010 | Building And Growing A Business Without Any Cash Infusion, With Danielle K. Roberts

Today’s interview is building and growing a business without any cash infusion with Danielle Roberts. As always, I’m your host Manuj aggarwal and I’m talking with the serial entrepreneur Danielle Roberts about the rules of the road on how to build and grow a business without infusing any cash that every entrepreneur needs to understand and follow. Welcome, Daniel. So Danielle is a successful entrepreneur, and a wise business advisor. She has graciously consented to this interview and share her extensive knowledge and experience to help us stay on track in this area of business building and growth, so that every entrepreneur can understand the rules on how to build a business from scratch, and grow it with zero cash infusion.

Danielle is particularly an expert in the insurance sector. But her advice can apply to any business or startup. So let’s jump right in. So Danielle, my first set of questions will be about your background and experience as an entrepreneur so that our viewers and audience can understand who you are, where you’re coming from, and how you can relate to where they are right now. And then we’ll jump into some specific questions about business building and growth. So to start with, could you tell us a little bit about your background and education and experience?

Sure. So I am in Fort Worth, Texas, and my brother and I are co owners of an insurance agency called Boomer benefits. And we help seniors who are aging into Medicare here in the United States with setting up their supplemental insurance. So it’s a health insurance and business. And we have 46 employees. But we started with just the two of us back in 2005. And this sector for me was totally new. So we have been sort of lifelong entrepreneurs. When we were kids, we were always the ones knocking on doors in the neighborhood and asking if we could watch people’s car or mow their lawn. And I remember my mom had to save up to buy a trampoline because she thought we would never be able to save enough money. And she didn’t want us to have one. And she said, Well, if you want when you have to pay for it yourself. And it took us just one summer and we bought the trampoline. And we were always very entrepreneurial kids. But you know, I had worked listening to a couple of your other episodes, I had worked for about 10 years in staffing and initially love the job. And by the end of that 10 year period, I was totally burnt out. And you know, working 90 hours a week for someone else’s business. And I know exactly how that feels. And so I just started looking around for another industry. I wanted to do sales of some kind, but I didn’t want to do it in staffing, because when you sell people, that’s a very unreliable product. And, you know, we used to help people find jobs, and sometimes they would no show or things would happen. And so I didn’t want to work in that field, I just looked for something else. And I and eventually ended up to deciding on insurance. Because it’s something that’s not perishable, I don’t have to keep an inventory, I don’t have to stock a bar or restaurant with things that are going to go bad. And it’s something that you can also start part time if you want to. And you can start it in addition to other jobs. So I negotiated a part time job with the company I was leaving, I took a piece with me that I had handled for a long time and agreed to continue to manage that piece. For a very small salary, I think they paid me $25,000 a year or something like that, just enough to keep bread on the table and dived into selling insurance and, really had to bootstrap it for a number of years before it was successful. But but it was a perfect fit. And we didn’t have any cash going in whatsoever. So I hopefully you’ll be able to share a lot of good things about how to build a business without the capital.

That’s a great story. And very early start. So that’s the oldest trick in parents books and ideas, my kids as well. The not the same results yet, but So tell us a little bit. So you said, you know, you started off without, you know, with a part time job. And it took you some time to be successful. So tell us a little bit about your early part of your journey. And, you know, what are the hardships and obstacles you overcame there? 

Okay, so what I thought about in the beginning is, you know, what type of health insurance can I sell, where if I don’t have money to buy leads, I can still gain business. And we initially decided that would be group health insurance. So in the very beginning, I used to drive out to business parks all over Dallas Fort Worth. And I would park my car and grab my briefcase and a set of business cards. And I will literally walk in the front door and asked to speak with the HR person, or whoever handled their benefits. A lot of times these were small businesses. So you might even be talking to the owner right when you went in. And I would just simply tell them that I was an insurance agent that could maybe lower the premiums on their health insurance, when did their health insurance renew for their company? And, okay, here’s my card, can I call you, you know, about 60 days before that happens. And some of them would say, well, we’ll call you. And then there were plenty that said, I’m sure you know, our insurance renews in October, give us a call this summer. And so I would take their information, and then I would call them back around that time frame. And it was a very slow start, as you can imagine. But persistence is the key, if you just keep after it eventually, some of those people that have their group health insurance renewing, they want to work with an agent that’s hungry to get them the best deal so that she can earn a sale. And that’s exactly what I did. So we just got appointed with a bunch of carriers. And I started working with business owners helping them set up employee group health insurance for two and five and 10 person companies. And then this initially led into sometimes I would have a company where the business owner wasn’t providing insurance for the employees. But as a self employed person, he had to buy insurance for himself. And so these people, of course, were great targets for individual health insurance. So in addition to the group health insurance, we started doing the individual. And also say that one reason that insurance makes a great field for people that want to bootstrap is you can sell a life insurance policy to your family and friends, everybody needs that kind of insurance. And that all comes with the health and life license. So we did a little bit of dabbling, and everything just to piecemeal together. And I can remember sitting in my car thinking, Man, someday when I have $500 a month and commissions coming in, I’m going to be legit, like, it’s gonna be a real, you know, I totally remember where I was sitting when I thought that and it was a real aspiration at that time. And it took us a little while to get there. But with enough time and effort into that, eventually, we started having business owners who would ask us about their parents, hey, just helped me with my insurance. My mom is turning 65 and Medicare is really confusing. Can you help her and after we heard that enough times, we started looking into that, and we learned how to sell Medicare supplements. And we began specializing in that. And then over the last 14 years, we’ve slowly moved away from all that other kind of insurance. And now we work just with the Medicare product. But in the early days, what I did was just asked myself, What can I what piece of this sector can I go out and sell with just my person, you know, gas in my car, and a map of where to go to and that’s literally how we got enough money. And then every time we would earn money, because I had that little part time job that paid enough for me to eat peanut butter, I was able to you take all the money from every commission that we made and invest that back into the business. So that was the way that we bootstrapped it from the very beginning. And it was just myself and then my brother and I, for about five years before we hired our first employee.

That’s great, story. You brought up some really key points, persistence and consistency. And also listening to your customers and, and changing your business based on your customer requirements. So those are really great pieces of advice right there. Alright, so let’s dive into the rules of the road. That’s the main topic of our interview. So what’s the first rule for building a successful business in general?

So one of the things that I tell people I have been in this business for a while, I often get contacted by insurance agents who are just starting their business, and they see us online, and they see that we’re in 47 states, and they want to know how to do you start. And I often tell them, you know, there’s a couple ways that you can go out about this. But one of the rules that I tell people is, money is always faster than time. So when you’re putting in time and time and time in the beginning, if you can find any other way to pay your basic necessities, and you take that money that you earn, and you invest it back into the business, and you pay yourself the bare minimum because you are your cheapest source of labor. And then you capitalize on the fact that that you have as much time as you could possibly put in and you will, you’ll be glad to put in 60 or 80 hours a week. Or if you’re doing it part time, you’ll put in seven hours in the evening, you’ll get up early, you’ll do all the things and you’ll feel excited about it because it’s your very own business. But you always want to remember the time that you’re putting in is expensive to you as well. So if you have any extra capital, or if you can invest the profits that you make back in the business 100% money is always faster than time. So you’ll get there quicker, the more that you’re able to invest that back into your business.

Yeah, for sure. How’s it how’s this rule work for every business that you know? Or can you give us any exceptions? And and what are the consequences of not following this rule earlier?

Sure. So I have known quite a few agencies, other people that have started businesses. And I often have watched where someone who gets a cash infusion, maybe they go on Kickstarter, or they do some crowdfunding, or I know a couple of people who have found a private investor that have invested money, and their business will just launch overnight, because they have money to buy leads, they have money to buy the equipment they need, they have the marketing dollars, and so their businesses just naturally grow faster. Now, the downside to that is on the back end, eventually, when you sell or when you’re earning profits, you’ve got to pay those investors. And on the other hand, I have seen people like myself, who start off with just putting the time and effort in and they grow it slowly. But then when they build something, and they can build it to whatever they want. I mean, I know a lot of very happy self employed people who work 15 to 20 hours a week and make 50 grand a year. And they couldn’t be happier, because they don’t want to work that hard. They just want to earn this much. And that’s their dream business. And that’s lovely. I think it’s great different strokes for different folks. And those people though, they have so much more control over their own destiny, because they don’t have the pressure of having to put money from someone else back into it. So there’s a couple different ways you could go there. But that kind of gives you a little bit of the pros and cons of each.

All right, I’m not LA. Now, we also want to address some people who may be already running a business and they may already be in a situation where they haven’t followed this piece of advice. So what kind of what should they do to get back on track? For example, you know, How can they rectify their mistake if they have made that already?

So I always think with business starting, you have an opportunity to recommit. So if you started with the strategy, and it isn’t working for you, you know, pick the route you’re going to go, you’re either going to put in your own type of time and bootstrapping effort. And if you’ve been trying that, and it doesn’t work, maybe it’s time to try the other routes. If you can find an investor, you might build a find a friend and family, somebody that you cut in a little piece of the business, or perhaps you can do a small business loan, it’s just enough to get you off the ground. Whichever thing that you have not tried yet, if it’s not working for you, you know, go the other route and give it a try. So if if you don’t have money to invest, even though it is faster than time, then don’t feel Don’t feel bad about doing it the way we did it, which is a nice slow growth, because on the tail end of that is now you know, you own a business that earns nearly eight figures, and you don’t owe anyone anything. And so you’ll be able to build to whatever level you want to we’ve, grown to quite a large business. But like I said, there’s many people with smaller businesses, they’re very happy. So take a look at what it is that you’re trying so far isn’t working, and then choose the other either put in more of your own hard labor to get it going. And sort of just get up tomorrow and say, I’m going to recommit to this strategy. And now I’m going to try this. And if that’s different than what you’ve been trying, and maybe it’s going to turn over a new leaf for you.

All right, and getting this apply to other industries other than insurance as well.

I really think it applies to almost every industry, I participate in a number of online groups for entrepreneurs, and I’m always and I’m sure maybe you feel this way too, but I’m always fascinated by everyone else’s business, you know, what did they do? What what field are they in? How did they start this. So if you in another industry, the software industry, for instance, you can absolutely do the same thing, right, you can ask yourself, okay, it’s going to, I need to put, I need to get these things done. And I’m either going to invest a certain amount of money to get there, or I’m going to put in the time and effort. And I really find that to be sort of a universal principle. You can find tons of businesses out there that have stories like mine, where you had people who are entrepreneurs, even when they were kids. And then there’s other people who just like had this fabulous idea when they were 37 and said, You know, I’m going to go try and do this, and ended up being really, you know, successful at it. So I think you can apply it to a lot of different fields.

And I think you touched upon this already. But this is a very important concept for any entrepreneurs out bring it up again, what can an entrepreneur do when money is required or resources are required for early business development? So, you know, you mentioned you went door to door, but what when people do to do, you know, jumpstart their business earlier on and get okay.

So another thing that I did early on, that didn’t cost hardly any money was networking. And a lot of times people will say, well go join your local Chamber of Commerce. And you can certainly do that. And if you’re a very social person, that will work really well for you. But I think you could, the best thing you can do for networking is to find a professional association within your field. So for me, the National Association of Health underwriters has a chapter right here in Fort Worth. And I’m the biggest introvert you’ll ever meet, I like to go home at night, read a book, I’m not a social person, really. But to because I didn’t have the cash to invest at that time of my business. I went ahead and I joined the association. And on the very first day, at the end of the luncheon, I went up to the President and I introduced myself and I said, You know, I know that a lot of times there’s boards for associations like this, and it’s hard to find good people to volunteer, but then do you have any openings that I could takes some work off your plate? And he was on it, you know, he said right away, yes, we need a membership person. And I was like, Well, I’m a new member. I know all about membership, let’s do it. So I volunteered to help. And what that did for me was it immediately introduced me to people who are already successful in the field that I really wanted to be in. So if you can find an association that you can plug in with like that, just going to the meetings, you’re going to do a little bit of networking, you may meet some people, but by getting on the board, you’re going to gain respect of people in the crowd, you’re going to get to know the best movers and shakers, because those are typically the people that are on the board. And for me, in my portion of the industry, I was doing Medicare, and a lot of the people in this association are more of the group health people. So I was able to establish myself as kind of the resident Medicare expert. And they have referred that one action that I did in the very early years, my business resulted in me being on the board for six years, I eventually became the chapter President, I moved on to the state board, and I was the editor of the magazine. And this gave me hundreds and hundreds of referrals over the years, from fellow insurance agents that do a different part of insurance than I do. And in a lot of fields, you’ll have the same thing where you can join a local Association. But within your own field, there’s different niches, and you know, you establish yourself in that one niche, and then you pay it forward. You know, if you have something that you run across, that can be a referral for this guy, you go ahead and do that. And on the reverse of that when they have someone that they can’t help, because they don’t do in my case, Medicare, they would refer them to me. So that’s another way that you could really find a way to plug in is find your local associations, there may be more than one. It’s usually not that expensive to be a member and volunteer for the board and see where that takes you.

I mean, the goal of it is you provide some value up front, help people, and then that gets her done, you know, eventually. So that’s great. Yeah,

that’s absolutely right. And you always have to remember to give as well as you get. So you know, when you have an opportunity to help another person with something, go ahead and do that, because they’ll remember that not all comes around.

that’s what we’re trying to do here as well. That’s right. All right. so Besides this, do you have any recommendations on tools or websites or similar framework software that people can use to get started faster?

So whenever any type of business that you’re building, you’re going to need to have some marketing knowledge. And so what I have done is I went on to, I have an app on my phone called pod cruncher. And it’s a 299 app, and allows me to download various podcasts and I can search by industry. So I started listening to business podcasts, and I listened to marketing podcasts, and I just totally educated myself on all the things that you would need to market. So I knew there would be social media marketing. And so I follow a lady. Her name is Amy Porterfield. She has a podcast called online marketing Made Easy, and teaches you everything you could ever want to know about marketing a business online, super helpful podcast, it’s one of the best tools that I have found. And you’ll sometimes be able to also find podcasts that were within your own field. So you may be able to find one in your field that will be relevant to you. But you know, the things that you need to know that you don’t know now, whether that be learning how to sell on social media, or start some Facebook ads, whether it’s because you need to build a website, and you need to have email lists, signing up for different podcasts and educating yourself on marketing was one of the best tools that we use to get going. So that’s a good one. And then depending on the field that you’re in, something that we sort of graduated to was and after I had been selling the bootstrapping way for enough time, we had a little bit of cash coming in, then you can find usually in most industries, you can find a way to buy leads for your particular industry, and insurance. There’s online companies that you can, you know, somebody types, their information and asking for a quote, and agents like me will buy that quote, and then we go compete with each other for that business. And that will make you a really good salesperson when you have to compete against other people for the same leads. But so you want to find out in your particular industry, is there anyone out there that sourcing leads that you can purchase those for, find out what those costs and that’s another great tool that you can plug in for growing your business?

Great. All right. Now, are there any other critical rules that you want to share or any other stories that you may want to share to inspire our listeners and audience were trying to kick start the business or they may already be running a business, but you know, they need help in expanding it?

Sure, something I have noticed a lot. And I and I always share this with the new people coming into the industry is, remember to run your own race. Sometimes we can get into this comparison mindset. And you can look at all the people in your industry that are already doing it. And they’re so successful, and they’re so good at it, and you watch them and you just think to yourself, there’s no piece of the pie left for me, like there’s all these successful people, and they’re already doing so great. Who’s going to want to work with me, when there’s this person over here doing that? And I really did some of that myself in the beginning, like I would find these agents online, and they would just be amazing. And I would think, geez, how long is it going to take me to get to that level. And you can really talk yourself down by doing that. And so you have remember that everybody starts from somewhere and that successful person that you’re doing an eye over, that person also started somewhere, I guarantee you there was a day where they sat in their car and look forward to the first month that they would make $500 like I did they have those days too. So try not to compare yourself too often to everybody else that’s already doing it, you have to know that you are running your own race. And so if you get there in one year, or five years, or 17 years, it doesn’t matter. It’s your own race. So don’t compare yourself so much to everybody else around you that is succeeding, ask yourself, what can you do? What is the one activity that you could do every day this week? That’s going to put you you know, a little further ahead next month, and then what can you do to build on that, and try to keep your timeline short. If you look too far off into the distance, you can get so much overwhelmed, and you don’t need to go that far, you know, make your business plan for the rest of that year. And then you want to take massive action, brainstorm it out, get a piece of paper and do a thought download and just write down everything that you could possibly do this month that could maybe move the needle just for you a little bit next month, and then go perform those activities and then do it again. And if you’re taking massive action like that every day in your business, and you’re running your own race, and you’re not worrying about Sally Sue over here, that’s so much further ahead of you, you will find that you will succeed eventually, because it’s again that persistence that really matters, that’s what matters to get you where you need to go.

Very good advice.
Yeah, I mean, just keeping a positive mindset and persistence and consistency eventually get there.

Yeah, and if mindset can be a struggle, sometimes, you know, for a lot of entrepreneurs, because we do get down on ourselves, you think the success should be be there. And so if you struggle with that, and there are podcasts about mindset, so there’s also books that you can read about that will help you to kind of reframe that. And another thing that I always recommend for that as well is find someone in the business and ask them to be your mentor. So find a person that’s already doing it that’s more successful. then you ask them if you could take them to lunch and pick their brain. And you can literally just ask them, that’s what I did. I asked a friend of mine that I had met in the association, did he know anybody that was an agent a little further ahead of me that maybe you’ve been doing it for a few years that can be like my coach, and she was more than willing to sit down and tell me all the secrets to the business. And I can remember being down on myself a couple of days, like, maybe you would have a policy that falls out right, you know, you work so hard to put these on the books. And then when someone cancels one, it’s devastating in the beginning. And I remember her telling me, and this is why we’re in this industry, because the policies that you wrote the last six months are still paying you every month. And so it doesn’t matter that the one drops out. And so that person can sometimes be the little positive voice in your ear, when you tend to have one of those days where you’re just like, Man, this was getting nowhere. See if you can find a mentor that can help you keep that positive mindset.

And, you know, that’s another great point. But a lot of introverts, like you and I, I mean, I talked to people about mentors, and sometimes I say, okay, you know, I don’t have anybody in my network, or I don’t know how to approach them. But to your point, there’s so much free information available in terms of podcasts and YouTube channels. So that can be used as a mentor. I agree, don’t have access to a live matter. Of course, having a live mentor, you know, guiding you through the process is great. So, great piece of advice. Thank you so much for that.

All right. So now that brings us to the end of the interview. Thank you so much, Danielle, for sharing all your wisdom. I’m sure our audience enjoyed it thoroughly and a very good idea about how they can launch their own business and grow it without a huge infusion of cash. Thank you so much for that. The dot. I’ll say goodbye. Thank you so much.

Have a great day. Thank you.

Now, before I let you go, can you tell us a little bit about your company and your services and how you may help other entrepreneurs. Besides, you know, showing up on these podcasts and share?

Yeah, you bet I love I remember what it’s like to start a business and I know how difficult it can be. And I really do enjoy talking to new entrepreneurs and trying to be that positive person in their corner. So you can find us online our agency is Boomer benefits, you can take a look at our websites boomerbenefits.com. And we have a huge online following. And so you might be able to learn something just from looking at the website. But if you’d like to connect with me, I have a personal brand website. It’s Danielle k Roberts calm and I can give you the link and if you want to throw it in your show notes. And you can find me on online as well on LinkedIn under my maiden name Danielle Kunkle. And so if you are somebody that’s struggling and you’re just starting and you need somebody to give you that little dose of positivity. By all means any of your listeners can reach out to me and I’d love to give them any tips that might be helpful to them.

 

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