ScaleUP! KC Helped Insurance Pros Find a Growth Spurt, Power through the PandemicBecky Brown
Chris Goodwin had a pretty good idea of what he was doing when he started Insurance Pros in 2002. But the training and networking available in the Kansas City entrepreneurial ecosystem helped him realize he doesn’t know it all — and that’s more than fine. These opportunities for KC business owners have helped him gain the knowledge and connections to take his business to the next level. Here’s how.
Growing a KC business
Chris started health insurance broker Insurance Pros with … a laptop.
“As an insurance agent, it’s interesting,” he says. “You get a laptop and an S corp, and you’re in business.”
He was a broker at a larger company, but as a 1099 contractor, he was his own business. And it was up to him to hit his stride.
“I went from making $20,000 my first year to $300,000 when I really went out on my own in 2008,” Chris says. “I worked on building relationships, being meticulous and making sure I was good at what I do. I would continue to get referred by customers, and I built professional relationships organically without heavy marketing.”
All was well. Then, in 2017, Chris participated in ScaleUP! Kansas City. That’s when everything changed.
“ScaleUP! has been instrumental in the growth of our business,” he says. “While I wasn’t in trouble going into it, the business wasn’t growing, and I didn’t know how to grow. While there are bigger success stories, I went from $350,000 in revenue in 2017 to now over $700,000 in revenue. I never thought of the business as growing, but when I look at the financials, we’ve grown, even through COVID and other challenges. We’ve grown and doubled in revenue and I know that wouldn’t have happened without ScaleUP! KC.”
Powering a business with ScaleUP! KC
ScaleUP! KC is a four-month intensive program for founders whose businesses are poised to scale. Led by the UMKC Innovation Center, ScaleUP! is a selective opportunity that’s known for helping entrepreneurs streamline processes and strategize for growth. For Chris, the program did all that and more.
“It gave me the structure I needed to think about my business, and the structure of working on the business,” he says. “You’re talking about your business regularly, so you’re accountable. They give you methodologies that work. I know there’s a million books about what you need to do to grow your business, but ScaleUP! puts the method right in front of you. You use it, and you benefit as a result.”
In addition to learning new approaches to growth, ScaleUP! also introduced Chris to the people who could help Insurance Pros grow.
“For instance, I wouldn’t have known the importance of banking relationships, and I wouldn’t have been introduced to the banks I use now,” he says. “Banking speed dating was instrumental to my business. I didn’t want to borrow money because I wanted to be debt free, but I didn’t understand you need the financial backing to grow. Now, I know that if you know what your goals are and have the plan to make it work, yeah, go ahead and borrow the money to make it happen. That understanding came from ScaleUP! KC.”
The program has had a long-reaching impact on Chris and his business.
“I ended up with the banking relationship that’s worked for me. But there are other teachings that I still use daily, including how to manage accounting and other aspects,” he says. “I feel indebted to the program and am so thrilled and honored to stay in touch with the people from that program. I couldn’t have gotten off the ground without ScaleUP! and Jill Hathaway.”
Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem makes a difference
But ScaleUP! isn’t the only program that’s made a significant impact on Chris and his venture.
“One of the best things I ever did was join Centurions through the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce,” he says. “That program gave me incredible contacts and a better understanding of everything going on throughout the city.”
Centurions is a two-year leadership development program. Now, he’s involved with the KC Chamber in general. And early in his career, Chris was active in the Olathe Chamber of Commerce.
“Being involved in the chamber gave me a lot of contacts and opportunities to participate in the business environment in KC,” he says.
Now, Chris is participating in the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program (HEMP). This program matches entrepreneurs with business veterans who can help them grow their businesses. The one-on-one mentoring, presentations by top KC leaders and field trips to innovative companies are a good fit for Chris.
“HEMP feels like a natural next step after ScaleUP! KC,” he says. He’s not sure what will come next, but he’s excited about future opportunities.
“I understand that this is a journey, and I will always pursue assistance with getting better,” Chris says. “I am so thankful that there are structured organizations out there to help aspiring entrepreneurs!”
Advice for other entrepreneurs
In his 20-plus years as an entrepreneur, Chris has learned a few things he wishes he knew earlier. Some are more obvious, like understand your taxes. But others are reminders to listen to yourself.
“Don’t spread yourself too thin,” he says. “Find something that you are good at and that is profitable and focus on that! There are a lot of small opportunities and related offerings that you can include, and they can become a distraction from you growing and being highly efficient.”
Chris also encourages founders to be patient.
“It’s better to stay in business than to go too big, too fast and blow it,” he says. “I am not a victim of this yet, but I have often felt bad that I am not a huge company yet. Most mentors and people who know business tell me to be patient and say that what we have is a good and healthy business.”
Finally, he suggests entrepreneurs pay special attention to their teams.
“Your employees are your biggest clients. If you get good employees, you should try to keep them happy and give them what they need within reason,” Chris says. “It’s way harder to replace a good employee than it is to replace 10 clients.”
For aspiring founders who are looking for their niche, he recommends finding a business that is recession proof.
“I love our business because people always have to buy insurance no matter what,” Chris says. “You should also do something that you enjoy or love. I’m guessing that there will be hard times in most businesses, and if you have the love for your business and what you are doing, then it will be more tolerable.”
Personalized support for KC business owners
Kansas City has organizations to meet just about any business need. Whether you’re an aspiring business owner or a seasoned founder, there are people and programs here to help you meet your goals. You can find them all in the KCSourceLink Resource Navigator, a listing of more than 240 local Resource Partners that are ready to guide your entrepreneurial journey.
Not sure where to start? No problem! Our Network Navigators are here to help. Just answer a few questions and they’ll create a free Personal Action Plan. It’s an individualized checklist of what to do and who to meet to get your business moving on the right foot.