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It’s so important to have a good CPA that’s really helping guide you. Sometimes, you can’t control your losses and you don’t really want to focus on the negative, the cancellations, the people that are going to leave you. It’s more important to stay focused on the positive… who can I keep helping and growing?

It’s the first Wednesday in November and Bryan Fifer strides into the room at Horizon West Professionals with an eager, genuine smile at 7:45 a.m. He radiates such a warm and welcoming presence that he immediately puts everyone in his path at ease. That’s part of his effervescent charm. 

All who meet him treasure his curiosity; conversations linger and you always feel heard. Indeed, the slow, hyper-attentive way he listens and engages with people has become a lost art in today’s distracted age. He makes goodness look attractive. 

He both embodies the boyish charm of Jake from State Farm and a modern-day take on Mr. Rogers. Indeed, Fred Rogers once said, “My mother would say, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

Bryan is one of those helpers.  And he does it while exemplifying the qualities we most desperately need now: neighborliness, gentleness, deep listening, creativity, emotional honesty, lack of pretense, and an unceasing focus on raising healthy, curious, and confident communities.  And he does it while building a wildly successful insurance business. His secret? Authenticity.

Did you know that everyone’s favorite neighbor, Mr. Fred Rogers—whose lessons of kindness, responsibility, and community endure long after his death—started discovering his purpose while studying music composition at Rollins College in Winter Park? He learned the importance of relationships on that campus, a spark ignited in the intimate, personalized learning environment that became his home. He learned how service to others is life’s ultimate calling and that community is the driver of good. 

Like Mr. Rogers, Bryan calls Orlando home, albeit as a native and not just a college student. 

“I was born and raised in Orlando. I went to high school at Bishop Moore, then Florida State University, and back to Orlando after I graduated. Orlando has always been home; my mom still lives in the same house where I grew up, which is very special, I think. So after FSU, I came back, and met my wife here—she actually went to West Orange High School.  When we got married 16 years ago, we moved to Winter Garden. And I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

Although Orlando has always been in the picture, insurance was not. His undergraduate degree was split between hospitality management and sports management. “Originally, I thought I wanted a career with Disney, and that’s where I started as a lifeguard. But I ended up working for the RDV Sportsplex, which was the home of the SolarBears and the Magic, before transitioning to the YMCA,” he says.  

Serendipitously, the chairman of the Board of Directors at the Y where Bryan worked was a State Farm agent. “Everybody knew Robin,” he says fondly. “If Robin told you to do something, you just did it. He just had this charisma and influence. I got to see his success in the community, how he was really looked up to, and that impacted me greatly.”

Bryan, of course, became a State Farm customer of Robin’s, and worked closely with him over the years in a mentor-like role. “After a few years working together at the Y, Robin said to me, ‘You know, you’d really be a good State Farm agent.’ And that pretty much planted the seed.” 

The seeds of growth, however, took longer to root.  Though Bryan connected with a recruiter and was deemed a good fit for State Farm, there were other challenges in the economy— ahem, 2007-2008—that prevented him from launching his own agency. 

“A friend of mine had just become a State Farm agent, so I said, ‘I’ll come to work for you for a year. Let me just learn the business.’ I ended up staying there nine years!  Number one, I really enjoyed it; but number two, I got married and I had two children, so stability was important.  Thankfully, we really balanced each other well. She let me run the office so I could kind of operate it like my own agency. It gave her the freedom to be able to travel and do things that she wanted to do and know that she had somebody that could run the business.” 

But Bryan never lost that itch to do it for himself.  So, in 2016, when State Farm approached him about an opportunity to grow in Horizon West, he took the leap. 

“A lot of people think we’re franchises. We’re not, we’re independent contractors with State Farm. State Farm hires agents who actually go out in the community and build relationships with customers, one person at a time. That’s how we grow our business. To me, it felt a lot like my work at the YMCA.  I was helping people. There is this inherent mission behind the why. At State Farm, we help people manage the risks of everyday life, recover from the unexpected, and realize their dreams.”

“When you become a State Farm agent, there are two different models,” Bryan explains. “You have what’s called a traditional role, which means that you’re taking over an office from an agent who has retired. So you start with an active book of business. I started the opposite way, which is called New Market or Scratch Agent, meaning just like any other business, you open and you don’t have any customers. And so, you’re hitting the ground running every day, hustling, trying to grow your business. I think it was Robin who gave me this great advice: People have to see you. Be everywhere and get involved with everything.  In a year’s time, they’ll think you’ve been in business for 10 years.”  And that’s exactly what Bryan has done. 

From getting his car wrapped to sponsoring events at local schools to putting up tents at chili cook-offs and carnivals, fests and fairs. “I think I did 57 events my first year, and easily doubled that my second year,” Bryan laughs. “People may not have known me, but they recognized my face and my name, and that opened so many doors.” 

The marketing piece is just one aspect of Bryan’s business. Obviously, money plays a role, too. 

“I believe that scared money doesn’t make any money,” he says. “If you want to grow, you have to be investing in your business constantly. I know for a fact that for every dollar I invest, I get two or three back. When I first started, I set a business plan of where I wanted to be at one year, two years, three years, five years and 10 years. So, one of my 10-year goals we’re about to hit next week. This year, which is year seven, will be my best year yet. We will grow 30 or 40% probably this year, and I’ll hit my 10 year goal three years early.”

Of course, Bryan hasn’t done that alone.  Over the years, he has built a team of people to support him at the agency. He now has eight people working for him, a mix of junior agents and support staff, and the team recently moved into a new office space that’s nearly three times larger than as his old office.  There’s room for at least four or five more people, more if he converts the conference room into more offices. 

“Insurance is a market, like stock market, real estate, and other things. So, you’re always going to have peaks and valleys.  So, for example, during COVID, we lowered rates by over 15% because nobody was driving, and nobody was having accidents. Not very many other companies did that. They may have given their customers a refund or something small. So, that put us in a very competitive position. I can’t take credit for that because I don’t control rates. But every year since then, it has been very, very competitive.”

This year, however, will be challenging in new ways, especially given Florida’s difficult insurance climate. But Bryan remains optimistic. 

“There’s always the opportunity to grow. Auto and homeowner’s insurance are the two big drivers—those are insurance policies that people need. So, they’re going to shop for those policies; they have to buy them. With the amount of people that are moving to Florida and with the challenges that are going on with other companies, we’re in a really good position to help them. We’d like to continue to grow into some of the non-demand products that we offer, like life insurance and disability. 

“State Farm’s number one in the country for life insurance, but a lot of people don’t even know we sell it. From homeowners to auto to life, we, literally, insure every aspect of your life. With these options, we can really take a holistic look at your financial situation and make sure that you’re protected from everything that could happen.”

In addition to his vibrant, dedicated team, Bryan also gives credit to Rachel Siegel. “She’s the first CPA that I’ve met that does things like we do at State Farm… she takes a holistic look at the big picture.”

“When Rachel and I first started working together, we would look at what percent of revenue I was spending on different things. Let’s say rent was 10% of my revenue for the year. Well, then I stayed in that space for 6-years and my revenue grew, but my rent stayed the same. So, that came down to where I was only spending 5% of my revenue on rent. Well, then you jump back to a space like this, and my percentages almost went back to year one. 

“But as soon as I get a little bit further down the road, I can afford to add one more team member, and then one more. That was part of the reason to invest in this new space is that I can grow another four or five team members in this office easily. Rachel helped strategize that. She’s been hugely influential in the growth of my business.”

When he first became an agent, Bryan worked with a different CPA, who he really liked. But when that agent decided to retire, he sold his book of business to a big CPA firm in downtown Orlando and Bryan got lost in the shuffle. “When I met Rachel in 2018, the biggest thing she offered was that relationship piece that I was missing.  I want the advice, I want your opinion, I want the ugly truth. Even if I can’t do something now, Rachel can tell me here’s how we get there. She’s very caring and very compassionate, and she treats your business and your books like it’s hers.”

The ugly truth of Bryan’s business is that “The first couple of years, I didn’t make any money. Rachel came into the picture between year two and three, and there was work to be done. I was putting everything in QuickBooks so that I could send it to my CPA, but we were never reviewing it. They weren’t helping me categorize things. My payroll wasn’t linking in and I had to manually do that. So, as soon as I got with Rachel, she dove right in and said let’s clean you up and let me show you how it needs to be done. That way you’re doing it right.” 

“Being a business owner, you have to be on top of your money, especially—that’s our lifeline. And so, within a year my books were clean. I knew where I was going to be. I can predict where my revenue is going to be, and where my expenses are going to be. 

“When we actually started having money left over every month, Rachel helped me figure out, okay, this needs to go into savings, this needs to go into taxes. And that’s kind of how we rolled into Profit First. I was familiar with the book, but I had never read it. And that was ok. Rachel laid it all out and I went all in.” 

The first thing they did was pay down debts. “Once we got debt-free, it became much more fun. Rachel encouraged me to make it personal, so we decided to put in a pool at the house.  We paid off that pool in 12 months thanks to Profit First. It just works. It’s money that you just systematically set aside. More recently, Profit First is helping pay off the new building space. I spent $26,000 on my first build-out, and this one was $130,000.  That will take a little longer to pay off, but I’m not feeling it. Which is amazing.” 

For Bryan and his team, it all comes down to relationships, especially in a service-oriented business. “That’s why we focus every day on just making sure we’re taking care of our current customers. Nobody likes it when your rate goes up, but our clients appreciate that we’re reaching out, we’re being proactive, we’re trying to guide them, maybe making some small tweaks, you know, to keep the rate down a little bit. But, in the end, it’s just about connecting with people.”

Perhaps the reminder we most need from Bryan Fifer today—like the one Mr. Rogers demonstrated for 50 years—is this: goodness is not only possible; it’s also compelling. It’s desirable. He’s walking proof that they can and do exist in the world. And they can be profitable too.

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