As part of my series about the “How to Navigate and Succeed in the Modern World of Finance,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Alice Hughes and Lisa Bamburg.
When Mary Alice Hughes and Lisa Bamburg opened their doors, their goal was to provide exceptional service that goes beyond their customers’ expectations. As independent insurance agents, they work for the client — not an insurance company. You can visit them at one of their offices in Jacksonville, Jonesboro or Springdale.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Mary Alice started in the insurance industry in January of 1995. In 2009, Lisa Bamburg, a Registered Investment Advisor, joined her and they later formed Insurance Advantage & LMA Financial Services. From 2010 until today, we have grown from a 1000 square foot office in central office to over 4500 square feet and have added offices in northeast and northwest Arkansas. Our staff and salesforce has grown from three to 13 in that same time period!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
In 2010, we thought 1,000 square feet of office space would be more than adequate. Three months later, we were asking (out-loud), “What were we thinking?!” It never occurred to us that we would grow as fast as we did. Since then, we have rented larger than needed spaces in our other two offices to provide for easier growth.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Both of us enjoy Dave Ramsey’s Entreleadership podcasts and Andy Stanley’s Leadership podcasts. These two podcasts provide down-to-earth, practical suggestions as well as interviewing people who have become successful and want to share their experiences. Lisa is a book reader and Mary Alice, because she drives around the state so much, does most of her “reading” in the car using audiobooks. The book that we read the most and that has helped us the most is the Bible. Jesus’ command to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” not only guides our lives, but is part of our office mission statement.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now at Insurance Advantage and LMA Financial Services? How do you think that will help people?
Right at the moment, our nation is dealing with the constraints of COVID-19. We are setting ourselves up to use Zoom and other webinar technologies as a way to virtually meet with our clients. This will allow us to continue working while keeping social distance.
Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the central focus of our discussion. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Since 1995 and then after we opened our business together, we have had the same vision and purpose. It is our desire to provide our customers with knowledge, which allows them to make an educational decision, provide exceptional service that exceeds expectations and to honor God in thought, word, action and deed.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Funny that this question is being answered today! We are greatly concerned as to how the COVID-19 situation will ultimately affect our sales and income flow. We have, since day one in the business, held on to the promises found in two particular scriptures. One is found in Philippians 4:19 where the Apostle Paul tells the people of Philippi (and us): “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all of your needs from His glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” The second is Jeremiah 29:11–13… “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.’” Anyone in sales knows that there are trying times, financially. God has never let us down! His promises are true!
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
The majority of our business comes from active and retired school employees. Having been in the business for over 25 years, we are to the point where a great amount of our sales come from referrals. However, we still have over 40 workshops a year. Most of these workshops are for school personnel considering retirement. We will do IRA and financial planning workshops, too. Social media has been a huge source of our lead generation. On average, we set at least one appointment a day from Facebook!
If a fellow CEO would ask you for advice about whether to bootstrap or to look for VC capital, how would you help them weigh the pros and cons of that decision?
This situation has happened with us and we used our own capital (bootstrapped) to finance our operation. As owners, we went without a salary for a while but made sure that every employee was paid on time! As a small business, we would recommend that CEO’s look at all options including SBA loans and loans for women and other minority business owners.
What would you advise to a founder who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
We think it is human nature to, at times, hit a stand-still or get into a rut. One of the things we have done when this has happened with us is to take our staff and their spouses on a four-day retreat. The first time we did this, we went just two hours east to Memphis, Tennessee. There, we rented hotel rooms for each couple and a meeting room for our group sessions. These few days together allowed us to discuss the past, analyze the present and plan for the future. We did fun activities as a group and ate some delicious meals together. The success of this outing was amazing and we have had an annual retreat each year since! We also volunteer at our local Ronald McDonald House by cooking a meal once a quarter. The achievements of your staff and sales force depend greatly on how they function as a team. Team building opportunities should be prioritized!
What are the most common finance mistakes you have seen other businesses make? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
We feel as though one of the biggest mistakes we’ve seen others make is not paying team members well! Many times, the “top brass” make sure they are well compensated but pay as little as possible to their support staff. We try hard to not only compensate our people well, but also do little things often to make sure they know how much we appreciate them. It is not uncommon for us to do things such as buy lunch for everyone once a week, make Sonic runs for an afternoon soft drink or milkshake, order Arkansas Razorback gear for each team member or send someone out to get Starbucks drinks for all. We have also found that there is great benefit to occasionally slip a $50 or $100 in a handshake or have a mobile car wash service come wash employees’ cars.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to succeed in the modern finance industry? Please share a story or an example for each.
- If you do what is right for the client, you’ll be successful! A great example of this in our business is making sure we ask a lot of questions before making recommendations. If Joe Client wants security of principal and is fearful of risk, we don’t need to recommend a mutual fund! Or, if a client needs unlimited access to funds, we won’t suggest an annuity with limited withdrawals. Also, we don’t bother a client after they leave our office! If Joan Client has said that she needs time to think, we are going to give her time to think. People don’t want or need to be harassed and bothered.
- You don’t sow a seed and reap rewards immediately. Success in the finance industry depends on consistently seeing people. Most people don’t make a decision at the first appointment. So, you have to consistently keep seeing people. We refer to it as “filling the pipeline”. It is human nature to want to slack off after some big sales or successful weeks. We’ve all done it. Long-term success requires full-time work!
- Hand written thank you notes will set you apart! It is absolutely amazing the impact a hand-written note has these days! This is a lost art. People are blown away if they receive a thank-you note via the U.S. mail service. Both of us travel a lot and have used some of our pictures as the front of our thank you note cards. Clients will often times call or e-mail us after receiving these notes saying how much they appreciate receiving them!
- Being appreciative of referrals is key! In our office, we make sure Joe Client knows how much we appreciate him sending a new prospect our way. If a person comes in for appointment and says, “Joe Client gave me your name”, we automatically send Joe Client a dozen of some very delicious cookies in a tin with our logo on it. It doesn’t matter if the person referred does business with us or not. We want the client to know just how special his word-of-mouth advertising is to us!
- Your success is hugely dependent on your team! Our staff has heard repeatedly, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression!” When a person walks through our door, we want our front office personnel to great them with a smile and a cheerful voice. We want them to ask if they want a cup of coffee, tea, water or a soda. We want them to engage in conversation and show them where restrooms are located. When talking on the phone, we want our staff members to “smile through the phone,” talk slowly and be cheerful. E-mails should be engaging, not just the facts! And e-mails should always include a line about how appreciative you are of their business or the opportunity to earn their business.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
For one, we would recommend taking time to take care of yourself. If you are working 60–80 hours a week and not taking time to rest and relax, then you are going to burn out quickly. We believe there’s a reason God rested on the seventh day! He was leading by example and reminding us that we, too, need a day of rest! Secondly, find opportunities to volunteer in your community. Taking the focus off of yourself or your business and focusing on the needs of others is a great way to recharge your batteries and realize just how good you have it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
As wonderful as technology and social media are, we have become a society that keeps our eyes glued to a screen. We are quickly losing the ability to communicate verbally and interactively. If we could start a movement, we would enact “device free meals.” By putting our devices away at mealtime, we would be able to totally focus on the individuals across the table and actually communicate, verbally, with them. Families could once again talk about their day. Restaurants would be “device free” and people could focus on each other instead of a screen!
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