As Providence Insurance Advisors founder Josh Bagby (pictured) tells it, setting up a community Facebook group was never intended to be about building out his business, but it’s certainly helped.
Bagby, a Cherokee County local and an independent agent, initially opened the group to connect people who were coming into the fast-growing Georgia county with the services they needed. Since then, its membership has swelled to more than 67,000 members, and has served as a force for good in the community.
As an agent, sometimes the first port of call for newcomers to the area, Bagby had often found himself sharing contacts with fresh arrivals through his personal network using his mobile phone.
“Facebook had come up with groups a few years before and they were really kind of making a push for groups, so I decided to put that whole network of all my friends and buddies in various industries in a Facebook group and the plan was just to add people as they asked,” Bagby said.
“So I put them in there, that had a network so that could ask who they needed, and by the end of the week, we had had 2,500 people join the Facebook group.”
By the end of the first month, the Cherokee Connect group had swelled to 5,000 members. Within six months, there were 10,000, and it “just kept growing exponentially”, according to Bagby.
“I was like, ‘man, this thing counts and there’s power in being able to help these people’, and so then it became connecting consumers to businesses,” Bagby said.
Using social media to help the community
As non-profits started to get involved, the agency founder realized that there was another way that the group could help his community.
“Non-profits can say if they need some help and it’s a beautiful little love triangle going on with everybody spreading business around,” Bagby said.
“Very early on, one of the non-profits needed red sauce – like marinara sauce and peanut butter – and they threw out that their shelves were empty of that, and next thing you know the lady’s shot me a text saying ‘please make them stop bringing red sauce and peanut butter because we are full’, and it just was a cool thing.”
From marinara and peanut butter to keeping children fed, Bagby and his social media community have built on the momentum to do good, including by clearing school lunch debts.
“If the families aren’t able to pay for the school lunches, the kids end up with a brown paper bag and a cheese sandwich, and regardless of if there should be a cost for school lunch, whatever we wish, there was a problem a friend of mine brought to me,” Bagby said.
“She was like, ‘hey, the school lunch debt is 2,500 bucks, there’s this many kids that are eating cheese sandwiches for lunch, and a lot of them won’t eat at all, because they’re embarrassed to get that brown paper bag, and so they just kind of pretend like they’re not hungry’.”
Bagby ended up making a group post with a school-by-school breakdown of the debt.
“I was encouraging people to take a little extra money when they pick their kids up to hopefully pay off the balance for the school that their kids are at,” Bagby said.
Within three hours, Bagby recalled, the group had raised $2,500.
“We’ve done that twice, the first time during the COVID years, the federal government picked it up and so there wasn’t a cost, but then earlier this year, there was $8,000 of debt that had been incurred and the group knocked it out in 24 hours,” Bagby said.
A boost to business
The group may not have been intended to boost his business, but it has, to some extent, presented a “magic bullet” for growth, with his agency’s logo and name featuring at the top of the page.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t good for business, but that wasn’t a goal,” Bagby said.
Bagby launched his business in 2021, and his “only regret” is not doing so sooner after years serving as a captive insurance agent, he told Insurance Business. The firm now has 10 people on staff, and “blew through” his five-year plan in 18 months.
“It feels like it’s on steroids right now, to be honest, it’s awesome – we have a wonderful community that supported us at the captive agency, and then when we went independent all that support came with us and it just ramped up exponentially,” he said.
It may have “been like drinking water from a firehose” but Bagby tempered that stating he is keen not to grow too quickly, to ensure that he can continue to provide the level of customer service that clients expect.
Changing with the times
Perhaps unsurprisingly given his social media success, he’s a big proponent of technology and was last year appointed to Openly’s ACE Council. Working with non-traditional carriers has been a breath of fresh air, according to Bagby, particularly when it comes down to the time it takes for change to be implemented.
With traditional carriers sometimes slow to bring in something new, Bagby has welcomed the new pace being seen in the industry through players like Openly, with projects that previously may have taken years now taking six months.
“I’ve always embraced technology, that was one of the knocks that I had on the captive carrier that I was with before – it was that they just did not embrace technology at all,” Bagby said. “I’ve jumped at the opportunity to be on the ACE Council.
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