A Standing Ovation: Tips from a Big I Best Practices Agency

Big I’s list of Best Practices Agencies, released every few years, recognizes agencies who “represent the highest performers based on their growth and operational excellence.” The 2020 list included 264 agencies from 45 states who submitted financial and operational data for review after being nominated. We want to especially congratulate all the HawkSoft agencies that were recognized as 2020 Best Practices agencies!

  • Alliance Insurance Advisors (White Bear Lake, MN)
  • Alliance Insurance Services (Winston Salem, NC)
  • Curabba Agency (Middletown, NY)
  • LRA Insurance (Orlando, FL)
  • Ovation Insurance (Fort Wayne, IN)
  • Strong Tower Insurance, Inc. (Plant City, FL)


We talked with HawkSoft user Joel Dunham, president of Ovation Insurance (Fort Wayne, IN), to learn more about what makes a Best Practices Agency tick and get his tips on achieving incredible agency growth.

 

In this article:

 

From new beginnings to award-winning service  

Joel was surprised to learn his agency had been nominated as a Best Practices Agency when Big I contacted him. “I’ve only been the agency owner for a few years,” he tells us. “When they reached out I thought, someday it would be nice to be on that list, but we’ll see what happens. So we submitted our application and we ended up getting in, which was really, really exciting for us!”

Joel DunhamJoel has been with the agency for over a decade, though he wasn’t expecting to start a career in insurance when he graduated from college back in 2009. He had been studying marketing, but after interning at a few ad agencies he realized that wasn’t the type of environment he wanted to work in long-term. “I really didn’t enjoy my time at those ad agencies,” he says, “but at that point I was about to graduate. I was thinking, what in the world am I going to do?” 

Around that time his aunt, Elizabeth Dunham, who was running an insurance agency founded back in 1961, reached out to him. She offered him a place at the agency for a few years to see if he’d be interested in possibly running it one day. “It didn’t take me long to realize I loved it,” he says. “I had a lot more freedom to do what I wanted with marketing at the insurance agency than I ever would have at an ad agency.” After years of working at the agency he took ownership in 2016, changing its name from Stoller Insurance to Ovation Insurance in 2017.

“It didn’t take me long to realize I loved it. I had a lot more freedom to do what I wanted with marketing at the insurance agency than I ever would have at an ad agency.”

 

Joel has been focused on growing and modernizing the agency ever since. Previously, the agency was almost entirely focused on personal lines. Joel sought out more commercial business by focusing on areas like hospitality, hotels, and gas stations to push the agency to the 30-35% commercial makeup it has today. He’s also worked to incorporate new technology at the agency, from marketing automation to video tools.  

These strategies propelled his agency to more than 70% growth in the 5 years since Joel took ownership. He was named the 2018 PIA Young Insurance Professional of the Year for the state of Indiana, as well as a ‘2019 Young Gun’ by Insurance Business America. We asked him what some of the biggest game-changers were for achieving growth at his agency. 

 

Incorporating new technology

Modernizing his agency by incorporating new technology has always been a strong focus of Joel’s. “When I took ownership I made a lot of really big technology changes,” he recounts. “We switched to paperless. We went to VoIP phone systems. Some of my employees were about ready to throw me out the door at the time!” He adds that while it was a big adjustment for the agency initially, that strategy has served them well. “During everything that’s happened this last year with the pandemic, we were able to basically flip a switch and be able to work from home with very few changes. We already had the technology we needed in place.”

“During the pandemic...we were able to basically flip a switch and be able to work from home with very few changes. We already had the technology we needed in place.”


Joel shared a few of the technological tools that have been most impactful at his agency in saving time and reaching customers and prospects digitally. 

 

Proposal videos

The most important piece of technology that has boosted Ovation’s recent growth has been the ability to make video proposals. “We jumped on it right away when our website provider, Advisor Evolved, added it as a feature,” he says, “and we’ve already made around 600 quote videos since we started doing it. We’re closing about 85% of those that we present that way, so that has been tremendous. Setting up our website to do videos has been one of the top three decisions that I’ve made since I became the owner.” 

“We’ve already made around 600 quote videos since we started doing it. We’re closing about 85% of those that we present that way...[It] has been one of the top three decisions that I've made since I became the owner.”

 

Ovation Insurance websiteOvation's website homepage features an introductory video

If you’re interested in getting started with video proposals at your agency, you might want to start by checking to see if your website provider or marketing automation platform offers features for creating and sending videos. You can also look at tools that specialize in video proposals, or see if any of HawkSoft’s integration partners offer video capabilities that meet your needs. 

 

Correspondence templates

Another of Joel’s favorite tools is HawkSoft’s correspondence templates and batch email capability, which lets the agency save standardized email templates and send them from within HawkSoft. “We love the templates in HawkSoft,” he says. “They make it really easy to send out policy weakness assessments and endorsements, and that’s the kind of thing that saves us a ton of time.” 

Ovation_CorrespondenceTemplatesCorrespondence templates in HawkSoft

Not sure how to set up templates in HawkSoft for email, form letters, proposals, text messages, e-signature, and more? See our Correspondence Setup Overview in the help system to learn how to get started. 

 

Automation 

Ovation also uses other tools that integrate with HawkSoft to automate more of their processes, such as HawkSoft E-Signature (powered by Formstack Sign) to help them go paperless and partner integration with AgencyZoom to handle more of the marketing for the agency. “In my opinion, the more tools you can integrate into your system, the better,” Joel says. 

HawkSoft integrates with a variety of platforms for marketing automation, reviews, SEO, data analytics, insured app management, and more. Take a look at our Partners page and see if there’s a time-saving tool that could give your agency a great return on investment. 

 

Standardizing agency processes

Another thing Joel recommends all agencies do is make sure their procedures are standardized, documented, and reviewed regularly for accuracy and efficiency. “We are very specific and intentional about how we create and update and follow our processes,” he says, noting that the agency has already documented most of their procedures and continuously reviews one process every month to make sure it’s still up to date. 

“For instance, in January we went over the endorsement process,” he notes. “The last time we had documented that process was at the beginning of 2019, and obviously a lot has changed since then. We have new technology we’re using. We’re texting customers a lot more since people don’t respond to email as much. So we asked, what do we need to change? What templates do we need to add or update in HawkSoft?” The agency writes out every step of the process as well as recording video of how to complete it, then saves it in Google Drive where all staff can access it. 

But documenting processes means nothing unless the agency staff are actually following them. Joel recommends checking in with staff regularly to make sure processes are being followed and entered into the system correctly. He does this on a bi-weekly basis by spot checking 5-10 clients. “I look at whether everything is documented correctly in HawkSoft,” he says. “Things like whether they’re sending out the policy weakness endorsement email we created to let customers know about something they’re missing on the policy. If things aren’t happening the way they should be, we talk about the process and why it’s not being followed so we can resolve any issues to make it better. That’s worked really well for us.”

“I look at whether everything is documented correctly in HawkSoft...If things aren’t happening the way they should be, we talk about the process and why it’s not being followed so we can resolve any issues to make it better.”


This dedication to standardizing procedures has paid off as Joel has onboarded new staff members this year due to an unexpected acquisition opportunity that came his way. Luckily, he already had the materials he needed to train them quickly on agency procedures. “I’ve never done an acquisition before, so it’s been quite a learning experience,” he says. “I’m glad we had as much documented as we did, and I’m trying to document the acquisition process too so that the next time it goes even smoother.” 

 

Experimenting to find what works

Joel acknowledges that there is no one-size-fits-all answer for every agency, and that the best thing an agency can do is experiment with different solutions to find what works for them. “We've tried a bunch of different stuff over the years. Some things work, and some don’t. We found the quote videos work phenomenally, and the email templates in Hawksoft, so those are the things we stuck with.” 

In the end, whether an experiment succeeds or fails, you’ll end up with more information than you had before. “Just don't be afraid to try new things,” Joel urges. “Do a free trial on a new piece of technology or an educational platform. Learn as much as you can as quickly as you can, and you’ll land on something that works well for your agency.”

So take a page out of Ovation’s playbook for success: try something new, embrace technology, and create standardized processes that work for your agency. Your clients, staff, and bottom line will thank you. 

 

 

Learn more about Big I Best Practices Agencies

See the entire list of 2020 Best Practices Agencies, or purchase the 2020 Best Practices Study to learn more about the practices of Big I's fastest-growing agencies.

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Rachel Stauffer

Author: Rachel Stauffer

Rachel is the Content Manager at HawkSoft, where she focuses on creating engaging content for the independent agent community.

best practices, documentation, standard processes