DREAM BIG, Make it happen
Florida agency follows this mantra with AWE (attitude and work ethic)
By Dennis Pillsbury
Before he started Clearwater, Florida-based Strategic Insurance Services in 2006, Doug Levi had worked with State Farm, and he had little idea what all was involved in starting an independent agency. What he did have is what he calls AWE—(positive) attitude and work ethic. He approached his new independent agency venture with this mindset: “If I can make the phone ring for new business and I can take good care of people, I’ll figure everything else out,” he explains.
“Good leaders surround themselves with people who are passionate about making a positive impact in the lives of others. I took that viewpoint with me as we built our team … .”
Chief Encouragement Officer
One advantage he did have, he says with a smile: “I didn’t know what I didn’t know. For example, I didn’t know how challenging it could be to get company appointments.” He recalls going out and working hard to build relationships with insurance companies so they’d give him a shot at an appointment, while at the same time networking with people to trust him with their insurance needs. “And it worked,” he recalls. “In the first month, we wrote 50 new business policies.”
He continues by pointing out that “leadership in sales comes from the ability to influence and, at an insurance agency, that involves influencing people to grow and become leaders themselves. Good leaders surround themselves with people who are passionate about making a positive impact in the lives of others. I took that viewpoint with me as we built our team at Strategic Insurance Services,” which has been recognized as a Big “I” Best Practices agency.
“The big question in building our team became: ‘How can we help our people reach their big dreams?’ As the agency grew, we started S.M.A.R.T. goal setting for each team member. Part of that involved what I call a ‘back to the future letter,’ where each person wrote a letter from their future self about goals as if they had already been accomplished—goals like getting out of debt, growing their sales, buying a home, or whatever dreams they wanted to realize. It’s proven to be a great discussion starter to help each team member achieve their dreams and goals.”
All are valued
Phyllis Pirko, commercial lines manager, who has more than 20 years of experience in the insurance industry, joined the agency in 2013. She says the agency is “the best place I’ve ever worked. There is great camaraderie and support among the team as we work to develop clients for life (CFL). To help achieve that, we have a monthly CFL service meeting where we suggest ways that we can improve our service to clients and discuss successes and challenges as well as best practices to improve as a team.
“I focus on working on commercial renewals to make certain we don’t miss anything for our clients; to make sure our client’s have the best coverage for the best premium,” she says. “I look for opportunities to cross-sell, so we can further deepen our relationship with our clients and close any gaps that exist or by finding ways that we can reduce their overall cost of risk. We’re always looking for ways to make certain that we provide the right set of unique coverages for each client’s risk profile. This approach has helped our commercial lines segment to grow from $2.3 million in premium to more than $7.3 million today.”
Phyllis continues by highlighting the importance of and support for learning. “Everyone here is encouraged to continue to learn and grow so that they are in a position to better serve clients and each other. We’re all valued here as intelligent human beings. Doug regularly shows his appreciation for what I do and for what others do. Each meeting serves as both a learning experience and an opportunity to praise team members for their successes.”
She points out how much trust the agency leadership has in each team member. “Because I live an hour away, I’ve been allowed to work remotely three days a week—and that preceded the pandemic. It’s a great feeling to know that you’re trusted, and I work even harder every day to earn that trust.”
“People are looking for ways to make additional income and also for ways to help others. This (side hustle) program offers the chance to do both and can lead to a rewarding full-time career.”
Director, Marketing and Team Communications
Opportunities for growth
Shelby Lamb, director of marketing and team communications, joined the agency a year ago to help focus on recruiting and growing one of Doug’s recent projects, helping people sell home and auto insurance part time, remotely, anywhere in the country, through InsuranceSideHustling.com. The program let people get involved in either selling insurance as their side hustle or serving as a referral source.
Shelby, who has a marketing background and admits to “loving technology,” worked to market the program, help interested individuals prepare to get licensed, and show people how to take advantage of what she calls “an opportunity to earn money on the side, while providing policies to people that can help to protect many of the most important parts of their lives.” The agency provides the training, the carriers, the service, and marketing support to help people get up and running quickly.
“People are looking for ways to make additional income and also for ways to help others,” Shelby points out. “This program offers the chance to do both and can lead to a rewarding full-time career. In fact, one of our risk management advisors, Kayla Lamb (no relation), found us through the side hustle program and now works with us full time.”
“I’d been working in insurance since 2010,” Kayla says, “and wasn’t really getting anywhere. I found Doug through InsuranceSideHustling.com and joined Strategic Insurance in April of 2019. Doug was extremely helpful getting me on my feet to work on a commission sales basis. I wish I’d found him sooner.
“I’ve been growing my book,” she adds, “mainly in home and auto insurance, but now I am digging into commercial insurance, and I am planning to get my life and health insurance license next. The agency really helped out with lead generation and now my business has reached the point where it principally comes from referrals.”
A unique place
From the first day, Kayla continues, “I knew I was at someplace different. When I walked in, there was a sign welcoming me on board, and that was followed up by a promise that Strategic would help provide me what I needed to be successful. The first evidence of that was when I asked for a stand-up desk, and it was provided immediately.
“Thanks to their support and training, I’ve been able to pay off my car loan and I bought my first house in January of 2020, where I can raise my seven fur babies—three dogs and four cats. And things are getting even better. Last year was my biggest year ever and it looks like this year will be the best yet!”
“Everyone here is encouraged to continue to learn and grow so that they are in a position to better serve clients and each other.”
Commercial Lines Manager
Shelby points to one of the most important aspects of her job that she believes makes the agency a unique place. “Part of what I do is work with Doug to come up with ways to thank our most important market, our team members, for what they do to help the agency grow and serve our clients, community and insurance company partners. Every other Friday, we get together for a team meeting followed by lunch that includes some sort of team member recognition.
“We also offer wellness programs and a gym membership to team members,” she adds. “Currently we have a step contest going on; we bought each team member a Fitband and provide rewards to the team member with the most steps, the one with the most improved number of steps, and those who are on the team (one of two agency wide) with the most total steps. It’s a fun way to make sure we are being active.”
In addition to the biweekly lunches, the agency runs quarterly outings that have included zip lines, go karting, horse-back riding, Topgolf, baseball games and more. “We also show employees that we care by sending over meals or flowers if someone is out sick,” Shelby notes.
Doug adds, “The most important clients we have are our hard-working team members, and we are constantly looking for ways to show them that we care. In addition to outings and recognition at meetings, we created a closed Facebook group for the agency and side hustle team, where people can share sales ideas, network, and ask questions online. That’s really been a big part of the secret sauce that has made us successful.
“After reading The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman,” he adds, “we are constantly looking for new ways to show the team how much we care and how much we appreciate the tremendous job they do for our agency.”
“The agency really helped out with lead generation and now my business has reached the point where it principally comes from referrals.”
Risk Management Advisor
“Another part of my job that I really love is finding ways for us to give back to the community,” Shelby says. “Once a month, we volunteer as a team and prepare meals for over 100 families and children at HarborDish (a community food pantry). We also support several other charities with both our time and money, and that caring for others comes right from the top. Everyone at the agency is encouraged to volunteer, and we pay for them to have three hours each month to
volunteer for a cause they believe in.”
Phyllis notes that cooking at HarborDish underscores her appreciation for all the agency does. “I’m proud to work here. It truly is a place that focuses on helping others, and that starts with the opportunities everyone here has for personal development and then goes out to our clients, partners and community.”
Strategic Insurance Services has been named one of Best Places to Work in the Tampa Bay area. Rough Notes is pleased to add our own recognition by saluting Strategic Insurance as our Agency of the Month.
Dennis Pillsbury is a Virginia-based freelance insurance writer.