Susan Hardy, of the Hardy Insurance Agency, says that too many people focus on the cost of insurance instead of closely examining what’s actually in their policy. She’s seen a lot of cases where that backfired in a big way when a claim was filed and what the policyholder assumed was covered… was not.
That’s why she is passionate about helping people find the right coverage with the right insurance company for their specific situation. There’s no one-size-fits-all in this industry.
It’s a philosophy that has served Susan well as she’s built her business from the ground up. We talk about how she got started and the critical things she did at the beginning to propel growth, as well as…
- Why she’s happy to share information with her competition
- How to make sure your business doesn’t own you
- The type of insurance people do without but shouldn’t – and you can get it for free
- What you should ask an insurance agent before you work with them
- And more
Mentioned in This Episode: www.hardyinsurance.net
Jay Sparks: Hello, this is Jay Sparks, your host of Finding Unique Value. I am the interviewer of business owners that have found unique value in their business or industry that others have not yet seen or explored. And today I’m excited to be joined by Susan Hardy, who is the owner of an insurance agency in Massachusetts, Hardy Insurance Agency. And if you ever wondered what type of insurance coverage you need or even if you need coverage, I’m sure you wish you knew someone like Susan who is an experienced pro at finding the right coverage, who are the right company for your situation, which may times she’s told me just comes down to asking the right question to get you the right value from your policy.
So I’m interested in getting her views on where the value is in the insurance industry. So with that, welcome to the podcast. Susan it’s great to be speaking with you today.
Susan Hardy: Thank you. It’s nice to be here. I appreciate it.
Jay Sparks: Great. So could you just take a minute and just introduce yourself. Susan, just please let us know, you know, what you’re currently doing and, how long and anything else you think we need to know as from a background perspective.
Susan Hardy: Yeah. So my name is Susan Hardy, and I own Hardy Insurance Agency in Stoughton, Massachusetts. I own and operate it, Monday through Friday. We’ve been in business nine years, we’re just a small local agency focusing with our local people. I was born and raised in Stoughton and have a lot of contacts in my own town, which was very helpful to become successful in the business.
Jay Sparks: Sure, sure. So, how did you… With all those… You know, being in that area, everybody in Stoughton doesn’t set up an insurance agency, right? So how did that come to light? Because I’m sure you know when you were sitting in class in the sixth grade, you weren’t thinking about doing that necessarily, right? How did that come to be?
Susan Hardy: It’s funny because most people that get into the insurance business, there’s only two ways. It’s by mistake, which is how I got into it, by mistake. As I started in 1997 to cut down to part-time work and just have an easy job filing in a local agency as well. And I started to like it and make money and realize that everybody needs insurance so why don’t I stay in, get busy, writing policies and learn in the business, and that’s exactly what I did.
And I ended up leaving a job and going for another agency that was a little bit smaller and then in our state things changed. Managed competition came in, and the state no longer set the rates, which gave me the opportunity to start my own with my own book of business. So it was very risky because we didn’t have a carrier at the time I had to go through a group that got me a direct appointment with a carrier, and kind of took off from there. Then we are nine years later.
Jay Sparks: And it’s been a… from you said earlier it’s been growing every year which is incredible.
Susan Hardy: Yep. It has been growing every year. There’s been a lot of highs and lows and a lot of twists and turns but it’s going great.
Jay Sparks: So how did you make that mental jump, because this is something that was always fascinating to me. A lot of people want to be their own boss, right? Because it is kind of like, you know, when you’re a teenager, right? You want to be an adult but you don’t want any of the responsibilities. You just want to be able to do your own thing and not have to answer to anybody else. But as you know, it’s very many cases that the business owns you, right? And you end up owning just a very difficult job with, with no boss and no real direction. Right? So it can be incredibly stressful. So how did you kind of get that from one place to the other?
Susan Hardy: So when I moved to the second company, I was the only one in the office all day long, and I had my own book of business. So it was almost like I was my own boss already, even though I had to be… you know, I had hours that I had to adhere to, and rules and then when the managed competition started, I began to interview with other agencies, because the agency that I worked for didn’t actually have a contract with a carrier.
So as I interviewed with other agencies, some of these interviews lasted two and three hours. And they gave me insights and there was a lot of things to consider. I have a friend, he’s a mentor now, and that’s where I was going to go work, and I was going to have to sign a noncompete, and I was going to have to be an outside broker. And I was afraid I wasn’t going to be disciplined enough to make all the phone calls and pound the pavement so to speak, because that’s not really who I am.
So I began talking to other people that could get me connected through them, and I paid a small fee, monthly fee to do it. And that’s what I decided. Maybe I would take the risk, and it was a risk. I didn’t know if it was going to work, but I had a good group of people that followed me the first time I moved to an agency. So I knew that it would be an easy transition again to move and start on my own.
Jay Sparks: Sure, sure. Well you said you felt it was risky. Now looking back, do you think that it was more risky staying at a job where you couldn’t grow, or do you think it was more risky trying to learn how to kind of be your own boss? And they’re both very difficult decisions to make, but do you feel that being in control kind of limited the risk a little bit for you or is it still like a white knuckle ride for the first couple of years for you?
Susan Hardy: Once I knew I was going to get appointed through another one of my mentors, once I knew that they had an avenue for me to take, then I knew I could do it. And so I approached the agency that I worked for that didn’t have a contract, and I offered to buy my own book of business. So it was me being… I could have walked away and did it all on my own, but I didn’t want to burn any bridges. I feel that’s very important.
You know, I was up front, it was a win-win for them as well, because they had another agency that they were operating, so they weren’t really losing anything because if I left, all my people would have come, or most of them would came with me anyway. So that’s how it happened, and I did it the right way instead of just taking my business and running I guess.
Jay Sparks: Yeah. Yeah. Just leaving in the middle of the night. Right? And leaving people unhappy and confused. Yeah. I know that’s never a good thing. Well you said this twice now and I think this is also another thing that I’ve seen with people that have been successful. Is that nobody knows everything, particular when you’re starting new, right? There’s just way, way, way too much to know and there isn’t a rule book there, right?
You don’t know… It’s not written down anywhere, all the steps you need to take. And you talk about a mentor twice, now that’s incredibly valuable. Whether it’s someone, like I said… apparently in your case you actually had a person, a lot of people have virtual mentors, you read about people or you can watch about them now on the and pick up kind of tips and kind of how they think of all things and what they did incorrectly.
What were some of the things or some of the advice that you got that was particularly helpful that maybe you wouldn’t have gotten right away? Right. You would’ve eventually… I mean, I can tell you’re smart, you’ll figure it out, but sometimes when someone tells you something before you have to experience it, it’s incredibly helpful instead of making six mistakes before you learn it?
Susan Hardy: Well, it’s funny because one of the mentors that I mentioned earlier, that was where I was going to work at. I came right out and asked him what he thought about me opening my own business and I can’t exactly use the exact words that he said, but he was like, “I think it would take a lot of guts.” And it did. It did take a lot of guts. And I laugh about it today and I talk to him about it today and, he’s happy for me and I admire the way he runs his agency. It’s top-notch.
I’d like to be there one day. I’m not there. They have different departments with multiple employees and everything. Technology and website and social media and everything. But you know he got into the business the other way that I said. There’s two ways, by mistake, and then usually it’s a family owned business that maybe their parent or grandparent had started years and years ago and that’s where he was years and years and years in the business.
So where I’m still at the beginning stages, you know, probably halfway through I would say, “You know, maybe between the second and third stage of the business.”
Jay Sparks: Okay. No, that’s incredible. I’m glad and glad you found him, I think it’s also impressive, because it sounds to me like he’s “the competition” right?
Susan Hardy: Yeah.
Jay Sparks: You were both big enough to be able to share best practices with each other. Because I’m sure you’re at the stage now where you can start helping him from time to time on different things. Right? Because I’m sure he can’t possibly know everything.
Susan Hardy: Yeah, well he knows a lot. So I’d probably be asking him more than he’d be asking me, but we live in different… you know we have different town so he is a direct competition, and I will always praise him. And with me, he will also praise me if he comes across that’s asking, if they know me or telling them where their insurance is. So he would say we had multiple, multiple interviews, and he is just always willing to help.
And now I’m seeing him at some of the classes that I go to, and the conversations we have and connections that he can get me to now, you know, he’s willing to help me anytime I need it. Geez, I probably should send them a box of chocolates and stuff, you know?
Jay Sparks: Yeah, yeah. Goes back to your earlier comment, right. You know you don’t want to burn bridges and it doesn’t pay you anything… It doesn’t cost you anything to be friends. Right. And to be friendly?
Susan Hardy: Right. There’s enough business to go around and you don’t really need to bad mouth or fight with other agents that you should all be friends. You attend classes together, and we’re all doing the same thing. You know?
Jay Sparks: Sure. Well, switching topics a little bit, in terms of insurance from somebody who’s not in the industry, it can be very complex and the industry, really isn’t set up to be consumer friendly. It can be… if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can get something that won’t even help you, or won’t even cover what you think it’s covering. And you can also buy something that is horrendously overpriced. And as an investment professional, I see this a lot.
We know investments wrapped in insurance products and people don’t understand necessarily that they’re giving up way over half of their future returns to the insurance company. Right? And it’s not sold that way of course, but that’s the way it is. So, you know, what do you see as some of the gaps, and again do you serve business owners and individuals, or just one or the other or everybody?
Susan Hardy: Yeah, we do both. I’m concentrating on personal lines, we do not do life or health or anything like that right now. Maybe that’s in the future. But yeah we concentrate on those and just do the best we can.
Jay Sparks: Yeah.
Susan Hardy: Getting the right products to our customers and explaining coverages. I think that sometimes with online quoting and some of the companies that you just have to make a phone call and then they give you a quote over the phone and then you’re… it’s a little scary because we always see policies that aren’t covering enough for them and they have no idea, because it’s legal to carry it in Massachusetts such as property damage limit, and you could carry something as low as 5,000 on auto policy.
But almost any accident, not any accident, but a lot of accidents, if there was a… Cars today cost so much that it’s just not enough. If you were to get in a really bad accident with a Mercedes or BMW, you’re already in the hole.
Jay Sparks: Yep, yep. Absolutely. So what sort of questions should people be asking themselves just to make sure that if they listen to this, they have a couple of tools maybe. So they don’t pay money that is basically being thrown away because it’s not going to cover what they think it is. What sort of things do they need to look for?
Susan Hardy: Well for starters, if they are getting a quote from an online policy and they see that it’s $1,000 cheaper, There’s probably a coverage difference between the two. And they should know what those coverages are. Some people don’t care. They just want the lowest that they can go. We don’t sell a lower than 100,000 on property damage, because we don’t feel like it’s… it’s just we know that they’re not going to be covered so we won’t even do it.
And that’s been since the beginning of my time, which I started in 1997. We’ve never sell less than that. And then I’ve had friends that show me their policy that they did get online and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, that’s not enough. Feel lucky that nothing has happened,” or sometimes they find out the hard way.
Jay Sparks: So what is… So to just dive in just a little bit more. Okay. I think that’s a really important question that you know, whether someone does business with you or not that, we can maybe help them. Is that, now how can they kind of do the math so that they know what coverage they should have? It sounds like people are just going for the lowest number, which is not going to help them. Are there some rules of thumb or just some things they should be thinking about in terms of risk?
So for instance, I’ll say they have a newer car, it’s not an older car, but it’s a newer car, and they’re getting some coverage. How would they know that they would be covered, or I guess if they hit someone else that’s a different set of questions, right? Because that could be… Someone else could be driving a much more expensive car.
Susan Hardy: Yeah. Well, when you buy a new car, if you have a loan, like most people, the bank is going to make sure that you have full coverage. So you have covered the collision, you’re covered for comp. Like you have to do that for a homeowner, I mean the basic limits are actually, for bodily injury, it’s 20,000, 40,000 per accident. We start everybody off at 100,000, 300,000 per accident.
And then we stress that when you’re a homeowner on top of it, maybe a teenager might have a little bit less because they’re trying to save and people say, “Well, they don’t own anything. What are they going to get when they…” You know, they can attach wages. So you want to explain-
Jay Sparks: Sure.
Susan Hardy: You know, bare-bones is not always the best way to go. And it’s actually funny with rating, the companies rating these policies, because they have gotten to the point that they don’t want to write policies with the lowest limits either because it’s just not enough sometimes. I mean, hopefully most people don’t have to use their entire limit on a policy, but there are the events that happen and they learned the hard way.
Jay Sparks: Sure, sure. Yeah. I never know anyone that does had to make a claim that thought they had too much coverage. Right? It just doesn’t happen that way.
Susan Hardy: No, but sometimes little accidents pay out the limit and then they receive a letter from an attorney saying, you know, “We’re going to bring you to civil claims court, and try to get more out of you because you ran over my foot, and $100,000 isn’t enough coverage.” But it doesn’t happen all the time.
Jay Sparks: Great. Great. Well is there anything else that you see people, not thinking about that you have to kind of bring to their attention in terms of maybe even either a policy they’re not thinking about or, different potential coverage amounts besides the ones you just explained?
Susan Hardy: Well, one small thing could be even apartment and challenge. You know, many people go without apartment insurance, and in our state it could be $150, and it covers a lot of… it covers all your contents, it gives you personal liability coverage, medical payments, but it also gives you a discount on your auto. So a lot of times you’re actually getting the policy for free, because you’re getting the discount on your auto, and it equals the amount that you would be paying for the apartment insurance.
And people will like, “Well I don’t have that much stuff.” But you know, if you have $20,000 worth of coverage, I mean couch, TV, laptop, clothes, people have more than they think, and it really is worth it to have it. Especially now when they’re given all these credits and account discounts. It’s something to think about. And we always try to talk our customers into it, and a lot of times it’s bringing the premium down, which is actually bringing our commissions down.
But we would rather see them covered than to make a few extra dollars on ourselves. It’s never about the premium to us it’s about the coverage.
Jay Sparks: And then that’s a really good point Susan, because I think that’s the other thing that people are very distrustful of in the insurance industry. Because you know that the higher the premium, the more the commission. So of course the person I’m talking to is going to see, how much I got to start with a very big premium and then, maybe work their way down. So I don’t know if it’s really what’s right for me or if it what’s most profitable for them.
So if someone’s looking to work with someone, and maybe they don’t have access to you for instance, right? What are some things that they should be thinking about or they should be asking if they’re thinking about doing business with a particular insurance person?
Susan Hardy: Well they should ask for a quote in writing. I think that’s easily… You can easily get that. And it is easy for a consumer to actually compare their previous policy. You can look at that and see the coverages without knowing really what the coverages mean. You can at least see that you’re getting the same coverage or better. And so as far as the questions, I mean questions that people may ask is, “Okay, so if I’m at fault at an accident, am I covered?” Yes, you’re covered under the collision portion.
And they might want to know deductibles. But it’s hard to say because people will say, “Oh, I just want basic,” and then you run… Like I can tell when a car is worth more than what they think. And I’ll run it in the NADA which is available through us, through the registry and, just let them know approximately what their car is worth in the eyes of the insurance and the registry. And then usually that will… They’ll think about the cost versus losing the car and then they make the own opinion on what they think they should do.
Jay Sparks: Sure. Sure. Well, how can a consumer know if the insurance agent themselves has kind of got the right structure, that they aren’t behold until maybe one type of policy, or maybe they don’t really have any expertise in a certain area. I mean are there any things that you think you… You, I’m sure do that many, many of your peers who aren’t mentors aren’t doing or make it easier for you to distinguish yourself, because it sounds like you really are trying to help the person first, and then work on the other things that may benefit your agency?
Susan Hardy: Well one thing we do, we do not give them quotes based on…. Like I talked about before, the property damage. We would never give a lower quote and reduce that amount. We just won’t, it’s not worth it. We might show them the difference between deductibles and let them make a decision based on that. We don’t upsell. You know, some agents will just try to tack on every single endorsement available.
And there are a lot like accidents forgiveness, and we will ask about those, but we don’t automatically put it, which drives up the premium.
Jay Sparks: Sure.
Susan Hardy: Sometimes it’s worth it though because if you get a brand new car, there’s an endorsement that if you end up in an accident in total that brand new car they’ll replace it, you know? You know how they say you drive off the lot and you lose money right away. You know, that endorsement would be worth it, you know? And we would explain that to them. But as far as upselling and checking every box to give them everything we don’t do.
But I don’t know if it would be wrong saying for the agents that do, do that because now they’re offering a Cadillac policy versus a basic… not basic, but not all the bells and whistles on it. It’s hard to say whether it’s worth it or not. I suppose it also depends on who your clientele is. You know? I mean, you could have people that $300 extra premium is nothing, and they just want everything on it. You know?
Jay Sparks: Sure, sure.
Susan Hardy: And then there’s people that, that $300 premium is all the difference in the world, you know, at $30 more a month. You know? It does have to do with your clientele too.
Jay Sparks: Yeah. That goes back to the fact that you’re asking the right questions. Right? So you can get that in front, you can’t get that necessarily over the Internet, just getting a quote. Right? You’re just getting a number back, which won’t take all that into account. So that’s why in those situations you need to be working with someone like you who is focused on their needs.
Susan Hardy: Yeah. And sometimes like they’ll let just ask,” Have you ever been in an accident?” And they’re like, “No.” Or they’ll forget that it happened four years ago, and they forget and now they get a price, but now when it’s run through the registry, they pull your operating history and realize that in four years ago you were in an at fault accident, then it would change their premium. So then they sign on and then end up with less so-
Jay Sparks: Sure, sure. Much more expensive policy. Yeah. Excellent. No, this is all very… this is all very helpful. Thank you for taking the time to go over this and I’m very happy to see that someone with your approach and attitude has been continually growing their agency over the last nine years. That’s really great to hear.
Susan Hardy: Thank you.
Jay Sparks: How can people contact you, Susan? If someone wants to reach out to you directly, what’s the best way to do that?
Susan Hardy: They can call the office or email me at any time. I answer emails from home if I have the capability, and do you want me to give you the number and my email address or?
Jay Sparks: Well, I mean if they just go to… I mean your… It should be on your website, right? Which is?
Susan Hardy: Yes, it’s hardyinsurance.net, so I’m firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jay Sparks: Okay, great, great. I’ll make sure everyone has that and again, I really appreciate your time, Susan. I really enjoyed the conversation, and thank you for the tips on how to potentially find some of the right policies, and make sure we avoid some of the mistakes that some people make. And thank you everyone for listening to Finding Unique Value and look forward to sharing our next guest with you next week.