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The Greatest Think Since Sliced Bread

Posted By Donna M. Gray, 16 hours ago
Updated: 16 hours ago


The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

Eighty-six years ago, Otto Rohwedder invented sliced bread.  Hard to believe what’s happened since.

Take last Friday. That’s the day DHL, the logistics company, used a pilotless aircraft, or drone, to make a delivery to a small island off the coast of Germany. Sure seemed like an impossibility just a decade ago—actually, seemed pretty farfetched to me just a mere year ago. Little packages dropped at your doorstep seem more like a fanciful idea from the world of The Jetsons or Jimmy Neutron.

Except they’re not.  Drone deliveries are real.  So are driverless cars, hologram images rising out of tables, solar powered flight, and touch sensors that read keystrokes on a tabletop instead of a keyboard. In fact, these (and other hard-to-imagine inventions} are on their way into our lives—and our clients’ lives. Are we ready?  Have you even begun to consider the implications? While you’re not likely to write related policies in the next year, it may happen sooner than you think.

As insurance agencies, we owe it to our clients to keep an eye out for what’s coming…and what’s already here. Speaking of which, this includes 3D printing (which presents a host of risks, including defective and counterfeit product exposures), bitcoins (for which there are already endorsements available for crime policies), and genetic engineering (presenting a host of liability issues), among other new market products.

I guess what I’m saying is never say never. Keep current; stay curious. Consider the impossible, because it’s probably not that impossible. There’s some truly remarkable inventions right around the corner, and as risk experts, we have to understand them to provide the right protection.  Hey, who says insurance isn’t interesting?


Tags:  AIMS Society  insurance marketing and sales  self-improvement 

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Carlos Vargas, CPIA, Elected to AIMS Society Board

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, September 23, 2014



Donna Gray, AIMS Society: (877) 674-CPIA /

Amy Skidmore, Aartrijk: (614) 582-6902 /








Carlos Vargas, CPIA, Elected to AIMS Society Board



RICHMOND, VA (September 23, 2014) – Carlos Vargas, CPIA, partner at Vargas & Vargas Insurance Agency, based in Dorchester, Mass., with an office in nearby Stoughton, has been elected to the board of directors of the American Insurance Marketing & Sales (AIMS) Society, a professional organization dedicated to building insurance sales, marketing and technical expertise. He has been an insurance agent serving businesses and individuals in the greater Boston area since 1980.


Vargas is active in his local church, as well as numerous civic initiatives. He also is the founder of Boston’s Best Neighbor program, now in its sixth year. The purpose of the annual Boston’s Best Neighbor Award is to honor an individual who has demonstrated special care, concern and volunteer hours to make their neighborhood a safer, more pleasant and more friendly community for all the residents.


“As independent agents, we have a tremendous ability to serve our communities and to influence them for the better,” Vargas said. “When the AIMS Society offered me an opportunity to help other growth-oriented insurance professionals, I jumped at the chance.”


AIMS Society President June Taylor, CPIA, CIC, CPIW, DAE, principal at Wilkinson Insurance Agency in White House, Tenn., said, “Carlos is terrific example of how independent agents can engage their communities to build their business. We’re pleased to have him join our board as we work to enhance insurance sales and marketing excellence throughout the country.”


“We work in an amazing industry,” Vargas added. “I want to do whatever I can to help fellow independent agents grow their businesses and their careers and make a positive impact on their own local communities.”


Vargas also serves on the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance (MAHA) Board of Directors, the Massachusetts Property Insurance Underwriting Association (MPIUA) Agents Advisory Board and the Stoughton Redevelopment Authority. In 2012, he received the University of Massachusetts-Boston Chancellor’s Award for Longstanding Community Commitment and Service.


Other AIMS Society board members include: Vice President  Jim Mansfield, CPIA, of Mansfield Insurance Agency, Lawrenceburg, Ind.; Vice President Craig Most, CPIA, CIC, of Most Insurance Agency, Tampa, Fla.; Secretary Michael Herzak, CPIAL, CIC, CRMCS, of Insurance Systems Group, Cleveland, Ohio; Treasurer Martin Lebson, CPIAL, AAI, ARM, of The Capacity Group of Companies, in Mahwah, N.J.; Immediate Past President Curtis Pearsall, CPIA, CPCU, AIAF, ARM, AU, of Pearsall Associates, Whitesboro, N.Y.; Michael Grace, CPIA, of Bancorp South Insurance Services, Inc. , Baton Rouge, La.; Robert Klinger, CPIA, LUTCF, of Klinger & Associates, Germantown, Md.; Chris Paradiso, CPIA, of Paradiso Financial & Insurance Services, Stafford Springs, Conn.; Jeffrey Rounds, of Libke Insurance Associates, Wenatchee, Wash.; Keith Savino, CPIA and Richard Savino, CPIA, CIC, of Warwick Resource Group, Warwick, N.Y.; Joyce Sigler, CPIA, CPIW, CISR, NcAM, NcSA, of Jones & Wenner Insurance Agency, Fairlawn, Ohio; and George Zelhof, CPIA of United Assurance, Fair Lawn, N.J.


About AIMS Society: Founded in 1968 as The Firemark Society , the AIMS Society ( is a national, member-driven organization that provides training, information and networking services designed to increase the personal and agency sales production of property and casualty insurance agents. AIMS Society was the first organization to honor property and casualty agents for sales excellence and to establish the industry’s only sales-based insurance designation—the Certified Professional Insurance Agent (CPIA). Completion of the CPIA designation requirements is not necessary to qualify for membership. Lifetime CPIAs are recognized with the initials “CPIAL.”


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Tags:  AIMS Society 

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It's Monday!

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, September 23, 2014
It's Monday!

AIMS got more likes and re-tweets yesterday than many other posts we’ve put out there recently. What was the item?  A simple photo of a dog halfheartedly attacking the start of the day. It clearly struck a universal chord—and it got me thinking. 

What is it that makes Monday, or any other day for that matter, so difficult? Are there simple things each of us can do to change the trajectory of our day, to add a little umph to our work?

Turns out the answer is “Yes”—and it’s simpler to do than you might think. 

Here’s what I found online.  (Please note that I’ve refrained from nagging by leaving the “eat right, exercise and get more sleep” tips off the list. You’re welcome.)  While some ideas included may already be on your radar, if they’re yet to be adopted, they probably bear repeating:

  • The most common reason for fatigue?  Dehydration. Simple fix?  Water.  Drink more.
  • Take a 10-15 minute sun break every day. You’ll get more than Vitamin D; you’ll get a mental/emotional boost as well.
  • Turn down the temperature. Multiple studies, including one by, show a drop in office temperature leads to an increase in productivity.  Ideal temperatures? 76 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, 72 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter.
  • Schedule your tough tasks when you’re mentally toughest.  For most people, that’s in the morning.  But it doesn’t matter what works for most people, only you, so block out time when you feel most alert.
  • Rely on lemons…scented oils, hand lotion, candy drops…whatever provides a jolt of lemon fragrance. Turns out citrus, but particularly lemons, boost neurotransmitters in the brain which amp up energy and mood.

By my calculation, what we’re talking here is a 10 minute session of sitting in the sun, while drinking some water and sucking on a lemon drop only to return to your ideally cooled office just as you hit the peak of your mental day. Sounds like it might just be worth a try. Anybody else in on my grand energy experiment?  

Tags:  AIMS Society  self-improvement  teamwork 

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Lost & Never Found

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lost & Never Found?


There are arguments happening in dorm rooms across the country about it right now.

Spouses are yelling.

Kids are getting grounded over it.

What’s the problem?  Messiness.

But disorganization causes more than discord.  It causes profit loss.


Brother (the company that makes the P-touch labeler…kinda’ experts at this organization thing) conducted a survey on the very topic.  They found that an estimated 38 hours are lost per employee every year as a result of time spent looking for misplaced items in the office. That’s a week of hide-and-seek per person!  And if you have 10 employees in your office averaging $30 an hour, that equates to over $11,000 chasing after things that shouldn’t be lost in the first place.

Interested in evaluating your personal organization skills and how they might compare?  Brother actually has a short survey to calculate your own Work Disorganization Index (admit it, you want to know).  How about setting up a friendly competition between co-workers while you’re at it—loser buys lunch.  

To get started, simply visit and you can answer questions related to meeting preparation, record keeping, lost items, and the appearance of your workplace.  It’s a fun way to help you address a relatively serious issue.  The site will also help you calculate the cost of disorganization at your own company and will provide some tips for improvement from a Certified Professional Organizer (Yes, there’s designations for every field!). Of course, many ideas include P-touch labelers—it is their website after all--but if each of us were able to turn just one or two of their simple suggestions into habit, it could make a genuine difference.  Want to join me in turning over a new leaf?

Now if I could just find my pen…


Tags:  Agency Management  AIMS Society  Leadership  self-improvement  teamwork 

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Back Off Boss

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, September 09, 2014
Updated: Thursday, September 04, 2014

Back Off Boss

I just read an article in The Washington Post titled How helicopter parents are ruining college students.  It got me thinking…what harm results from helicopter bosses?

According to the Post article, a study published in Education + Training found that helicopter parents—those who watched their kid’s every move, fought their child’s battles and coordinated every detail of daily life—actually created more harm than good.  The study revealed that these sheltered kids “had a hard time believing in their own ability to accomplish goals. They were more dependent on others, had poor coping strategies and didn’t have soft skills, like responsibility and conscientiousness…”

So, are you constantly running interference for your direct reports?  Do you tweak projects endlessly, even when it’s more about style and doesn’t really impact the potential outcome?  Are you providing a constant stream of advice, explanations or check-ins…even when no one has asked for your help?


If so, you might be a boss that hovers.  And that may have more to do with your own issues than any potential problems with those you supervise.  Some of your helicopter tendencies may have to do with your own insecurities—it’s my job to oversee everything…what if they fail?  If I’m not doing this, what WILL I do with my time?  Or, it may be inherent in your nature to “take care” of people.  Regardless, a little less hovering is good for everyone.  Not only will you be freed up to grow professionally yourself, but you will be doing a favor for those who need to learn their own way in the work world.  I’m not talking abandonment, just a redirection of oversight.


All it takes is a little refocusing of support.  Work to provide proactive training and development for your employees. If you see an issue with a project, ask for their ideas for improvement instead of offering up the solution at the get-go.  Be sure to review job performance and compensation at regular intervals and never overlook the power of public recognition.  You can even provide support by ensuring workplace comfort—the right lighting, temperature and supplies. 


So back off boss. Provide support without smothering. It’s the best way everyone learns to fly on their own.



Tags:  Agency Management  AIMS Society  Leadership  self-improvement  teamwork 

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Breaking Through Roadblocks

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, September 02, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Breaking Through Roadblocks 

You’ve done this before--hundreds of times, maybe more.  So how do you keep ideas fresh when you hit a roadblock at work, when you feel less than inspired?

Federico Einhorn has some excellent ideas in 5 Practical Ways to Overcome ‘No New Ideas’ Syndrome.  Although his ideas are specific to content generation, his suggestions are helpful to anyone struggling with a project at work.   

  1. Relax. If it’s time to come up with new ideas or see an issue from a new angle, stress is your enemy.  As Einhorn says about pressure: “Think of it as falling into quicksand: The more you struggle, the faster you sink.”  Focus on anything but the task at hand for a few minutes until you can “unclench your brain”—take a short walk, talk with a coworker, finish a simple item or two from your to-do list.

  2. Let ideas come to you. There’s an incredible network of experts freely sharing their own ideas out there. Take advantage of that. Take advantage of the AIMS Society!  Chances are someone else has a fresh take on things or has faced the same issue and can provide a new route to consider.

  3. Take it to the crowd. As Einhorn says, “If you’re tired of racking your brain for new ideas, talk to other people and see if they can come up with something for you.”  Pose open-ended questions, find out what they suggest. Discover what keeps them up at night. Float a few ideas of your own and see how they’re received.

  4. Recognize there’s nothing wrong with re-using old ideas. Einhorn points out something our ego may not love to hear: Not everyone was paying attention the first time around.  If it was a good idea once, it will be a good idea again. Of course, if there is something you can do to improve or change it up a bit, so much the better.

  5. Go out there and experience things for yourself. Put down the smartphone; shut down your computer. Attend conferences, take a client to lunch just to see what’s up. When you have more casual conversations, new ideas invariably bubble to the top. What you learn may be your next great idea.  

Tags:  AIMS Society  insurance marketing and sales  self-improvement 

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Owning Your Brand

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Updated: Monday, August 25, 2014

Owning Your Brand

In his article, Agency Models: What Defines Today’s True Independent Agency, Mark E. Ruquet said, “The conventional definition of an independent agent is an entrepreneur who owns his or her book of business and offers multiple carriers to service their clients.”

The single word that jumped out at me in that sentence was “entrepreneur,” and it left me wondering how many insurance agents truly treat their business in an entrepreneurial manner.  What does it take to do that?  Jayson DeMers is founder and CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based SEO agency and contributor to Entrepreneur magazine (which seems like a promising start for expertise on the subject).  He believes there are five important skills every successful entrepreneur should possess:

1.       Communication—whether you think you’re a natural or believe this is a personal challenge, DeMers recommends paying attention to how people react when you talk for clues about your effectiveness.  If you’re seeing puzzled looks, you know there’s work to be done.

2.       Branding (personal and business). To be effective, DeMers maintains that you must be online and active on social media.  As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, deliver relevant content that helps you connect with your audience—this isn’t the place for overt selling.  He offers these resources to help you get started if you’re still reluctant: 5 Ways to Build Your Brand in Short Chunks of Time and The Definitive Guide to Marketing Your Business Online.

3.       Selling—DeMers maintains that everyone is in sales, noting that “every time you deliver your elevator pitch about your business, negotiate with a vendor, or even just persuade anyone to do anything, you’re tapping into sales skills.”  He emphasizes that most sales likely come from conversations and says, “If you focus on helping, rather than selling, you’ll feel more confident about the sales process, and make more sales, too.” 

4.       Strategy—with all the daily to-dos, it’s easy to lose sight of the long-term challenges and goals of the business.  But DeMers encourages everyone to “dedicate time to simply dream about what you want for your business–it’s the only way to grow over time and remain competitive.”  Dreaming doesn’t sound like a bad to-do list item at all!

5.       Finance—reality demands what DeMers calls a “decent understanding of your finances, profit margins, cash flow and funding.”  Knowledge equals comfort and that means better decisions.  He recommends a tool that helps you actually visualize the numbers beyond spreadsheets too. 

So even if you’re surrounded by co-workers and you see your position as a niche role within a bigger organization, treat your brand as if you are a solo entrepreneur.  It’ll surely add to your passion, help you create buy-in with others and should make even the more mundane tasks feel more relevant.  Now that’s how to own your brand!

Tags:  Insurance Journal  insurance marketing and sales  self-improvement 

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Lessons Learned

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Lessons Learned

As kids head back to school, take a moment to think about your favorite teacher.  Perhaps it was an elementary teacher who seemed to appreciate your unique personality or made you believe in a talent you never thought you possessed.  Or maybe it was a high school teacher or college professor who ignited your curiosity because they were as interested in your viewpoint as they were in the subject at hand.   

Your favorite teacher likely made you feel very important.  Valued.  Relevant.  It was more about you; not so much about them.  And that’s what made them so memorable.  When’s the last time you did the same for one of your customers?  Approached the sale from their perspective and figured out what you could do to make their job easier and engage their enthusiasm?

What are other “great teacher” qualities we could all apply to our jobs?

  • Confidence:  Stellar teachers know their topic.  They teach from a deep base of knowledge, able to deftly change the lesson plan based on the audience.
  • Patience:  Sometimes a teacher has to repeat, repeat, repeat, until the student grasps the lesson.
  • Empathy:  Great teachers know their class isn’t the only show in town.  They understand that distractions come from other stresses. If they can help ease any of those stresses, the chances of success increase.
  • Flexibility:  Students learn in different ways—visually, orally, through hands-on projects etc.  Outstanding teachers match teaching style to the student and can explain a topic in different ways, from different perspectives. 
  • Pride: Memorable teachers are often great at noting a student’s success and sharing accomplishments.
  • Dedication: The bell may ring, but the best teachers stay engaged as necessary.
  • Curiosity:  Enthusiasm extends beyond their subject, leading outstanding teachers to ask questions, learn from others and understand outside viewpoints.

So yes, we’re in insurance, but there’s always more we can learn to make ourselves better salespeople.  Class dismissed!


Tags:  AIMS Society  CPIA designation  insurance marketing and sales  self-improvement 

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Can't we all just get along?

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Can’t we all just get along?


In his article, Why Generations Clash at Work for Entrepreneur, Steve Tobak remembers his impressions of managers early in his career, remarking, “I do remember feeling that my older superiors didn’t see the world the way I did. And I was right; they didn’t. My managers saw the world differently because they had something I didn’t have: experience in it…”  He gets it now that he’s older himself, but he missed it when it mattered.


The article’s reference to “rifts” or the “gap” between generations we’ve all felt is unfortunate.  When we’re all busy trying to prove we’re right—because we claim an advantage of more experience if we’re older, or a fresh perspective if we’re younger—we lose the opportunity to learn from each other. Tobak urges us not to buy into the “broad characterizations of generations of people,” reminding that everyone does not possess every characterization of their assigned group, be it Boomers, Millennials or even the up-and-coming Generation Z (yep, it’s true, we’ve hit the Z’s). 


Other suggestions to ease inter-generational angst: 

  • Understand each person’s “WIIFM” (What’s In It For Me), as Tobin calls it.  This is what motivates a person…and it is the proverbial key to an employee’s heart.
  • While challenging the boundaries and testing limits, younger workers shouldn’t, as Tobin says, “expect management to cater to you wherever you go.”
  • At the same time, good managers must “never forget that you were once that brash young upstart who succeeded by taking risks and pushing the envelope.”  Managers who resist challenges to their ideas risk succumbing to the status quo. 

Pretty good ideas to help us avoid what J.B. Priesly captured so well when he said, “There was no respect for youth when I was young, and now that I am old, there is no respect for age - I missed it coming and going.” 


Tags:  AIMS Society  CPIA designation  insurance marketing and sales  Leadership  self-improvement  teamwork 

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How to attract millennials

Posted By Donna M. Gray, Tuesday, August 05, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, August 05, 2014

How to attract millennials

In last week’s blog, I shared information about the 2009 Insurance Journal Young Agents Survey.  Independent agents under 40 revealed what they liked most and least about being an independent agent.  The bad news was that many young agents struggle with the negative perceptions about insurance.  But, we know better, so I challenged you to share the good. 

And there’s a lot to share.

In fact, one piece of good news—actually the great news—is that we have something many millenials want:  flexibility.  You see, according to PwC’s Next Gen A Global Generational Study, this younger generation of workers says they’d consider a pay cut in exchange for better work-life balance.  Now, consider what some of the young agents surveyed said they like most about the insurance field:

  • ­ The freedom it provides and ability to work hard to determine your own income.
  • ­ The amount of time I have with my family and the flexibility of the business.
  • ­ I can make really good money and I control my schedule for the most part.
  • ­ The freedom to work my own hours and the fact that income ceiling is only controlled by how much effort I put.
  • ­ Relationships, freedom.
  • ­ Flexible schedule and unlimited income potential.
  • ­ Flexible work schedule and the ability to help people understand a piece of their life that is so important.
  • ­ Freedom. Meeting local business owners and developing relationships with them and leaders in the community.
  • ­The ability to write any risk on the planet and not having a home office dictate my life and income level.
  • ­ Own hours, unlimited income potential, exposure to all different types of industries.
  • ­ The freedom to try new things.
  • ­ Freedom of choice.
  • ­ Freedom to work when and how you would like to.
  • ­ I enjoy having the ability to direct my own work-flow while helping people protect themselves.
  • ­ Flexibility.
  • ­ Income and scheduling freedom.
  • ­ I like that I can realize my own dreams, and the self-direction that I can take.
  • ­ Flexibility of job and hours.

So if your agency is like so many others out there, struggling to engage new talent, make sure you’re selling to one of our greatest strengths.  Highlight the best we have to offer—it may be hard for more than millenials to refuse!  

Tags:  AIMS Society  Insurance Journal  insurance marketing and sales  Leadership  self-improvement 

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