Life assures us many things.
If there is one thing that life assures us it’s that things are bound to happen and it’s important that we have certain insurances to protect us.
This year and certainly 2020 has been so unpredictable and we’ve lost a number of iconic members of the Black community, one in particular that made us pause was the lost of Anthony “AJ” Johnson an actor and comedian best known for his performance as Ezal in “Friday,” died at the age of 55. What was just as sad as the news of his death was the news that he didn’t have life insurance. It made us pause and think wow how was that possible, but the truth is there are a number of us in the Black community that don’t understand the real purpose and power of life insurance which is why we sit down with business owner Chris Godley of State Farms to chat business, life and fighting the stigmas in our community.
SM: Chris, please introduce yourself to our readership.
CG: I’m originally from Washington, North Carolina. Some people like to call it little Washington. That’s not correct. It is the original Washington. So let’s be clear on that. I am from the original Washington born and raised on a road out in the country called “Chairman road” with my grandparents, you know, on a small farm. And so I just came from a very humble hard working background, always familiar with hot work, getting your hands dirty, or 14 years old, I started working and paying the light bill at my grandmother’s house. And so that was kind of the way I got started.
I’ve been in the insurance business now for 24 years, I’ve been with State Farm for nine years. I started out in this business as a life insurance specialist. What drove me to this business was actually the tragic death of my twins and not having life insurance on them, and having to go through the pain of having to cremate my babies. So that was something that was really challenging for me. And I said, “you know what, I want to use this as an opportunity to turn that tragedy into triumph, and to help other families in a way that they never have to go through what I went through.” So I’ve been very fortunate so far, and very blessed.
SM: We appreciate you sharing that personal family moment. We can only imagine what that must have been like for you and for others who may have had to go through something like that. So you mentioned 24 years in the insurance business, what made you step out there and get your own agency? What was that decision making process like?
CG: One word scary. Very, very scary. So what you have to understand is the company I worked with previously, I was the number one agent in the country with that company. I was a part of the million dollar round table, which is the top 1% of all insurance and financial advisors in the entire world. So I was doing pretty good. However the problem was I was working from sunup to sundown. I’m talking seven days a week. I was missing my daughter growing up, I was really taking a lot of time away from my family. Even though we were making great money, it was challenging. So at some point you have to ask yourself is there some sort of work life balance, and there was none. So, when I first took a look at State Farm and State Farm to look at me, I saw where their values really kind of align with mine. And it was important to me to be with a company that had a name recognition that I could trust and State Farm was the number one homeowners auto and life insurance company in the country. And so the biggest reason why I stepped out there was to try and get some form of my life back and be able to provide a lifestyle for my family that I felt like they deserved.
SM: So you own an insurance agency with State Farm, but tell us, what do you do to stand out and sustain your business in that space?
CG: Well, one thing you have to do is look at the demographics and look at market penetration.
So when we look at State Farm’s market penetration in the Pitt County area, we were somewhere around 17%, our State Farm goal is to be at 25% market penetration. So for me, the challenge was getting people to know Chris Godley. So I said, what can I do to make myself stand out? And one thing was, and here’s the honest truth there’s no shortcut, it’s just hard work. It meant joining every board that would have me. At one point in time, I was on eight or nine different boards. I was always running to board meetings and just shaking hands, kissing babies, and not even trying to sell people insurance. I was just letting people get to know me and what I do. You know, just to have that name recognition to start helps you stand out. Then I started trying to find ways to do small sponsorships for everything that I could. And I used social media a lot. I remember going over my marketing budget a couple of times. I mean I remember in the beginning I was maxing out credit cards, I was going to my 401k, I was looking at different options and trying to figure out how I can do this. Really, I was borrowing money at high interest rates, different little finance companies, you name it.
But here’s the catch 22, people didn’t see that part or understand it. Because the more you do, the more people come to you and ask you to do. And I’m like, I’m eating noodles trying to make it. So that was an interesting time and process. But you know, we made it through that hump.
SM: Chris there were so many small gems and lessons that we can break down further. You literally described the journey of the entrepreneur/small business owner. We’re out here trying to get this thing to a point where it’s sustainable. But yet, on the outside looking into this thing, everybody already thinks we’ve made it already. WOW, good stuff.
There’s so much more Substantial wants to talk with you about regarding owning a business but I have to ask you this very important question. How hard is it still to talk to our people in the Black community about life insurance and the purpose of it?
CG: I think the most challenging part of the conversation, well some of it comes from just basic economics. Some of it comes from priorities, quite frankly. Most people buy what they want, not what they can afford or in some cases what they need. And the challenge with that is people want something that’s tangible. They want the shiny object to be able to hold in their hand. You know, they want something that they can benefit from, and obviously there is a benefit for insurance. However people rationalize costs for things like, I pay my cell phone bill, I can use it, I pay my car payment, I can drive it, I pay my rent or my mortgage, I can live in it, I pay my life insurance, well… What do I get from it? Oh, I die. And then some else in my family benefits from it. So I think one of the things we have to do is sit down with people and identify what’s important to them. Because life insurance is so much more than just providing a death benefit. It can be used to help subsidize your retirement as well. It can be used to help kids with a college education. But most importantly, it provides inheritance to our children. It provides that mortgage payment, if you die, it takes care of that car payment you leave beyond, etc. Again the challenge sometimes is taking something that’s intangible, and making it tangible for someone. And for some they have life insurance on their jobs, but really if you think about it you will more than likely outlive those policies, what happens when you switch jobs and have to start over, etc. You have to play the long game.