Originally posted on IAMagazine.com
Many agencies enjoy primo locations. But how would you like to be in a place where you get to insure tech startups like Twitter, StubHub, Square and Uber? That’s exactly the sweet spot for Sweet & Baker, based in the not-so-small town of San Francisco.
The South of Market neighborhood is about as hot as it gets for insurance sales opportunities. Right outside Sweet & Baker’s door are decision makers in all aspects of commerce. Many walk to the agency to conduct business.
Beyond tech, the firm’s nine producers mine niches in nonprofits, financial services, real estate, retail and restaurants. Some 35% of the $8 million in revenue derives from group benefits.
The agency also prides itself on staffers’ long tenure—an average of 20 years.
Roberta Gonzalez, Property & Casualty Producer
I’ve been here for 26 years—I started out when we had five people. I was a personal lines account manager, then a commercial account manager, then inside sales for small business and now I’m a producer. When the agency’s president Bruce Callander came to the agency, he said to me, “You’re the type of person who likes to sell. You don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. You’re a salesperson, aren’t you?” I said, “No, I’m happy.” But in the future I thought I wanted to be in sales. We really are a family. It’s nice to have been here for the whole ride.
Bill Ryan, Executive Vice President
Our biggest challenge is intense competition. All the national and regional firms are within blocks of us. But our people want a less structured local agency where we can write anything that comes our way. I like being independent, and so do our employees. We’re not overly focused on numbers. We take the human approach: We stay connected to local charities and nonprofits. Our work-family balance is generous. We’ve had opportunities to grow by expanding offices or merging with other brokers. We chose not to. We took the more controlled route of organic growth and have grown every year for 18 years.
If you have that mentality to help people, referral sources will call. If you’re in a position to help people, they’ll call you again, no matter what it is. Someone might call about premium finance or risk transfer or benefits or life insurance—we just connect people. Startup tech might have questions about who you recommend for payroll. Do you work with other companies for 401ks? Do you know a financial advisor? Do you know someone who can help with security/safety tips? Things that aren’t necessarily specific to p-c or benefits policies. If one of our nonprofits is having a charity event or an auction—be in a position to help. It comes back. Don’t be so commission driven that you close off business opportunities. We refer to someone else sometimes if not a good fit.
We recognize the industry has an age problem, and we’re constantly trying to find people new to the industry. It takes time to ramp up and learn the business. We don’t have layers and layers of trainers to allow for that time. The benefits side requires a significant amount of experience, as does p-c, and so it’s difficult to find terrific people who have experience because those people are generally happy where they are. We have had to create some positions recently that will allow our staff to move from entry level to different positions. View Bill Ryan's Profile
Beau Freyermuth, Senior Vice President
We’ve learned we shouldn’t underestimate the difficulty of finding someone to fill the shoes when someone’s gone. When you rely on that person who has been here longer than you have, you can get complacent. As they approach retirement—which is typically what happens here versus going somewhere else—it’s important to respect that process. We have high expectations, because the precedent was set at a high level. Growing from a five-person shop to a 50-person shop requires different management skills. We are learning what we need. Our organic growth has required us to evolve not just in technical skill but in management skill. View Bill Ryan's Profile