybe there were a few areas where we have been taking things for granted? COVID may be useful in that it is affording us the realization that we have a lot more to learn, to give, and, therefore, to do. This is all positive. It’s motivating and refreshing to consider how we can use this time to adjust, expand, and improve our efforts.

Stepping back from your customers, consider your brokerage’s internal efforts. What have you worked on building in the past year? Are there small steps you’ve taken consistently that’s leading to the development of something worthwhile for you or your business? Have you built your prospect list? Have you expanded your customer base? Are you stepping into targeting a new market? How have you invested in yourself or your business in the past year? Have you considered or are you implementing any of the following ideas?

  • Formalize an email list for your existing customers.
  • Create an email list for prospective customers.
  • Proactively build LinkedIn contacts.
  • Take a course.
  • Read a book. Offer a book review or recommendation to customers once a quarter.
  • Draft a question and response that may be useful for your customers.
  • Produce a general interest article for your customer base.
  • Write a brief article celebrating an existing customer of your business.
  • Relay stories of an insured’s experience with a claim that went well. How did their insurance protect them?

These are all examples of small efforts that have the potential to make a positive contribution to your business and customers. This isn’t an exhaustive or exclusive list. None of these imply an expense other than a commitment of time. None of these depend on a particular technology or platform. None of them depend on outside expertise to initiate. They can be done regardless of your brokerage’s size. There are brokerages doing one or more of these presently. You may be already. Is there one you could add to your repertoire? It’s not about working on something that will guarantee success. We’re encouraging you to consider trying something. Anything.

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Karen Lamb, an American actress and author observed, “A year from now, you’ll wish you started today.” If you haven’t started something, consider what any of these small steps could lead to after just a year of effort. If you sought to add five email addresses to your prospect list each month, after a year the list will have grown by 60. If you added five per week, your list will have grown in excess of 300 in a year. The same would be the case for growing your contact list in LinkedIn. Small steps lead to staggering distances being covered over time. We’re encouraging the adoption of the wisdom of Confucius when he noted, “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” There’s no single, best or right way to pursue. It may be easier getting motivated to try something where you can see that whatever is built can be used again and again. Producing content, articles, frequently asked questions, customer celebrations are all examples of things that will stand the test of time. The value will remain today and tomorrow. You may be able to repurpose the content you craft into different marketing efforts. You’ll be able to multiply the effort invested today over and over in the future. This can be quite motivating.

Could you come up with 12 common questions that insureds have asked you over the years you have been in business? From selling thousands of policies haven’t you come across any number of strange circumstances that may offer intriguing information to insureds? How about preparing a note about why purchasing insurance shouldn’t be viewed as a problem or a headache but a privilege? Help insureds see that purchasing insurance means that they have something worth protecting. Needing insurance is a sign of having accomplished something. Precisely because you are ambitious and have earned something, you now need insurance to protect and validate those efforts. This may be a message that is refreshing for some insureds to consider.

Do you have firsthand experience managing claims successfully with your insureds? How have their lives been helped by specific coverage types? Do you have any examples of clients that benefitted from business interruption coverage? How was their business disrupted and how did the coverage help them stay afloat while managing the disruption? Can you craft short stories based on your experiences? You could celebrate your insured, their resilience, and the value the coverage served.

We’ve been writing articles since 2018. Our goal was and is to provide some kind of content that is modestly entertaining and actionable for our customer and prospect base. It’s a way to stay in touch and attempt to add value. What began as monthly content morphed into weekly as pandemic lockdowns leaked in to our lives limiting business travel. Recently, we compiled 25 or so articles mostly from 2020 into book format. Brokers Build 2020  is organized into four general themes which seemed to be what 2020 was all about. We had the text formatted and have distributed the book as a gift to our customer base. Hopefully, the book serves a few purposes. Ideally, some content contained within is helpful for our customers and will help them and their staff navigate their way forward productively today and tomorrow. We hope the book is useful and offers a small example of how modest efforts applied regularly can result in something being built. If you’d like a copy, please let us know your address via reply to this email and we’d be happy to send a copy your way.

Andreessen concludes his article writing, “Our nation and civilization were built on production, on building. Our forefathers and foremothers built roads and trains, farms and factories, then the computer, the microchip, the smartphone, and uncounted thousands of other things that we now take for granted, that are all around us, that define our lives and provide for our well-being. There is only one way to honor their legacy and to create the future we want for our own children and grandchildren, and that’s to build.”

What are you building?