A day in the life of a WPA Healthcare Practice franchise owner

A day in the life of Lorna Smith, WPA Franchisee
There’s far more to being a franchisee with WPA Health Insurance than selling insurance policies. With a mantra of ‘treating others as you would hope to be treated’, this ethical, not-for-profit company makes service to customers a way of life.
For franchisees this means getting to know their customers personally from the start, which means lots of networking. It’s hard work but great fun, according to Lorna Smith, the WPA franchisee for Reading and Newbury. Here Lorna outlines her typical day.
5.30am: Up early to get ready for a breakfast networking meeting at 7.15. This happens three days a week – other days I start later.
I belong to several networking groups in Reading and Newbury. You meet a wide variety of people offering services such as business coaching, IT services or financial advice, usually working alone or running small companies.
After breakfast we each stand up and introduce ourselves and our business.
I usually focus on the fact that WPA started locally – we trace our roots to a group of workers from Reading in 1901 who formed a savings club to provide themselves with sick pay, and WPA maintains its customer-focused attitude to this day.
I like to mention that I’m a franchisee, explaining that though I enjoy the back-up of a nationally-known company, I’m still a business owner, just like them.
Often I mention something topical, such as the NHS or cancer treatment which are always in the news. My background in the NHS and in pharmaceutical sales means I keep up with developments. I explain to employers how the WPA employee assistance programmes work, or how its individual policies can help small business owners when they need treatment at a time to suit them.
Sometimes it’s my turn to give a more in-depth presentation about my business. Many people dread this but I like it. I try to include lots of useful information, to inspire people to remember me and pass my name on to their own contacts.
Once the formal session is over I usually stay on to meet people and find out more about them, and if possible arrange a one-to-one meeting later to discuss how WPA can help them.
If there’s a solicitor, independent financial advisor or accountant in the room I’ll usually try to forge an alliance with them. Few of them offer medical insurance and many are pleased to find a specialist they can refer customers to. In return, I’ll pass on their details to any of my customers looking for wider financial advice.
I know it sounds like a life of coffee and chat but it’s more structured than that – I have a message to get across, and for me, this is the natural way to do it.
10am: I’m out visiting customers and prospects, usually referred by existing customers, but some come from referral leads from WPA head office. I meet all kinds, including couples looking for individual policies, and companies looking for a cost-effective way to get key employees back to work from an illness more quickly or to give staff an extra benefit, such as a cash plan that helps pay optical and dental bills.
Sometimes I might be giving a presentation about WPA’s services to a company that has just bought a policy, so its employees know what new benefits they are entitled to. Other days I am presenting to a potential customer.
1pm: Lunchtime – usually a supermarket sandwich eaten in the car. I choose something healthy – it’s important to look after myself as well as my customers!
1.30pm: Some days the afternoon sees me at a Chamber of Commerce event or another, less formal, networking meeting. Other days I might be meeting an independent financial advisor (IFA), accountant or solicitor, to see if we can benefit by swapping referrals. One of the things that attracts them about WPA is that it only sells medical insurance, so I am not in competition.
3.30pm: Back to my home office to do some admin and check my ‘phone messages and emails. I also check how my recently-employed account manager Christine is getting on. She helps with policy renewals, telesales and customer service, but I also make sure I talk to plenty of customers myself – WPA is all about the personal touch.
Some days I meet my WPA mentor. WPA provides a mentor service to all new franchises for their first two years. Mine is an experienced franchisee, who lives nearby, so we meet to talk about how the business is going. I can also call her anytime for advice, and it’s great to have someone to talk ‘shop’ with.
Once a fortnight I attend a business coaching group which helps me keep on top of the business tasks I might be tempted to neglect if I was not chased up. Once every three months we spend a whole day planning our business goals. It’s vital to stand back and take a strategic view regularly.
Fortunately WPA is a flexible franchise so I can arrange my appointments around my family when necessary. Last week I was able to take time out to see my 13 year old son Matt run in an inter-county schools championship. I always try to keep the weekends free for family too.
5.30pm: Time to wind down. Usually I go out for a run with our border collie Jack, which clears my mind after a busy day. Then it’s dinner with Matt and my husband Mark, and time for relaxing – unless I’m going to an evening networking meeting or visiting a customer.
Often I do a 12-hour day, but although when I was an employee I used to resent early starts, now I have my own business I don’t mind at all.
Being a WPA franchisee is not always easy. You don’t win every sale, but with motivation and enthusiasm you can see yourself and your business growing at the same time.

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