Then the challenge becomes finding someone who is willing and able to take the leap with you.

It's not always easy to put yourself out there to find that person, but there are a few key things to look for.

Ultimately, it comes down to complementary skills and not letting your feelings get in the way.

Richard Brown, Partner at Centennial Insurance Group, talks about how was able to close the deal with his partner and keep things successful.

Joey Giangola: Mr. Richard Brown, how are you doing today, sir?

Richard Brown: I'm doing well. No complaints from my side.

Joey Giangola: Richard, I want to know this before we get really too deep into it. Is there something that you see maybe somebody do, possibly a couple, that you can't quite understand why they're doing it and it makes you confused?

Richard Brown: Let's see. Okay, this is, okay... Well, I probably shouldn't say that. But probably dressing the same way when you're not at a sporting event. So if I go to the Thunder game, and my wife and I, we both have an SGA, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander jerseys on, it's totally fine. But if we're just in the mall shopping, and we have matching shirts and shoes and belts, I don't get it. I don't get it. It's fine for them, but I just don't get that, so yeah.

Joey Giangola: Yeah, it feels like a follow-up question might be needed in that scenario. You got to just maybe dig a little deeper as to what's going on. For me, Richard, it's similar. It's sharing a meal that's just designed for one person. If I see a couple sharing food like that, I'm like, "Listen, there's other things to do that you could share your unity on." And sharing a meal, just get away from my food, I don't need it. One, I need to eat more. Two, I don't know, I marvel at somebody that shares one little entree, but whatever. They got to do what they got to do.

Joey Giangola: I'm going to move this over to the world of insurance. And I think an interesting thing that we maybe don't talk about enough, and I'm curious if you've had any examples of dynamics of people that you're talking to in an insurance relationship. Business owners that are partners and their understanding, even if it is a spouse and wife and their understanding on insurance. How do you handle when maybe not everybody is on the same page with the coverages that you're talking about? How do you get everybody to understand and come to the same side?

Richard Brown: I think it's more of a discovery process because insurance and sense can be almost like when you think you have a medical condition and you go to WebMD, and you start getting all this information, so your opinion about it gets distorted. And I think that happens a lot with the home and auto insurance. Don't get me wrong, I'm totally 100% with gaining your own knowledge, but I think all that information at once clouds their judgment a little bit. And, sometimes, not all clients, but sometimes, they may come in a little more defensive, instead of on the offense to really learn. They have this notion of how insurance should work, but I just help them uncover. And give them more of an overview, based on their situation, on how insurance works, because it's just not black and white. It's a whole lot of moving dynamics when it comes to policy contracts.

Richard Brown: So trying to find more what they're concerned about and address that because it's different with each person. And I guess I'm trying to say there's not one size fit all type approach. It just all depends on the person. But once I find... So if they had bad service before, I can address how we handle that. If they had a claim that didn't go through, I get some of the particulars about the claim and just try to educate them on why that happened. Because, a lot of times, I get a feedback from clients just like, "They didn't give you no explanation on why the claim wasn't covered or anything like that." So I think it's just more of an education standpoint on my side.

Joey Giangola: That's interesting. And I think the one thing that stands out is, how long do you think it takes to really get to the bottom of that? Does something pop up to you after the fact? How important is it to you to really get to the root cause of what might be bothering them? And have you had it come and sneak up on you after the fact, after you maybe have sold the policy and you find out they're not happy with something?

Richard Brown: Right. It all depends on the client. So, of course, all clients are important, but if it is just a one-shot policy, like a motorcycle policy or an auto policy, I'm going to have a different approach to that than I would a full home, auto, business... So I guess it depends on the type of client. So I don't want to sit there and spin my wheels because, at a point, I guess, with some of the questions I ask, I get to a point of like, yeah, they're more wanting to just express this concern or their feelings about the situation. And not really find an answer or approach to solve their problems. So at that time I, I guess, let it go. Or say, "Hey, we may not be a fit."

Richard Brown: Again, it just depends on... I don't want to say I'm not appreciative of the business I receive, but it's just more of a case by case situation. And if I see that we're not getting anywhere, I do... I don't want to say do a hard stop, but I'll just simply go, "Hey, I don't think we're on the same page. I don't know if we're a great fit for you." And just be honest and upfront with the client.

Joey Giangola: It's a hard thing to do. And, I guess, how long did it take before you felt comfortable to walk away from a piece of business, or something where you're like, "Nah, this isn't really going the way I think it needs to. And it's probably not going to go the way I want it to at any point in time soon." How long was it before you started to really feel that confidence in your career?

Richard Brown: Probably about the two to three year mark in the business. So unless you're handed a book of business, or are starting with a big agency... We started, my business partner and I, we started from scratch, basically. So we were trying to... Not the best thing, don't do this, but we were trying to write everything that moves when we originally got into the business, just because we were commission only, we didn't have any base salary or anything like that. So it was probably about year two to three when I started trimming the fat, per se. Because, luckily, I had a lot of great mentors in the insurance world that was like, "Hey, you don't want that type of business. It's not good for your books, your lost ratio and everything." So I guess just leaning on them, standing on the shoulder of giants, as that old cliche goes. They were just giving me more of an overview of how to have a better book of business. So I was probably about two years into it.

Joey Giangola: I don't know if I've ever asked you this question, but what led you to, again, partnering up with somebody? Because not everybody goes from scratch and goes into it with a partner. So what was that experience like for you, coming into it and being intentional with that? And how did you guys make it work?

Richard Brown: I started in the captive industry for about two and a half years. So with that particular company, we had our our license, our Series 6/63. We were working on our Series 65, which are investment license. And they were wanting us to do more financial services, eventually become certified financial planners. And we were like, "Hey, that's not my bread and butter." I wanted to do predominantly commercial, home and auto. And my business partner, Bryan Chouinard, he was working at the same place. And him and I were one of the few that were there early. We were there late, working on weekends, just to make it work. So, anyway, we started hanging out. And, eventually, we were like, "Hey, I don't know if this is..." He's like, "Hey, I don't know if I want to do this forever." We decided to go independent.

Richard Brown: And one of the reasons I liked teaming up with Bryan, him and I, we didn't want to double dip. We didn't want to be working for one agency as well as starting another business. So we were basically [inaudible 00:06:21], so we cut our ties with them and everything, so we didn't do any double dipping. And that's one thing I thought it would be a good reason to go into business with him because we were on the same page. We didn't want to grow another book of business base while we're working with someone else. But it was tough. It was challenging, but it worked out. The only thing I regret is we didn't do it earlier. That's the only regret I have is that I didn't start in the independent side earlier.

Joey Giangola: So it's a slightly vulnerable thing to put yourself out there to somebody else and say, "This seems like it might be fun." Because it's a big, huge, giant risk in a lot of cases. Is there anything tips you have to somebody that might be sitting in that captive agency, looking at somebody across the desk saying, "Hey, maybe this is my next future partner." Is there anything that you... How did you guys find your way to that partnership? And really how did you just let caution to the wind and say, "We're going to do this together"?

Richard Brown: I think we were just a good fit. This is what I tell a lot of people. My business partner, he's more of a marine in a sense. He's gung ho. He wants to go in, you know what I mean? Just attack everything. I'm more of a sniper, I'm more calculated. I have to see the whole big picture and everything. So that dynamic, I think it works. Because if I'm moving too slow, he comes to help push me along. And if he's moving too fast, I hold him like, "Hey, we need to look at this type of a scenario." And I think that works. And just with his work ethic, the family values he had, and some other things, I just thought it was a good fit. We were always transparent with one another.

Richard Brown: This is probably one of the most negative things I'll say about a partnership. If you can't be in a disagreement at 9:00, and then go to lunch at noon to talk about the business, you shouldn't be in business. Because the business has to keep going no matter what. You can't let the feelings get in the way or whatever, if that makes sense.

Joey Giangola: You'd said something that I thought was interesting of you wish you would've done it sooner. And I'm curious of where you're at now. And do you feel like you've been able to... I don't want to say catch up, but do you feel good with where you guys are at? Where are you looking to take the business? Is there something that you're at that point of, "Man, I really wish we would've done this sooner." Or, "Man, I can't wait till we get here." What's itching you right now?

Richard Brown: Besides getting to the business earlier, the only other thing I would've wish we would've done earlier was get staff, get assistance to help us process the paperwork and everything. But yeah, we're in a good position now. We continually grow each year. We actually opened up another arm of business in the Medicare, so we're diversifying things a little bit. But I think we're on the right path. We're slow and steady. We're not the biggest agency on the block, but we're not the smallest. But I think we're growing right. Where I see us in five, 10 years, is bringing on more agents on the Medicare side as well as the PNC side. And just slow and steady wins the race, as the old cliche goes, mm-hmm.

Joey Giangola: And are those conversations you guys like to have of setting benchmarks for the agency? How do you guys like to plan things out? How detailed are you? What does it look like for you guys?

Richard Brown: Yeah, my business partner, December week, we get together and look over last year's numbers, and just determine if we want to hire more with the staff or more agents, and how we're going to work on retention. So yeah, in December, him and I, we have a two or three hour meeting. And, plus, his office is right across the door, so we talk more than just two hours once a year. But we're always discussing it. So if there's something new... We try not to chase the shiny object. We try not to have the shiny object syndrome. But we're always trying to see how we can improve our agency, whether it's with the retention, with the customer service, automation, et cetera, et cetera. So yeah, we're pretty hands-on. I guess we try to balance that up. You could either have control or growth, and so, I guess, we're always trying to navigate that, balance that out, if that makes sense.

Joey Giangola: I want to come back to the customer service and the automation piece, and see what you guys are doing there and what you find to be successful. But I have to ask this of, is there something that you didn't chase that you're glad that you didn't get distracted by? Something that was a trend or something that you almost went down a path of.

Richard Brown: No, not off the top of my head, no. There's nothing, no.

Joey Giangola: Then let's try the other side of that. What path have you found to be most beneficial? What has worked the best for you guys? What area of the business have you... Like you said you are working your way into the Medicare a little bit. Is there a side on the commercial that you really dug into? Is there anything that you have found to be the X factor that really got you guys humming?

Richard Brown: Yes, ours is our staff, all our staff. We tried the whole job board situations and that never worked out. But all our staff and our agents that we have now have been through personal relationships that we knew through people they referred to us and everything. So I think that's the best. It sounds a little cliche, but ask the friends that are centers of influence, if they know anyone, clients, that we really love. We ask them if they have any friends or family that are looking to get into this particular business and everything. So that's probably the best thing that's happened with us. Great relationships with the friends and family, and asking them if they know anyone that wants to work in this industry.

Joey Giangola: I would imagine that would trickle over into, you had mentioned the customer service sides of things, and the way you guys do things. Is there any specific direct approach there as to how you bring people in, what you find works best to get them in and help them stay and be engaged in the agency?

Richard Brown: I think just the onboarding process where, like for instance, if someone's referred to me, my staff will get the proposals together. I'll review it with them. And then follow up emails when we close the policy. I'll introduce them to our team members. Their policy access. I think we're just proactive on making the client know that there's many ways to get hold of us as well as to access their own documents and everything. And we do the drip campaigns, of course, and just try to keep them in the loop, in the loop.

Joey Giangola: Yeah. Do you find, like you said on the automation, the drip, is there anything that you find is more successful? If you had to take one, what's the one that you're going to make sure that you're doing?

Richard Brown: With us, it's just notifying the client about the upcoming renewals. Because with the type of market we're in, just letting them know that, "Hey, Joey, your policy is set to renew in 45 minutes. Our team is proactively looking over current proposals to make sure you have the best value." We always don't lead with price. We always say the best overall value for your insurance portfolio. And I just think staying ahead of the renewals when they receive them, because there's a lot of sticker shock going on right now. So I just think being proactive in letting them know the state of the industry and that we're always looking out for them.

Joey Giangola: I guess that you mentioned it, you said you guys sit down about every December. Is there any sneak peek that you can give me onto that little meeting? Have you got a little list that you've been making as to stuff that you guys are going to be talking about? What's something that you're hoping to maybe look to pursue in '24?

Richard Brown: Grow our Medicare side quite a bit more. So grow our Medicare side, get a few more agents in here. And that's just to diversify a little more. And we're kicking around we probably need another... The buzzword going around now is retention specialists. We probably need a retention specialist as well. So although our staff is awesome on keeping up on top of that, but someone specifically designated on retention and marketing will be a great benefit for us.

Joey Giangola: It is interesting how these job titles become fancy and buzzword-y. I thought that was a service person, but we can make it sound fancy though.

Richard Brown: Yes.

Joey Giangola: Do you think that there's any benefit to that though? In terms of... I don't know if you guys have a specific way that you... Your employees roles or titles or whatever. But does it work? I guess maybe that's the question of does that matter? Does somebody feel like any more empowered or valued at work, based on what they think they're doing based on their title or anything? Or is it just.

Richard Brown: It varies. There's some of our staff in the past they were like, "I don't care about names." And there's some that really like that title. So I think it's a case by case scenario. But if we get that vibe that they like that, we do assign different titles to it and everything. But our office manager, she's awesome, and she likes the term, office manager, so we have that on her plaque, the door, her emails, and everything. She loves it. Her name's Tammy. So yeah, she loves the title and everything. But she's excellent at it, so she's great at it.

Joey Giangola: Yeah, you'd wonder if, again, like you said, retention specialist, if it helps maybe bring a little, I guess, focus, clarity, potentially, to the whole thing. This is what I'm here to do. I'm going to retain. I'm a specialist and I'm retaining the business. Is that something that maybe... Do you guys feel like you've given a decent enough focus? Or you just want more bodies, you want more people, more eyes on it, I guess, than you currently have?

Richard Brown: Yeah, I think it's more eyes on it and everything. And then with the workflows, with our other staff members, sometimes, they may be overwhelmed at that point and someone to help them as well. So I think we definitely need, even if they are a retention specialist/customer service specialist, et cetera, a mixture of both, maybe 50/50. But I think it's definitely needed, especially with the times that we're in right now.

Joey Giangola: So if you had to give one piece of advice to, again, maybe that person that is in a similar situation to where you were, a captive agency, that's looking to go out on their own, what's the one thing you'd say to that person to maybe make them feel a little bit more comfortable in maybe taking that first step? And maybe if they need a partner or not. What's the thing that stands out to you?

Richard Brown: Well, there's a few things. Before I got started, I went and talked to a few different independent agents. Some independent agents that was smaller, mid-sized, and then a large-sized to get their perspective. Because you're going to fall within that realm. So I would learn the good and bad about each agent agents you're talking to, and just get their overview of the good and bad. And I think that's the best, just someone that's been in the ditches, if that makes sense. But the independent side, yeah, the only thing I regret is that I didn't go independent when I've initially got into insurance. But don't get me wrong, on the captive side, I had some great training and everything. I just think the independent side is the way to go. But I eventually think that all carriers will be independent eventually.

Joey Giangola: Richard, I've got three more questions for you, sir. And the first one is, what's one thing you hope you never forget?

Richard Brown: Within the insurance world or just life in general?

Joey Giangola: There are no rules so, Richard, you can take it however you want.

Richard Brown: Let's see here. And this may sound a little cliche, is that you're not alone. And you have no idea what someone may be going through. Because no matter what situation I came through, there was always a resource, meaning a friend, in the insurance industry, or someone that would be able to help me walk through the process if it was brand new to me.

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

Richard Brown: That whole balance, I touched on it earlier, the whole balance of control and growth. I may be a little too hands-on sometimes and I need to let it go. And I don't want to say... Just overseeing everything. I don't want you to think I'm a control freak, but just I guess having more trust. Trusting myself when I'm trusting other people to do things, so yeah.

Joey Giangola: All right, Richard, 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?

Richard Brown: Well, we have great insurance companies, but I wish they would just be a little more transparent, especially with the nature that we're in, on educating the clients on why their rates are increasing. Don't get me wrong, that agents, we definitely do it. But instead of doing funny commercials about dogs or cats kicking field goals, they should do something about, "Hey, this is the market we're in." Yeah, well, someone... More than likely they wouldn't watch it, but I don't know. Just more education to our clients to let them know that this is why the rates have increased. Plywood was $16 apiece whenever, before the shutdown, and now it's $50 apiece. So just more education on why the rates are going up. Because our clients are simply getting that letter saying, "Hey, your rate's increased 30%." I'm just giving an example there. Just to educate our consumer base a lot more.

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

Richard Brown: All right. Thank you, sir. Appreciate it.