That couldn't be more true when evaluating your own insurance career and agency.

However, there's often a strong reluctance to introduce an outside perspective.

Regardless of how you achieve a higher level of awareness, there are a few key areas you should look at.

Miles Merwin, president and founder of Advisors Insurance Agency, talks about the evolution his agency has gone through to maximize its potential.

Joey Giangola: Mr. Miles Merwin, how are you doing today, sir?

Miles Merwin: I'm well, how are you, Joey?

Joey Giangola: Miles, I'm doing all right. I'll have to try to match your enthusiasm. We'll see how we go. Miles, I want to know this before we get too serious into anything. Has there ever been anything that you thought you knew how to do, but were abruptly reminded that you don't know anything about life?

Miles Merwin: What I thought I knew how to do, but I was abruptly reminded that I don't? Usually that comes to recently, it seems like just having regular conversations with people. I feel like I can keep a good conversation, but then as I get kicked under the table by my wife, I realize that I'm just not appropriate sometimes.

Joey Giangola: Yeah, you always need those safety rails, right? You never know what's going to happen.

Miles Merwin: That's right.

Joey Giangola: For me, Miles, it was as simple as tying shoes. I saw a video of a dude tying a shoe in a way that I never thought was possible, and then it made me question more things in my life that I possibly don't know how to do at peak performance, and you just never know what the internet is going to surprise you with sometimes. I want to move that over to the world of insurance Miles, and obviously you've been in the game for quite a bit. And I'm sure you've come across some things in your time where you have thought, well, I thought I was pretty good at this, or I thought I knew what was happening, but then obviously might run into things where that's not the case. How's agency ownership been, and where are some times where you were kind of reminded of, man, maybe I need to rethink this or maybe I need to try a new way?

Miles Merwin: Dude, great question. Good timing too. We've been in business, it'd be 12 years next month. If you don't remember, I started it from scratch with zero clients 12 years ago. And so today we are, I don't know, anywhere from 16 to 18 team members, and a little north of 5,000 clients. And so along the way we have run up against a lot of those situations where we thought we knew what we were doing. We're continuing to grow, we're facing new problems, and what do we need to learn in order to kind of move past this problem?

Miles Merwin: I've hired three consultants in my life. The first time I hired a consultant was Brett Kelly, and so I like to consider that our stage if we had to learn to be professional insurance agents. And so we learned how to be professional insurance agents. The next thing is we needed to learn how to be professional communicators. So we hired a Sandler sales trainer and we ran our entire team through that. And some of our clients through that, our sales team to understand one vocabulary, what does it look like to be professional communicators and understand there's a process to communication and proposals and things.

Miles Merwin: So that was another kind of milestone thing. And then the third one, which is the one we're embarking on right now is, how do we operate a business professionally? So I told my team recently, we had a business operating system, but it was organic, it was chaotic. Instead of being considered a business operating system or a BOS, it was a POS. And so we need to put a formal BOS system in place. And so that has been the newest thing is, I can't do it all by myself. I've got to work with a leadership team. And if I'm going to work with a leadership team, I need to know how to work with one. So we need a system in order to work off of. So that's the newest one.

Joey Giangola: That's interesting. You used the word professional a couple of times, and I guess a simple question I would have is, what do you consider to be professional then? What's sort of that benchmark, that standard that you feel like, oh, we've moved up a level?

Miles Merwin: One thing I think Roger Sitkins said, actually, the average in our industry is really good. So it's easy to be average. Once you've been in business three or four years, you're probably doing all right, you're paying the bills, your financial security level is fairly high. You might run out time, but you're making a pretty good living.

Miles Merwin: Just because you're making a good living and you're in the insurance business doesn't mean you're a professional. It just means you're in business. And you start to look at some of the companies around you, and if you're someone who likes to try to improve all the time and get better, as you start to ask the question, what would it take to be that next level, that next level business to provide a next level service?

Miles Merwin: Am I just doing things off the cuff? Am I making things up as I go along? Or, are we professionals? Is there a written process way of doing business? Is there a purpose? Is there a passion in what we do that we're trying to reach or achieve, versus let's wake up today and let's just see what happens.

Joey Giangola: Yeah, and I have to imagine that getting everybody to buy into that and kind of come along that journey with you had to come with its detractors, maybe, some pain points, some people that say, "Miles, I don't know about this." What's that experience like, seeing somebody on that side of it and then now being on the other side of it to where maybe they trust you and like, oh yes, this is way better? How could you help somebody if they're at a similar point in their agency, they're trying to get the buy-in for people to go on that same journey with them and to have maximum results on the other side too.

Miles Merwin: Yeah, we're in the middle of that. I can't remember the name of the author, but it's called Navigating the Neutral Zone. So it means I realize where we were, we can't go backwards. I know where we want to go, but I'm not there yet, so we're navigating that neutral zone in the middle. It would be easier just to go backwards. I'm used to that. And again, I can't remember the author. I picked it up on some sort of podcast that was a Patrick Lencioni podcast and it was talking about the four Ps. I got to remember them real quick. I'm on the spot here. The four Ps were, first you have to make sure that everyone knows the purpose. Everyone has to know what the plan is. Everyone has to know what their part is. And there's a fourth P. I'm missing the fourth P. Purpose... I'll think of it in a minute. There's four Ps though.

Joey Giangola: I believe you. I believe you. They all sounded pretty good so far.

Miles Merwin: But the purpose of those was to make sure that in the navigating the neutral zone, people will lose their way. Forget why we're going there. And so as a management team, to answer your question it's, how do you make sure that you get your people on board, is you have to repeat yourself constantly, over and over and over again. Here's the purpose, here's the plan, here's your part.

Joey Giangola: I think that's interesting mainly because, like you said, I think a lot of agencies fall into that trap of not being able to get past that neutral zone and it becomes easier just to... Because like I said, I never heard it stated that way. The average is good and it's hard to sort of see beyond that. I mean outside of just being internally in you, just something that is constantly driving you. What sort of spurred that action? Again, like you said, this is the third time you've sort re-upped to take it to the next level. What is it that tells you like, hey, it's time or hey, we are missing this? Is there anything that you are able to point out that sort of makes it easier to identify these things and then to take action on them?

Miles Merwin: So I don't know, a number of years ago, Joey, I think in working actually with Brent Kelly, I came up with this kind of mentality of why am I in business? Why do I want to do this? And so the three things that I think of is, A I'm in this business, whether it's the insurance business or any business really, is I do this because I wanted to create more freedom of time, deeper relationships with family, friends, community, coworkers, team members, and I want to create more financial security. Usually in the pursuit of creating more financial security, most of us, if we're listening to this or on the podcast, probably you have the third string of that.

Miles Merwin: You've created the financial security, but in doing so, you lost the freedom of your time and you may have hurt the most important relationships that you have because you just don't have any time because you're working all the time. To answer your question, I think what keeps going is I ran into the, I keep running out of time. I don't have the freedom of time. I'm making good money, but I don't have the time anymore. And so something has to change. The money's not worth it if you don't... You've got the boat in the driveway, but you can't take it to the lake.

Miles Merwin: And so you run into the time component. So it was, is this what it is? Am I okay with this? This is just how things go, or what are we going to do about it? We either need to shrink as a company to get back my time, or I need to hire, buy back my time, but if I do that, I lose profit. So what's the next stage of the business to get us where we can grow the business enough to get back my time? In growing a business, every time you add another person, you complicate the business. And so again, makes you think back through, I have to grow, but I also need to simplify.

Joey Giangola: You reminded me, I can't remember where we were, we were somewhere in an event, and this was a while ago, and you had mentioned that you wanted to actively not work on Fridays, I believe. I'm pretty sure that that was true.

Miles Merwin: Yeah.

Joey Giangola: I think that's still the case. And it was at the time, in that sort of grind mentality, like you said, sort of grow the business, grow the business, it was kind of counter to that. And you don't really hear too many people openly embrace that idea of like, listen, I'm going to be as successful as I want to be, but at the same time I'm not going to let it limit my time. As you mentioned, it was just even something as simple as that. An easy way to put some rules and parameters of objectives like, hey, if I'm successful, it looks like this, and it's simply as maybe I'm going to work one less day?

Miles Merwin: For sure. I mean, when you open a business, at least in my mind, you open it to serve you. So if you don't know what you want, your business doesn't know how to serve you. So you need to define that. What is it that you want? If you want to work four days a week, then write that down. That's what I want to do. Build a business that allows you to do that. If you want to work 70 hours a week, build a business that allows you to work 70 hours a week, but if you don't know what you want, then you are just going to create chaos, which just happens to all of us. So it first starts with defining, what do you want? What does it look like to have freedom of your time? What does that mean to you? That's different for everyone.

Miles Merwin: Some people, if they only worked 50 hours a week, that'd be great, right? That'd be an improvement. Deeper relationships, what does that look like? Who do you want to spend your time with? Prospects and customers or team members and your family, family and community? What does that look like to have relationships? And then how much money is enough? Where are you trying to get financially for yourself and your team?

Miles Merwin: So by defining some of those, you can then set up a business that caters to that, but unfortunately we don't know what we want, we create this business and then the business comes a calling, and you serve your business at that point, right? You're just reacting to what it tells you to do all day long.

Joey Giangola: I don't know if this is right or not, and I can't remember exactly your relationship of how you started from scratch, what got you into it in the beginning, but I do sense a stronger sense of pride around your agency and what you've been able to accomplish than I'd maybe gather from most folks. Tell me if that's accurate or not? And then I guess the real question is, what do you feel maybe most proud about of what you've been able to do across your career? And maybe it might not be as obvious as some people might think.

Miles Merwin: No, it's a good question. So I guess in creating the operating system for our business in the last six months or so, one of the questions was what was your passion or purpose? And so I had to think about that. And the question that was said to me was like, "Why do you still get up every morning and go to work? You could just sell it all and be done. Why do you get up and just continue to push and push and go?"

Miles Merwin: And so I think the answer to that is, I get to spend a lot of time with other leaders now in my business, which is fun to watch them grow. We're talking about deeper relationships. I'm not spending as much time with each team member in my office that works for us. I spend rarely any time with prospects, but I spend a lot of time in the two seats that I still have, as sales manager and then visionary. I spend a lot of time with my sales team and I spend a lot of time with my leadership team.

Miles Merwin: So I'm only spending my time with seven people. I spend all my time with those seven people. When asked what's my purpose or passion? It's that I can help those seven or eight people be the best that they can, which helps me be the best that I can. And so one of our goals for our 10 year target was we want to be providing for 26 families. So I just look at that, okay, what does it look like to grow a company that's serving really, really well 26 families including my own? So it was 25 families plus my own. So what does it look like to get there where we're doing that the absolute best we can? And if we can provide for our people, then they will in turn provide for our customers the best they can and our community, the best they can, and provide for their own families the best they can. So that was really hard to figure out, what is my, why do we do this? What's the purpose in constantly reinvesting and constantly trying to push?

Joey Giangola: I want to maybe reach down a little bit, get the hands a little dirty in the we're becoming a professional business sort of process as you guys are going through. What have you uncovered? What sort of yucky, nasty things have you sort of learned as to like, wow, that's been wrong for a long time, or boy, if you could avoid that, that might be a good idea, that you could maybe pass along.

Miles Merwin: Defining what you want gets difficult because then you've made a bunch of decisions up to this point that aren't what you want. So then when you start to define what you want is, then you find out what you don't want and you've got to make some really hard decisions. You just have to start getting rid of things. And unfortunately, that's processes, that's products, that's team members, that's locations, that's carriers, it's lots of things, right? Once you define what you want. So the hard decisions come to start getting rid of the things that aren't part of the plan.

Miles Merwin: One of the hardest things we've gone through right now is, we developed core values and we developed a hiring process, a review process, like what a process looks like to show appreciation and to correct things. And so in that process, you start to identify that you have some people that are the right people and some people that are the wrong people, and that's really hard to deal with. So that's the hardest part, right? Is, once you've figured out what you want, is going back to either change your people or change your people.

Joey Giangola: That can't be an easy conversation. And I guess of all the things you mentioned, a couple P's there... I don't know if that fourth P ever came to you, but you talked about product, locations, people, obviously. Is there anything that, if you had to pick one that stands out in terms of when you were looking at those decisions, where one felt more weighted than other?

Miles Merwin: The people, the people are absolutely the biggest one. We think of defining... I was looking for my notes real quick. I'm going to find that fourth P, I can't believe I can't remember it.

Joey Giangola: You're leaving me in suspense Miles.

Miles Merwin: I know, right? Oh, here it's, I got it. So the purpose, you've got to define what the purpose is. Paint a picture. That was the one I missed. Picture. Make sure you clearly paint exactly what the picture is, why you're doing something, what the plan is to get there, and then what each person's part is in getting you there. Those are the four.

Joey Giangola: I can say that's not an obvious one. I feel like they sort of cheated just to make that a P word, so you have my permission to say that it's easy to forget. They kind of cheated on that one. Yeah, so I mean I guess looking back through it all, if you had somebody that was a young Miles that says, "Oh boy, I'm going to go out, I'm going to do this from day one, zero clients." To where you are now, what's the biggest thing you could tell them to avoid in terms of mistake, or just an acceleration sort of tactic just to help them get to where maybe they want to be faster, sooner or easier to just give them a little Miles shortcut?

Miles Merwin: It's hard to, if you haven't been through the hard parts to understand the value of the easy way, it's really hard to value the easy way. So it's hard to say to go back and if you were to do it again, do this. Just because if you didn't go through all those things, you wouldn't come out and say, "Oh, I really value that information now."

Miles Merwin: I think I would find, which I think is so much easier to do today than it was 12 years ago, the insurance world is just easier to navigate when it comes to finding people to help you. Finding someone that is a professional in the insurance industry that's doing business the way you ultimately would like your agency to run. So maybe if you say, I want to get to be a $3 million revenue agency. Okay, who is the principal of an agency running a $3 million agency the way that I want one run? And become friends with them, ask them to help you and have conversations once a month.

Miles Merwin: I think that would be the best thing because you can have someone to bounce things off of as you go through them, but you have to do some research to find that right person willing to do it, that does things the way that you want to. And I'm not opposed to hiring consultants to help you as well, because you run into situations where you just don't know. And so that's what the benefit of hiring a consultant is, you hire someone with an outside point of view to come in and take a look at your business and say, "Here's the glaring things that you weren't able to see because you were inside of it, not able to get outside and take a look at it."

Miles Merwin: You don't have to hire them forever, but they're worth their weight and gold for one, two, three years to help you kind of move path, whatever glass ceiling there is. A glass ceiling is just an invisible barrier that you don't know exists. And so the more you can talk about the possible invisible barriers above you and you can identify those, you can label them, understand what it is and how to get around it, you can move past them easier and less expensively and faster.

Joey Giangola: I got to ask this question of you, you mentioned what was on the 10 year sort of goal sheet, if you will. Have you taken a peak at 20? Do you have something up there that you're sort of aiming towards now?

Miles Merwin: Man, I'm 40, so 20 at 60. I'm 41, so 61. I don't see that far in the future. I'm just hoping to be able to see.

Joey Giangola: Fair enough. All right Miles. I got three more questions for you. The first one is, what's one thing you hope you never forget?

Miles Merwin: I think it's just how important and valuable the people you surround yourself are. Like the people on your team. Never undervalue how important it's to pick the right people. I think a lot of us did that during COVID, because it was so hard to find team members, especially people with the skills you needed that we were all, I did it, we're all just hiring anyone you could possibly find. And so we lost the value of choosing the right people to surround yourself with and your customers and your A level players that are already on your team. That's an easy one not to be patient on, because just you feel the burden. That's an important one, because picking the wrong person doesn't make it easier. It just makes it harder down the road.

Joey Giangola: Now, on the other side of that Miles, what's one thing you still have yet to learn?

Miles Merwin: I was hoping you were going to shed some light on that. What is it that I need to learn? I don't know. I think I could always learn to just be a better leader, better... As this book's, How to be a Great Boss by Gino Wickman. There's always challenges there and so I think at this point it's just learning how to do that better all the time.

Joey Giangola: All right, Miles, last question to you, sir. If I were to hand you a magic wand of sorts to reshape, change, alter, speed up, really any part of insurance, what's that thing? Where is it going? And what's it doing?

Miles Merwin: As we think of artificial intelligence, I think the big one that I was like, I would love to do, is as we're talking on phones with customers, all that's recorded and transcribed. As we're texting customers, we're emailing customers, we're getting eligibility guideline updates constantly, especially in the home insurance market. We're getting underwriting changes, we're getting... There's just all sorts of stuff.

Miles Merwin: We should be able to have, internally, our own AI machine that basically just gathers all this information. If you're on the phone, it's getting the information from the call, it's gathering it, it's grabbing the key points, it's recording that call. It understands what happened in it. If your carrier updates its eligibility guidelines, it's automatically connected. It updates the eligibility guidelines within a system.

Miles Merwin: So my team can literally type in, I need a home insurance policy with a 15-year-old roof built in 1990 with a German Shepherd that's on five acres. What's the best carrier? And it would just say, "Based on the guidelines that you've set in, based on all the carriers represent, based on the eligibility guides and current underwriting guidelines, the best carrier for you is blah, blah, blah, blah." Great, thank you so much. Please type up a summary of the call with the customer, the best carrier that we're going to recommend in agency colors and agency format, whatever. Right? Done. It creates it.

Miles Merwin: It should just be able to do that. Or, tell me, based off of phone calls, text message, and emails, tell me based off of Joey, if I'm going to write a thank you card or a note to them, what are some things we should note in the card? Joey likes boating and likes playing music. If you could send him a song that included the lyrics of, here's a song with the lyrics of both boating and playing music that you should send him as a clip for this. I mean anything, right? It just grabs it and does it. It's not replacing us, it's just enhancing and making it so much easier. So I don't think that's that far away.

Joey Giangola: Miles, this has been fantastic, so I'm going to leave it right there.

Miles Merwin: Perfect...