Some people are born into insurance, others “fall” into it – but few can say they have true love at the heart of their jump into the industry like Insurance Business Women in Insurance Rising Star award winner, Clare Talbot-Jones (pictured).
The business development director of Talbot-Jones Ltd, the Gateshead-based insurance broker, moved from teaching to childcare before getting her first glimpse at the industry via her future husband (Talbot-Jones managing director Richard Talbot-Jones).
"I remember 15 years ago, the lady who went on to be my bridesmaid told me about a guy who runs his own business and I thought it was a nightmare to have a life with uncertainty and vulnerability,” she told Insurance Business. “Before we got engaged, we talked about our aspirations for life. He was really excited about commercial insurance and running his own business – but I thought he’d need to marry someone else. The idea of the precarious nature of running one's own business was too far out of my comfort zone. Thankfully he decided to marry me anyway!
“Yet when I started the childminding business I realised if you’ve got a good offering and market it well you are actually in a more secure position and you have the power to make things succeed and do things the way you think is right.
“So, we started it [the insurance business Talbot-Jones Ltd] together and I was company secretary in name only. As soon as I did that role I understood that there were responsibilities that I’d have and I’d need to know what’s going on and understand what the business is and how it works. So, I took my exams as quickly as possible so I could become FCA approved and a director and really threw myself into it, all while I was still working part-time as a childminder.”
It was during this part-time role that Talbot-Jones discovered a potential marketing opportunity – a chance to differentiate the business from other insurance brokers.
“A lot of the time I was at home during the day and, during nap times or when children were playing, I did networking on social media and discovered that other insurance brokers weren’t really using social media in the same way,” she explained. “In the first year we made about 70% of our new business through social media. It’s probably unheard of.
“It set us up in a unique position and meant that if people were asking ‘what do I do for insurance?’ they were being told to ‘talk to Talbot Jones’.”
After about a year of “cleaning up babies and going out to business meetings and then going back to pick someone up from a swimming pool,” Talbot-Jones explained that the dual roles became too hard – and so she switched to the firm full-time. Since then she’s continued to differentiate the broker from its competitors.
“I was at a conference a few months ago and a presenter asked ‘what do your target market say about you when you’re not in the room? What three things would you like to be known for?’,” she explained. “I left, pondering... when I got to the bottom of the stairs, an acquaintance introduced me to a new connection, adding ‘Clare supports a lot of charities.’ ‘Ah, I've heard of you! You’re the ethical brokers!’ I moved on and met a client ‘Congratulations on your new chartered status,’ he said. ‘Wow,’ I reflected. It was an amazing illustration of the power of social media marketing. Just five minutes out of the session and I was delighted to register that our clients and target market perceive us to be community focussed, delivering excellence and ethical. It’s exactly in line with our values and what we’d hope to convey. This was a massive encouragement!
“Ultimately what separates us is not just our passion for people – it’s that we make that a central focus. I meet a lot of really outstanding insurance brokers who work for larger companies and, whereas often people in the insurance industry have a reputation for being money focused, the people I meet there seem to focus on people. What we do is not just care about people, however, but we share that in our social media presence, and our investments. People have come to trust and really value and like that.”
One year on from the challenge of launching a business and that “huge leap of faith”, Talbot-Jones Ltd is thriving with around six employees and a focus on the third sector, professional and technology risks. Now it can add ‘award winner’ to its list of impressive accomplishments.
“It was amazing and overwhelming to win the Insurance Business award and see how people are excited for us,” said Talbot-Jones. “I’ve been asked to talk at a business conference next year – which is probably directly related to my award – and we’ve had even more people than usual reaching out – people I’ve not heard from for two years or more, asking about their insurance needs. We’ve had probably about a month’s worth of new business on the back of the award win. But the highlight was that I got a message from my teenage niece saying: ‘you’re an inspiration, I’m so proud of you.’ That’s perhaps my biggest achievement.”
Noting that “businesses don’t coast,” Talbot-Jones has now set her sights on further expansion of the company that is likely to include expanding its staff and potentially even a brokerage acquisition. However, no matter what success follows she won’t forget how far they’ve come.
“I was a childminder dropped into the middle of an industry – now I feel we’re not exactly a start-up anymore,” she said, “I feel I’m a proper business owner and a business leader.”