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Help Wanted

How do you know when it is time to call in reinforcements?

By Interviews by Maggie Leyes


My days seem to be filled with a lot of administrative tasks, and that is probably not the best way for me to spend my time. But hiring someone seems like it might be more expense than it’s worth. How do you know when it’s time to hire someone to help you?


You know it’s the right time to hire an assistant when your day becomes filled with tasks that do not make money for you. You need to define what your job is: It’s to meet your clients’ needs. And your time is best served working with your clients. If you think in terms of a 40-hour workweek, ideally you want to work 40 hours in front of clients. Even if it’s not a selling situation, it’s probably a good relationship-building opportunity. While that’s very difficult to do, you need good, competent staff so you can delegate the activities that don’t generate money for you.

I work with my two brothers, and we have learned from trial and error. Of course, our father [who started the agency in 1955] gave us advice, but we didn’t always listen to it. … We have a combination of clerical support and people we have brought in and trained as producers. We’ve taught them, so we can focus on what we need to do.

The first thing people look at when they start in the business is the bottom line. Too many people try to control it from an expense point of view: “If I cut back on advertising; if I don’t rent office space and just work out of a room in my home; if I don’t pay my NAIFA dues … I can save money.” And yes, these do help reduce costs today. But in the long term, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and they end up going out of business. You need to allocate resources to these important areas, especially staff.

Joseph R. Giangola, CEBS
Giangola Insurance Agency
Ashtabula, Ohio


It is fairly simple to know. First you have to define what your most valuable [use of] time is: selling or administrative tasks. Of course you want to be selling during the day. Then you have to ask, “Can I complete administrative tasks in the evening?”

But in addition to this, you need to factor in family time. You need to ask, ”Am I willing to take away time from my family to do administrative tasks?“ If you don’t [ask this question] you will fail either in business or in life.

When administrative tasks are taking over your sales time or family time, that’s when it’s time to hire someone to help.

I know because I failed. I was doing the constant “selling and working” and did my administrative work at night. I bought into the home office stuff and I lost 10 years of my children growing up; I missed out on the most important time in my kids’ lives. Fortunately my wife understood and raised the kids, but it’s time I will never have back.

Remember this is a career, not a life choice. We were brought into this [work] with the idea that it is a lifestyle—our mentors taught us that. But they were wrong. If you don’t include your family in your practice, you will not grow or succeed.

Thomas Cooper, LUTCF, RHU
Kansas City Life Insurance Company
Germantown, Tenn.


That is a challenging question for sure! There is definitely a time in the process that you have to stop being the Lone Ranger and find your Tonto. Financially it is always a quandary, and for an independent agent it can be especially challenging.

One of the best things is to hook up with someone who already has support staff. That can be someone like an area manager. If you can hook up with that person while you are getting established, that’s a good deal. It can also help you understand what you are looking for in the person you want to hire when you get to that stage.

Ideally, if they have room for you to move in—do it. Then you can use their administrative support as well as their mentoring—a journeyman type of experience. [With this arrangement] you have someone to go to with industry questions, and you have a sounding board and structure of support, including administrative support.

I heard Marvin Walker speak at a meeting about networking and the importance of support, and he had great advice about this [question]. He said he hired an assistant—salary with a commission scale—and told her, “I’ll take care of the sales, and you take care of all the other stuff.” A few days later she came to his office and said that the copier was broken. He replied, “Is that sales or other stuff?” She answered, “Other stuff.” And Marvin said, “Then you know what to do; take care of it.”

Barry Stewart Woods
Tinseth and Associates Insurance
Kalispell, Mont.


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