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“Brick by Brick: Build Your Agency One Relationship at a Time” by Patrick Galvin appeared in the November 2019 issue of Independent Agent Magazine (p. 26), the official publication of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America (IIABA).

Total U.S. advertising spend in 2018 reached $151 billion, according to Kantar Media—and the largest insurance carriers accounted for nearly $8 billion of that amount.

How can an independent agency break through the clutter? Quite simply, it can’t—at least not with advertising dollars.

As an independent agent or broker, you depend on referrals for business. But what if you’re not generating enough referrals for the size of your agency, or not getting quality referrals?

Referrals reflect the health and strength of your relationships with customers and professional connections. A 2016 study by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Center concluded that 85% of business success comes from well‐developed people skills. But too often, relationship building is treated as a “soft skill” that can’t be taught or developed.

Build Your Agency with Relationships

If you aren’t giving your relationships the attention they deserve, it’s time to revisit the basics. Here are five simple yet powerful ways to nurture business relationships that drive referrals and build your agency:

1) Add value. The strongest relationships are built on trust, and the best way to earn trust is to add value. But because value means different things to different people, it’s up to you to find out what someone needs.

The key is to listen with intent. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is your undivided attention. Listen closely to what others say—and how they say it—to understand what they need. Then ask, “How can I use my skills, abilities and connections to help this person prosper?”

 2) Show up. Whether it’s making a call, attending an event or watching a customer cross the finish line at a race, your presence and support are worth more than you realize. You may need to rebalance your priorities to stay accountable to other commitments, but the effort is worth it.

3) Get away from your desk. Technology makes it easy to mistake spending hours on email and social media for relationship building. Valuable connections are made in person. Meet your connections for coffee. Schedule a weekly luncheon. Join an organization and participate regularly.

 4) Be transparent. Respect and honesty create strong connections—even when things don’t go according to plan. If you dropped the ball, acknowledge the error and fix it. Don’t rely on technology to relay complicated or sensitive information. Most people would rather hear “I’m sorry, but…” than hear nothing at all.

 5) Say thank you. Don’t wait for designated occasions like birthdays or holidays to appreciate others. Schedule a regular time in your weekly calendar to reach out to your connections. Tailor your thanks to their personality and tell them exactly what you are thanking them for.

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Patrick Galvin is a keynote presenter, TEDx speaker, coach and author of The Connector’s Way: A Story About Building Business One Relationship at a Time, the bestselling business parable that features an independent insurance agent as its main character. Visit theconnectorsway.com to learn more.