A couple of days ago I started getting congratulations notices on LinkedIn for my work anniversary. I hadn’t even realized it, but that actually represents the anniversary for how long I have been in business for myself.
As a professional female business owner in a traditionally male-dominated field, I can tell you that things have changed a lot!
I started in the insurance industry over 30 years ago as an administrative assistant in the benefits department of a smaller agency. After about six months on the job, I went to one of the owners and asked for the opportunity to sell. His answer was that I wouldn’t be any good at it, but after some negotiations, he agreed to let me do it in exchange for a cut in pay and the commitment to attend to my admin duties for at least half of the day.
A year and a half later when he retired, he sold me a portion of his shares in the agency. I continued to thrive and build my book of business until his son decided to sell the agency to a larger firm about seven years later. It was going to be another “good old boy” situation and they wanted me to sell my shares of stock and go back to administrative duties.
Taking another enormous leap of faith, I sold my shares in the agency, purchased a portion of my accounts (they refuse to sell most) and set up shop on my own as Olympic Crest Insurance. I leased a tiny office, moved in and then was immediately paralyzed for about the first year. I had gone from being “relevant” to insurance carriers to completely “irrelevant.”
I eventually got my feet back on the ground and my head back in the game and immediately started to leverage my strengths and as a result, my business grew. From one part-time employee to eventually where we are now with a staff of seven. Not huge by any stretch of the imagination, but we are doing what we do best: continuously look for innovative ways to help employers manage their benefits budget, leverage technology for efficiency while always putting the customer first.
As anyone who owns a small business knows, it is not easy. There are many ups and downs. I have survived bad employees, bad customers, outrageous premium increases, COBRA, ACA, 1095 reporting, and more than is appropriate to share. But I still love it. I love my employees, my clients and learning every day. I love trying to find new and innovative ways to help employers manage their benefits.
Twenty-two years ago, we were using fax machines, paper files and cell phones were still a luxury. There was not green hair, tattoos or jeans in the workplace. Women were still considered “less than.”
Twenty-two years ago, many told me I didn’t have a chance. Most small businesses fail within the first year. They say you can’t be a mom, wife and have a successful business. What I have to say to those naysayers is: you are wrong. I continue doing it every day by holding tight to my core values, remaining dedicated to my clients, and helping nurture the next generation of professionals.