Anthony Martin, 36, has created financial freedom for himself that many people can only dream of.
He generates $1 million in annual revenue at Choice Mutual, a one-man insurance agency he founded, by selling a very specialized niche product: final expense insurance. It covers burial expenses, so someone’s family doesn’t have to pay the costs, with a payout that is typically in the range of $10,000 to $30,000.
Six years ago, Martin’s life was very different. Working as a manager at an insurance agency in Roseville, Calif., Martin wished he had more control over how things were done. He eventually realized what he really wanted was to be his own boss. In 2013, he took a leap of faith and started the agency from his home.
Martin is one of a fast-growing cohort of entrepreneurs who are breaking $1 million in non-employer businesses, the government’s term for those that have no full-time employees except the owners.
The number of nonemployer firms that generate $1 million to $2.49 million in revenue rose to 36,161 in 2016, up 1.6 percent from 35,584 in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That number is up 35.2% from 26,744 in 2011.
So how did Martin grow his agency to $1 million? Recently, he shared his strategies with me. Many of his approaches are instructive for anyone who is selling a consumer product or service online.
Here’s how he pulled it off.
Focus on an area you already know well. It’s easiest to get a running start in a new business if you have already worked in the same industry. By the time he went into business, Martin had already racked up years of experience selling final expense insurance, so there was no need to get a crash course. It was easy for him to explain his product to customers because of that. “I have a very thorough understanding of all of the options out there,” he says.
Find an efficient way to attract customers. Although Martin knew his product well, he didn’t have experience in marketing, so he sought outside help. He hired a company called SellTermLife.com to build a website for him that would rank well in Google and help him get leads, through a customized marketing plan. He put up the website in June 2016.
Even with expert assistance, it was slow going at first. “It took me six months before I got a single lead from Google,” he says. Nonetheless, Martin kept showing up at his desk every day to build up his website. “You’re really going for a long-term play,” he says.
It took stamina to stay committed during those early months. The battle to get market share wasn’t the only one he was waging. For entrepreneurs, he believes, the real fight is to keep showing up for your business, even when it would be easy to slack off. “The majority of the fighting you’re doing is completely against yourself,” he says.
After Martin got his first lead, his momentum accelerated. Two months after that, he started getting daily leads through his site—and now it brings in many more. “It feeds me a never-ending flow of ready-to-buy customers,” says Martin.
Offer top-quality content. In working on his marketing plan, Martin had learned from the team at SellTermLife.com that it was important to publish high-quality, informative content to attract people to his site. As readers clicked on practical articles he wrote on topics such as state-regulated life insurance, life insurance for 89-year-olds and buying insurance for your parents, the site gradually built a strong organic rank in Google.
Here again, sticking with a niche subject he knew served Martin well. “You cannot find another website that sells this type of insurance that has anywhere near the level of in-depth, accurate information about this product,” says Martin.
Creating robust content took a serious investment of time, given that Martin did not have a writer on retainer. Every day during the week and for five to eight hours on the weekends, he’d create articles that address commonly-asked questions about final expense insurance. The articles attracted people who were already seriously interested in his product and also helped him to “own” certain search-term keywords, including “long-tail” phrases—such as questions customers might type into a search engine.
To figure out which keywords mattered most, Martin researched which ones were most commonly used, relying on tools such as Google’s keyword planner and SEM Rush. He also tapped his own knowledge of the field. “After selling this type of insurance for so long, I know the words people use,” says Martin.
Automate your leads. Martin’s site enables people to “request to apply” for the insurance by filling out a form. By the time a prospect has filled out the form, Martin knows he or she is serious.
To avoid losing track of these leads, Martin set up his site so the leads automatically go to his customer relationship management (CRM) system. Once it feeds him their contact information, he reaches out by phone, prioritizing the newest leads. “The person who has submitted a lead most recently is always the best person to call,” he says.
Thanks to this system, Martin never has to chase anyone down to get them to listen to a sales presentation. “I’m in a really unique situation in the world of selling insurance,” says Martin. “I actually don’t really sell anymore. For all intents and purposes, I’m more of a cashier. I just take orders.”
Embrace remote work. Many insurance agents spend a good part of their day driving to and from appointments with customers. Not Martin.
When customers decide to buy, Martin guides them by phone through a remote application process that the insurance companies have put in place. Sometimes customers sign documents using a program such as DocuSign. Other times, they use a voice signature on the phone.
Working virtually in this way helps Martin make the most of his time every day. “I’ve never met a person face to face to process the deals,” he says. “It’s all done remotely.”
Stay focused. Some of Martin’s contacts have recommended that he sell Medicare supplements or cancer plans. He always says no. “The reason I’m really successful in this space is I have been hyper-focused at being the most expert authority you can imagine on this type of insurance,” says Martin. When he gets an inquiry from someone who wants to buy insurance outside of his niche, he refers the prospect to a trusted industry colleague.
Martin does not look for reciprocal referrals, finding that leads that arrive this way are generally not as inclined to buy as the prospects who come in through his own website. “Right now if I had to choose between serving a customer who has said ‘I’m ready to apply. Please sign me up,” or a referral who has a question, I’m not going to make as much money from a referral,” he says. “That’s why I tell people ‘Don’t refer people to me.’ I allocate my working hours to people who are ready to sign up.”
One thing that helps Martin attract business is having a large number of positive online reviews. He requests reviews from customers automatically using TrustPilot’s automated system.
Keep overhead low Martin started out working from home in Roseville, Calif., but when his website traffic started to increase dramatically in March 2017 and he saw the business’s full growth potential, he realized there would be tax advantages to locating to Nevada, which has no state income tax. Licensing costs were also lower. He rented an office there for $2,500 a month.
Having the space is important because soon, Martin believes, he’ll need to hire other agents. “I have so much web traffic and so many leads that if I want to continue to monetize a lot of what is possible, I will have to hire agents to process those deals as well,” he says.
In the meantime, Martin keeps the rest of his overhead to about $500 a month. That covers his errors & omissions insurance, licensing fees and CRM subscription.
Protect your most precious resource. In a one-person business, where you have no one to back you up, staying healthy is essential.
Although Martin works long hours as he grows his business, he always finds time to work out. Rising at 4:30 a.m. every morning, he goes to a gym where he can do strength training and play basketball. Then he heads home for breakfast and starts making phone calls from his office around 7:30 a.m.
On the weekends, Martin and his wife, Christelle, love to enjoy the outdoors with their German Shepherds, Bear, and his new adopted sibling, eight-week-old Olive. “I could definitely sleep more,” Martin says—but his life is too full of good things at the moment to spend much time hitting the snooze button.
Elaine Pofeldt is author of The Million-Dollar, One Person Business (Random House, January 2, 2018), a book looking at how to break $1M in revenue in a business staffed only by the owners.