Is Going Direct Really Cheaper Than A Broker Or Price Comparison For Small Business Insurance?

The UK media is currently awash with advertising slogans from direct commercial insurance companies targeting small business owners in an attempt to make them switch their provider of business insurance.

‘Get 12 months cover for the price of ten’ and ‘You won’t find us on price comparison websites’ are typical of the slogans emanating from these companies, in a language more akin to the selling of car insurance than the traditional professional and almost stoic approach to the selling of business insurance cover.

In the current recession, price has become the determining factor in winning the war of market share for all goods and services and insurance is no exception. Prudent small businessmen and women are looking to cut costs in all areas of their business and the large direct insurance companies are well aware of this.

The large insurers are also aware that the UK market has over five million small businesses of which a fifth are sole traders, self-employed and people working from home, many of whom are familiar with purchasing their personal insurance direct with the provider, either by phone or on the Internet.

There are three types of provider in the current market for business insurance in the UK.

Intermediaries such as insurance brokers and agents, price comparison sites and direct commercial and business insurers.

Each has their own advantage and disadvantages, however whether one distribution channel is cheaper than another is often a subjective view from a particular trade, or dependent upon factors many of which cannot be quantified in price.

Direct Insurance companies claim to be able to offer cheaper polices because the cut out the costs of the middleman. It is certainly true that direct insurers do not have to pay an intermediary for the cost of the lead or introduction, however it is questionable whether this cost saving is actually reflected in the prices offered to the public.

Certainly there are economies of scale to be made by centralising the life-cycle of a policy from sales point to claim and renewal, however all those functions that are performed by an intermediary still have to be carried out in-house by the direct company and these have a cost.

Many large composite insurers often have distinct direct divisions with their own target market and premium rates. The same company may also have a broker or intermediary division or channel.

It is quite often the case that a large broker with a large book of business of, for example, small builders liability, will receive much more preferential rates then the same companies direct channel, because that insurance company wishes to retain that brokers clients.

Commercial Insurance brokers then are often able to offer preferential rates because they have more flexible schemes and arrangements than the direct channel.

One of the main benefits of using an insurance broker or intermediary in purchasing commercial insurance for small business, cannot be quantified in price and is worth the commission or fee that they may charge. That is advice, market and product information and knowledge, access to various markets such as Lloyds and some human help if the worst happens to a business and a claim is needed.

A commercial or business insurance broker is often able to negotiate far better claims settlements than if an individual were to deal direct with the insurer. The main reason for this is once again the insurer wishes to retain that brokers share of the total risk pool and will often pay out to a broker on an ex-gratia basis. This cost of this service is not quantifiable at the quote stage where small business cover may well just be valued for the price paid or the covers bought.

The third major way in which small business owners can purchase cover is by visiting a price comparison website. All the major UK comparison sites have recently begun to offer online cover aimed particularly at the small business sector, with under 50 employees. This is in direct competition with the direct insurers for television and media advertising space, aimed in particular at self-employed tradesmen and women who require business liability insurance and perhaps commercial van cover.

The comparison price proposition is that they can compare the market or at least a small section of it, to find the cheapest business insurance. They often do not provide any assistance in the purchasing decision-making process and the reality often is, that the cheapest commercial and small business insurance can be found in one of the other distribution channels.

It is therefore important that a small businessman shops around and takes some time to compare offerings including premiums, covers and services from all three sales channels. Prices tend to vary immensely by trade across the direct, broker and comparison markets and often it is a case of finding the provider or supplier who is the industry leader for a particular business type or trade in order to make large savings.

Top Five Tips Small Business Owners Can Learn From JK Rowling

J. K. Rowling is the English writer who has authored all seven beloved and widely read Harry Potter novels. At age 41, her rise to fame and fortune is inspiring. She has sold over 325 million books. The final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was the fastest-selling book of all time.

Her fortune is estimated at $1 billion. She is ranked as the 136th richest person in the world. In 2006, Forbes named Rowling the second richest female entertainer in the world and ranked her as 48th on the 100 most powerful celebrities list of 2007.

When this all began in 1990, however, things were very different for J. K. Rowling. She was not a published author. She did not have a lot of money. She was living in London, working as a researcher and bi-lingual secretary for Amnesty International, and her mother had just died. How she got from there to where she is today is a story filled with invaluable tips for small business owners.

Tip # 1: Don’t Rush to Roll Out Your Product.

Destiny is a name often given in retrospect to choices that had dramatic consequences. – Rowling

Although J. K. Rowling had been a writer all her life, she was slow to publish. “I had written two novels before I had the idea for Harry, though I’d never tried to get them published (and a good job too, I don’t think they were very good).”

All too often, as small business owners, we rush to get a product out before its time, before it’s been fully considered or tested. Rowling sets a great example of getting a product just right before presenting it to the world.

Tip # 2: When a Great Idea Grabs You — Grab Back.

You sort of start thinking anythings possible if you’ve got enough nerve. – Rowling

Great ideas are unmistakably powerful in their announcement and come when least expected. Rowling says:

Where the idea for Harry Potter actually came from, I really couldn’t tell you. I was traveling on a train between Manchester and London and it just popped into my head. I spent four hours thinking about what Hogwarts would be like. By the time I got off at King’s Cross, many of the characters in the books had already been invented.

As small business owners, we know when a great idea is upon us. The problem is, we often question it, second-guess it, and rationalize it away. Not Rowling. She recognized the mark of a powerful idea, seized upon it and went with it.

Tip # 3: Persevere, Persevere, and Persevere.

It is our choices . . . that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. – Rowling

Rowling moved to Portugal to teach English as a Second Language in 1991 and married her first husband in 1992. They divorced in 1993. The next year, she moved to Scotland. At this point, she was an unemployed single mother living on welfare. In 1995, she completed her manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, typing it out on an old manual typewriter. She handed in the book to twelve publishing houses. They all rejected it.

Rowling never gave up. She did not stop just because life was hard. Despite all the changes and setbacks she was experiencing, she carried on. She persevered. As small business owners, we would do well to keep her example in mind.

Tip # 4: Don’t Let Anyone, Including Yourself, Sidetrack You from Your Goal.

If you’re holding out for universal popularity, I’m afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time. – Rowling

Finally, Bloomsbury, a small publisher, agreed to publish the first book. Her editor, though, says that he “advised Rowling to get a day job, since she had little chance of making money in children’s books.”

It’s a good thing she didn’t listen. All seven volumes of the Harry Potter series have broken sales records and have been translated into 65 languages. What a shining role model Rowling is for small business owners. She didn’t let anyone stand in the way of her goal-not even herself.

Tip # 5: Each of Us Has a Unique Contribution to Make to the World.

I just write what I wanted to write. I write what amuses me. It’s totally for myself. – Rowling

J. K. Rowling never went searching for the kind of success she’s received. “I just wrote the sort of thing I liked reading when I was younger (and still enjoy now!). I didn’t expect lots of people to like them, in fact, I never really thought much past getting them published.”

It wasn’t fame or wealth that J. K. Rowling sought. No. She simply wanted to contribute to the world in general, and to children specifically. As small business owners, this is so important to learn. Focus on the unique something we have to offer to the world. The rest will surely come, in ways we may not even be able to imagine.

Marketing Tip – Small Business Owners Need a System to Keep in Touch With Contacts and Build Sales

Many small business owners know keeping in touch with their contacts is an important part of their marketing plan. However, all too often, keeping in touch is a sporadic effort. Sending birthday cards or an e-mail newsletter is something that can be done “later.” The problem is “later” never comes. 

Small business owners need to build a marketing calendar that includes when and how each person (or group of people) is going to be contacted.  The best way small business owners can keep on top of their contact efforts is to have some type of system in place.  The system should be as easy and as automatic as possible.
  
There are many software tools you can use to organize your contacts.  Microsoft Outlook and Excel are great programs.  With either of these, you can merge with Microsoft Word to create phone lists, mailing labels and personalized letters. More sophisticated contact management programs you can purchase include ACT! and Goldmine.  
 
Marketing Tools for Keeping in Touch
 
There are a variety of different marketing tools small business owners can use to keep in touch. Here are just a few ideas.
 
E-mail newsletters are a great way to communicate with a large group of people. There are a number of great on-line resources available for e-mail newsletter creation and management. Use e-mail newsletters to provide product information, announce sales, and promote special events. 
 
Real greeting cards (the kind that come in an envelope with a stamp) are great marketing tools to use at Christmas, birthdays and other times of the year.  In fact, the best time a small business owner can send a greeting card is when there is no real reason to send a card! A card sent in August will be remembered much more than one sent in December.

Savvy business owners know that phone calls, personal visits and lunches are always appreciated. The key there is to remember the marketing message when scheduling those calls or visits. Yes, having coffee with a long-term client is great. But be sure to let the client know that you have a great new product that can dramatically help him or her. Too often business owners get wrapped up in the social aspect of personal visits and forget to ask for more business!

The most important part of any system is using it regularly.  If you are very busy, or have a hard time working with schedules, you are better off delegating or outsourcing.  If you have an assistant, that person can print letters, write e-mails, even sign Christmas cards for you.  That leaves you free to work on other areas of your business.

If you don’t have any help in your office, outsourcing is the answer. There are a number of local and on-line services that help business owners with their marketing. Or, try using a virtual assistant.  The marketing money you spend to outsource these routine tasks will be repaid many time over with the new business you get.

Remember — the key to a successful system is to have it automated as much as possible. The less work you have to do, the more likely it is to be done on time, and the more likely you are to get referrals!

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