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In this week’s episode of They Don’t Teach This in Business School Michelle O’Connor of O’Connor Insurance Associates speaks with Julie about constant growth mode, burnout, and core values. Michelle started her business in 2000 and has been in growth mode ever since. Listen in to find out which core value is Michelle’s favorite and how she instills core values in her day-to-day business. Julie and Michelle also chat about the importance of setting boundaries at work and one surprising way to prevent burnout.
[00:00:00] Julie Bee – Host: On this episode, I talk with Michelle O’Connor about core values, boundaries when you work with your spouse, and one surprising way to prevent burnout. I’m Julie B and they don’t teach this in business school.
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[00:00:32] Julie Bee – Host: Hey there, I’m Julie B and you’re listening to, they Don’t Teach This In Business School, a podcast where we discuss business ownership lessons that are learned through experience not in a classroom. Today I’m really excited to interview Michelle O’Connor, president of O’Connor Insurance Associates.
I’ve known Michelle for quite some time. We’ve been through the ring. Some business ownership lessons, and I know that we’re all gonna learn something today. So Michelle, welcome to the show. [00:01:00] I’m so glad to have you on here
[00:01:01] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: today. Thank you so much for having me, Julie. It’s a pleasure to be here with you.
[00:01:05] Julie Bee – Host: right, so first question, just give us a brief overview of O’Connor Insurance Associates and your role in the business.
[00:01:12] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: Absolutely. So O’Connor Insurance Associates was started in 2000 from scratch, meaning we didn’t even have a business client out of our spare bedroom in our home. So my husband started our agency and in 2002 I joined him.
And we’ve been in growth mode ever since. We are an independent insurance agency, so that means we can pick whichever insurance carriers we’d like to, and we’re boutique in that. We have a specific client that we’re looking.
[00:01:39] Julie Bee – Host: I love asking this question, but what is your favorite part of being a business owner?
[00:01:44] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: It is the freedom to steer the ship, so I really like the ability to, Have my core values and the standards and and processes that I hold deep to me and treasure the most, [00:02:00] have the ability to reflect that with my team, and I also love the ability to choose what our next path is going to be. What I think is the next growth opportunity or thing that we should tackle for.
[00:02:11] Julie Bee – Host: The funny part of being a business owner is most of us will tell you that we probably would be not the best employees, so that’s one of the reasons we’re business owners. That
[00:02:21] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: is very, very true. ,
[00:02:23] Julie Bee – Host: you mentioned core values and how do you make sure that your team is embodying those core values? How do you instill that in your team?
[00:02:31] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: So we start by hiring people based on the core values, and that has been something that’s evolved over time so that we’re really firm in it at this point. Of course, we also fire based on the core values as well because it goes without saying that if someone exhibits something that’s against those, that they’re not a good fit culturally on our team.
To be with us, but then even deeper, we dive into them every month and and focus on one of them and do a lesson on one of them and how it relates. [00:03:00] Next year, we’re actually gonna do it quarterly and we’re gonna have a quarterly theme based on our core values so that we can continue to talk about it just all the time with our team.
[00:03:08] Julie Bee – Host: your favorite core value? Trustworthy.
[00:03:11] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: Cause I, I think everything starts and stops with the ability to be honest, certainly with us as the owners of the agency, but also with our clients being honest and upfront with them. And then the vendor partners that we have and the carrier partners that we have too.
[00:03:26] Julie Bee – Host: So you mentioned hiring, and one question I love to ask business owners is what is the one role or skill that you have tried to hire for that you’ve really struggled to hire for that you kind of keep, uh, it keeps coming back onto your plate? What is that role? I’m
[00:03:41] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: gonna split that up just a little bit because I think the one thing that is difficult to hire for upfront and truly know if someone’s going to be able to fulfill it is the ability to exceed, expect.
In everything that they’re doing and take initiative. Those things are really difficult to interview [00:04:00] for. So you’re looking at past successes and past indicators that a person’s capable of that. Certainly there’s some great interview questions as well, but until I dig in and get to know someone, it’s difficult to assess that on the front end.
[00:04:13] Julie Bee – Host: can take all the assessments in the world, but until they’re actually working for you, it’s, it’s hard to know if they’re going to be good at one role or another. Is there any role specifically though, like, I’m gonna throw it out there cuz I think I know the answer, but sales or administrative, is there any specific role that you’ve found has been really hard for you to hire for?
[00:04:33] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: Definitely the sales role has been really hard and those are some conversations you and I have had multiple times. Julie building our sales team and a sales force is really challenging, especially in the environment that we’re in right now. I. It’s always been a challenge for us. We’ve tried it a number of different ways.
We’re trying it a different way. Right now, I have another model that will take multiple years to execute, but in insurance sales is a little bit different and it’s difficult for us to [00:05:00] break even on an employee. You know, initially, certainly it usually takes three years for a salesperson to validate. And so that’s really challenging because we have to put a lot of money, but more importantly, we have to put a lot of time into someone as we’re bringing them on board and, and helping them to acclimate and get trained.
And then if they don’t work out, you know, we’ve, we’ve lost that money. And I know that’s similar to a lot of organizations that are in the sales, have sales as.
[00:05:25] Julie Bee – Host: I think that’s the most common answer and it’s always interesting to me cuz I’m always like, how do larger organizations do it versus, you know, why is it such a struggle for small business owners?
Which it honestly, that’s usually, I’d say 90% of the people I ask this question. That’s the answer to this question. And I, I’ve always, I don’t know, I’ve always wondered why, you know, it’s easier for bigger organizations to seem to have success in that role and it’s so much, so much harder for small business.
So I feel like
[00:05:53] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: it’s the ability to, the resources they have, the resources that they can risk, the financial resources. [00:06:00] Mm-hmm. . And that makes a large impact on our smaller organizations. So that’s what I’ve determined it to be. We’re a best practices insurance agency, and so we’ve been measured against other insurance agencies and for our size, it’s the, the one thing that they struggle with as well.
So we know we’re not alone, but how to crack the nut is, Another’s problem altogether.
[00:06:19] Julie Bee – Host: Right? Yeah. I know you and I have had many conversations about that offline, behind the scenes. Mm-hmm. , Michelle, I wanna come back to something you mentioned early on. You said you have been in growth mode ever since starting, and one thing I know about you is that you really always are like, there never seems to be a pause with O’Connor Insurance Associates, and I know you’re a big factor in driving that, but can you talk a little bit more about what that looks like and, and what that means for you?
[00:06:43] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: When I was, I was contemplating some of this earlier, and for me, there’s no end really. It’s just what’s the next thing? What’s the thing that will challenge me most? How can we add value to our clients? And so that’s why we’re always in go mode and growth mode. Several years ago, my husband and I did.[00:07:00]
Decide, you know, that we were getting closer to the retirement age than we were from the beginning of this game. And so we did look at where we wanted to be when we exit and we backed into that. And that has definitely helped me stay motivated and stay focused. That, you know, if there’s gonna be an end game, which we would like there to be at some point, then we wanna be very strategic in what we’re doing right now to make sure we can accomplish that, not have hazard.
[00:07:21] Julie Bee – Host: That is definitely, that planning is so crucial. Every
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[00:07:46] Julie Bee – Host: Hey, this is Julie B and you’re listening to, they don’t teach This in Business School. I’m here today with Mo Michelle O’Connor from O’Connor Insurance Associates, and we were just talking about growth mode, Michelle, and. One thing I wanted to ask you [00:08:00] about is though, kind of the, the flip side of that is dealing with burnout or dealing with wanting, you know, some business owners, sometimes they say they wanna walk away from their business.
Have you ever gone through that in your, we’re at, what, 22 years now in business? I’m sure you have. Can you share some of those stories? If, if you
[00:08:17] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: have ’em? Absolutely. It was, it was definitely a bad one. It was 2016. We were struggling with, it seemed like everything I, we were struggling with new business.
We were struggling with finding team members, just growing in general. We were just struggling with, we had very young kids and so that was hard to juggle everything that was going on in our lives, especially with my husband and I being business partners and then, you know, being at home with the kiddos together and trying to juggle with that.
Mm-hmm. . It was a big struggle and I really had to reflect and take some time to decide if I was gonna come back in the game or not. If I was just gonna hang up for sale, sign and choose a different path in life. The consultant I was working with at the time gave me a gratitude journal, and I am not a journal person.
I am not someone that wants [00:09:00] to write my thoughts down. I don’t wanna take time to do things like that. I find it kind of flowery. I appreciate other people that can do it. It’s just not mine. Right. ? Yeah.
[00:09:09] Julie Bee – Host: I’m like, wait, you actually, did you actually do it?
[00:09:13] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: So only for the time that she required me to do it.
yeah. But she did require it for a certain timeframe. It was a gratitude journal. And so one of the things that it made me see though, is the beauty of being self-employed and how I can actually juggle my family and my personal life better because of that. So, you know, business ebbs and flows, and I’m a bit, you know, there’s no balance.
This past week was all O’Connor Insurance. It was working Saturday morning, it was late evenings. It was all kinds of stuff. But that was knowing that this week I wanna have some slow down time and I want these projects completed. So the, the Gratitude Journal really helped me to dig deep and decide that I was good with that.
[00:09:54] Julie Bee – Host: And for the listeners who don’t know us, I laughed so hard because I am [00:10:00] the meditator journaling person. I bring it up in masterminds that Michelle and I are a part of it. And so when she said gratitude journal, I was shocked that she actually did it because usually she’s like, that’s not for me. I respect it.
I understand it. But it’s just not my jam . So that’s why we laughed so hard, so , I was, yeah, that’s hilarious to me. But I’m glad you, you know, I’m glad it helped you obviously get through that, cuz I cannot imagine a business world, at least in my world, without you in it. So I’m really glad that you were able to find some, some things to get you through that burnout period.
You said something about there not being any balance and I, I personally think the term work life balance. It’s way overused. But for, for business owners, what I’ve come to realize is that you almost need to, you have to find like a work life harmony for those two. Yeah. Speaking of things that you, prob words that probably don’t j with you just, you know, your work and your life have to flow together and you have that even more so because you are, you work with your husband, so you, you know, how do you, how do you make [00:11:00] sure those things are, you know, kind of working together, but making sure you have enough time for each individually as.
[00:11:07] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: Like I said, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it’s all O’Connor Insurance and sometimes it’s all my family. Mm-hmm. and what I had to accept is that is that’s okay. Especially on the weeks when there’s a lot of work that needs to be done or a special project that I need to get finished for O’Connor Insurance.
That, you know, taking the extra time to get that done is the what I need to do so that I have the privilege of cutting out early on the days that my kids are off school or that my husband and I wanna cut out early to go out of town. My husband and I did have to, had to set some boundaries. Sometimes we break them, but we ask before we do because especially, you know, into the evening hours, I can’t have O’Connor Insurance constantly dominating all the conversations with my husband.
And so we had to be really good about. No more of that. You know, you have to ask if you want to talk about something, and then we can agree it’s okay to talk about it at 10 o’clock, but most of the time I’m gonna tell ’em it’s not because I need to help my brain down .
[00:11:58] Julie Bee – Host: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I, [00:12:00] yeah. And I’m not even, my partner doesn’t even work with me.
But yeah, I’ve had that, I’ve learned that lesson where there comes a time at nighttime where if I don’t shut the business brain off, I can’t sleep. And so I could, I can only imagine in your household. So Michelle, one thing I wanted to ask you is how do you define.
[00:12:18] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: So that is such an interesting question and because I have been constantly in growth mode, I’m not really sure I can define success.
One of the things I’m not good at is looking back and saying, we did good. We did, you know, we did a good job. There’s a small time and I’m actually better at reminding my team that we need to take a moment to pat ourselves on the back and say, congratulations. So I don’t, I don’t have a definition for success.
Striving to be the very best I can be and put you. O’Connor Insurance to be the first class insurance agency that it is up all the time. Those are, you know, what I’m always striving for. And so I guess that’s how I would define success in sort of a backend way
[00:12:56] Julie Bee – Host: many business owners experience. That whole loneliness at the top [00:13:00] thing.
And you’re, you’re an interesting case because you do have your husband there, but I, you know, you also have to have those boundaries. So have you, have you experienced that? And if you have, what, what have you found to help you overcome that lone.
[00:13:15] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: Sure. I mean, it’s often said that you feel like you’re on an island as a business owner and, and especially I think when times are tough, you know that you feel that way because you think you’re the only one that’s going through something like that.
Mm-hmm. , so Absolutely. My husband has been a great support for that, that we can lean on each other sometimes we’re our own worst critics and we need to expand outside of our island though. And so having other business. That are literally world class business owners like yourself. I have some agent friends that I rely on.
I mean, people that’ll take a phone call in the middle of the night kind of folks, right? You know, that I can say, Julie, I’m in an emergency situation. What do you think about this? And I get really good, solid advice. So that’s how I’ve helped to cope with it. And, and really I keep those people super dear and close to me because of that cuz they’re just so [00:14:00] important in helping me to, to succeed.
[00:14:03] Julie Bee – Host: And what’s interesting is you mentioned, well, first of all, thank you for putting me in that group of people. I, I do appreciate that you mentioned other agency owners and one thing I think is really interesting, I have this experience too, where people on the outside could potentially look at us as competitors, but.
Those people are some of the best resources you have. And can, can you speak to that a little bit about how you, you know, other agents you talk with, other insurance agency owners about how, you know all of the things you have, how do you keep that, you know, that line separate and, and still have that support network?
[00:14:40] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: It is such an interesting phenomena because we are absolutely competitors to the external eye. Mm-hmm. , but I’m, I’m the chairperson of our independent agent association in North Carolina this year, and that is undoubtedly the thing that I treasure the most or the deep conversations that we have. Most of the time it’s because we’re not talking about.
An [00:15:00] actual sale. However, we have agency friends that are competitors of of ours that we will call and ask about a specific sale situation. This is how we’re handling it, what do you think? How would you do it? So we walk through those things. But I have some really deep conversations and tons of respect for the fellow agency owners that I’m able to ask human resource questions about financial questions.
I mean, just on and on and on. Growth oriented questions, how they’ve done something to get to where they’re at. .
[00:15:26] Julie Bee – Host: Yeah. And I think that those relationships, what I, what I tell younger business owners who kinda look at everybody as competitors, those relationships are some of the most valuable ones you can have because you don’t have to explain your industry to them.
They have it, they know it. So you, you know, you go in at a higher level with those individuals and you can really get into some, you know, nitty gritty problem solving if you can get over. You know that hurdle. Of course, the trust has to be earned. You know, trustworthiness is one of your core values. So that go that, and that gut street goes two ways.
But once you get to that, those are some of your best allies in [00:16:00] business. I’ve found that at least,
[00:16:01] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: certainly, they certainly are. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
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[00:16:27] Julie Bee – Host: Hey there, you’re listening to, they Don’t Teach This In Business School, and I’m the host, Julie b. I’m talking with Michelle O’Connor, president of O’Connor Insurance Associates.
And Michelle, one thing I know that you really take seriously is your. and I would love for you to talk about, talk about the importance of your key employees and then also anything that you’re specifically proud of your team for over the past year or so. If you could share that, that’d be great.
[00:16:55] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: Sure.
That is a great topic and you’re right. Our, our team is, I just [00:17:00] hold them so close to my heart all the time. One of my key employees has been with me since 2004. Steve has helped us build the agency. He’s been there through thick or thin. When the going gets tough he, Terry and I will go to Local Burger Joint to commiserate over some great french fries,
And we celebrate our successes as well. He was just in town last week cuz he is now on our management team to help us plan for 2023. And we had some really interesting opportunities that arose and we were able to hash them out over our dining room table. So super important component of our team.
Someone that I can truly in an emergency walk away from our agency and I know that he will take good care of the agency and what’s going on. We’ve also added a couple of other really. Key team members. The component that they share and that I’m probably the most proud of is how they embrace our core values and how they work together to take care of the client.
They’re truly very good at making sure someone has too much on their plate. If the phones are ringing like crazy, even if that’s not their job, they pick up the phone so they back [00:18:00] up each other on emails. If someone’s out sick, they’re quick to say, what can I do to help? We’re short staffed right now. I had a team member jump in and help me with some of the administrative.
And she has plenty on her plate, but she was still more than happy to do that and did it without even me asking her. So that ability to go above and beyond makes me super proud of
[00:18:17] Julie Bee – Host: them as well. And do you think that that all comes back to your core values in hiring and how do you keep that energy, I guess, how do you make sure that environment just stays intact?
That like team effort environment? Yeah,
[00:18:31] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: that’s a super good question. Especially since we have some of our team working remote right now. Mm. And while I have embraced that, and I think it’s super important for their quality of life, and they are teammates that are, they absolutely deserve to, to work where they need to work because they get the job done and they’re amazing in every capacity.
But it is hard for me to get to keep the energy together. And so we’ve had to be very strategic about that. One of the things that we do is have a weekly meeting. I am a big proponent and not meeting [00:19:00] just to meet however, so it is very short and sweet. It’s almost like a standup meeting. You know that the concept of just standing in the hallway, but we’re doing it through teams so that we can have a short and sweet one.
Everyone has something that they contribute about sales from the week before, or a key component of their job that they report on every week. To keep everyone engaged. And then we were reading a book, which we just finished, so we were doing a little book club exercise and everyone was great about, about responding to that as well and participating in that.
So it was super fun. What book did you read? So we just read Proverbs herself. I had seen Tamara bunt at an insurance conference and really liked her style and her philosophy, and so it was a great for right way into getting all of our team to have sales focused on the front end. Yeah, because we get very service focused, which is amazing, but we still need to keep, you know, being a sales organization given what we do.
Mm. Awesome. So we’re gonna read another one. I haven’t picked it yet, but right now we’re working on selecting our one word. We did that last year. Yes. [00:20:00] We’re doing that again. And then I have one overachiever who already told me she’s got her one word picked and I’m so proud of her. So
[00:20:06] Julie Bee – Host: So wait, now are, do, do they each get to pick one word or are you trying to pick one word as a whole?
As a whole company? Both. Okay.
[00:20:14] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: So we each picked our individual word and then we, we jointly came together and picked one for our agency. And this, and my overachiever Kimberly, she actually made us wood plaques that she put the wor both words on for us last year, which was just a beautiful reminder on our
[00:20:29] Julie Bee – Host: desk.
That’s amazing that you have, that’s just such a great environment you have there. You, yeah, I think, I think there’s a study to be done about O’Connor Insurance Associates and a culture in a small business workplace. I just think it’s amazing.
[00:20:42] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: Well, I appreciate that. It is definitely hard to keep up, but once you have it and you know what you have, you won’t let anything interfere with it.
[00:20:50] Julie Bee – Host: right. No one, no person, no. No thing, no anything. Yep. That’s right. Once you have that, So listen, Michelle, it’s been great to have you on today, and I always ask this, this last [00:21:00] question as we come to the end of the conversation. If you were going to, if you were going to teach a class in business school, what’s the one thing that you would really want future business owners and future entrepreneurs to learn in your class?
[00:21:15] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: Yeah, during it down to one is challenging , however, The one thing is that your business growth and success is dependent on your ability to figure out what your true gift is and to focus your energy on that. Because when you’re going, when you’re swimming upstream, On things that you’re not very good at it.
It drains your energy. And we all have some of those that we have to do. That’s just life, that you have a few things to do. But if you can really make sure that what you’re doing the majority of the time aligns with what your gifts are, there’s really no limit to what you can do with your business. And I feel super strong and passionate about that because it’s very easy to get stuck in the weeds.
Mm-hmm. . And when I reflect on that question, you ask about [00:22:00] burnout. That’s when I’ve gotten stuck in the weeds has been when I, it’s the highest burnout timeframes.
[00:22:06] Julie Bee – Host: Yeah. When you get outside of your, you know, genius zone gifts, whatever you wanna call it when you’re not working, and that at least part of your day, or hopefully most of your day, but at least part of your day.
Yep. That’s when I get into burnout too. When I’m, when I’m not creating is when I end up burning out for sure. So I can see. Michelle, I have really enjoyed this conversation and I know that anybody who Lis, who listens to this, is gonna take away a lot of really great insights. Thank you so much for doing this today and being on the show.
[00:22:34] Michelle O’Connor – Guest: Oh, thank you so much for having me, Julie. I am a huge fan of you, your podcast, your business advice, and I treasure all of the conversations you and I have.
[00:22:43] Julie Bee – Host: That’s same, same for me, for you. Yeah. We, I just, yeah, I’m always, I’m always amazed by you, so I’m cheering for you. Always cheering for Michelle and O’Connor Insurance Associates.
So that is a wrap on today’s episode, and please be sure to subscribe to this podcast on your favorite [00:23:00] app so that you don’t miss out on future conversations. I’m Julie. And they don’t teach this in business school.
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