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Meaningful Meetings with Ben Zimmer of Ethos Insurance and Risk Management

 

Brent Kelly (00:02):
Welcome to the Agent Leader Podcast. My name is Brent Kelly. Thanks so much for listening. We have a very special episode today. It's been a while on the podcast if you're listening in order that I haven't had a guest on for a while. And today I have a guest, and not just a guest, but a very powerful, exciting guest. No pressure to my guest. And if you're watching on video right now, you can see him there. But Ben Zimmer, who's the founder and CEO of Ethos. Is it insurance and risk management or risk management? That's correct. All right. Insurance and risk management. And we'll get to Ben. I'm going to Ben get a chance to do a full introduction on himself and kind give a backstory of some things. But Ben has been part of our program at Sitkins for a while and has done some really incredible things.
(00:47):
And I was telling Ben before we went live, I said one of the things that I know that our audience will get from this interview and from Ben's experience is just we've had a lot of guests that have had established long-term agencies that take the next step. And we love working with those agencies. But what about the newer, less established agencies that are trying to get traction and what things are they doing? What struggles are they facing and how are they overcoming it? So Ben, no pressure, but you're going to solve all those problems today for all the agencies. Does that sound good? Sure, sure. Alright. Before I give Ben his full introduction or let him do his full introduction, a couple reminders. Number one is always the purpose of this podcast is to help you, the independent insurance agency leader, gain clarity, build consistency, and make a commitment to become your best version possible. And of course, I have to hold up as always my shameless plug of our book, Best Version Possible. Ben, I keep chiming in and we haven't officially introduced you yet, but Ben, I believe has listened to the audio version. How many times did you tell us? 13 times. I'm not going to lie.
(01:55):
I actually listened to a little bit this morning because I needed to think about something on one of the chapters.
(01:58):
Yeah. Okay, cool. Well maybe I'll ask some stuff of what you got. Takeaways from that you've listened 13 times, and by the way, there is an audio version. See as been mentioned, we have the audio book. So if you like to listen while you're driving or whatever it is, you're on a run or a walk, hey, pop in the best version possible and get better as you also move and shake throughout the day. So one other announcement, September 7th, and this podcast should be released right before this event. There may not be a huge amount of time, but September 7th I'm going to be hosting a live presentation live on LinkedIn on the Multi-million Dollar Mistake That Most Independent Insurance Agencies Make. So how's that for a title multimillion dollar mistake? And I'll talk about what that means and why it's so impactful. But I will say, and I say this with all candor and authenticity, that this is the most important event that we've done at Sitkins, certainly since I've been at Sitkins for six years.
(02:55):
So how's that? I really want you to be there. Go to LinkedIn, check out our page, we'll make sure you get registered. It doesn't cost you anything except for an hour of your time and I promise it'll be worth it. So with that, let's get into the interview. I brought Ben on here. This isn't about me, it's about you Ben. So Ben Zimmer, again, founder and CEO of Ethos Insurance and Risk Management located in the great state just next to where I'm at Indiana, and we're in the summertime right now is recording this. So we don't often get to say this in the Midwest, but man, it's hot. All right. I know we're not the only one in the country, so most people don't feel bad for us, but it is hot. I'm sure sometimes you'll listen to this and we'll be saying we do anywhere to be warm in the Midwest, but not right now. But Ben is the founder and CEO of Ethos Insurance and Risk Management and has really done an incredible job of staying focused amongst many, many distractions. I'm going to let you kind of tell your story, but tell the audience obviously who you are and then just about kind of ethos, how you got started in that and where you're today.
Ben Zimmer (04:01):
Sure. Well thank you very much, Brent, my team, and we always, every time a podcast comes out, we listen to it. What I found with us is that we are always interested in getting a little bit better and taking a little bit of knowledge. One thing, focusing on that, doing that well, and then saying, okay, we've got that mastered and then we'll move on to something else. So with Ethos, kind of unique story worked in, I worked in the captive side for 10 years, joined an independent agency, and five years after being in the agency, I decided I wanted to purchase my book of business. Contractually. When I went from captive to independent, I made sure that if I was going to do this switch, I had the opportunity to purchase my book of business. That doesn't happen anymore much at all because of just the model's changed a lot.
(04:56):
But long story short, started this in 2017 and December is when we closed in order to close, I will tell you, I had to sell my house, sell my car, moved my family to the apartment complex I lived at when I was 23 years old and cash in 25% of my retirement. So it took a little bit of guts obviously, and there were some trying times, but I'll tell you, we were from the beginning, I knew me and my partner Stacy, she was a wonderful integrator and I was a wonderful visionary and together it was a great fit. And I thought, if we're going to do this, let's start at our level and let's expand upon that. And what we first realized is we don't need a big shiny office, we don't need anything. So we were fully remote day one and have expanded upon that and really have no, we have one brick and mortar place where just Chad's over there by himself, but we have been a hundred percent remote since day one.
(05:54):
Our best year was Covid. We grew 25% in Covid. We've continued to grow 20% to 25% year over year cumulatively. I always say this, I'm the husband of one, the father of three boys. I've got three great sons, a freshman, a sixth grader, and a second grader. And it's going great. So first grader, sorry, with Ethos, I think what really has changed was I decided that we were going to build an agency based on respect within each other first. And that's why I called it Ethos, because our culture is we have to take the best care of each other first. And Brent, I say ART, every single meeting I have with every team member we have is from the producers to the account managers to whoever it is. I always end it with Appreciate Respect and Trust you and I enjoy this journey together. And I think what that's done is because being remote and you're not getting some of that interaction day-to-day that you would have if you're in an office, you have to vocalize that.
(07:00):
And I'm going to keep quoting you, man, because like I said, our agency, a lot of everything I do is based on what you and Roger have been saying. And if I don't appreciate them and tell them I appreciate them or if I don't tell them that I appreciate them, they don't know I appreciate them. So we really focus on that. Every meeting is first things first. I can't believe we got this done together. I mean, I said it to everybody, I can't believe it worked. But really what it came down to was we decided to make our agency a little bit different in the sense that we found the qualities within people and their experiences and said, what do you feel like you're best at? Well, I'm best at this. Talking to people forward facing them. Well, I don't really like talking to people.
(07:38):
I prefer to email. I'm a task guy, I like to do tasks. So instead of doing the historical, here's your account manager, you're a CSA you're an AE, whatever. I say no, where's your God-given talents and what's your DNA things that you're best at? And that's how we built. And so we're about nine employees strong now, tripled in size since we initially opened and continue to grow because we take the time to slow down to speed up. As I always say, we always stop, think about what we're doing, think about what we're doing wrong and say, okay, let's really focus on the things that we can control and within our capabilities and talents and resources to move the needle. So I probably talk too much.
Brent Kelly (08:33):
Listen. No, you didn't talk too much. There's a reason I wanted to have you on the show is because there is extreme value, and I think part of it, Ben, is that any of us, you live in your own world, you take some things for granted, we did this, we did this, but I've already got a bunch of nuggets and I would just say this, whether you're an established agency or a newer agency, some of the things that you said, Ben, they apply to everybody, certainly to what you've done successfully for getting this kind of off the ground. So I got to make a few comments because A, I like to make comments and I just think they're important of what you said. I want to make sure of what you said has more importance. Number one, it reminded me of something about risk. Obviously we live in the insurance world, so risk is all around us.
(09:18):
But what you said with the risk that you took to do this and basically follow your dream in essence or something that you were passionate about doing, I had someone say this to me, and this was part of my journey is the risk. At some point, the risk of doing nothing or the risk of staying status quo becomes more than the risk of not taking the actual risk. Meaning that you're like, I couldn't imagine being here in 15 years and not trying this. Right? So kudos to you, but then the reality of it, it's one thing to say I'm taking a risk. Another reality of it, of selling a house and cashing out your retirement, the car and all that. I mean, that's real world stuff, man. So kudos to you for that. It's always interesting too, and I got to be careful, man, this, you're on my sessions, I go on tangents, but when I hear people that have been successful, and then I hear people that maybe aren't and have a jealousy or envy, and I go, you don't know what this person did to get here.
(10:10):
You don't know. So that's part of the human spirit there. Also, you guys were remote before remote was cool, so kudos to that, right? Yeah. We didn't have the money to get a nice office, I mean, which is awesome. And the last thing I want to hit on, and maybe we have some more conversation here, this idea, and again, we use the acronym and you mentioned A.R.T. - appreciation, respect, and trust. It's interesting to me because you from the very beginning realize that if we don't communicate and have the appreciation and respect and earn trust internally will never get at the level externally. And the great thing is that you were able to start that from the culture, from basically day one, but really it's attainable for any agency. And sometimes it might take more work to start to flip that, but your results have shown, and we'll get to some of those as well.
(11:06):
And part of this too, and then one last nugget, I've got already a page of notes here is I hope you all heard what Ben said about focus that one thing at a time or one thing at a time, right? There's a thing we're going to do, we're going to really master it, we're going to get it right, and then we'll move on to the next thing. And I will tell you, Ben, most agencies, most people, most leaders, that's a really hard thing to do. So let me ask you this. I want to start, go back to this. How have you, in the world of distractions and emergencies and problems and new innovations and technology, been able to say, listen, team, we're going to do this thing right? Then we'll get to the next thing. How have you been able to do that?
Ben Zimmer (11:53):
It really comes to creating realistic agendas and calendars. And so when I talk to the staff about, or a producer and say, okay, we're going to talk about a program or we're going to talk about an account. How long do you think it's going to take, Chad? I don't know, 30, 45 minutes. We're going to do it an hour and a half. You know why? Because we're going to go in deeper than you think. We're going to role play, we're going to set the agenda for when you sit down and talk to them. You're going to feel like, Hey, because he's a talker, Brent's a talker, I'm a talker. And it's like, here's our agenda. If I don't have this, there's no possible way I'll be here in less than three hours. We'll talk about everything else because I love to talk. I'm going to stick to this agenda and this is going to be good, I promise.
(12:40):
And you almost break the ice with that. And that's whether that's a meeting with our colleagues, our prospects, our existing clients, whoever it is. And it really seems like the art of communication is really just setting those expectations up front. And then it's like, okay, I know what we're going to talk about. I can feel comfortable being prepared and everything we're doing now, it's like my life finally feels a little bit more at peace and I'm trying to, everybody from service to sales is just saying, let's do this. You need this service thing done. I'm working with another client. I will get this done for you. It's 12:50, I'll get it done at 2:30. You'll have it. What happens? You'll get that task done way before 2:30 and you're a hero when you say, I'll get to it when I'll get to it, or I'll get as soon as I possibly can.
(13:31):
They're like, well, is that in a minute or is that in three hours or is that tomorrow? And that's what I've really taken from sits is setting those expectations with everything I'm doing now is I'm overestimating the time, but I'm also feeling like I'm always getting time back and it's like I'm living on, I'm sorry, I'm playing house money here. And that creates momentum, prospecting momentum, sales momentum, positive energy as opposed to, oh my gosh, I'm back on my heels all the time and I can't seem to get anything done. A million things flying around. No, it's, that's been the biggest challenge to implement for all the personalities we have in our organization also with impatient clients. But we talk about overcoming challenges and overcoming challenges means, hang on everybody, let's stop. Alright, I'm going to make really good notes about where we're going to go with this. And at the bottom, if we want to write crazy talk and get deviating all over the place, we'll do that. But we're going to cover this stuff first and it's going to be good. So
Brent Kelly (14:41):
Again, I'm sitting here listening and first of all, I'm thinking about myself because I'm like, yeah, amen. I mean, I tell you one of the things about teaching this stuff is that you realize quickly you're like, wait a second, I didn't do that. Right? And you don't want to be hypocritical. But so many things there, certainly from an agency leader, and I'll say this too, for producers in particular, and obviously many agencies, they're one of the same. Not always, but many cases the same. And some of that's personality. One of my favorite books, a John Maxwell book talks about this about most people. We always think, in fact, our COO, Janie Cahill calls me, and this is correct, by the way, Janie, we love you. She calls me time delusional sometimes like, oh, I'm going to do this and this and this and this.
(15:26):
And she goes, you're going to get that done in the morning. I'm like, oh yeah. She's like, no, you're not, right. So part of this is say whatever you think you're going to do, allow yourself twice the amount of time and you go, well, I don't have that. Well, it does make a difference because first of all, most of us are time delusional, and when you really get into a real project and you want to do what is called deep work, it does take longer to do it better. But I love what you said there, Ben, though. The second part of this is oftentimes when we do that, we actually get time back, so to speak, at least that, what we had on our agenda or on our plan, and it feels great. I am guilty of this all the time, but I can't. So many times when you're on a meeting, you're set up for 60 minutes or whatever and all of a sudden you got through the agenda, we got through the stuff and we're like, okay, I think we got everything. All right, let's go. And you're like, I got 18 extra minutes. So it gets you focused and it actually frees you up longer term. So anything else you want to add to that? That's a great point, Ben.
Ben Zimmer (16:26):
I don't think so. I think that's just really, that's been a big part of growing is setting those realistic expectations and essentially under setting big goals, but setting the proper amount, if not a little more time than you need. So you're not rushing and doing sloppy work, but you're doing the quality of work that you want and that's sustainable. Right,
Brent Kelly (16:51):
Right. Yeah, I love that there is obviously you got to have some type of end points or goals, but also not just making up end goals just because leave end tomorrow. Well will you, and one of the things, Ben, you hear us talk about all the time too, and this is for everybody obviously listening, is being able to set up certain guardrails. And to me what I notice around that, and I know you're nodding your head here, is that when we've got some of those guardrails initially as you mentioned, the EOS concept, I assume the visionary and integrator. Visionaries generally would say, I don't really want guardrails, I just want to think big and do stuff and create. But when you say absolutely, go create, go think big, but they give you a little bit of parameters so that you can go really fast versus I say visionaries.
(17:39):
The problem is, and I may have mentioned this in one of our training sessions, if there are no guardrails or no lines so to speak, sometimes you just spin around in circles, you're not moving anywhere and you got all these ideas, but they ain't going anywhere. So I know that's something that you've done a great job with at Ethos and with your team. So I want to flip this a little bit. I mean, you mentioned some of the challenges a little bit, and if there's any additional challenges, I mean probably I could say Ben, name a challenge. You could say how much time do we have? But I do want to know too, what success is because we can learn from success, we can replicate success if we focus on it. What has been, would you say, and you're talking to other agency leaders out there that this has been a success that we've had and it was achieved because of what? So what are some things, and you mentioned time, I think that's a big part, but what else have you done to be successful?
Ben Zimmer (18:30):
I really think that the weekly meetings have given us so much direction, which gives us the ability to set production goals, realistic service goals, efficiencies, things like that. I would say, I know it sounds cheesy, but a success is just the organization of meaningful meetings and having a purpose in these meetings. And we're not trying to go over, we're not trying to keep people in seats for no reason, but we are truly, I mean, I have an agenda and for everybody and every meeting that I have and we are saying, okay, this is not working. What do we think this is working? And having good communication around where we're going together. We have an account manager in AMFit right now. Everybody's been through it, and it's just a great reminder of, Hey, listen, when we both, and by the way, our account manager's in Arizona and I'm in Indiana, so we talk on the phone a couple of times a day.
(19:34):
We have a little bit of fun, but we both know where we're going. And that's important. I mean, from a production standpoint, our biggest success, we're doing more required minimum account sizes because we're realizing, hey, we have a lot to bring a lot of value. My wife Devin does HR consulting for us and is a wiz and SHRM-CP so that when you get 10 to 30 employees and these are nice size accounts that have lots of commercial autos, lots of property, things like that, she comes in and helps establish, you're talking about guardrails. A trucking firm has different guardrails in a restaurant or depending upon the business. And really the person who really isn't compensated, my wife is our most valuable differentiator in our organization because it comes back to, let's talk about people, our number one risk. It's not storms or accidents or workers' compensation. It really is our people and making sure we understand what is appropriate, what's inappropriate, and helping everybody be successful and be safe. So yeah, those are, I think the greatest success is probably bring my wife on and really focusing on that direction to differentiate us.
Brent Kelly (21:01):
Both. Those are great. And just going back, and you brought this up already, and I kind of mentioned it, but I love that fact. I think that we got the title for the podcast on this episode, Ben is Meaningful Meetings. It's been brought up already a couple different times, and there's a book out there, death by Meeting, and we've all been there. We had these meetings, why do we have this? And it sounds so simple, and you say this all the time, you said this in our session a few weeks ago. It's simple. Some of the stuff doesn't seem like it, but most people honestly don't do it. And I mean, just to have an agenda and a simple agenda with a purpose of what this communication is for sets the standard for the meeting, meaning that I know what to expect. You know what to expect.
(21:45):
We have key points. You already said it. I don't think you were talking to me, but you could have been. And you said that some people could take a, I've had a 60 minute conversation or meeting with people and I'll put myself under the bus here, and I got done. I'm like, wow, what an awesome, that was a great conversation. What did you accomplish? I don't know. But man, it was a great conversation. And so to be able to knock those things out and say, no, there's a purpose to this, and then of course you can have some other conversation as needed. And this is true certainly with leadership, whether it's leadership meeting with sales service or the entire team that we've got a clear understanding. But also Ben, and I know your team's done a great job of this, of sales and service in particular, and we talk about high performance team meetings is that we have conversations with intent, not just hope or because someone told us to have a meeting, what are we trying to accomplish in this time that we have together?
(22:39):
And I think that's a great thing. So outside of, you said something in one of our sessions that just reminded me of this, you said things that when basically here's what you said, maybe you don't remember this, but when you set the culture as a leader of how we do things, other people start doing it, and I don't even have to be there to a different way. Now I'm paraphrasing what you said and you're nodding your head. How have you seen that with the agency where suddenly you're like, I don't have to sit on top of these things. This is how we do things at Ethos and everyone else has taken to that culture. So how has that worked in your agency?
Ben Zimmer (23:15):
Truly think that what our culture is based on is vulnerability. And I'm very vulnerable to the things that I'm not good at. I'm very vulnerable to the things that maybe it's fears, maybe it's vulnerable to tell this is what makes me so happy. This is what, and I think as a leader now more than ever, because of so much of that great resignation that we just are going through or went through and all these things that have gone on, leaders really need to take it a step further with vulnerability and talk about the true intentions and also about, Hey, the only reason why I'm considered a leader is because I was lucky enough to reach out to you, great people and bring you in together and bring everybody together. And without vulnerability, I feel like you always say leaders are only as good as long as people are still following them.
(24:11):
But if you're not vulnerable, people are like, I can't relate to this. If I can't relate to it, I can't respect it. If I can't respect it, I can't do it. Right? So it's like I think that that's such a crucial trait of leaders moving forward with our younger workforce too, is saying, Hey, look guys, nobody's going to be perfect. We're all going to put our best foot forward. I'm not perfect. I'm probably the most that make the most mistakes, but you're going to be nurtured, trained and given the tools you need to be successful and we're going to join this together. So I really think that the vulnerability is a huge plus these days in leadership to retain the right kind of people.
Brent Kelly (24:55):
So many good points there. And I wrote and circled vulnerability, and I may have heard this in a different way, and I may say it differently, and there's different ways of communicating this, but I think it's so true that the idea behind it is that people will hear your success, but they'll connect with your vulnerabilities. And you think about that and it's easy to do for a leader. You want to say, Hey, I'm credible and I'm worthy and I'm good. And sometimes some people try to, you got to earn that, or at least they want that. And the truth of it is, is that the best leaders, you're right, yes, they're credible, yes, they're authentic. Yes, they work hard, they do these things, they've got some experience, they've got some knowledge, but they understand that we're all human and that my job is not to stand above you and tell me how great I am and how great everything is.
(25:44):
It's, Hey, listen, I messed this up and I acknowledge that, and guess what? That's not good enough. And so here's what we're going to do. And immediately what'll happen, and maybe you've had this, I'm sure you have been, I haven't asked you personally, but what'll happen is oftentimes in organizations, if the leader never expresses vulnerabilities or mistakes, they are scared to death to ever say they made a mistake or did something wrong, which means those are usually hidden or put away until they expose themselves in much bigger ways. Absolutely. Eventually they come out. So that idea of, Hey, listen, we're all going to make mistakes. We just don't want to repeat, so let's be open when they happen. Have you seen that with your agency of some of your people, and I think you kind of mentioned that them being able to be vulnerable because you are?
Ben Zimmer (26:34):
Oh yeah. I mean it's fun because we get through things, things get put to bed because of vulnerability. Like, man, this kind of made me upset. And when someone's not here next to you and you can't see them or see how they were, whatever, is it something that somebody else said or is it something that we feel like we reacted to strongly? And then you get time to the bottom up and it's like the person that made you feel this way probably was having a horrible day, and you unfortunately got that call or that email after they just heard they lost some money or something happened. So it's like how do we as their kind of support group behind the scenes say, Hey, you know what? They're having a bad day. All we can do is not let them ruin ours. And it comes back to being, I work together with people.
(27:32):
People don't work for us or for me or for anybody. We work together and people with their best skill sets in that role do that role when I do my role. And then it has to be kind of a somewhat level playing field with, of course, accountability. And accountability is wonderful when there's vulnerability because then what happens is nine out of 10, oh, I messed up, or I didn't hit my goal, or I didn't do this, and they don't feel like it's going to be like a fight or Oh man, I don't want to see him or whatever. It's never like that when you're vulnerable.
Brent Kelly (28:06):
Well, and again, so many underlying things that are great in a culture with that, and I know that you wouldn't say this, no, agency culture is perfect, but I think just the establishment of the fact that we can be vulnerable and open, obviously learn from our mistakes, but again, there's so much to unpack and you mentioned even unique ability, which is a phrase that comes from Strategic Coach that we talk about and this idea of same goal, different roles, and knowing that, hey, listen, we've all got different skill sets, let's respect and appreciate that, but also understand that when we do make a mistake, it happens. Versus trying to say, how do I hide from that mistake? How do I sweep it under the rug? How do I not try to talk about it? I don't want Ben or the boss person yelling at me is saying, listen, I meant to do this and this happened.
(28:53):
How can you all help me to fix it? Or together, what can I learn from this? Where can I grow? There's just a different way that we approach those things. So I applaud you greatly for that. I got one more thing. You said this a while back, or you're talking about your wife in particular, but I want you to reference this to other agencies that might be starting the earlier path of growth. And one of the things that I say all the time individually is that if you don't place a high value on yourself, rest assured the world will not raise the price. And I think about that sometimes with agencies that are getting started, and it doesn't mean you start up an agency and the next day you're working on multimillion jumbo accounts on day two, right? There's a reality to that. But I do think a lot of agencies that are getting started or maybe even smaller in revenue, whatever you want to consider that in the scope, put themselves in a box of like, well, we're not really good enough to do that.
(29:47):
And most of it's head trash because most of it with the people they have or the knowledge and the skills that they have, and maybe they don't have every tool and resource that some of the big boys and girls have out there, but they've got more than they think. How do you leverage your differentiators? You talk about your wife and her experience, but just in general from a, again, smaller agency. Now that's just changing because you're growing rapidly. But as a smaller agency, how do you go out there and compete on accounts that this is going to be a bit of a challenge? What's your forte to get out there and compete in the marketplace?
Ben Zimmer (30:22):
I think it comes back to we're going to bring an element of we don't take ourselves too seriously, but we take our business very seriously. So when we do business together, Brent, your people that are working with my people, we want to make it a little bit of fun. We want to make it a little bit more than just transactional. We want to make it to where, okay, yes, I'll get my hand involved in taking the personal lines or the life insurance of the owner of the business and MJ who is our private client executive. We'll jump in and we'll team on this for a little bit. And we really want to let them know that, hey, this is a community and part of our big, I'll call you, our big mission is we bring protect and connect community leaders and business owners. And that's our statement is we protect and connect community leaders and business owners.
(31:23):
A community leader may not have 20 million revenue in business, but there's someone that wants to do good in their community. And that's what we're kind of saying is we want to do good in our communities and these are the people we want to surround ourselves with, but connecting our people that we are already insured, which the independent insurance industry agency distribution channel is the greatest connecting relationship connector there is because of all the different businesses we work with. And if you're not out leveraging that as an independent agent, you're missing the boat because it is saying, oh, Mr. Painter over here, I've got a really great custom home builder that may be able to be a good fit for you guys. That's how the business grows. It doesn't necessarily grow from banging on doors and saying, I want to quote your insurance. No, how can I connect you first? Yeah, we're going to do the insurance, but how are we connecting you to make sure that it goes way beyond insurance and we're adding value in different areas?
Brent Kelly (32:25):
That's great stuff there. I appreciate the thoughtful statements there. And the question I wrote down, we had a person on our podcast who's been part of our different events for years and years, and he's personally, this has always even amazes me personally. He's got a book of business around 4 million commissioned revenue, right? Personally, you'll be there in no time.
Ben Zimmer (32:50):
Decent. I'm just kidding,
Brent Kelly (32:51):
Right? No, but I mean it is interesting. You learn a lot. And I said, what's been one of the keys? And actually what you all said there is just such a huge part of this. He says, well, first of all, I consider myself a business consultant. That's how I view everything as a consultant. And secondly, I always ask myself the question or to them, "how can I help you move your business forward? How can I help you move your business forward?" And I love your thing, connect and protect, right? We're going to make sure you protect the things that you love and have conversations, but also connect you. And I think the other part, Ben, is just the authenticity of knowing who you are and what you want to do with your mission. So very, very cool. Very, very cool. Alright, I have a bit of a self-serving question, but hey, it's my podcast, so why not?
(33:31):
And again, part of this too, we do appreciate you so much for being committed to what we do, but really it's not about us, it's about you and the things that you're doing. But I am interested, you mentioned you read the book or listened to the book 13 times, so hopefully maybe by 14 or 15 then maybe you get it figured out. I don't know, right? I'm kidding. But what are some things that you could say you've most taken? I mean, there's been, I know a number of things we could say, Hey, this thing or these couple things or three things have really been the most impactful from some of the principles because I do have people that ask me, I'm curious like, Hey, I know you're helping people. What's the biggest thing you all do? I'd love to get, it's one thing if I say it's another thing if you say it. So what's been the most impactful things that you've gotten from your experience with Sitkins?
Ben Zimmer (34:20):
Again, it's taking the time to look at where we've been and where we want to go. And it's the thoughtful planning that's done in ProFit, that's done in Coach the Coach, and it's truly taking a step back, slowing down to speed up. That's been the number one thing because I was running a hundred miles an hour trying to write every business that I could think of and just grow, grow, grow, grow. And then it's like, okay, well now we have to serve, serve service now. And so it's like, okay, whoa. Where are we going? What do we want to do? And let's break that down. And like you say, do some deep dives about why is this an account that we want to write? What's the likelihood of us getting there? What are our points of differentiation? Who do we know that if we call them and say, Hey, do you know John? And they're like, John, I went to high school with John. Okay, maybe John, do you think John's the kind of person we should work with? Yeah. You know what? I'll call John, but I just do. That's how I've changed since I joined Sitkins in 2020. 2020. I think I joined during Covid when you guys started doing the AIM.
Brent Kelly (35:25):
That's right. Yeah. Yeah.
Ben Zimmer (35:27):
So it's been three years and we take sessions every time. And like I said, I've taken ProFit three times, CROFit at least twice on my third time and a nugget every time that we can go deep on and expand upon and help grow business.
Brent Kelly (35:45):
Yeah, no, that's super helpful. And I always chuckle, and I'm sure you've heard me say this before, this is a quote from one of my favorite books, which is called, oh, the Road Less Stupid. I almost had the Road Less Stupid. You've heard me say this before, but the quote in there from Keith Cunningham is running the wrong direction, enthusiastically is stupid.
Ben Zimmer (36:05):
I love his voice. When you listen to that book too, it's hilarious. Oh, isn't that great. That's just stupid.
Brent Kelly (36:11):
You're an audio book guy. So by the way, if you want to read the book Yes, listen to the book with him. Got that. I think Texas, but he's just got, yeah,
Ben Zimmer (36:20):
It's a Southern drawl.
Brent Kelly (36:21):
It's Southern drawl. And he goes, now go think you'll thank me, right.
Ben Zimmer (36:26):
Thank me later.
Brent Kelly (36:27):
Yeah, thank me later. Such a good, but the whole premise of that is to ask yourself important questions versus just doing a bunch of stuff. And I think that's a big part. I always challenge agency leaders and it's get easier from my vantage point because even my own world, it's easy to get caught up into stuff and then I take my own advice and go, wait a second, what's really important? And as you said this on a previous, what's urgent or a distraction or just another thing. And if I look at my calendar is my stuff in the things that really move the needle, that have a difference, that make a difference, that have an impact? Or am I doing just a bunch of stuff because that's what I think I should be doing? And you talked about that. Maybe you could elaborate on that a little bit about, and you mentioned one of our sessions recently about just that difference of, we talked about Green Zone Red Zone, but you took it into really an urgent importance. So talk about that.
Ben Zimmer (37:19):
Yeah, so all the Covey, first things first, that whole quadrant and green zone and red zone are absolutely wonderful, but it's really easy to say sales activity. Well, what specifically is sales activity that is important but not necessarily urgent? So I'm going to take the time to plan to be really good at that sales activity within that. And then what you start to realize when you start to say what's urgent important, what's just important and not urgent, it's like, well, everything that I want done is really important. But yeah, it's not really urgent. If I just take the amount of time, I'll have fewer and fewer urgent things and live with the freedom of creativity because I'm allocating the right amount of time for the important but not urgent things. But Green Zone, Red Zone is, that's another big one of our biggest things is, man, I was unemployed yesterday. I didn't have an appointment. That's the way I look at it, right? And you can have fun with it, but that whole, that mindset has helped our producers dramatically, has helped even service side like, Hey, yeah, this is important and I'll do it, but I can't let those seven emails be like, oh my God, they're all urgent, then they're going to get mistakes and they're not going to be your best. And this has been the last three weeks we've been focused on that and it's been wonderful.
Brent Kelly (38:47):
Cool. Love that. Well, and so that the audience has an idea, all right, so here's a guy that took a huge risk, sold a bunch of stuff, bet on himself, you did not knowing there's no guarantees. You go out there and do this and here you're what, about six years later?
Ben Zimmer (39:05):
About five years and yeah, five years and seven months later. Yeah.
Brent Kelly (39:07):
Okay. So getting close to that, a little over five years we'll say. So tell the audience, and again, you don't have to give any specific numbers if you don't want, but just in terms of team and where you're at and what's next, because I think there's a very powerful phrase that we overestimate what we think we can do in a short amount of time and vastly underestimate what we can do in a longer period of time. And to me, five years is not a long time when you think about the scope of life, but where you came from to where you are. So give the audience perspective of 2023 today versus 2017. What's Ethos grown and what are they?
Ben Zimmer (39:45):
So the funny is I purchased a book of business and around numbers, say it was $300,000 in revenue that first year, I had a $100,000 revenue account that we lost seven months into the first year due to some, the carrier got out of the market
(40:03):
And there's nothing I could do about it. So it was like, still love these people today. They're great people, talk to them frequently whenever. But I lost that in the first year and that was deflating. But at the same time, I think what it allowed me to do was to realize that, well, we can control this. We can really control this as long as we're doing, and I didn't know about Green Zone Red Zone at that time, but as long as these activities that I know I can do, I'm going to do and I'm going to do them well. And so from that standpoint, we're four times the size we were. So we're growing 20% a year, year over year over year. And it's actually, it's because we're staying a step ahead of the growth being a problem. And everyone knows service, sales, everybody knows that we're growing and we're not going to stop growing because I said, the moment I become an account manager is when they can take me back to pasture and put me in the ground because I can't do it.
(41:05):
Because the people that help us behind the scenes are just so amazingly talented and wonderful, and they're like, if you came into this role, we would, yeah, it wouldn't be good. So they know that we're going to continue to grow. They know we're going to continue to add producers, we're going to continue to add folks that support those producers that work together as a team. And where are we going? Well, my goal is another double in the next three to four years instead of five years, so I'm going to double again. And that's the organic growth that has nothing to do with the acquisition side in some conversations about that too. So organic growth is where my focus is. The acquisition pieces, if they're great people when they align with our culture or want to align with our culture, then we'll have that conversation. But it's not just about throwing more business at it because the most important thing is the people that we have to sustain the growth and the trajectory we're on. If we throw a bunch of what we call, we'll just say non-Ethos kind of people in the mix, that's catastrophic for us. So we can be very thoughtful.
Brent Kelly (42:10):
Fantastic. And first of all, congratulations on what you've done. I mean, you've done the work and your team's done the work.
Ben Zimmer (42:15):
Team done. It's them. They're just crazy to work alongside me.
Brent Kelly (42:19):
Well, yeah, I know you're not going to give yourself credit, I get it, but obviously there's a lot to that and it's just really cool to see. The other part too is exciting. It's a lot. I think about a producer. I mean, sometimes people look at it as an individual producer. We'll see that they just start throwing things against the wall as fast as they can. And the reason is obvious, I got to write some business, I got to figure something out. And there's always going to be part of that. But the fact that you've gotten very intentional and even after, I mean you said you lost it. Was that $100,000 revenue early on?
Ben Zimmer (42:49):
Yeah, my total rev, my own book was $300,000. I lost $100,000 the first year.
Brent Kelly (42:53):
You lost a third of your book. And at some point, which would be understandable, it's like I'm going to just scrape up anything I could possibly do, and we're going to run this hard fast as we can. But what's exciting about what you've built with the culture, and you've talked about so many things about being intentional and I know how you built some of the systems and processes around it with growth, is that you're not going to be a lot of agencies in the sense of you get to a point and you go, okay, we kind of got to what we can get to. We hit the wall. We can't sustain the way that we did this. You've built this in a model. And some may say, well, I built it a little faster than Ben, but how long can you go? And to me, a part of that is the question.
(43:35):
In fact, this is another quote, I think it's a John Maxwell quote. If you ask yourself the question, how fast, the better question is how far? And not that you don't want to go fast, but how far. And I think what's exciting, Ben, is that you're positioned to have options and you can go really far depending on what you want to do. So kudos again to you. Alright, one last question. I respect your time and I know we're getting a little bit long here, so I want to get you back. My favorite question, I know you're a listener of the podcast, so this is not the first time you've heard this and I don't really care how far back you go. I like to think about when you start maybe your work career, so post-school, some point, whether it's high school or college or whatever. If you were having a conversation with the younger Ben, just getting ready to start off in the world, what's one piece of advice you'd give yourself? Your younger version of you?
Ben Zimmer (44:25):
When you're going out? And I started when I was 22 years old right out of college and a lot of my job was to sell life insurance as a 22 year old. Yeah, what do I know about it? But I think what really, if you're a young commercial producer and you're doing this business, what you want to do is let people know how interested you are and putting the hard work in and that you are, you love the opportunity to offer you. So don't tell them how smart you are, tell them how much you love the opportunity that it offers you to #1 grow. Number two, be a teacher to them. Because no one knows insurance like producers. The only people that do this every day, right? Everybody else, it's something they deal with when they deal with it. So how do we say, look, I'm a young person, but I want to help educate you and I'm really excited about the opportunities for you to grow as a business and me to help you along the way, and I'll keep bringing more resources and the best I can do. And it kind of knocks the guard down like some young whipper snapper coming in and trying to sell the insurance. No, here's my idea, Ben, settle down. First of all, Ben, stop going to the bar so much when you're 22 years old.
Brent Kelly (45:37):
Everybody can have that advice, most people.
Ben Zimmer (45:40):
But seriously, when you go out and see new people, when you're interested in engaging with people, say, you know what? I've got so much opportunity ahead of me. I've got great people that work with me. But really what's going to be fun is as I continue to bring more resources than I have now, you're going to be the first to know, prospect. I can't wait, enthusiasm about the future, talking more about the future than I did. I was kind of in the moment.
Brent Kelly (46:05):
That's cool. I just wrote down on my own words, sell the vision. But I love that and it's a different perspective. I love asking that question. I always get different answers and everyone I'm like, yeah, I like that one too. Right. That would be mine too. So I borrow a lot. It's always hard for the one thing. Well, Ben, thanks so much for joining me and being on the podcast. I know that the listeners, the viewers will get great value from this. Any last thing you want to say to either the audience or just in general, final comments before we wrap up?
Ben Zimmer (46:35):
Yeah, I think there's so much. Obviously there's so much change with what's going on in the industry as it relates to products, as it relates to coverage, deductibles. I mean the market's nuts, but what we have a great opportunity is during this big transition between, what is it like 60% of all people in this industry are 58 or older or something like that. There's so much opportunity for us, and I sit on the board of Big Eye in Indiana, great people to tell the talent out there, the kids in college. This is an industry that is much more exciting, competitive, different every day, all these things. We need to do that because I feel like that's where we're kind of missing the boat. It seems like for so long, independent agencies were just kind of quiet. They did their thing, they drove nice cars, they were very well polished and all this stuff, and it was a big secret.
(47:30):
I mean, these people are getting really, really, really wealthy and they wanted to keep it to themselves. I think my role now is being in this 21 years is I want to help out and that's why I sit on the board. But this is an awesome industry, especially for competitive people. D2 athletes are my, those are the kids that aren't the primadonnas, they're not going pro, but they put the work in and I don't know, the future is bright so long as you can focus on the opportunities that may look different because of AI, because of this, because of that. But it's still fun to go get new relationships, help people add value and grow and see growth.
Brent Kelly (48:13):
Yeah, that's awesome. I appreciate that. It is true. I mean, we all know that the talent issues that are out there and there is such great opportunity. What we need, and I'm glad we have in the marketplace, is someone like you that can not only just drive the nice car, which I don't know what car you're driving now, Ben, but at some point if you're not...
Ben Zimmer (48:31):
I Bicycle, that's cool.
Brent Kelly (48:32):
Whatever. But it's be able to communicate that to the next generation or people out there saying, listen, we want to give you an opportunity. And quite frankly, what you're doing is doing just that with the culture you're building and we need more people like you doing those things. So applaud your efforts and thank you. It's exciting to see your journey and watch you grow. So thank you. With that, I'll wrap up here. I do want to set a reminder that again, 9/7, September 7th, 11:00 AM Eastern, 8:00 AM Pacific time. I'm going to be talking about the multimillion dollar mistake that agencies are making, and I'll give a little context to this. It's the one that Ben isn't making, which means he truly believes in development and growth of his people and that's what it's really all about. So join me for that. Again, he's going to be on LinkedIn Live. And Ben, thanks again so much for being part of this. We'll share you with the world and get your message out.
Ben Zimmer (49:26):
Don't stop doing this. Whatever you do, please don't stop. This has been incredible for our agency and so helpful, Brent.
Brent Kelly (49:35):
Alright, well we're going to find more people to help like you, so thank you Ben. Appreciate it. Thanks for listening and wishing you all the best in your success.

 

 

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