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Thursday, August 30 2018
Agency Spotlight: Bellwether Insurance

Bellwether Insurance is based in LaGrange, Ohio and is owned by Sandra and Aaron McElwain.

What’s the biggest challenge your agency faced in the past year?

We have faced many challenges over the last 12 months, however the finance and purchase of an existing book of business was by far the most challenging. It felt like a thousand-step process! From the initial talks that began last spring, through closing last October and now servicing those new clients, it has been quite the experience. Thinking back, we learned a ton of lessons in short order. Going through this process helped us grow fast and evolve our business practices. It was very helpful to have a resource like SIANO to help walk us through this complicated process.

Do you have a new tip or best practice you’ve learned and want to share?

One of the biggest things we’ve learned is that it’s very important to be open to change and the evolution of the insurance business. Dealing with a variety of carriers and having clients with varying needs requires you to be able to roll with the punches without letting it stress you out. It’s easy to get sidetracked and lose focus when something comes at you from left field. Today’s customers require a quick response, so keeping on top of technology is also key. So many of our clients are truly impressed with the ease in which we can issue a policy without them having to take the time to meet with us personally. Of course, we always offer the option of meeting in person if the client prefers doing business that way. Again, flexibility and being able to adapt to different needs is a big key to being successful.

Why are you an SIANO member?

Before we established our agency, we talked with other insurance agents who recommended we check out SIANO. From our first contact with the group, it was clear that joining SIANO would be beneficial for us in many ways. It’s reassuring to know that whenever a unique situation comes up and we have questions, help is just a phone call away. And the support doesn’t end at five o’clock, which is great. Heather and Michelle always respond quickly and positively no matter when we call or what question we ask. In short, SIANO’s resources and support have been invaluable in helping us establish and grow our business.

What makes your agency unique?

What makes us most unique is our approach to the business. We focus on building relationships with our clients and while that is not unique, the way we go about it is. We fight hard to keep our business as non-transactional as possible. We emphasize the value of good coverage and the luxury of having an insurance agent that handles all your insurance needs. When our clients tell other people, “I have an agent that handles everything for us,” it is music to our ears. We meet our clients on their terms and communicate with them as they desire. Everyone is unique with different expectations and needs. We feel it is imperative to provide that one-on-one touch no matter how big we become. We are building our business accordingly.

What causes does your agency actively support?

Community involvement is very important to us. We are members of the Lions Club of LaGrange. The Lions provide services for the local school district and community including eyeglass and hearing aid programs, monthly community food pantry and a student scholarship program. We are also members of the Friends of the Keystone-LaGrange Library. The group promotes public awareness of the library through a variety of events including an annual book sale and Books and Brunch, an event that includes presentations by Ohio authors. Last Fall the group was instrumental in passing a levy to build a new library in LaGrange. Lastly, we support Mastiffs to Mutts, a rescue organization for large dog breeds. We adopted two dogs from the group and we do home visits with prospective adopters who live near us, to help find homes for other rescued pups.

Posted by: AT 07:44 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, February 09 2018
Agency Spotlight: LeGalley Insurance

LeGalley Insurance Agency is based in Bowling Green and owned by Doug and Toni LeGalley.


What’s the biggest challenge your agency has gone through over the last year?

We wanted to bring our agency up-to-date. This started with re-branding our agency, which included both revising our image and advertising. The agency has been in business for over 80-years, remains family-owned, and I am currently the third-generation owner. Our daughter Megan also works within the agency and represents what will be the fourth-generation owner. It became important for us to start thinking about how to modify our brand and how we do business to adapt to the next generation of clients, while continuing to provide a high-level of service to our existing clients. We updated our phone system, adopted new technologies, and improved how we manage information. In addition, since we are an independent agency, we wanted to represent more companies and have more options to help our clients with their insurance needs. Taking on more companies does require some time to learn about additional products. Also, we want to be fair to all of the companies we represent, which requires balancing the commitments we make to strengthen those relationships.

Do you have a new tip or best practice you’ve learned and want to share?

For us, learning how to best communicate with each client was important. We try to collect the right contact information (cell phone, email, etc.) to help us reach our clients. We are finding out that many of our clients prefer to communicate with us electronically. By communicating with them the way they prefer it has helped our efficiency and improved our level of service.

Why are you an SIANO member?

We knew we were going into a different phase with Megan coming into the business and needed to find some additional support to help her learn and grow. SIANO has provided those things, such as Business Insurance Advantage. In addition, SIANO could help our agency grow by giving us more carrier options for present and future clients. With those additional options available, we can better serve our clients. Beyond that, it helped us strengthen our existing carrier relationships and earn additional income from the group profit sharing and SIAA national incentives.

What is something that makes your agency unique?

The fourth-generation is the key. Our agency is a family-owned business that has been operating under the same name for 82 years. Clients appreciate the fact that if they call us, they have peace-of-mind and trust knowing that they are talking to a LeGalley family member. The transformation is a long-term process. Clients know that I (Doug) am not planning on retiring any time soon, but they are also becoming more comfortable working with Megan. This means the clients have the long-term stability and expertise of the third-generation, along with the improved opportunities provided with technology that is being introduced by the fourth-generation.

What causes does your agency actively support?

Outside of insurance, I am a fifth-generation owner of a 161-year-old family farm. We actively support organizations that promote agriculture like Youth 4H, Future Farmers of America, and pig auctions. The agency actively also supports the local Wood County Fair, WinterFest (a community event that includes a one-mile race and chili cookoffs), and various local sports teams.

Posted by: Russell Durst AT 09:40 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, January 25 2018

SIAA signs 562 new independent member agencies in 2017

January 23, 2018 – Hampton, NH: Jim Masiello, CEO of SIAA (Strategic Insurance Agency Alliance) – the largest alliance of independent insurance agencies in the U.S. – announced today, “2017 was another great year for SIAA due to the tremendous partnerships formed among our member agencies, master agencies, and strategic partner companies. These numbers provide all the information needed to understand the success of our organization.”

  • $7.41 Billion total in-force premium ($7.1 Billion was projected), an increase of $810 Million or 12.3% over 2016
  • $459 Million or 15.6% growth with Strategic Partner Companies
  • 562 Member Agencies signed
Posted by: AT 07:29 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, November 15 2017
Insurance Producers - Should You Run Your Own Agency?

Five Questions You Should Ask Yourself

For insurance agents and producers with a few years of sales experience, the thought of running your own insurance agency has probably crossed your mind.  Oftentimes, some of the best insurance producers will embody an entrepreneurial spirit that has enabled them to be successful at generating new business.  In addition, the local insurance agency distribution system provides one of the most accessible models for business ownership opportunities. And there are numerous examples of producers who have successfully transitioned from working for someone else to building their own insurance agency.  The benefits to owning your own agency could mean higher compensation (including profit-sharing) and more control over the direction of your insurance career. In addition, you own a business that you can continue building value into, while keeping control of when and to whom you will want to sell or perpetuate the business.

Before providing notice to your current employer or agency principal, you may want to ask yourself a few questions about running your own agency:

1. How would I rate my ability to develop and write new business?

This is the most important question to ask yourself. Take a self-inventory of the last 30 accounts you wrote. Did you track the source-to-sale? If not, bookmark this article, identify the last 30 accounts you wrote, identify the source-to-sale, and then come back to this article. Once you can identify the source-to-sale, then ask yourself:

How many of those leads were developed mostly by me -versus- those developed mostly by the agency?

The more business written from leads that you developed should provide increased confidence that you could be successful on your own. These would include relationships that you have with various networking groups, referral sources, centers-of-influences, and friends/family/neighbors. This could also include leads that you purchased or developed on your own.  Conversely, if most of the business written from leads that came from or because of the agency (i.e., you receive leads from the agency whether it is a lead list, website, call-ins, walk-ins or third-party agency relationships), then you may want to consider staying put until you have proven you can develop business on your own.

2. How involved am I in customer and client relationships?

When you develop a new prospect relationship, are you involved in collecting information, filling out forms (including questionnaires, Acord forms, quote sheets, and applications), working with company underwriters, completing the application process, and handling follow-up additional processing and servicing requests?  Process and procedures vary between agencies; thus, a producer’s responsibility and experience can also differ significantly from one another. If you were to go out on your own, could you handle responsibilities you are not handling now (i.e. quoting).? What will you need to learn? When will you need to hire staff? Should you utilize company service centers? Consider what you do, as well as what you do not do, and be prepared to address how sales and servicing activities will be handled for your agency.

3. What is my current cash position?

A few things to consider:

  • How much do I have to produce to earn the same income I earn today?
  • How long will it take me to reach this number if I start my own insurance agency?
  • What are my monthly minimum living expenses?
  • Can I live on cash savings and supplemental income (i.e. spouse’s income if applicable) until I ramp-up production?
  • How much do I need to invest in my business to get it operational?
  • Should I consider taking on a small business loan?

Some short-term sacrifice should be anticipated while you get your business up-and-running, but it shouldn’t mean making your life miserable with debt. Take some time to really understand how much cash you need to have readily available for that first year. You want to know you can properly invest in your business, including operating expenses (rent, utilities, phone, internet, supplies), insurance expenses (including business, cyber liability/data breach, and errors & omissions insurance), marketing/promotional/advertising expenses, and selling expenses. Also, don’t forget about budgeting for possible expected legal, accounting, and tax preparation expenses.

If your cash position is weak and you do not have the ability to secure a sufficient small business loan, then now may not be the right time to make the transition. It might be better to wait another year and start working towards putting some cash away for your future business.

4. What are my legal and ethical obligations to my current agency?

As a producer, you may have signed a Non-Compete/Non-Solicitation agreement with your current owner. You have every right to work for yourself, but in making the transition you may not be able to take clients and/or information from your current employer. If you are serious about making a move and have some concerns about your current legal obligations, ask for advice from an attorney. Ideally find an attorney that has experience with these types of agreements. 

In addition, hold yourself to professional and ethical standards of conduct. Treat your current employer and staff fairly throughout the whole process, including after you leave. While our business is highly-competitive, it is also a very small world. You may attend events where the agency owner or staff will be present. Conducting yourself in a professional manner will resonate with others (including future clients or insurance companies you want to represent).

5. What type of third-party relationships (vendors, partners, advisors) should I seek out?

The most successful agencies will seek out the right partners to build their business. Make sure you know who you are, what you can do, and where you might benefit from the help of others. You may want to consider an agency partnership group that can help you with carrier appointments, company access, and agency growth resources. Some of these groups offer significant operational expertise and a proven track record of helping successful insurance agencies get started. Seek these groups out…experience and expertise matter. These types of partners might be able to help advise you on automation systems to implement, internet/social media strategies to adopt, marketing programs to develop, and target markets to approach. They may also be able to help you earn more carrier appointments and participate in group profit-sharing and excess compensation opportunities sooner to help you grow faster. And as you grow, these groups may also provide input on staffing (management and hiring), mergers and acquisitions, sales and marketing program, and training.

Consider also reaching out to other agency owners that have recently started their own agency. Ask them to share their first-year experiences, what worked and what they would have done differently. Seek out advise on all aspects of the business, including operations, automation, marketing, sales, and service. Request recommendations for technology vendors, accountants, tax preparers, and attorneys as well.

It is not necessary trying to “recreate the wheel” when you can identify the right partners and advisors to help support your business growth objectives and reach them faster.

The insurance agency distribution system provides significant opportunity for an entrepreneurial insurance producer to run their own agency. With minimal investment and adequate planning, insurance professionals can improve their compensation and ownership positions, while enjoying increased control and freedom in running their own business. Asking these five questions and doing critical self-examination should help you decide if the time is right for you to make the transition.

Posted by: Russell Durst AT 11:58 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 14 2017
Agency Spotlight - Beacon Insurance Group

This Agency Spotlight was part of SIA of Northern Ohio’s Agency Fall Newsletter.

Beacon Insurance Group is based in Solon and owned by Jeff Babin.

What’s the biggest challenge your agency has gone through over the last year?

My lease was up at our old office space and I needed to find a new office location. This took a lot of time. I wanted to find office space that wasn’t bigger than I needed, but big enough to allow us to grow. Finding the location was just the beginning, after that came negotiating the lease and making the actual move. Doing all this all while growing the business was a challenge. 

Do you have a new tip or best practice you’ve learned and want to share?

Technology. Technology in our industry is vital, our clients always want and need things done immediately. Everything is always an emergency. We have implemented a management system and completely digitized our agency files so we can access information and respond to our clients from anywhere. We also introduced phone systems that allow us to make and receive calls on the go as if we were still sitting at our desk, including the ability to text with our clients via the agency phone line. We utilized carrier service centers to extend our hours of service when our agency is closed or when we are busy. Keeping up with the needs of our clients is a never-ending task, but with the help of technology it can be accomplished a little easier.

Why are you an SIA of Northern Ohio member?

I came from a captive insurance agency, and it didn’t take long before I realized that being an independent agent could extend my reach to so many more clients. However, I knew I was going to need some help. SIANO has been amazing. They helped guide and direct me down a path of success. If I have any questions about the industry or about running the agency, I knew I could count on SIANO and get some help. Being a member of SIANO allows me to work with a variety of carriers that I might not have been able to represent on my own. On top of that, they provide access to additional carriers where a direct appointment might not make sense allowing me another option to write business.

What makes your agency unique?

I am younger than most agency owners and started in the insurance industry directly out of college. I didn’t have an established thought process about how a “classic Insurance Agency” should be run. When it came to running our agency, we really started with a blank slate. We asked ourselves how we like to be treated and tried to reflect this while interacting with our clients. This allowed us to build the agency culture we wanted from the very beginning and clearly express that agency culture to our clients. As a result, we have developed trust and long-lasting relationships with clients who will be with us for a long time.

What causes does your agency actively support?

We currently support four causes. The Cleveland Police Athletic League, Cleveland Animal Protective League, The Cure for Epilepsy, and Coats for Kids in Cleveland. We make quarterly donations to one of these charities based on the number of customer referrals received during that time. The Cleveland Police Athletics League is of special importance to me. I have played sports ever since I could walk and Cleveland sports are in my blood. The Cleveland Athletics League takes that love of sports many kids have and uses it as a positive influence. They help get kids involved in sports and activities at a young age to allow them to use their time in a productive way.

Posted by: SIA of Northern Ohio AT 06:57 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, November 07 2017
Requesting Online Google Client Reviews

Local independent insurance agencies rely on the Internet to increase their visibility and enable that most important first contact with a customer. The problem is that many agency owners do not have the time or resources to pay for ad space or continually revise website content to meet SEO (search engine optimization) demands. Fortunately, Google Reviews provide insurance agencies with a tool to boost online presence and make a powerful first impression.

So why are online reviews so important. According to BrightLocal’s 2016 research study (source: ):

  • 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation
  • 7 out of 10 consumers will leave a review for a business if they’re asked to
  • 54% of people will visit the website after reading positive reviews

Finally, why Google? It is simple. Google is the #1 ranked search engine in terms of unique monthly visitors (larger than the next three combined).

Agency owners looking to have clients post reviews via Google need to implement four simple steps to get started:

1.  Verify your Business Profile via Google.

2.  Know How to Help Your Clients Post Positive Reviews

3.  Determine Processes and Procedures in Requesting Google Reviews

4. Continue to Make this an Ongoing Part of Your Business

To see additional details on how to accomplish this, please click here ( to be redirected to the full article.

Posted by: Russell Durst AT 11:27 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, October 11 2017
Agency Spotlight: Navigate Risk Advisors

This article was originally posted in SIA of Northern Ohio's 2017 Summer newsletter

Navigate Risk Advisors is based in Westlake and owned by T.J. Worsencroft

What’s the biggest challenge your agency has gone through over the last year?

Our new business production far exceeded what I thought I would produce that first calendar year. In fact, we grew three times as fast as I planned. This caused a problem where I needed to find additional staff and a new office much quicker than I thought I would. The hiring of new staff was the hardest part. It was important that I find people with my work ethic and that fit into the agency culture. 


Do you have a new tip or best practice you’ve learned and want to share?

This is a business that takes time before realizing the full rewards. Being dogmatic, getting out there, and working hard is critical to making this work. Getting that initial head of steam required taking a leap of faith. This means hiring people and having a mindset that it is going to work. As an owner, surrounding myself with talented employees has greatly benefitted our agency’s initial growth. Most importantly, we try to create long-lasting client relationships that will continue 20 years or more. Everyone has a different style in new business development, but getting to really know your client, taking time to explain coverages, and being an advisor is critical. I always keep in mind what my dad told me about working to achieve goals, “plug-n-crank”. Determine the right things to do and keep doing them.


Why are you an SIA of Northern Ohio member?

I figured out early in my career what I wanted to be and knew I had about another 25 years ahead of me. As I thought about my long-term plans, I realized my own personal growth might get stunted because I wasn’t the decision maker. I took a leap of faith and decided that owning my own insurance agency made more sense than working for someone else. SIA of Northern Ohio allowed me to accomplish my goal of owning an insurance agency.


What is something that makes your agency unique?

Having a unique brand is hard to do in this marketplace. I think we have accomplished this. When you walk into our agency we have the normal company plaques and brochures, but we also have things like nautical themed displays, pinewood derby cars and custom-brewed pints of beer. The nautical themed displays are personal to me based on my time in the U.S. Coast Guard.  The beer is something that my staff brews as a team. It is a great bonding experience and we all love handing the finished product out to our clients and partners.


What causes does your agency actively support?

Family remains the most important aspect of my life. Serving as an Assistant Boy Scout Master with a very active troop allows me to spend quality time with my kids. Oftentimes, we are camping, kayaking, or fishing. And then every year, I play an active role in promoting the annual Pinewood Derby event. Beyond this, I serve on two boards (Horizon Education Center and North Coast Chamber of Commerce) while remaining active in three other chambers of commerce and various church programs.

Posted by: SIA of Northern Ohio AT 08:04 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, May 15 2016
Young Insurance Agents Value the Ability to Check Multiple Markets for Clients

On April 27, the Insurance Journal shared the results of what young agents (those aged 40 and younger) like most and least about the insurance industry and being agents. (Source: The good news is the optimism that young agents have about their insurance careers. Among the reasons young insurance agents like their profession is the ability to be their own boss.

Most young agents, according to the Insurance Journal’s survey, value “the ability to check several markets to attain the best insurance coverage for each client.” However, one challenge that many young agents face (and also one of the things most agents like LEAST about the business according to the Insurance Journal) is “the pressure from carriers to produce for them in order to keep an appointment.”

SIA of Northern Ohio provides the best solution for young insurance agents in northern Ohio to provide their clients choice without having to commit to high volume requirements. We have established strategic partnerships with the largest portfolio of competitive national and regional insurance companies, providing members with multiple ways to access numerous insurance products. This enables agents to represent more companies and increase their independence.

SIA of Northern Ohio has helped many young agents gain direct appointments and access to multiple companies, thereby having choices for their clients and enabling strong agency growth. Using SIAA’s proven solution, over 3,400 insurance professionals have made their dream of creating their own agency a reality.

Young insurance agents that want to offer choices without the pressure of excessive production requirements can do so by working with SIA of Northern Ohio to:

  • Represent the most competitive companies
  • Use agency development resources of a $6 billion+ national organization
  • Have the support of a local team of insurance professionals with a combined 70+ years of experience building successful insurance businesses
  • Earn the highest commissions, profit-sharing and incentive plans available to owners of newly created agencies.

If you would like to learn more about the possibilities of representing leading competitive carriers and running your own insurance agency, please contact me at 440-261-0104 or

Posted by: Russell Durst AT 05:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 12 2016
Young Insurance Agents Like Being Their Own Boss

On April 27, the Insurance Journal shared the results of what young agents (those aged 40 and younger) like most and least about the insurance industry and being agents. (Source: The good news is the optimism that young agents have about their insurance careers. Among the reasons young insurance agents like their profession is the ability to be their own boss.

Many young agents value being their own boss and some have been given considerable autonomy by their agency owners. However, this is not always the case for all young agents. Considering the possibility of agency acquisitions or other ownership-related changes, a young agent may actually lose some of that autonomy through no fault of their own.

Typically, for the insurance agent in their 30s or 40s there comes a point to consider the next step. Often this leads to a desire to start their own insurance agency. For many though, transitioning from a Producer to Agency Owner is overwhelming.

SIA of Northern Ohio has helped many young agents transition from producer and sales roles into agency ownership. Using SIAA’s proven solution, over 3,400 insurance professionals have made their dream of creating their own agency a reality.

Young insurance agents that want to be their own boss have the opportunity by working with SIA of Northern Ohio to:

  • Represent the most competitive companies
  • Use agency development resources of a $6 billion+ national organization
  • Have the support of a local team of insurance professionals with a combined 70+ years of experience building successful insurance businesses
  • Earn the highest commissions, profit-sharing and incentive plans available to owners of newly created agencies.

If you would like to learn more about the possibilities of being your own boss and running your own insurance agency, please contact me at 440-261-0104 or

Posted by: Russell Durst AT 08:47 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 12 2016
Follow SIA of Northern Ohio on Twitter

Follow SIA of Northern Ohio on Twitter [SIANO@SIANorthernOhio]

Posted by: AT 07:52 am   |  Permalink   |  Email