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Surviving and thriving through a pandemic

Megan Powell/Special to The Daily Record

The pandemic has been unkind, in many cases devastating, to innumerable businesses both large and small. But few businesses had worse pandemic-related timing than Melissa Geesling’s Goosehead Insurance, in Salisbury.

After more than two decades in the insurance business, Geesling, looking for something that involved less travel that better served her clients, opened her franchise with Goosehead Insurance in downtown Salisbury on March 1, 2020.

In other words, as she put it, she opened “just as the world shut down” from COVID-19.

To say she faced the challenge and made her business successful is akin to saying Bill Gates bounced back from his first business failure (collecting data from traffic tapes) and found success with Microsoft.

Geesling has not yet built a business empire, but she has grown her insurance company dramatically and steadily with a mixture of hard work, business savvy, and invaluable help from her employees, friend, advisors, and business empowerment agencies.

Goosehead Insurance, based in Texas, is a national independent insurance agency representing more than 140 insurance companies with a network of more than 1,400 franchises.

Geesling turned to Goosehead shortly after she had settled in Maryland with her husband and children and realized the insurance company she worked for did not offer potential clients all the options they needed.

“I felt I was telling people ‘no’ more than ‘yes,’” she recalled. “I wanted to be able to help more people.”

Goosehead has more than 40 carriers and offers virtually all forms of insurance, except health insurance, although it works with a partner agent who provides it.

“I went from being able to insure 20 percent of the people to virtually 100 percent.,” she said.

Although COVID shattered normal ways of doing business, Geesling adapted. She and her employees worked out a schedule and secured technology that allowed them to work from home. She kept her office space, but to reduce the rental cost, opened it to five other small businesses looking for occasional office space.

As for the clients, the company made it an early priority to contact all 250 of them within the first week to explain the new procedures and assured them the business would continue to meet their needs.

As a result, Geesling’s company did not lose a single client. It has grown steadily, from 250 clients and about 200 policies to 900 clients and 1,500 policies. The company just had its strongest month and is on track to top those numbers. Month-to-month, growth has risen a steady five to eight percent, a “controlled growth” she prefers.

“I don’t like that the pandemic happened, and I know a lot of people were affected negatively,” Geesling said. “But I just feel like it wasn’t an option to sit in the corner in the fetal position and say, woe is me. I had a couple of hours of that, but I just thought I had to pivot and figure it out.”

She singled out the help she received from Maryland Capital Enterprises, a Salisbury-based nonprofit that helps Eastern Shore businesses grow and prosper. The nonprofit provided invaluable advice and helped her restructure her company’s debt so it will be paid off in five years at a low-interest rate.

“If I hadn’t had them, I would probably be paying on that debt for 20 years,” she said. “They really helped me out.”

Geesling is proud to say that she has had plenty of help growing her business during the pandemic. She has an informal cabinet of advisors, which includes her husband along with other, more experienced, Salisbury business owners who have been generous with their advice. “The great thing about Salisbury is everyone really wants to see you succeed,” she said.

Minority Business/Expanding Opportunities cover

Expanding Opportunities

This article is featured in the 2022 edition of The Daily Record’s Expanding Opportunities Resource Guide for Small, Minority and Women Businesses that was published on Sept. 23. Published in conjunction with the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority & Women Business Affairs, Expanding Opportunities explores diversity, entrepreneurship and innovation in Maryland’s small business community. Read more from Expanding Opportunities or read the digital edition.

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