Growing the Business Is a Team Effort
When Insurance Journal called Danielle Ellis, principal at Ellis Insurance Agency in Charleston, West Virginia, with the news that the agency had been named one of the Best Agencies to Work For in the Southeast, an office manager said she was out of the office, “growing the business.”
That seems to be the key to the Ellis agency’s success in recent years – a growth plan that involves the agency team members in business development, continuing education and, really, most major decisions, Ellis said.
“My team means the world to me,” she said. “I feel ‘seen’ as a female agency owner in growth mode, four years into my tenure here.”
What makes the Ellis agency a great place to work “is that we posture and immerse ourselves into a culture of continuously learning, whether that be me learning what my team needs and being open to suggestions or for my team always striving to improve their workplace and the customer experience.”
The agency’s 10 employees must agree: The agency was named the 2023 Silver award winner for the Southeast in Insurance Journal’s annual survey. The agency received positive comments from team members, earned a high overall rating and saw strong marks for benefits, working conditions and management.
“I have worked for many companies over the years and this agency is an actual family to each other,” one employee wrote. “I have never had the open communication or respect and care from any other company.”
The Ellis story is a family story, but one that wasn’t predestined. Danielle’s father, Paige Ellis, founded the agency in 1981. But, growing up, Danielle wasn’t sure if she wanted to enter the insurance business. In college at Marshall University, a voluntary benefits carrier saw her resume. She worked there for several years.
“My father saw that I was good at it and offered me a job in his property/casualty agency,” Danielle Ellis said. “At first, I turned him down because I was uncertain about the future of P&C insurance at that time. A wise mentor advised me to seize the chance to work with my dad and told me I would never regret it. I surprised him and passed my P&C exam, took the job he had offered me.”
Danielle joined the team in 2012. The next year, the agency built an impressive new office building just north of Charleston. It also established a commercial lines department, which added a wide range of coverages and products for local businesses. That resulted in “exponential growth” for the agency. Paige Ellis retired in 2019 and sold the agency to Danielle in 2020.
Danielle’s best advice to other agency owners: Respect the team. “Empower them with the training and confidence to make risk decisions within a framework you create together,” Ellis said. “Always involve your team in policy development – seek their opinions, brainstorm, and write your agency’s story together.”
Another tip: Think ahead and curate the language used when discussing the workplace, to make it more inclusive. Words like “my team” and “my coworker,” rather than “my employees” work best, she noted.
Also, have a policy and procedure developed with input from the team for everything that’s done on a regular basis. That will streamline the workflow and “make decision-making second nature and not something only the agency owner can do. When your team feels valued and empowered, they not only stay with you – they take excellent care of your customers and work hard.”
Survey comments underscored the team’s appreciation for their agency’s leadership.
“Danielle Ellis is a superwoman,” one team member said. “Working for a woman-owned business has been the sole healthiest work environment I have experienced. She has grown with the agency since the days long before her father retired and she purchased the business from him. She works alongside us and I could not ask for a better agency owner.”
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