We recently caught up with Melanie Jackson, Managing Director at ARC Broker Services Ltd, to see how she has been getting on in her first 18 months running her own broking business.
After working in the insurance industry for over 20 years’, in both Account Handler and Account Executive roles, Mel set up her own brokerage, Arc Broker Services, in July 2018 and has gone from strength to strength ever since, showing great entrepreneurial skills, with an impressively quick growth and the expansion of her portfolio to offer further services to her clients.
When we chatted to Mel, we wanted to find out what the deciding factors were for her to take the leap from employment to running her own business full time, and how her experiences as a woman in a still very male dominated industry influenced this.
TEn: When did you start to think about running your own brokerage, and how long did it take you to decide to do so? Was there a deciding factor/ change in circumstances that encouraged this move?
I guess I started to think about running my own brokerage a long time before I decided to do anything about it – probably since the summer of 2017. The reason that prevented me was “Fear” – a fear of rejection, a fear a failure towards my family, a fear of not being good enough.
I had worked for a large broker local to me and one of the Directors’ made my life hell, to the point that he had me in tears and I needed counselling on a weekly basis.
I remember a meeting with another Director that he sent to our office on behalf of himself vividly, being told that I should dress more “corporately” and not like I am going to Ascot, as I am attracting the wrong attention – this resorted me to tears in my car journey home from work.
Nothing I did was ever good enough, not the new business I put on the books or the targets I hit, more was always wanted from me and it made me ill. The counselling made me realise that I had to remove myself from the situation and it was very clear that this particular Director was never going to leave and so I decided to leave my good friends and colleagues behind me and move onto a smaller brokerage but with a large daily commute.
I started working at the smaller broker and whilst the Operations Director was lovely, her hands were tied as the Managing Director again was awful, his behaviour towards me was unacceptable. I tried challenging him on this, I even asked for a meeting direct with him either in the office or on neutral territory over a coffee to try and resolve our differences - he refused to see me & I realised there was some serious issues. I was working hard for his business, with a good bank of clients earning him a good commission.
I realised that my fears were holding me back - I got to the point where I realised it was costing me too much, my life & my happiness – nothing was going to change. Therefore, over the Christmas of 2017, I decided that enough was enough and I was going to hand in notice which I finally plucked up the courage in February 2018.
I had a 6 month notice period and hadn’t decided at that moment in time what I was going to do, but one thing for sure was that I was NOT going to be pushed around or bullied anymore . I thought long and hard and then realised I DO have what it takes to open and run my own brokerage, I just needed the self-confidence to know this. I CAN do this and I don’t need to stay safe anymore …. I had to remember the power of focus, what you focus on is what you get.
TEn: What were your main hurdles when starting out in business and how are/have they been overcome?
When I first started out in business, I felt lost. I was a good Account Executive , but had not been in business before - where to start?
Advisors would all try and tell you that their products/services were the best and it was a minefield. I had to choose carefully with regards to an Accountant who would not overcharge me (I sought recommendations), a good website and SEO provider( again I sought recommendations).
I had to source an Appointed Representative Company that I felt comfortable with – that was Rob Benson with TEn Insurance. I felt very welcomed by him and warmed to the company and structure. The whole TEn process was very easy , however we did have some hurdles via the FCA which were resolved at the last hour!
My biggest hurdle was sourcing a Bank Account for a new venture working within the financial services sector – it was harder than I ever imagined . The only bank that would help was Barclays , who offered a straight forward pay in and pay out bank account with no overdraft or loan facility. Of course, as time has gone on and money has gone through the account, the credit status has increased and the relationship has opened up better offerings but as a new business this was my biggest and hardest hurdle to overcome and it took 2-3 months to set up!
TEn: Do you feel owning your own brokerage has allowed you to have a better/more flexible work-life balance, compared to when you were working in Account Executive roles?
Absolutely – without shadow of a doubt. My work/life balance is so much more improved. I would never have achieved this in my previous employment due to restrictions and lack of trust controlling my own diary and destiny.
TEn: As a woman working in what is a changing, but still male dominated industry, do you feel you have had any further challenges to overcome, or has this affected the way in which you work?
I do feel that our industry can still be quite sexist, however, I have seen a change with more females coming through the ranks. It is quite rare to see female Account Executives, it would be more common to see them in an Account Handler roles.
TEn: What advice would you give to someone who is currently in the position you were 2 years ago?
I would start by telling them that they need to start unlocking what is holding them back in their lives, so they can break free. Think About:
You CAN do this. You WILL do this and MUST act on opening your own brokerage and become an AR – be in charge of your own destiny and be good at what you do!
Remember – staying in your comfort zone (employment) means that you stay safe….. but you also don’t have the joy, exhilaration and fun of confronting the fear and stepping out of that safe, boring comfort zone! You will always be the same – You will never change because you will never give yourself room to grow.
TEn: and finally, Mel, what advice would you give to a young woman thinking of a career in the industry?
I would advise any female to absolutely go for it. It’s a great industry to work in and you get to work with a wide variety of customers who are also lovely.
There is a good choice of different jobs in the Insurance World and as a changing Industry a female can get to the top if that is the path she chooses.
Mel has been a member of TEn from the outset of her journey and it has been an absolute pleasure watching her succeed and we look forward to working with her further.