Being a small business owner wasn’t always in State Farm agency owner Kevin Hayward’s professional game plan.
However, after opening his office in Lacey on New Year’s Day 2012, he’s found it’s become the perfect fit for him, and his family.
After graduating with a communications degree from Wheaton College in Illinois, where he met his wife, Hayward moved back to Washington state to be close to his in-laws. Hired in public relations at State Farm’s DuPont office, he had the chance to write about numerous top agents and their positive experiences working for the company. When he realized that moving up the corporate ladder would likely mean several out-of-state moves, he, too, decided to step out on his own. After passing the company’s required independent agent interview, he jumped right into the mandatory eight-month training program.
“The most stressful part of opening my own business was the anticipation of doing it,” he said.
State Farm, though, made the transition into a solo insurance agent’s office smooth. Because he was starting out on his own, rather than taking over an established agency with a clientele base, the company provided a five-year funding supplement for office expenses, based on Hayward meeting sales goals. And there’s no doubt he’s succeeded so far. As of this month, he has two full-time and two part-time agents working for him, as well as a clientele base of 463 households.
“What I really enjoy is getting to know my clients, and the opportunity to sell something that actually helps people,” he said.
Interestingly, the biggest challenge for Hayward has been finding those quality employees.
“Be prepared to work really hard and exhaust all of your resources to find good workers,” he advised new business owners. “But they’re out there, so be patient.”
The most unexpected thing about owning his own business, he said, has been the high Business & Occupation taxes that come with it. As for competition, he noted that online insurance quote companies have muddied the waters with regards to providing accurate data for potential clients.
So far, he’s found his clientele base by knocking on neighborhood doors, maintaining his own online presence, tapping into his professional network, and staging events like a live-music “coffeehouse” and baseball barbecue “Opening Day” at the office.
As for keeping up with his current customers’ insurance needs, he said, “My approach is to be pleasantly persistent, and relentlessly reliable.”
Hayward added that he’s hoping to run his agency for the next 30 or 35 years, and through this approach he also hopes to change the often shadowy perception of insurance as a whole if he can while he’s at it.
From his experience running his agency so far, his advice to prospective small business owners is to make sure that your business doesn’t eat up your whole life. To accomplish this for himself, he said, he and his wife are in constant communication about their family responsibilities and their individual needs from each other.
“If you have a family, map out a game plan of how it will strengthen that core,” he said. “You have to be really intentional, because no amount of success is worth losing your family.”