Regardless of how you look at it you can’t run a business without insurance. This is what I call a ‘business narrative’. It’s the message that you promote to the world that makes you different from the competition. You need to control your narrative to succeed in business. So how did I control the insurance narrative? By promoting the simple concept that there are too many variables if you don’t have downside protection. Protection is important. ‘Normal’ businesses protect their customers. That’s how I have always used it. And not just in my insurance business. As I will explain in a moment, I’ve used this narrative in many various industries.
Insurance is Like Hedging Bets
I start out by explaining to people that insurance is like hedging bets when you gamble in Vegas. You always want to have a downside limit to how much you can lose. Most business owners have much of their life savings tied up in their business. With no insurance, your potential losses can exceed the actual value of your assets because you are personally liable for your business activities.
Obviously, this is important. And that pitch may work for an insurance agent with a potential customer. Unfortunately, most of your customers won’t give two hoots about your personal liability exposure. They also won’t care why you had to increase your prices to cover your insurance costs. It’s all about how it affects them. Your narrative needs to focus on their concerns. This is precisely where I am going with this.
An Incredible Marketing Opportunity
I have a slightly different angle for you to consider here. Insuring a business can be expensive. Many would argue it’s more expensive to not insure it, but my point is that proper insurance, or lack thereof, can be an incredible marketing opportunity for you. How so? Well, let me tell you a story that will better explain my theory that you need to control your narrative to succeed in any business.
Years ago, I was an investor in a chain of detail shops. I eventually figured out that the owner, my business partner, was an incredible detailer but he had absolutely no idea how to grow a business. So I decided to help him out. Yes, I wanted to help grow my investment. To be honest though, I was also intrigued by the challenge of utilizing my sales and marketing skills in a totally different industry other than insurance.
A Steep Learning Curve
Any excitement I initially had didn’t last very long. It was a steep learning curve. I was essentially running two different businesses. It was exhausting. And they could not have been any more different from each other. My insurance business was heavily regulated and almost, dare I say, “gentlemanly” compared to the wild west detailing industry. It was rough for awhile, but eventually it got easier as I began to understand the industry and find areas where we could focus our marketing efforts.
It might sound unimaginative on my part, but one of the focus areas that I settled on was… Tada… Insurance. Actually the lack of insurance. Apparently the detailing industry is loaded with businesses that simply don’t carry insurance because it’s too expensive. Since my background was insurance, I found this to be almost comical. Either way, I had found my narrative.
You Can’t Run a Business Without Insurance
The only reason I even learned about this insurance issue was by listening to my business partner complain about constantly being undercut by “uninsured competitors”. Since I wasn’t a ‘detailer’ per se, I looked at this from an outsiders perspective. I had no idea that this was even an issue. My background was insurance, so the idea that a business would fail to properly cover themselves was mind boggling to me. Who does that? My initial thought was that you can’t run a business without insurance. Well, apparently you can. The other shops in our area had eliminated insurance as an expense and could subsequently charge less.
To me this sounded ridiculous. I knew that if one of these shops destroyed a car while they were working on it, it would end bad for the customer and the shop owner. Ultimately the customer would be forced to claim the damage on their personal auto insurance and pay the difference out of pocket. The insurance company would sue the owner of the detail shop to recover their money and the shop would be forced out of business.
My New Narrative
I decided to use this as a marketing angle in my new narrative. I began educating our customers about the importance of business liability insurance. Unfortunately, that’s boring. None of our customers seemed to care. So I changed it up a bit. I began educating them about what would happen if a detail shop caught fire with their vehicle inside. Finding stats and stories about shops that had burned down across the country was easy. It happens more often than you think. Several articles that I found even talked about the fact that the shop owners failed to properly insure the business. Bingo! You need to control your narrative to succeed in business and I had found exactly what I needed to create ours.
Without the proper type of insurance coverage those shop owners were forced into bankruptcy. This left the customer holding the bag for the cost of their car replacement. As soon as people started understanding this, you could see a light click on as their eyes widened and they got it. Educated consumers understand the importance of insurance when it could potentially cost them thousands of dollars.
I had found my “hook”. My business partner thought I was crazy, but he went along with it. It worked amazingly well. Once people realized that a shop’s irresponsibility could come back to cost them, price no longer mattered. Why would it? Who would be willing to leave their $50k vehicle at a shop that charges $20 less but has no insurance to cover their potential incompetence? Nobody. We pushed this new insurance coverage narrative to anybody who would listen. Advertised it everywhere. Did interviews on the radio. And it worked. Business was booming even though we were the highest priced detailers in our area. And once we got a hold of a new customer, we never let go. We lit them up with a slew of other incentives to keep them coming back.
A Commodity Business
So why did it work? Because I changed the conversation. I have always subscribed to the philosophy that you never compete on cost. Never! Cutting your prices makes you a commodity business. Nobody is loyal to discount businesses. Nobody. That model makes sense for Walmart, not you.
Instead of competing on cost, I worked hard to establish our business as the most professional and ethical in the local region. Our prices went up and customer loyalty was higher than it ever was before. Our quality was probably the same as the other shops in the area. We had been competing on “service quality” for years and the customers didn’t care. They went for the least costly shop because our services were commoditized. When we changed the narrative and redirected their attention to the more important subject of insurance coverage, price was no longer an issue.
You Will Get Caught
These efforts forced our competitors to up their game and compete in a more responsible manner. Business boomed for us because of it. You can’t run a business without insurance and expect to get away with it. Eventually you will get caught. Or your competition will figure out a way to highlight your lack of business ethics. That’s what we did. Either way, you don’t want to be on the wrong side of this. If you do something stupid, you should expect to be called out on it. It’s just good business.
Realign Your Narrative
Find your niche and exploit it. Figure out what parts of your business should be handled differently and focus on that. Be different. Your narrative is what makes you unique in your business niche. You need to push that fact with your customers. They won’t think it’s a big deal until you re-frame it so they understand WHY it’s a big deal. You need to realign your narrative so that it’s in sync with the needs of your customer base. We pushed the fact that we were insured because our customers thought that was a normal thing. So that version of “normal” became part of our new narrative. Every employee in our company was trained with one simple company approved philosophy that made sense to them. I wanted them to internalize it so they didn’t sound like robots repeating the same message.
Internalized Our Training
So how did I measure success? Well, I realized all our new training efforts were working when I was making my way through one of our shops one day. As I walked past one of our detailers talking to a customer, I heard him say, “well sure insurance is normal for ‘good businesses’, but unfortunately this industry is loaded with companies that aren’t ‘good businesses'”. He had internalized our training and was telling people our message in his own voice. That is when you know you’ve done your job well.
Competitors as Enemies
It’s worth mentioning that I never looked at my competitors as enemies. Most likely because I was an industry outsider. I liked most of the competitors in our region. My goal was to protect our customers by making our business more professional and ethical. Most of our competitors realized this. I eventually setup a program at my insurance agency to help some of the other shops find less expensive insurance options. My goal was to succeed, but not by eliminating our competition. Being uninsured was bad for everybody and made our industry appear irresponsible.
The shop owners in our area that did not like us were upset because we were crushing their business. This was because we were establishing the new narrative. We controlled it. By adding insurance to the conversation, we elevated the professionalism of all the local players in our industry. The shop owners who failed to adopt this new narrative eventually went out of business.
You Need to Control Your Narrative to Succeed
We changed the expectations of our customers by teaching them what to look for from detailing shops. Most customers assumed the expectation was limited to picking up a clean car. This was wrong. Like I said before, you need to control your narrative to succeed in any business. Once our customers were educated about protecting themselves, their expectations changed. Now a clean car was secondary to making sure they were protected if the building burned down with their car in it. Reputation for being the best car detailer was eliminated from the search criteria. This allowed our shop to jump from #7 to #1 in a matter of months. By the time the other shops realized what was happening, it was too late.
The Steward of the Narrative
Don’t let your competition do this to you first. Your goal is to set your business apart from the competition. To accomplish this, you need to be the steward of the narrative that you create. Figure out how to do that and it will open a new world of opportunities. From the ability to charge more to being recognized as your industry leader.
Your success in business is tied directly to how your customers perceive you. Do they consider you an expert? Are you good at what you do? It doesn’t matter how you feel about this, it’s what the customer thinks. That’s your narrative. Control that and it will take you places that you never dreamed possible.