Ask any producer how he made it to the top, and he will most likely mention membership in a study group. To find out why study groups are so important, we recently interviewed NAIFA member Greg Gagne, ChFC, who has been a member of a study group since 2009. Here are some of Gagne’s insights on why it pays to belong to study groups, and some helpful hints for making the most of them.
NAIFA: Many successful producers attribute their success in the business to their participation in a study group. Why are study groups so valuable to so many insurance agents and advisors?
Greg Gagne: Study groups are valuable because they really help the advisor to have a sounding board, a cheering section and accountability. This is even more important with “breakaway brokers” or independents who may otherwise feel like they are on their own island. Being a member of a study group has really helped me to stay connected, to share, to learn and to grow both personally and professionally.
NAIFA: Why did you decide to join your study group, and how has it helped you and your practice?
Gagne: I joined because I wanted the opportunity to share my best practices with other advisors and, more importantly, to learn some of the best practices of my colleagues. In my study group, each member is from a different part of the business. This means that each member has his own individual specialty focus. Having this cross section of business has enabled me to learn “best practices” on running my business, based on how they are running their businesses.
Being a member of a study group also has helped me to become more efficient, more process-oriented and more effective in communicating with my prospects and clients. My members are from various backgrounds and geographic areas. They are all members of MDRT and NAIFA. They are David Appel in Boston, Scott Edelman in Philadelphia, Marcus Henderson in Nashville and Jonathan Nicholas in Redwood City, Calif.
NAIFA: What should an advisor look for in a study group, and how should he make the most of the time and resources he invests in the group?
Gagne: An advisor should look first at the “character” of the study group and that of the current members in it. He should make sure there is a philosophical match and everyone has a common vision. Group members should also be members of NAIFA and, hopefully, MDRT. In our case, we were all members of both NAIFA and MDRT. Since starting the group in 2009, four of us have achieved Top of the Table status and one has now achieved Court of the Table. Hopefully, in the coming year, all five of us will achieve Top of the Table status. I mention this because study group members must be committed to the process, committed to one other, and committed to success both in business and at home.
NAIFA: What are some of the pitfalls study group members should avoid?
Gagne: One of the greatest pitfalls is not scheduling and committing to spending time “out of the business” to focus on the business. It takes the participation of the entire group to succeed. If not, it will fail. Another pitfall would be to have all study group members focusing on the same areas of expertise, have all the members from the same area or have all the members work for the same company. This would defeat the purpose. The idea is to get fresh “out-of-the-box” ideas that you may not get if you are spending your time only with the same types of practitioners from the same area.
NAIFA: Is there anything else you would like to add about study groups?
Gagne: Belonging to a study group is like having a special “business family.” The members get it. They understand what challenges you are facing day in and day out and can relate to them. Having a structure in place where you can rely on the members for support, inspiration and guidance is very well worth the time you take away from your day-to-day business to participate in the group.