In 2010, Joe Totah looked around the web and found it was missing content for people like him. The owner of a 10 year-old independent insurance agency in the San Francisco Bay area, Totah wanted information on agency mergers and acquisitions, the brokers who arranged those deals, and the lenders who financed them. He had started his agency after 10 years as a captive agent for Farmers Insurance. Articles on the web about how to start an agency would have made that process easier. “I had to go at it by trial and error,” he recalls.
He could not easily find information about the businesses that support startup agencies. There was little on the agency networks that give smaller agents access to major carriers. Consultants and experts in determining the value of agencies were hard to find. For agency owners, the web had a large information gap.
So Totah decided to fill that gap himself. After laying out the groundwork for his planned website, he sold his agency in January of 2010. He immediately founded Strategic Agencies, LLC and launched AgencyEquity.com, a website devoted to the strategic needs of agency principals. Ten years later, the site is thriving with content for startups, agencies preparing to be sold, and all those in between. Just some of the resources a visitor to the site today can find are:
● Listings of agencies for sale and agencies in the market to buy agencies or books of business
● A guide to starting an independent agency and listings of startup agency opportunities
● Listings of acquisition resources such as brokers, lenders, consultants, attorneys, and valuation specialists
● News and articles about agency networks, technology, the transition from captive to independent, and real-life stories of errors and omissions liability claims
● Agency infrastructure resources, including listings of marketing and technology vendors
● A directory of carriers along with links to their agency appointment pages and agency directories
The site has earned and retained an enthusiastic group of advertisers. David Colvin, national business development director for agency network Premier Group Insurance, says, “AgencyEquity has played a major role in our growth of new and existing agency partners in both the captive and independent channels.” Marc Greene, who started General Insurance Brokerage at around the same time, says, “It is fair to say that we have grown up together!”
Starting a major website from scratch was a major effort. “I had to go through four web developers before I found one that was able to make things happen,” Totah says. It took three years and a huge investment to build an audience and earn the attention and respect of advertisers. Only then did the site begin to pay off.
In some ways, he had advantages at the start that sites launching today lack. Email marketing was easier 10 years ago, he says. Also, “LinkedIn was just breaking out back then and this allowed AgencyEquity a good amount of publicity at no cost. Unless someone is backed by venture capital, it can be challenging nowadays.”
He admits that staying patient in the meantime was a challenge. Still, he says the job is far from finished. “We are always building our audience and user base. It’s never ending.”
That audience is almost all current or future agency principals or executives. “Most come on the site because they want to acquire an agency, and of course many come on the site because they want to sell their agency.” Jeff Arnold of RightSure Insurance Group in Arizona is part of the first group. “We begin each agency target search using (the) website.”
The site’s motivated visitors is especially attractive to John McKay, director of sales operations for agency management system vendor EZLynx. “We are able to get in front of a wide spectrum of agencies from agents who have been in the business for decades, to agents who are just getting their feet wet in insurance, and at the time the agents are looking to make purchasing decisions.”
Initially, the site’s users could respond to listings on the site for free. Totah says this proved to be too much of a good thing: “The listing owners were inundated with responses, some of them from those who are not qualified to acquire an agency.” The answer was to have users purchase memberships. This made listings less expensive for sellers while also giving them some quality control. The membership funds also enabled the company to spend marketing dollars on getting more listings.
Totah is planning a refresh for the site’s 10th birthday. He intends to have it rebuilt with a modern platform. New tools and features will be unveiled later in the year.
The new features will build on the site’s success and keep attracting advertisers. Tracy Henry, marketing and agency relations for Pacific Interstate Insurance Brokers, will be among them. “Joe Totah knows what he’s doing and cares about the insurance industry,” she says. “There are many publications in the insurance industry and all can serve a purpose, but speaking for PIIB, we’ve tried almost all avenues. The one we see return from and will continue to use is AgencyEquity. We trust AgencyEquity with our advertising efforts!”