If you work for a traditional insurance agency or broker, you’re probably leaving millions on the table, along with the opportunity to create the dream life you’ve always wanted. You’re forced to waste time on meetings, and you have little control over your time or compensation.
Even worse, your job can disappear, taking all your clients with it. But in order to thrive, Bruce Johnson, author of Earn It, Own It, believes that you need to break those corporate bonds. In this episode, Bruce gives you his roadmap to independence.
Bruce is the Vice President of Insurance Office of America. In this conversation, he tells you how to become a sales entrepreneur. How to earn significantly higher commissions and scale your business through partnering, all while being able to spend more time with your family.
Bruce Johnson: About 18 years ago, I was an insurance producer in a pretty large local agency, it was a quality agency with a lot of good people. I really enjoyed everybody that I worked with and most things about it. Except, I don’t know, I just kind of felt like something was missing, like I wasn’t really giving it 100%. I wasn’t really experiencing the success that I wanted to have by that stage in life.
“It just kind of seemed like I was going through the motions.”
Around that time, my boss invited me into his office to review my production, and we were going to talk about my new business goal for the coming year.
So you can imagine how much I was looking forward to that meeting, right? Anyway, we went in there and just to picture this scene, our office was in a high rise building in downtown Tampa and my boss had this corner office with these huge windows, and it was a big office. My boss, he was six foot seven, silver hair who wore perfectly tailored suit every day. He was the prototype to corporate CEO.
For me, it was a little intimidating. Every time I’d go in there, he’d always been really cool to me and treated me well, so I didn’t really have any need to be intimidated necessarily. But I just kind of was anyway. Especially with the subject we’re about to talk about.
Going for Bigger Goals
Bruce Johnson: We looked at my numbers and reviewed everything, and up until that point, my production goal had been to write $50,000 each year in new business revenue or commission which at the time, 18 years ago. I thought it was okay but that wasn’t really a stretch or it wasn’t really a super high goal, you know? By any means.
Just based on my normal activity, I didn’t really have to work super hard to hit that goal, so I pretty much was able to hit it without straining too hard.
He looked at me and we both recognized that I had some potential. I had potential to do more than that or to be better than that. We mutually agreed that my new business would be more like a $100,000 in revenue or more every year, going forward.
Essentially, within a space of about five minutes, we agreed that my goal was going to be double, more than it ever had been, and I had never really hit that or written that much business before.
“I’d never really worked that hard.”
I figured I had the potential I could probably do it, I knew other people that were doing it that I felt like I was as sharp as they were probably.
I did have some reservations, or at least I understood at that point. I was going to really have to ramp up and get in gear in order to do that. I got the sense that he was pretty serious about it and it was something I was going to need to do.
In the back of my mind, I was kind of thinking, there was another opportunity out there that I had kind of been kicking around, it was called IOA or Insurance Office of America. It was a fairly new company or at least it was new in Tampa, they originally opened a local office and I heard all sorts of rumors about these guys, you know, they all sounded great but they also sounded like way too good to be true.
A Better Commission Split
Charlie Hoehn: What were you hearing?
Bruce Johnson: Well, one of the things I heard was these guys were getting paid crazy commission split like 60% or close to 60% for new business and renewals. Like on a level basis whereas most of the big brokers at that time were only paying like 20% on renewals.
Basically, they were paying almost triple, certainly double the industry average up to that time and about double what I was used to receiving.
I’d also heard that the producers were getting ownership and their books of business were full equity. In other words, that’s kind of a huge deal in the insurance business, and that’s normally something that’s reserved only for owners of insurance agencies.
Just to give you an idea, the market value or equity if you have a book of business that’s say half a million dollars in total revenue, which isn’t really a huge book, the market value on that is two times that or close to a million bucks.
“The agency I was at, just to give you an idea, I owned zero.”
I felt like within five, six years, I could maybe have a half a million-dollar book, at least if I was going to have to write a $100,000 a year every year, I may as well do it somewhere where after two years, I’d be making more than I was making more than I was making at my current job.
After five years, I could have a net worth of a million bucks and be making substantially more exponentially, more than what I was making at the time.
Compensated Like Owners
Charlie Hoehn: I take it you decided to head over to IOA?
Bruce Johnson: Well, I first wanted to confirm that the rumors were true and everything that they were saying was accurate. I learned that there was a guy named Bill Masero, he was actually a local producer for another agency that I had known for a long time, I really respected him.
He had just been hired or gone onboard with IOA and he was in charge of building out the Tampa branch.
I trusted him, so I contacted him and arranged to have lunch and he spent a lot of time with me, we went over, answered a ton of my questions and we actually—he told me all about his reasoning for joining IOA and he confirmed that those first two things I talked about, the high commission split, that was accurate, the ownership or equity in your book of business, that was accurate.
He also mentioned about like some of the sharpest producers or agents in the business were joining IOA from all over the place.
So I thought, wow, what a great place to perhaps even learn the business at a higher level and be able to take my business and my game to the next level, by just associating with the group like that.
Charlie Hoehn: Why was it so much better than the industry standard?
Bruce Johnson: Great question, and what it boils down to is, our founder, he decided when he started this company that he was going to take the greed out of the insurance agency business, that was his foremost goal.
What had happened to him was, he was a really good producer and he had worked for an agency and the owner thought it would be a good idea to change his commissions by form of reducing his commissions three times within a nine month period.
Basically, that extra money it goes to pay middle management or it goes to the owners and which he thought were greedy owners. Or in the case of public agencies, that money goes to shareholders.
It’s not available to compensate the producers.
“But here, he wanted everybody to be compensated like owners.”
We were all pitching in some way to help run the business so they didn’t have to hire a bunch of middle management and they weren’t all bloated that way.
A New Life
Charlie Hoehn: Makes sense. What was your life like once you made the transition to IOA?
Bruce Johnson: Well, initially, I had to tighten the belt a little bit actually because I was making ends meet, I wasn’t killing it and 18 years ago, that wasn’t the bad salary.
Plus, I was getting like a $600 a month car allowance which you know, 18 years ago, you could get a pretty decent car for that. I went from that to making zero overnight, depending on what I could drum up on my own in that first year.
To that end, a couple of things that I did was I got my overhead down really skinny, and I had just gotten divorced for the second time, so I wasn’t super successful in those first two relationships.
“On the flip side, I didn’t really have much to lose either.”
I kind of looked at it as you know, I’m kind of starting over in life with a clean slate.
I just started dating this new girl, Beth, who had just come out of divorce and we looked at each other and at the time we decided we liked each other a lot, we decided we just be each other’s rebound and support each other and just be there until the next thing came along.
Here we are 18 years later, that’s actually the best relationship I’ve ever had.
You know, she’d been by my side the whole time and it’s been great.
Charlie Hoehn: Each year, do you renew your vow to be each other’s rebound?
Bruce Johnson: Absolutely. We take it one day at a time and that one day at a time turned into 18 years now, and I don’t think either one of us would have it any other way.
Settling in at IOA
Charlie Hoehn: How long did it take you to sort of get up and running with IOA?
Bruce Johnson: Well, what I did, one thing I did was I setup my own line of credit and I went to the bank and setup a line of credit for $30,000.
That was what I could get Bank of America to do for me and to be perfectly honest, I think I had to get my dad to cosign for me to make it happen.
Charlie Hoehn: No shame in that. Thanks dad.
Bruce Johnson: Yeah, dads are great. He’s always been my biggest fan and my biggest supporter. He was proud of what I was getting ready to embark on because he had built his own insurance agency in his life and then that was something that he knew a lot about so he was actually excited for me to embark on this opportunity.
Charlie Hoehn: Did you get into it kind of because you saw him as a model? Is that why you got into insurance in the first place?
Bruce Johnson: Yes, absolutely. Like when I was in college, I went to Florida State and they had this program in the business department called Risk Management and Insurance.
It was a pretty tough program but I knew some people that were also enrolled in it and getting that degree and I felt like I might go into insurance when I graduated because I saw my dad was doing well with it.
I looked at around it some of his friends. I felt like, well, if those guys could do well and succeed in the business, if I was willing to hustle and work as hard or harder then I’d probably be okay too.
That’s kind of how I got into it and the agency I was talking about before were my boss increased my sales goal, that’s where I worked for four years after my dad actually sold his agency to them, and I went along with the transaction.
Yeah, it was interesting at that point in my life. I didn’t feel like I was ready or maybe not mature enough to buy the business from my dad and he would ensure that he would get all the money he needed out of it for retirement because that was a big part of his nest egg.
He was counting on that and I couldn’t bear the thought of buying the business from him and then somehow running it into the ground and saying hey dad, when he’s 70 years old. Come back and get a job because I didn’t do well at this.
A Solid Foundation
Charlie Hoehn: You were saying you borrowed some money from your dad, setup a line of credit with Bank of America and how long did it take you to get up and running from there?
Bruce Johnson: Okay, yeah, great question. Basically, instead of asking IOA for a draw or to pay me X amount of dollars a month till I got ramped up, I sort of used that to fund my own draw. What I would do, I think I would take maybe $2,000, $2,500 bucks a month and that was really all I needed to cover my bills at the time.
I would hit the line of credit and use that to pay my bills, then as I would write business and get commission checks, I would just pay it back. I never really needed to go over that $30,000. It took me maybe three years to get up to where what I was making before or making more than what I was making at the prior agency.
“It was a little slower than I thought it was going to be, but I was building a really solid foundation.”
I wasn’t hitting home runs, I was just kind of going out and hitting singles and doubles and just kind of grinding it out. Yeah, after a few years, like I said, the rest is history, I never really looked back since then. I’ve pretty much been able to grow it every year to the point where it is today.
Charlie Hoehn: Where are you today now, after 18 years?
Bruce Johnson: Well, I mentioned it in the book, I didn’t write it to brag about the money I was making because, God knows, I’ve got friends and I know a lot of people that are way more successful than I’ll ever be. But for me, it’s kind of exceeded my wildest expectations of I’ve just crossed the million-dollar threshold as far as my book of business goes.
It’sa huge benchmark, and it comes with a pretty cool award. I’m looking forward to our next company sales meeting. I just missed the cutoff for this year, so it’s going to be next year but there’s this huge bronze eagle trophy with the wing spread that they give you with your name on it for your office. It really commemorates the accomplishment.
An Entrepreneurial Culture
Charlie Hoehn: For people considering IOA, what do you tell them? How do they know if it’s right for them or not?
Bruce Johnson: You almost have to be able to build a book of business, okay? I would say, what’s the size of your book of business, what kind of accounts do you write?
Do you think you’d be able to build a book of business to say $250,000 in revenue after a three year period or five years?
If you can do that, then there’s a good chance you’d be a good fit.
Charlie Hoehn: Excellent, is there anything else they need to know if IOA is right for them or not?
Bruce Johnson: You pretty much need to be a self-starter because if you are used to working for a big broker or agency, chances are you’ve been used to dealing with the sales manager and having that accountability. In IOA, we don’t have that. It is like an agency for grownups essentially.
“It’s very entrepreneurial.”
We have equity on our own book, and if we don’t work or we’re not accountable to ourselves then we don’t hit the goals that we set for ourselves.
So you very much need to be a self-starter. You need to be organized, and you need to be able to be accountable to yourself to do the activities that you need to do to get where you need to go. Some people like to work remotely out of their house, and if you want to do that, our technology allows you to do that certainly.
But if you are the kind that is going to sit on the couch and watch Sports Center, you’d be distracted, maybe you need to go to the branch office.
Itis a transition to getting used to, because to getting out that initial mindset of being an employee, it’s completely different to entrepreneurial mindset of working for yourself. It’s a whole different deal, the motivation is entirely different.
But for me, I found I wasn’t motivated into that whole scenario when I had a boss looking over my shoulder and he had this brutal Monday morning sales meeting. We had to be there at 10:00 and we had to go around the table and pretty much justify our existence every week, you know?
By the time we get to lunch time on Monday, we’d kind of wasted half the day talking about how productive we were going to be or that we tried to inverse this to actually being productive and doing something.
Charlie Hoehn: Nothing to boost morale like having an existential crisis first thing on a Monday morning.
Bruce Johnson: No doubt, so yeah that was motivating enough just getting rid of that. To get up and push myself.
If you are self-motivated and you have the ability to build or book a business, you really don’t need the crutch of being an employee. Once you experience the indifference and the amount of money you can make if you work for yourself, that in itself, I mean it’s not all about the money but if you can build a million dollar book of business in a company like IOA…
If you are with an average big broker, you are making about 20% probably on your renew of business.
“It’s all about what you can do with your life.”
Can you improve the life of your family? Can you help others? I was never in a position where I wanted to help somebody financially. I just didn’t have the resources to make a significant difference. Now I do, and the feeling is amazing.
Charlie Hoehn: Tell me a quick story about when you are able to provide that for somebody?
Bruce Johnson: Okay. Yeah I mean it’s pretty frequently. I would say well in the last 30 days I lost a good friend. He was 42 years old, he was a personal trainer. He was actually my personal trainer at the gym for eight years.
He was feeling bad one day and he had a mini-stroke. He went to the hospital, and within less than a week, he passed away. It was a shock to everybody and I went to set up a Go Fund Me account for his daughters.
He had two twins, six year old daughters that all said now didn’t have a dad and would have an uncertain financial future. So I was able to make a nice contribution to that and help them in some way, and that’s just one example.
Charlie Hoehn: Let’s talk about what self-starters who are interested in IOA and actually apply and maybe join, how do they set themselves up for success?
Bruce Johnson: Okay, well there are a couple of ways. If you are a veteran producer, you pretty much already know what to do. You already understand about keeping the full pipeline and you are already doing the right things to plug in and be successful.
The only thing that would change for you is the name on the letterhead and on your business card pretty much.
We’ve also got a way for young people or millennials that can enter the business through a mentor program. You take a college graduate or somebody that’s been out in the workforce that’s pretty good in sales or has the right aptitude, and we can actually bring them in and assign them a mentor.
To qualify for that, you need to be a producer. You need to have at least a half a million dollar book of business, demonstrate a track record of success, and the mentee gets matched up with a mentor.
“He or she shadows that mentor for a three year period.”
They go on every meeting together with clients, they learn how to run a client meeting. They are required to set two appointments a week and bring the mentor with them and the mentor teaches them how to run a meeting, what questions to ask, how to evaluate things and just pretty much everything that’s required to be successful in the job.
The mentee needs to act like a sponge and they can absorb as much as they can.
And then ideally, after a three year period the mentee gets up to speed and generates enough business to be able to get their own individual producer contract on their own.
Charlie Hoehn: Excellent, is there anything else apart from that, which is really great, that they can do to set themselves up for success at the company?
Bruce Johnson: Well I think it’s all about relationships and everybody, it’s all about being successful and making more sales or adding more clients, quality clients, that have the potential to be long term and it is really different for everybody.
There’s plenty of courses and books and things on sales and how to do that.
So it just boils down to each person’s personality and what they’re comfortable with, but I would say if somebody is like super at opening the door but they are not so good at the paperwork and applications and stuff like that, they might want to partner up with another producer that’s good at that kind of stuff and maybe make joint calls on accounts where they can complement each other’s strengths.
“Two plus two can equal five if you get the right combination of people working together.”
A lot of times you can leverage your strengths to help each other grow each other’s book of business.
Charlie Hoehn: So you talk a lot about working together in collaboration and helping each other instead of competition which is kind of what I perceived could be the potential reality for a lot of folks who work in this industry. Does that set IOA apart from other companies?
Bruce Johnson: Yeah, absolutely. That is actually a great question, I’m glad you asked that. Yeah in IOA, we kind of have the unique opportunity. A couple of things play into that. One is the amount of commission that we earn in an account is actually two to three times what you’d make if you were working for a big broker.
So if you are working at a big broker, you’re making such a small commission split. There’s really no incentive to partner with anybody and reduce what you’re making even further.
Eventually you’re down to 10%, which is very little.
Whereas if we are making close to 60%, we can actually partner up and we have certain partners that have a lot of expertise.
I’ll give you a great example of that.
I’ve got a partner, Dave Hendrick. This guy, he’s really sharp and does a lot of construction related insurance and a lot of condo related stuff. He got into a deal where this big developer was building a large condo complex in New York City.
Dave is located in Florida, so he got asked to come in and to bid or to put his hat in the ring to bid a project and he was up against New York brokers. I can tell you, he was up against some of the biggest brokers in the world.
He was up against Marsh, EON, those are two of the largest brokers in the world. Their New York City office and the builder or the contractor actually brought in their agent which was Brown & Brown, which is another huge agent that we compete with.
He was essentially located all the way across the country from where the job was, and he was competing against super sharp brokers that were there locally on the scene and already had relationships and that kind of thing.
Well, he brought in one of our partners, Gary Smith, who had particular expertise in the kind of insurance they were putting together. This project specific stuff. And a lot of it goes way over my head because contracts and stuff are complex.
“There is a lot of jeopardy in there if you don’t do everything exactly right.”
Well you’d think Gary and them would be in a disadvantage, but by the time they met with the owners and the attorneys for the owners, Gary’s expertise at recommending like certain contract wording and administrative procedures and things like that, they essentially were recognized as the experts above all those other guys that were in there bidding on the account.
So they were able to land a deal, and I mean it generated like $280,000 in commission on just this one deal. That’s an example of David being in Florida with limited knowledge in an area where he could bring in Gary who had all the expertise needed to get the deal done.
Dave had the relationship, Gary had the expertise.
So they teamed up and had a great win and it was not only a win for each of them. It was a win for the client and also for our insurance carrier partner with that they placed the business with.
Even to add further on that, in the future now, David, his knowledge has gone up now. So he understands a lot more about those types of things. So that is going to be essentially make him a better broker and take his game to the next level and everything going forward every opportunity, partnership opportunity like that it continues.
It’s just a learning experience where you can continue to get expertise from people that are the best and brightest in the different areas to help you build your business and take your game to the next level.
A Vision for Earn It, Own It
Charlie Hoehn: So Bruce, here’s what I am curious about is what is your vision for this book? What are you hoping the impact will be two, three, five years out from now?
Bruce Johnson: Well here’s in a nutshell the reason I wrote the book to begin with is this opportunity. Being part of IOA and doing my book and building my business like I have now and the opportunities that it’s afforded me and my family, it’s really been the best thing I have ever done in my life, both personally and professionally.
I can’t tell enough people about the story and what this place is meant to me and how much we’ve been blessed. So every time I tell the story to someone—and it’s usually to another producer that works for another agency that I am trying to have considered come and talk to us about coming on board—after the conversation I always feel like, “Wow, I should have said this or I should have said that, or maybe I left something out.”
So when I started writing this book, I just started trying to think of everything I possibly could want to say.
“I’ve consolidated everything, and it’s in the book.”
So now, I could just hand it to someone, and if they’re open to learning and about something new and an opportunity and they are open to reading the book, then I know the message will get across.
Hopefully, it will help somebody in their life like it has mine. Even if it doesn’t or even if it’s like an insurance agency owner or somebody else like that that reads the book that will never ever come to work for IOA or be a part of IOA, well maybe they can learn something from our model.
That takes the greed out of their agency at home and attracts some really good people to come into their agency.
So it’s all about sharing. There’s plenty of business and plenty of producers out there to go around. So I just want anyone that the book comes in contact with. If they want to know about this opportunity that they are able to.
A Challenge from Bruce Johnson
Charlie Hoehn: Let’s give our listeners a challenge something they can do from your book that can make a positive impact on their life.
Bruce Johnson: So yeah, if there’s one thing in the book I would encourage people that or something that I think could potentially have a positive impact is try to look for areas where you might be able to collaborate with your teammates at work or their producers instead of compete directly against them.
Find something that you are working on that you may have competed against someone else internally in the past and find somebody that’s really good at that or might compliment your strengths and ask if they want to work together on it.
“I guarantee you, you’re going to be more successful.”
At least it’s worked for me, and you’re going to bring more value to your customer, and you’re going to be able to land more deals because you’re just going to be more of a benefit to your client a lot of times if you’re working together and you just bring in more to the table.
I just think that collaboration instead of competition is something that works really well for us.
And it’s an overriding theme in our company. I look at partnering at almost every new deal that I work on going forward just because it helps leverage my time and my effort and it creates a win for, not only me but for, the person I partner with and also for the client usually.
Charlie Hoehn: How can our listeners get in touch with you or follow you and your journey? What’s the best way for them to do that Bruce?
Bruce Johnson: Well I’ve started getting more active on LinkedIn. I’d be glad to talk with you or answer any questions that anybody might have.