Before You Leap

Aly Kanji—CEO, InsureLine

Conceptualizing entrepreneurship and the very real challenges of getting started

My nighttime ritual has always included scribbling down goals and ideas in my notepad. Call me old-school, but there’s just something powerful about writing out the actual words that seed into my subconscious mind: people I’ve connected with throughout the day, sales figures I needed to hit and dreams of starting my own brokerage. Looking back, I knew I was destined for more.

InsureLine was born in 2015 from late night reflections like these, similarly felt by producers I meet across the country. Although there’s still that massive hunger for entrepreneurship, it’s harder to start a brokerage today within an industry going through tectonic change. Small brokers lament the difficulty of getting insurer contracts and competing against the ever-growing consolidators. 

As uncertainty ripples through our industry, there are common concerns I’m asked about almost daily by brokers and producers considering stepping out on their own.

Access to markets is probably the biggest challenge startup brokerages face. Brokers need to work with quality insurers to increase the number of markets, capacity and quality of business written to grow their book. But some insurers are inclined not to take the risk of extending contracts without a substantial book already in place, putting brokers in a relentless cycle of chasing their tails. 

A robust technology stack is vital to a successful brokerage. Determining which business management platform to use, building your agency on that system, configuring your data into it and then training staff to manage back-office operations is no easy feat. There is other software to integrate like Microsoft and eSignature programs. How about a new website, Google Maps and Reviews, social media, an email marketing system, backups, cloud storage and cyber security to keep your client information safe? It can quickly become overwhelming as new brokers are tested by the demands of the daily technology required just to open their doors.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion isn’t window-dressing, and we need to stop addressing it as such. As Canada’s cultural landscape changes, we must adjust to meet the demand. Taking advantage of the diversity of languages and cultures allows us to stand out from a white sea of brokers and attract staff that speak to a growing ethnic population. It can also bridge the gap of gender inclusion for women and members of the LGBTQ2SI+ community, propelling leaders of tomorrow to break ceilings. 

Mapping your career path is a huge step to future ownership. It’s becoming more and more difficult to outright own your book of business as a producer. And yet, book ownership is key if you plan to strike out and do your own thing. A review of your contract is crucial if starting a brokerage is something you’re considering. 

Marketing goes well beyond running a simple newspaper ad. You’ll also be compelled to manage multiple social media platforms, run Google ads and invest in search engine optimization, email marketing, local events and tradeshows, direct mailers and more. The possibilities are endless, but your budget is not. How do brokerages create differentiation on a small budget? Startups can’t compete on scale so they must rely on organic growth. In a commoditized industry, marketing is a differentiator.

Taking the leap of faith in myself wasn’t as simple as words scribbled in black ink. When I was getting started, I wished I had a step-by-step guide to follow or at least to warn me of the pitfalls to avoid. This is why supporting brokers is my top priority today. So far, we’ve helped 34 brokers launch their own brokerage, and learned a lot along the way. Starting a brokerage is never easy and necessarily involves hard work. But it’s absolutely possible to start a new insurance brokerage, even in today’s consolidated environment—all you need is belief in yourself, the willingness to do it and a few friends in your corner to help you along the way.

I still have a notebook on my bedside table but I’m not immune to late night scrolling to distract from the daily grind. Personally, my musings include kinship to my fellow DJs and my unwavering faith in the Edmonton Oilers. But if you’re anything like I was when I first got started, the questions continue to burn beneath all the noise. That thirst for more is usually only satiated by identifying what you’re yearning for and searching for clarity before you leap. I can guarantee that eventually you’ll find the answer.

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