Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Fabien from FAB FRENCH INSURANCE. I run an insurance brokerage agency in the South West region of France. We sell insurance for the English-speaking community living in France, mostly insurance for VISAS (or residency applications) and also provide car insurance, as well as home and content policies. Basically, we smooth out the administrative challenges of living the French dream. Although we’re based in France we provide a 100% English service.
I started this venture alone but I’ve grown the team to nine; with an initial investment of just $10K, combined with working in a very competitive area, I’m delighted to have achieved a turnover of over $2.5M after just six years in business. I also started from scratch; in other words, with no portfolio or customer base.
As with any start-up, you have to be “the squid of all trades” (I just made this one up but let’s pretend it’s a French saying), and be prepared to put in the hours!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I used to work with both insurance agents and online brokers in France when I was running my own marketing agency. After working for some of France’s biggest online brokers I thought, “Why not me”? The challenge I had running an online agency (15 people at peak size) was that business fluctuated substantially from month to month and I was growing tired of this. The insurance world looked much better and I thought that perhaps someday I’d join forces with one of my clients and start my own venture in the insurance sector. I ‘sold’ my shares in my previous business, (an e-commerce agency called MyWebShop) for basically next to nothing, (the value of my shares was equal to the debts incurred) so I walked away from debt free but without much cash either.
I started the business with affiliate marketing and by focusing on the self-employed living in France. The initial plan of having an associate turned out to be a bad idea (the first of many!). However, that initial setback was followed by something that changed my core perception of the business. One of my earliest clients couldn’t speak much French, so I chatted to her in English. It gave me the idea of focusing on this niche market, i.e. the English-speaking community living in France. And that luck worked its magic again; the following week I received a lead from a lady who was the owner of a large website providing information and services for British speakers in France. I decided to focus on that market and become the leading player in this new found niche.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The insurance industry is heavily regulated in France, and although I had a Master’s degree I still had to complete a 135-hour long course to confirm I had the theoretical knowledge needed to become a broker. I then had to complete all the required agreements and the administrative process (training included) took around three months to complete. Setting up the business and following the training course cost me just under $3000 which came out of my initial $10k.
In addition to all this, to work as a broker you need insurance companies. Luckily, there was a big trade fair in Paris during September (three months after I was incorporated) so, here I was, walking the aisles of the “Palais des Congres ” like a big boy:
This event allowed me to find my initial insurance providers, but now it was back to business. I still needed to create an online presence and initial marketing campaigns. A friend of mine, Jamie, helped me enormously with this; we worked hard and successfully got the first campaign to go live barely a couple of weeks after the exhibition:
However, the first acquisition campaign didn’t go as well as we had hoped. It shaved another $3000 out of my remaining funds in return for a small turnover. The insurance industry is odd as we get the commission over a 12 month period so we pay per acquisition upfront but don’t see the profit until a year or so later. So, in short, not good.
If you’re going to succeed, then you’re going to do something no one thought of before or tried, or you’re going to do something done before but do it better
I had burned away more than half of my initial funds but I’d also got that lead which helped me focus on an even more specific niche. I rolled up my sleeves and reached out to as many websites as I could in that niche sector, and it worked!
I got a positive response from one of the mid-size websites (which became one the busiest over time so it proved to be a good pick !). I threw my last bit of energy into that one, crafting an AdSense campaign plus material for newsletters. A couple of weeks after this partnership started, success came calling. It was worth the wait as the first week was epic, with more than 30 leads per day. I was now on track to world domination, or at least dominating this niche in France. This partnership was the first but definitely not the last!
Describe the process of launching the business.
I won’t lie, it was a slow start. Because of the way we’re paid in the industry, you have to put in a lot of effort up front and wait for the reward to come a year later, so it is frustrating. But I used the ‘time lag’ element to bolster my strategy and, more importantly, to get as many partners as possible (people sending me business in exchange for a cut on my commission).
Things were building up nicely before the first Covid-19 lockdown hit (March 2020 in France). Business almost ground to a halt, plus uncertainties over the possible impact of Brexit didn’t help either.
You’re the boss, and a business needs to have only one person in charge. Everyone in your team should know who the boss is and that in times of crisis, there’s s one person who has the final word
But I saw an opportunity here. Instead of being head down and at work as always, I decided I could use the break to think about new strategies and thus decided to create a brand new website called fabfrenchinsurance.com (thanks Jamie for the fabulous name ☺). My background is in IT development so I built the first version computer by myself with help from a couple of subcontractors and the website went live at the end of May 2020. That was the EUREKA moment. From June business increased fivefold and the pace continued up until the end of 2020. That year, turnover went from just under $1M (in 2019) to more than $1.8M, and we did almost $2.4M in 2021 with a gross margin above $500k.
Thanks to the website, we’ve since partnered with new insurance companies and created ‘customized’ offers which have helped boost growth despite factors such as COVID, lockdowns and economic uncertainty.
Automating the quotation process online is what really helped us step up our game. All the time we had been wasting doing manual quotations could now be invested into customer service and this has had a tremendous effect on the business.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
What really sent the business to another level was the automation of online lead processing. Basically, our website, fabfrenchinsurance.com, helped streamline the lead generation (always the same questions) and also helped weed out customers who weren’t willing to get into the ‘sales funnel’, thus focusing on the prospects that could become customers.
Brokering deals with other websites also proved to be a major factor in our growth. And that had a compound effect; our partners sent us business but also helped with our SEO so the relationships keep on giving.
With the profits from this first campaign we then invested in our brand image (Facebook, testimonies, blog, etc.).
Slowly but surely, we could see the impact on our website’s traffic:
After only six months we have more than doubled the incoming traffic.
We’ve also featured in some of the biggest magazines in the industry, and now we’re considering working with influencers on social media to widen our net further. Customers come from various backgrounds and understanding this is essential for success. In addition, some customers can prove too ‘costly’ (if they are lurking in the far digital corner of the web), so the idea is to find some gold mines, large enough to be worth the exploration factor
We have also invested in online calculators on the website which have doubled the conversion rate, so for the same number of visitors our turnover has increased massively.
Now we are trying to cover every angle (digital and magazines) and are also investing in new products and services to keep on growing. This has worked really well too (e.g., providing services in relation to our insurance product such as hand-holding services for VISA applications or vehicle importation.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Thanks to our new online strategy since 2020 we’ve increased our sales volume significantly and that have allowed us to negotiate with some companies to increase our margins and to create new products. All this has combined to achieve an extra 3% to 5% margin (depending on the product). Our average margin was about 10% and is now above 14%!
Pure advertising is the best sales channel for us as it consists of a fixed cost, although our network of ‘referral’ websites are often on a commission basis which usually shaves around 30% off our profit they provide excellent service so we’ll keep on doing that as long as possible. Every sale counts.
Our team has grown from three members in early 2020 to 10 members at the start of 2022, and we still have plenty to do.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Mistakes? I’ve made plenty, the biggest was getting too many associates on board whilst the business was still in its infancy. I had up to three (so four in total) and I had to buy back shares from two of them… at a big premium. But I won’t lie, I’m a team player so I couldn’t have done it on my own. I need to have at least one person on my side who I can share issues with and the issues can be numerous.
I’ve always run the business as the main shareholder and never shared management or responsibilities as I’ve made that mistake previously and won’t be making it again. You’re the boss, and a business needs one person in charge. Everyone in your team should know who the boss is (you) and that in case of crisis there’s one person who has the final say, and yes, that’s still you.
All in all, I don’t regret having associates, just that I gave them too many shares. So be too generous with your shares; it’s okay and even helpful to have business associates but never forget that you are the core of the business, so you should keep most of it for yourself as well.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Honestly not that many. I’m a big fan of sub-contracting things that have little added value. So, perhaps the main resource I’ve used is Fiverr.
All the other tools I’m using are mostly compliance-related and French insurance specific, thus not worth sharing here with you.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Weirdly enough it’s probably crypto influencers. I’m a big fan of crypto and most of the entrepreneurs in the industry are really hardworking and share great insights on Twitter.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
If you’re going to succeed, then you either need to do something no one has thought of or tried before, or you need to do something that’s been done but do it better. By the very definition of this, the ‘crowd’ will tell you it’s a bad idea and ‘better’ people have tried and failed, etc. Remember, success requires only one person to believe in you and that person is yourself!
Find something you’re good at, and master it. Become so good at it that you’re invincible. If you know you’re worth X, then don’t sell for anything under X as you’ll be undermining your own worth. We all need money but in time a good entrepreneur can act for future growth. If you continually sell ‘small’ then you’ll never have the time to focus on the big picture and you will remain small. And one last point, if you’re extremely busy but not making enough, that means you are too cheap; increase your prices and even if you lose some customers you’ll have more time on your hands so buckle up and act like a king if you want to be treated like one. And this isn’t just from me, I took this from the 48 laws of power!
Where can we go to learn more?
You can reach out directly on our website, Facebook, or via email:
Thanks for reading, and good luck to you all!
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