Imagine a stereotypical “salesman”. More than likely, you’re imagining a fast talking man in a bad suit and tie with slicked back hair, trying to sell you something that you don’t really need.
Bill Lawrence, owner of PLR Insurance might technically be a salesman, but he is none of those things.
In fact, he is quite the opposite.
“I think we can all agree that insurance is one of those really intricate products. It’s complicated, difficult to understand, and difficult to get real information about.”
Bill enjoys helping people make sense out of the grey.
“One of my favorite things about working in the insurance business is being able to break down a complicated and confusing product and to help someone understand why they have it, why they need it, and what it does for them. If this ends in a sale—great! But I make sure my customers understand what they’re getting first.”
From Humble Beginnings to mid Illinois Insurance
From the way that Bill talks about his past, it’s easy to see why he’s so level-headed. He grew up in a semi-rural area outside of New York city. His mother worked for a program that helped kids enter vocational school, and his father was the east coast recruiter for Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.
After attending Knox College, he spent some time working hard in the restaurant and hospitality industry.
“While I was going to school, I started working in a restaurant, and I really liked it. After I was done with school I went to the owner and said ‘Hey, can I work full-time?’ I thought I’d either be a full-time waiter or cook or whatever. And he said, ‘You know, I’m looking for a manager for that facility.’ So, I started doing that.”
It was in this role that Bill first realized he had a knack for the business side of things.
“In the restaurant business, the main things that matter are food costs and labor costs. If your food costs are good and your labor costs are good, then you’re going to make money. If not, you aren’t going to make money. The company had a really nice bonus program to motivate managers to pay attention to these things. So, I set some goals, and I was able to do well.”
Bill continued to work a variety of central Illinois hospitality jobs before buying a restaurant in Macomb, Illinois. There, he and his wife, Jan, raised three kids while running the restaurant, which they sold in 1999.
The very same afternoon Bill sold his restaurant, he bought an insurance agency in Macomb.
An Insurance Agency in Tremont
While Bill eventually sold his stock in the agency in Macomb, he loved working in the insurance agency and didn’t want to stop. So, he invested again in an insurance agency in the Peoria area. According to him, this was the first iteration of PLR Insurance. However, the agency had a long way to go before it would settle as it is today.
Luckily, Bill is good with change.
“One thing that I’m comfortable saying about myself is that I like change - and PLR Insurance has changed a lot! Originally, we were a very rural, small town agency. Honestly, I used to run out of things to do during the day but now, I can barely keep up. We’ve gone from being a really small-town agency to being more focused on the future and being more proactive about what it truly means to provide quality products to clients.”
Bill pauses. Then, “But that doesn’t mean that I’ve lost sight of where we came from! I think it’s crucial, especially in this business, to know your clients personally. When you know someone, it helps you provide the best service possible. I believe that in insurance, that’s what it’s all about. Truly understanding what your clients need, and putting together the best possible solution for them.”
Invested in the Bloomington-Normal Illinois Community
That desire to know the people he works with and for into Bill’s passion for community involvement. Bill is very active in the Bloomington-Normal community, serving on the Mennonite College of Nursing Strategy and Planning Board Member and Chairperson of the McLean County Chamber of Commerce, Board Member of Bloomington Normal Economic Development Council, Board Member/Treasurer Comprehensive Bleeding Disorders Center, contributor to Easter Seals, Boys and Girls Club, Marcfirst, Red Cross and many others.
“I like community and I like supporting my community, but I do it because that kind of giving back is what I believe we all should be doing – not because I’m trying to use it for public relations or hoping to sell someone something. If I’m not genuine, people see right through it. My whole thing is being genuine and authentic.”
Bill laughs, and shrugs.
“I know that those are overused terms, but they’re the best description of who I want to be.”