Back in the day when I worked at an ad agency, when ads were physically created on storyboards, I consulted with my good friend, and creative director, about an upcoming interview. I asked if he had any advice to keep my nerves at bay and he told me, “Just relax, be you, and have a conversation.” Not only did I get the job, three decades later I still hear his voice and follow this advice, which, as a small business owner, has helped me to build positive and lasting professional relationships.

Small businesses comprise 99.7% of US businesses and employ 41% of US employees. Due to this high percentage across the nation, these smaller companies may have an edge over larger corporations by extending the personal touch when it comes to attracting and maintaining clients. As a small business owner, dealing directly with your customers can be the driving force of keeping your business in business.

We spoke with several local business owners and asked their thoughts on the importance of relationship building, challenges and how they overcame them, and their advice to individuals seeking to venture out on their own. Over the next few weeks, we will share insight into how they built and maintained business relationships.

Meet Kira Boone, who has been in the insurance industry for nearly 20 years. She started in 2002 as a licensed sales assistant in her husband’s Allstate agency and in 2007 accepted a position as an agent with MetLife Auto & Home. In August of 2020, Kira launched her independent agency, Citadel Insurance Group; a personal lines insurance agency that offers auto, home, boat, landlord, renters and several other personal lines of insurance. When asked about the importance of building relationships with her clients, here’s what she had to offer.

Q. As an entrepreneur, why is it important for you to build relationships with clients?

A. As an insurance agent, I am in the business of protecting the interest of my clients; they trust me with protecting their most valuable assets. The relationship with my clients is built on the premise of honest, straightforward advice; it is what my clients deserve and expect, and that is what I deliver. My clients rely on me as a trusted advisor, it is very important that they are confident in my ability to perform in that role.

Q. Relationship building is an invaluable tool for business owners. In your profession, what have been some of the most challenging hurdles you’ve encountered when building relationships?

A. Insurance products have become commoditized by commercials claiming that 15 minutes can save you 15% or more. This type of advertising, along with the advancement of technology, has caused most consumers to think that they are able to determine the best options for protecting their most valuable assets via an app on their phone or a website. This creates several challenges for agents that attempt to consult with or advise their clients regarding the appropriate levels of coverage, including but not limited to: consumers have been conditioned that the cheapest price for insurance is the only topic of concern when purchasing insurance or coverage, and many consumers falsely believe that they have enough information to discern the appropriate amount of insurance coverage for their needs.

Q. How did you overcome those obstacles?

A. One way to combat the misconceptions mentioned above is to have a direct conversation with the individual(s) seeking protection or insurance coverage for their assets. I have found that in the haste to secure coverage that is cheap and quick, most consumers overlook the benefits of having the appropriate level of coverage. Educating or informing my clients about how an insurance product can protect them personally at the time of a loss is my goal.

Q. What strategies have you found that work best to build positive and lasting relationships with your clients?

A. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Staying in touch with my clients is a top priority. We even keep in touch with people who decide not to become our client. You can design pertinent information to share that is relevant and appreciated. Keep sharing that information either by text, email or, if you are so inclined, by social media.

Q. What advice about relationship building would you give to someone who is just starting his or her own business?

A. Be yourself. Be confident in your abilities. Share your knowledge and be generous with your expertise. Don’t be shy. The next connection you make could be a client. I have had people who were not able to do business with me refer friends or family who [then] became my client. Remember that starting a business is a marathon – not a sprint. You are in this for the long haul.

Kira Boone is Agent/Agency Owner of Citadel Insurance Group, Plano, TX