Selecting an insurance agency may seem daunting, but the process is quite similar to choosing any other service provider. Shopping around for insurance, instead of simply picking a name from a Google search, will help you determine what your specific needs are. Weighing your options will also help you understand and evaluate what you’re getting into based on certain criteria.

Following these steps may make the process a little easier:

Determine Your Insurance Needs

The first step is to decide which kind of insurance you need. Because the scope of coverage varies by agency, it’s important to figure out what your personal or business insurance needs entail. Some agencies may offer personal insurance, but not commercial insurance.

Understand Your Options

Insurance companies can provide coverage through direct writers, independent agents or insurance brokers. Some insurance agencies allow you to buy insurance directly without having to go through an agent. This option can be cheaper because insurance agents require companies to pay them a commission for their services.

These are the most common options for buying insurance:

• Direct writers are insurance companies where the salespeople work exclusively for that company.

• Independent agents work for the insured and may have contracts with multiple insurance companies, allowing them to offer more options.

• Insurance brokers represent companies in complicated insurance matters to find the best coverage at the lowest cost and may charge a fee for their services.

Finding The Right Agency/Agent

There are a number of ways to find the agency or agent that is best suited to handle your individual needs. Asking family, friends or colleagues for a referral; searching the internet; and consulting trade associations or other business owners are three good places to start.

Before you make your final decision, you’ll want to evaluate the candidates based on the following criteria:

• Technical knowledge — Ask the agent/agency about their years of experience, reach, areas of expertise, education, and the names of the companies they represent.

• Personality — Insurance agents are paid commissions by the insurance company, so their honesty and trustworthiness are important.

• References — Ask for client references and follow up with them with any questions you may have.

• Digital presence — Search the agent/agency’s name online and look for news articles, online reviews, websites, client testimonials and social media pages.

• Quote — Asking for a quote is one way to determine if the agency or agent can meet your needs and expectations. You can evaluate them by how fast they can get a quote, how well they explain what the coverage entails and how detailed they are in explaining the price.

• Credentials — Agents may have letters behind their names, which indicate their credentials. Ask what they mean and how they got that designation.

• Licensing — Check that the agent and/or company is licensed in your state.

• Complaints — Talk to the Better Business Bureau to determine if any complaints have been filed against the agent you’re considering.