Nancy Leavitt, a Whatcom County native who earned her Associates degree at Whatcom Community College, took her passion for insurance, people, and the finer details and decided to begin her journey as a female entrepreneur.
Nancy opened her own American Family Insurance agency 9 years ago and has never looked back.
We sat down with her to find out more about how she got to this point and her experiences as a female entrepreneur.
A Chat with Nancy Leavitt of American Family Insurance, Washington
What did you eat for breakfast?
Coffee and a fig bar.
What’s your workout?
Chasing after my three kids.
What picture is on your phone’s home screen?
Tell us about your work. What inspired you to start your business? Where did you start and where are you now?
While I was attending college at Western Washington University, I got a part-time job as an office manager at a local insurance agency. I’m one of those few people who actually loves insurance. Helping and protecting people, advising them. It’s something I thrive on. I even love reading the details of insurance policies. My boss was impressed with my talent for the business and they encouraged me to get my license and run the office.
At that time in our lives, my husband Nathan and I owned a construction company and a house-sitting business. So owning and running a business, overseeing things, that was just natural for me. So I took the leap and left school. I got my license and eventually opened my own agency. I’ve been in the insurance industry for 13 years and just celebrated 9 years with American Family in April.
What do you see for your future?
My hubby and I would love to build our own home one day. We’ve traveled all over but we’ve never been to Mexico. I’d love to spend a few weeks hiking/camping at Zion National Park.
How large is your business? How many employees do you have?
I have 3 full-time employees in addition to myself and together we serve more than 1000 clients and their policies each year.
Tell us a success story about funding your business.
I started a scratch agency, meaning that I had zero clients the day my doors opened. I’ve worked hard and grown my business to the point where I am now able to give back to my community, which is something I’d always hoped for.
What do you see as challenges for you and your business? What are some opportunities?
Being an insurance agent is very difficult. My role is to help people navigate the industry and choose appropriate policies and endorsements to transfer their risk. Often times it means taking a cumbersome 45 page policy and interpreting it so the customer can make an educated choice about what suits their needs best. I love what I do because people value me. There are lots of opportunities because some insurance companies will have you believe that insurance is merely a commodity that you needn’t spend more than 15 minutes on to protect your family. I believe I provide true value to each customer.
Tell us a story about a success in your business or a mistake you overcame.
My customers mean everything to me. For the last 8 years running I’ve had the honor of being a distinguished American Star Certified Agency. I’m of a select group of agents that have earned this honor and it’s all based on customer feedback. My clients are given an opportunity to report on their interactions with me and my staff from claims, billing, agency knowledge, timeliness in customer service and many other facets. I’m very honored to hold this certification and thankful to my awesome clients.
What do you love about being an entrepreneur?
I love the flexibility that running my own business gives me. I can spend my days encouraging my staff to realize their full potential, talking with clients about the big vacation they’re going on, and then coordinate fundraising projects with local nonprofits…all under the heading of “work.”
What about your business matters most deeply to you? How does it engage your values?
I help people protect their future. I’m there to help them start over when an accident or incident occurs. When something happens I’m the first person they turn to.
I’m also proud that my business continues to provide steady employment for me and my staff members. In addition to supporting the unique needs of each home and business owner as an insurance broker, I have also always made it a priority to support local charities, organizations, and fellow business owners. For many years, I served as the Board Secretary and the Charity Committee Chair with Whatcom Women in Business. I currently serves as part of their Banquet Committee. I also held past board positions with Boys and Girls Clubs of Whatcom County, Women Sharing Hope, and Whatcom Young Professionals, a division of Bellingham Whatcom Chamber of Commerce. Supporting local charity is near and dear to my heart. It’s just part of who I am so I am honored to have served these organizations and the local charities they support.
What is your “entrepreneurial superpower?”
I have a knack for finding out information. I’ve been told before that I should be a private investigator. HA! Being able to help my customers in that way sometimes makes me feel like a superhero.
Who is the entrepreneur you admire most right now? Why does she (or he) inspire you?
Elon Musk. He makes shit happen. I try to apply that ‘get it done’ attitude to my work and life every day.
What is the best and the worst thing about being an entrepreneur, as a woman?
The best part: being a role model for other women. I encourage them to find their own inner confidence to achieve their goals. The worst: when I’m at a business function with my husband and people automatically assume that he’s the agent/owner.
Do you think male entrepreneurs are “different” from female entrepreneurs, and if so, how? If not, why not?
I think that we are all given talents and in business you utilize those talents to maximize their potential. I don’t think those gifts are gender-dependent.
What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten and from whom?
I’ve always lived with the saying, “Make a decision.Then make it right.” I started in this industry when I was 19 and became an agency business owner at 23. People didn’t want to take me seriously but it’s hard not to because I’m a strong-willed woman who knows what she wants. I found others around me were being stifled when presented with the need to make a decision. I always saw it as an opportunity to learn and grow. It really didn’t matter if the decision I made was wrong because ultimately I was going to make it right. I have an eagerness and wiliness to make mistakes. Then learning from them and correcting them has gotten me to where I am today.