Chrissy Bartels doesn’t like to use the word insurance. Instead, when she describes her State Farm Insurance agency in Dodgeville, she says, “I help people have simple but deep conversations about their goals and dreams, so I can help them protect those goals and dreams against things that can go wrong.”
State Farm’s franchise-like business model attracted Chrissy. Plus, she liked their consultative approach to sales. “They focus on finding out what customers need, then offering the right insurance product. I take that jingle very personally,” Chrissy said. “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there—and so am I.”
Chrissy opened State Farm-Dodgeville in August 2018 with a small (but growing) staff.
An opportunity to pivot
Chrissy had started a solo business in 2016, training car dealers in a sales approach using customer needs analysis. One day the phone rang: A recruiter asked if she might be interested in becoming a State Farm agent. The sales training business was turning out to be more time-consuming and less satisfying than Chrissy had expected, so she agreed to meet with the recruiter. Chrissy and her family were living in Iowa but contemplating relocating to the Dodgeville area, where they planned to retire someday. “The recruiter told me the agent in Dodgeville had passed away, leaving the territory open,” Chrissy recalled. “That fit with our plans, so I decided to apply.”
State Farm has a robust vetting program for its potential agents. First, Chrissy had to take a personality quiz to assess fit. After passing, she was invited to compete for the Dodgeville opportunity by presenting a business plan. While researching how to write a plan, Chrissy found the Small Business Development Center systems in Iowa and Wisconsin. Brock Waterman, Senior Business Consultant with the Southwest Wisconsin SBDC, immediately returned her call.
SBDC helped win competition
First, Brock provided a business plan template. Then, he coached Chrissy through revisions. “The financial projections were a huge struggle,” Chrissy admitted. “With Brock’s advice, I got it buttoned up.” Brock said, “She was more prepared than most clients. But the State Farm financial projection software had a lot of jargon in it. I was able to help her through that.” The competition for the Dodgeville State Farm agency was fierce, with the business plans a major factor. Chrissy was relieved and excited to learn she had won. Brock observed, “Chrissy moved here from Iowa to start a business. That’s true economic development.”
State Farm Insurance requires agents to make a financial investment, but does not charge them for a book of business (a list of clients and prospects). Chrissy said, “They gave me a bigger book of business than most new agents receive, and I attribute that to the work I did on my business plan with Brock.”
Accomplishments with the Southwest Wisconsin SBDC:
- Business plan
- Referrals to resources
- Coach/sounding board
Transition from launch to growth
In Dodgeville, an interim agent had kept the business open and overseen the renovation of a new office location. Even with an existing office and client list, Chrissy faced challenges getting started on a fast timeline. She had to arrange financing: a blend of personal investment, a line of credit from a local bank, and a small loan from State Farm Insurance. She’s learned that the work itself can be hard: “People get emotional when filing claims. There’s crying,” said Chrissy. Now, she’s focusing on hiring and training employees in State Farm’s consultative approach. Chrissy emphasized, “My goal is not to maintain but to grow. We’re focusing on having strong conversations with customers about their goals.”