Laura Harris runs one of the largest Allstate Insurance offices in the nation and consults with business owners on effective management.
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She has acquired the prestigious insurance designations of CLU, CIC and ChFC. In other words, when it comes to insurance, she knows what she is talking about. But she also has learned tons about what it takes to be start and grow a business.
We asked Laura to share some of the entrepreneurial lessons she's learned while growing her own very successful insurance business.
Laura, let's start with the basics. Tell us about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
My company is Laura Harris Agency, Inc.
We sell insurance. We sell all types of insurance except health insurance. The business is based in Corpus Christi, Texas.
I've been in the insurance industry since 1979, and I opened my insurance agency in 1994. In our first full year of business in Texas our office was named the #1 Allstate Insurance Co. agency in the state of Texas (out of 1400 agency owners).
This was my first business. I have a degree in Business Management from A&M but it did not prepare me for business ownership.
In addition to my running an insurance business, I am also a speaker and small business coach. I have also authored Surrender to Win – Regain Sanity by Strategically Relinquishing Control.
Where did you get the startup money?
I started the company with seven credit cards. Really.
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
State Farm, Farmers, Progressive – those are the main competition.
The insurance business has lost the human touch in a lot of cases. At my agency, there are seven of us that are committed to making sure no customer ever has a surprise at claim time. We are highly educated and make sure our customers are too.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
I thought I was going to be selling. I had no comprehension of how important leadership and employee management skills would be. Ideally, a business owner becomes a professional and then clones themselves so that they get to work in an atmosphere where the business does not revolve around the owner.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Many things. I wish I had paid more attention to client retention from the beginning. All I could think about was selling. I wish I had known the importance of studying personalities. Now I have a very well-defined hiring process that includes extensive testing. This allows me to match the ideal person with the pre-defined job.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
We focus on putting our business on autopilot – just like an airplane. Three characteristics are crucial:
- Clear pre-set vision of the ideal business
- Empowered people
- Strong systems so that nothing slips through the cracks
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Utilize mentors. Most people are tremendously helpful if you ask. Mentors have paid a huge part in my success.
That's great advice. Finding good mentors is so helpful, especially when you are just starting out. Thanks so much for sharing your entrepreneurial experience with us, and good luck in growing your business. If you want to contact Laura, her business number is 1-888-287-5901.