Commitment to goals and customers means success for American Family agency owner Laci Alvarado
October is National Women’s Small Business Month. Here we highlight an American Family agency owner, Laci Alvarado of Mesa, Arizona, and hear from one of her customers, Adaleide Goode, who is also a woman small business owner.
When it comes to setting and achieving goals, there are those who are interested … and those who are truly committed.
American Family agency owner Laci Alvarado of Mesa, Arizona definitely belongs in the latter group.
Laci has been an agency owner since 2014, getting her start in 2013 as an agent-in-training in Tempe, Arizona. While attending a seminar, Laci was encouraged to write down her short- and long-term goals.
She was very specific, noting that she wanted a cat named Echo, a Toyota pickup truck and her own agency by July 2014. On July 1, 2014, she had the cat named Echo, a Toyota Tacoma and a new agency with her name on the door.
Though she started her own agency, Laci continued to share office space and staff with the other agency owner and was grateful to have the opportunity to learn from him.
Building her business
Two years later, the agency owner asked Laci to come back to work for him. “Though I appreciated everything, I knew there was no way I could take a step back and work for someone else,” said Laci. “I had to continue to protect my customers and set goals for building my own business.”
Laci had to meet several new challenges of finding a new location and staff. “It really opened my eyes to the challenging realities of the business world,” she said.
In 2017 she found her current location in Mesa, Arizona and employs one staff person.
Honing sales and business skills starting in college
Laci developed her acumen for sales in college, working for College Works Painting, an internship program. As one of the top sales producers, the company offered her a full-time position after her graduation from Oregon Institute of Technology.
She moved to Portland and was responsible for meeting with homeowners about projects and doing estimates. “I really learned the business side of things, and also loved having the ability to make my own schedule,” said Laci. “I knew I wanted that flexibility.”
Getting into the insurance business was a matter of meeting the right people. “I never thought I’d have a career in insurance as I didn't have any ties to the industry,” said Laci.
Relocating to Arizona and finding a new career
By this time Laci had moved to Arizona to assist some family members. The American Family agency owner she met said he thought she would make a great candidate. Intrigued, Laci asked what would be required. He said he would hire her as an agent-in-training if she was licensed.
Laci decided to go for it, took a month to study and got her licenses in life/health and property and casualty. She then began the agent-in-training program. Laci started to understand she wanted to be a business owner and have a positive impact in her community. Insurance was looking more and more like the path to do that.
“I really think God brought this opportunity into my life, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to excel in a tough industry,” she said. “You have to set ambitious goals, determine what you need to do to reach them, and do it. Then surround yourself with good people who can help you on the journey.”
Another challenge for Laci is needing to hire staff and yet wanting to do it all. “It’s hard for me to delegate, but I’ve come to learn that it's not about me, it's about developing a productive team. And the more I can teach and trust others to protect my customers like I do, the better.”
Relationships and support are keys for success
Laci finds one of the most fulfilling things about being an agency owner is the relationships she’s built with her customers. “Whether it’s being here for someone who has had an accident, or the passion I have for educating customers about life insurance or getting to know families and what they need as far as financial protection and peace of mind, it’s all very rewarding.”
When offering advice for other aspiring women’s small business owners, Laci said nothing comes easy. Nothing is going to be given to you and it takes a lot of hard work, dedication and sacrifice. "And in my mind, I can’t, I won’t, fail,” she said. “I want to succeed, and I won’t settle for anything less.”
She also notes it's important to step up not only for your business, but for your community, including other women.
“You need to have the support of other women leaders and they need yours,” Laci said. “You want to have strong women with experience around you. For myself, I have great relationships with other women agency owners at American Family and women in leadership positions. I learn so much from having good people around who encourage me. And my goal is to do the same for others.”
Laci also noted she’s been fortunate to have been raised by a village of women – her mother who worked hard all her life, an aunt who was a business owner herself, and her grandmother. She also has a “tribe” of girlfriends who lift her up.
She also credits her husband, Danny Alvarado, who she met shortly before she learned about American Family for being her “rock.” “We just celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without his support,” said Laci. “He encourages me to be confident in myself, understands my commitment to my customers, and helps me be the best I can be.”
Laci is always looking to better herself. “I push myself – to be a better leader, educate myself about business, network to learn from others, and work on building good, positive relationships with people.”
Sharing a customer's journey
Laci said one of her greatest accomplishments as a woman small business owner is how the relationship with one of her customers, Adelaide Goode, has grown and evolved. (More on Adelaide below.)
Laci met Adelaide as a college student who needed renters insurance. “Since then Adelaide has honored me by trusting me with her insurance needs as her life has changed,” said Laci. “For example, she got married and I insured her husband’s auto, then they had a child and needed life insurance.”
When the couple was involved in an accident, Laci was there to walk them through the claim process. Then their family grew with the arrival of another baby last May.
Adelaide has become a small business owner herself, and Laci has been her partner in assuring her business is covered. Adelaide has begun referring other family members to Laci as well.
“This is what motivates me,” said Laci. “It’s so rewarding to meet and begin insuring this amazing young woman in college, who is now graduated, married, a mother of two, and a small business owner. And we’ve been together through her life’s journey – we’re family.” Laci is proud they’ve positively impacted each other’s lives and built such a strong connection.
Laci hopes she’s a “shining example” of what it means to be a woman small business owner. “I love what I do,” she said. “I feel I’ve accomplished a lot with my business so far serving my customers, and I enjoy what I do every day.”
Connecting as a customer and business owner
Laci’s customer Adelaide Goode is the owner of a natural hair salon in Tempe called Rare Essence, that’s been in operation since 2006. Adelaide has worked at the salon since she 15 but took over ownership last year.
The salon specializes in hair care styling, with both natural and added hair, with no chemical processing. “We’re incr edibly passionate about giving Black men and women a space to be authentically themselves,” said Adelaide.
Though she worked at the salon for years, she never imagined herself as the owner.
Adelaide earned her undergraduate degree in psychology and sociology and saw herself having a career as an academic.
“Then this path chose me, or it was God’s plan,” she said. “But now that I'm in this space I feel like I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. I love it.” Adelaide feels everything she learned in her studies gets put to good use as an owner.
Once she graduated, she was managing the salon when the owner came to her and said she was ready to transition out of the business. She felt she had taught Adelaide everything she needed to know. “She saw the value I brought to the business before I saw it in myself. She trusted me to be able to effectively run the business.”
Laci and Adelaide first crossed paths when Adelaide moved into her own apartment. The rental company provided a packet of information, and Laci’s card was there as a contact for insurance.
Adelaide called her to discuss renters insurance. Then, she talked to Laci about car insurance and even had a discussion about life insurance.
“So, it all really happened by chance,” said Adelaide. “But Laci quickly became part of my family. And I’m not going anywhere!”
Integrity and character as business values
Adelaide says in addition to the close relationship they share, she values Laci’s integrity.“Laci never had the demeanor of someone who would take advantage of me,” Adelaide said. “I’ve always felt she genuinely has my best interests at heart, at the beginning and as my life has changed.”
Character means everything to Adelaide. “You can be a great at sales. But if you don’t have integrity, if you’re not kind and genuine and someone I can trust, you’re not going to work with me.”
Adelaide appreciates knowing Laci has been with her every step of the way. She knew what was needed to protect her and her business and provided the best possible plan, including being aware of affordability.
“Laci helps me feel secure as a business owner, knowing I’ll be protected,” said Adelaide. “I trust her completely.”
Adelaide feels as another women’s small business owner, Laci cares about her life, not just about what benefits she can get from having Adelaide as a customer. “She understands, because most of the time, she has experienced the same things. We support each other.”
Added Adelaide, “Maybe I could’ve gone somewhere else for my insurance, or paid less, but that trust, integrity and relationship I’ve developed with Laci as a friend and fellow womean small business owner, is worth so much more.”
See more from Laci and Adelaide: