By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
How does one end up running their own insurance agency? For Michelle Wilhoit, it started with feeling like she’d accomplished what she could working for others, and deciding the next move was to strike out in an entirely different direction while building something new.
“I think I hit a ceiling at (my old job),” Wilhoit said. “So, I was just kind of ready for a change, something more challenging.”
She didn’t know it was going to be insurance at first, she said.
“But then, out of the blue, a recruiter from State Farm, out of Bloomington, Illinois… sends me a message on LinkedIn asking if I’m interested in opening my own agency here in Carter County.”
Initially she was skeptical.
“At first, I was like, ‘This is spam,’” she said with a laugh.
She almost deleted the message, but after reading on it seemed legitimate, so she talked with her husband about it. Knowing that she was looking for a change, he advised her to get some more information. She did and, after 20 years with First National Bank, she opened her new agency in July.
“I was actually one month away from my 21st anniversary (with the bank),” she said. “So, it was a big step, but I’m so happy that I made it.”
But she didn’t just get to jump in and open an agency right away. She had to take a few courses and get an education in the industry first. The entire process took just at a year.
“June of 2020 is when she reached out to me, and it came full circle June 1,” she said.
It’s been an exciting ride, she said, beyond what she expected.
“Looking back at June of 2020, I never would have imagined myself here in 2021!” she said.
She wasn’t even sure she would be allowed to run a State Farm agency when she began her insurance education. It isn’t like purchasing a franchise license. State Farm, she explained, has four rounds of interviews for those who want to open an agency with them. She did complete two of those, which she described as more like personality assessments and aptitude tests, before starting her education. The other two were completed after she started learning the ins and outs of the business and regulatory models in the field.
Part of this included the development of a 30 day business plan for her market. It was daunting, she said, but she enjoyed it. She and her husband, Will, worked closely together on that. He’s run his own business for more than 20 years, she said, and she relied on his advice and support as she put her plan together.
She gave her notice last September, and left the bank in October of last year.
“At that time, I was really just taking a leap of faith,” she said, noting that she hadn’t yet been approved for an office at that point.
In January she started her internship with the company, which she described as “very challenging,” mostly because it was virtual. That ran through the first of May. She then had a month to get her office ready before opening.
While she hasn’t yet had a grand opening and ribbon cutting, she has been open since June, and in that time she’s already been listed among the top ten agencies in the region for commercial fire, where she’s ranked number seven, and health, where she’s number five. It’s something she’s quite proud of, and feeds another of her passions – local business.
In her time at the bank, and with the Chamber of Commerce, one constant, she said, has been a passion to support local business.
“I always wanted to support local businesses,” she said. With the commercial policies State Farm offers, she said, she can help those local businesses save money and get back on their feet after an accident or disaster. The State Farm model also allows her to connect with those customers. Rather than routing them through an automated system, she said, she can be there for her them, and that’s important to her.
“I’m the type of person, I really love customer service,” she said. “I have a passion for it. So, for me, that was the very first thing I implement was, we want to make our customers feel like royalty. We want to roll out the red carpet. There’s nothing we won’t do for our customers, and that is the same philosophy as State Farm. State Farm is very customer service driven.”
She said that commitment to customer service extends to her staff, which includes her sister Sabrina Blevins, who also serves as an agent, and account associates Heather Paynter and Lakin Justice. They also try to have a “fun” workplace, Wilhoit said, while still making sure business is taken care of.
All in all, she said, she feels “very blessed,” and like her prayers were answered.
“I give God all the credit, and praise, and glory for (our) being here,” she said.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org