Laura Millen is a recovering CPA, who 20 years ago ventured out on her own to start a business. Without any clients or customers, she day by day built healthcare consulting and an employee benefits agency brick by brick.
She survived the 2008 financial meltdown, the changing regulations with Obamacare, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, her agency services 132 clients across 12 different states. The agency revenue is over $7 million and employs eight fabulous people. Her agency has experienced phenomenal growth in just the past three years due to her crystallizing what her ideal client looks like, optimizing her sales processes, and strategically marketing differentiators that make her stand out from $2 billion competitors.
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Table of Contents
Thank you so much for giving us your time! Before we begin, could you introduce yourself to our readers and take us through what exactly your company does and what your vision is for its future?
Laura Millen: We are known as Benefit Hackers. Many years ago we got tired of the waste fraud and abuse that was rampant in the healthcare insurance industry. We realized that we competed today with a $2 billion global enterprise organization so we had to be different. The first step we took was identifying who our hero client was. What characteristics they had.
The second mission we had was to crystallize the parameters of who we would and would not work with. This meant saying no to many opportunities that we might have said yes to in the past. We also realized several years ago that our marketing and branding were not very good. With the help of marketing and branding experts, we made an intentional effort to increase our awareness on social media. We have a dedicated YouTube channel. We have a dedicated podcast channel. We are highly active on LinkedIn.
Every day we fight up against a $4 trillion healthcare ecosystem. We love the fight in which our clients are the main benefactors of our efforts.
NO child ever says I want to be a CEO/entrepreneur when I grow up. What did you want to be and how did you get where you are today?
Laura Millen: I grew up around my aunt who was an accountant. My mom also kept books for a retail store. At a young age, I learned that I loved to dance. This was the creative part of my brain that was being balanced by the accounting part of my brain. Through many struggles, I ended up attending Virginia Tech University with an accounting degree.
Life has never been easy for me. This may be one reason why I never buckled to the men’s pressures and challenges I have faced over the past 20 years. As I grew older I realized that I loved communicating with people and solving problems. I was also very good at numbers and math. This may be the reason why our agency is capable of the consulting work that we do.
Tell us something about yourself that others in your organization might be surprised to know.
Laura Millen: I was actually a very competitive dancer in high school. I had the chance to tour the Mediterranean on the USO tour and visited several neighbors for ships.
Many readers may wonder how to become an entrepreneur but what is an entrepreneur? How would you define it?
Laura Millen: I don’t think anyone sets out to be an entrepreneur. I think people have different passions that excite them. Different things allow them to push through the challenges and difficulties that will inevitably come up in life. I was never born an entrepreneur. I worked for companies along the way. But at some point, I had the urge to try things on my own.
That was a difficult milestone for me because my family did not understand why I was leaving such an honorable profession like the county to start my own business.
I kept thinking to myself… If not now when?
What is the importance of having a supportive and inclusive culture?
Laura Millen: This word culture is so overused in business today. It’s just a word. So many business owners that I talk to say they have a great culture but when you start interacting with the employees you realize it is a bunch of baloney. The hardest lesson that I had to learn over my 20-year journey is that culture begins with me. It is a personal decision of the leader to act and conduct themselves in a certain way. Everything starts from the top and moves down.
Culture does not happen from the bottom up. This is a major mistake the companies try to do when creating their own culture. All it takes is a few minutes with the owner or CEO to realize that it is just words. Here is the major key though. Once you create a culture it is very easy to attract people to your company. It’s also easy to weed out people before they join you because they don’t fit you culturally. This is a major lesson that I learned the hard way early on in my career.
How can a leader be disruptive in the post covid world?
Laura Millen: I think that’s the wrong question to ask. I think the question is how can you break the status quo and do things better than they’re currently being done. Our philosophy is that we do not fix what is broken.
We replace what’s broken with something better.
If a 5-year-old asked you to describe your job, what would you tell them?
Laura Millen: I have nine-year-old twins so I’ve had similar conversations like this at home.
I tell them that we get to help people every day and we try to add value to others. My kids understand what help means but they are learning what the definition of providing value means.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Laura Millen: This is difficult to answer because there are so many decisions that are made in the course of 20 years that are difficult. One really big decision was when we decided to terminate a toxic business partnership we had. What made this decision painful was it generated almost $1 million of annual sales for us. This was toxic because the people we were dealing with did not have integrity or speak with transparency. My entire team did but there’s didn’t.
We finally reached a point where we said we can make this business up somewhere else but we have to shed this negativity. After the initial shock from my team, everyone supported the idea. In the preceding three years after that decision, we have generated over $6 million of additional sales
Culture starts from the top down!
Leaders are usually asked about their most useful qualities but let’s change things up a bit. What is your most useless talent?
Laura Millen: I have a tendency to want to express myself in writing via emails, maybe more than I should. I tend to elaborate on many more details as necessary. This has gotten me into trouble when I’ve learned it’s sometimes easier just to pick up the phone.
Thank you so much for your time but before we finish things off, we do have one more question. If you wrote a book about your life until today, what would the title be?
Laura Millen: “How a Recovering CPA Now Has a Life”
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Laura Millen for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Laura Millen or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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