Money Matters

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Agent “Masterclass” Interview


Our editor sat down with Pasadena, CA-based, Farmers District Manager, Naji Garabet, to learn about behaviors that promote success in his business, and to get practical advice for a jump start on the New Year.

All this honed by Naji’s more than 25 years in business.

The American Dream is Alive and Well!

Born in Lebanon, Naji came to the U.S. from Beirut, which is considered to be “The Paris of the Middle East.” In his late teens, he worked in his family’s 3rd generation business as an artist designing fine jewelry. His “other” career took off in 1991 when Naji joined Famers and attended Career School. But as he tells it, his most important education of all “was America.”

By his own admission, Naji gets “high on the insurance business every day,” noting: “Where else can you get paid five thousand dollars in commission for having a conversation with someone?” When asked how he turns a conversation into a business, he returned to some of his other skillsets, noting: “Like the jewelry business, there’s something of an art to it [selling insurance]. It also uses a lot of psychology [Naji studied this in college] which is basically the understanding of the mind and human behavior.”

“A good insurance agent, uses this understanding [of human behavior]to tell a story. And of course to close.”

-Naji Garabet

“It’s less about salesmanship and more about personality and ability to communicate,” he added. When the conversation turned to what makes him most excited—he first cited his formal job-description. “Officially, my job description is ‘to recruit, train and manage insurance agents.’ My real job, however, is as a business coach—to realize potential. And my biggest pleasure is to take a 27/28-year-old newlywed, driving a Honda Accord, and in five years to get them into a BMW and $200-300 thousand in income.”

To achieve this earning power, we asked Naji if there were any golden rules. “This is first and foremost a people business. The client signs our check so our obligation is to help them manage their [insurance]coverage with the right product at the right price. We do not ‘sell insurance,’ we help people secure proper coverage.” Naji added: “Always tell clients the truth. And don’t oversell them. You want to be able to sleep at night knowing nothing will come back to haunt them—or you.”

Moving to tactical “tools of the trade”—we asked Naji to share some good housekeeping tips to help get agents off to a good start and keep them there. Here are his top five:

  • Prepare for taxes early. Get a Tax- Saver account offered by your Credit Union so you can pay quarterly taxes on time.
  • Get separate accounts for business and payroll. It’s more secure to pay wages out of a minimally-funded payroll account. This limits the chance of employee fraud, like successfully being able to cash the same check twice [Naji learned this lesson the hard way].
  • Get an IRA account for retirement savings and also for the tax deduction.
  • Commit to buying your own building. The example Naji gave is a 5-6 unit building in a strip mall. “You occupy one and rent the others. You earn four ways”: lower payment for your office than renting; rental income; you build equity in the building; and you can write off depreciation on the building against taxes.
  • “Above all,” he ended: “it’s a must to have credit backup…You never know when you will find a goldmine employee, but if you cannot pay them—at least for the first 2-3 months until they start producing—they will go elsewhere.” He stressed that’s why contract value is so critical: “Banks will say no as you don’t have enough inventory [cash]for them to loan against.” [The Credit Union understands the agent’s business so we can provide lending options that the big banks simply cannot].

As we were saying our goodbyes, we asked Naji to sum up what had made him successful. He barely missed a beat: “I’m a good storyteller. And I teach my agents how to tell good stories.”

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