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Success Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

My career in this business certainly has evolved over the past 38 years. I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve also learned some important lessons. As I look back, I realize what has contributed to my success. To make it in the financial services industry, you simply can’t give up! You must stay in it long enough to build up a book of clients who will refer you to other clients. In addition, you must be able to pick yourself up when you fall and you must know the value of working with others.

I am an accountant by education, but after about six years of practicing I made the switch to a career in life insurance. I entered the agency of my mentor, an attorney who did estate planning in addition to selling small group health insurance and employee benefits. At the time, I built my practice much like his. Now, I have a multi-faceted practice specializing in group health, ancillary products, disability insurance, life insurance and financial analysis. Because of my start and subsequent success, I am a big believer in having mentors and doing joint work. In fact, my partner is 23 years younger than I am, and I have benefitted as much from working with him as he has from working with me.

Perhaps the best advice I can give agents, those who are new to the business along with those with more experience, is to be involved in industry associations. Being a part of the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), among other industry associations, keeps me fresh. My association involvement is the primary way I stay on top of what’s changing in our industry. Associations also can help agents feel connected to others who are doing precisely what they do for a living. We also have an obligation to give back to our trade. The exchange of ideas with fellow members is a great way to learn what works and what doesn’t. This saves you time and brings you to success more quickly!

Younger agents need to know they can’t quit early. Every producer out there begins a new year wondering how it will turn out. Make sure you have a good steady source of prospects to keep you from worrying about sales. After all, prospecting is the lifeblood of this business. If I was ever in a career slump, it usually was because I stopped prospecting.

In addition to learning how to seek out potential clients, young agents need to know how to manage their time. Because you are self-employed in this business, the 9-to-5 mentality just won’t work. When you’re starting out, you will find you have a lot of time on your hands, and you must know how to use it wisely. Making goals will surely help. For me, I wanted to qualify for MDRT each year and reach a certain amount of income in commissions. For a new agent, a good goal might be to have a certain number of appointments set up each week. This is a great aid in managing time.

Being in this industry is a marathon, not a sprint. There simply are no shortcuts. Build relationships, find a niche market and stay true to what you do. Every year, determine if there’s something different you can do to increase sales from the prior year.

After 38 years in the business, I still begin each year by evaluating how I can keep my edge and add revenue without disrupting anything. You certainly don’t want to throw away a process that is working for you. In addition, the opportunity to do joint work will contribute tremendously to your success. There is a great deal to learn from a senior agent, and you will find most of them are more than willing to be a resource for you.


H. Larry Fortenberry, CLU, ChFC, is a 37-year MDRT member with nine Court of the Table and 14 Top of the Table honors. He is president of Executive Planning Group, an insurance and employee benefits firm in Jackson, Miss. Contact him at [email protected]


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