Each year, some 321 million new computer shipments occur worldwide, compared with 1.16 billion new mobile phones. Why do you think Google is moving into the mobile phone business? The amount of searching that will eventually occur via mobile phones will far eclipse that of personal computers. So, if you are an agent looking to reach a new market of individuals, consider communicating with them via their phones.

How? Start with what is already there for you; Twitter. Set up a Twitter account for your agency. Offer it to everyone you meet. Put out small tidbits of information that are valuable to the individual market. I recently saw a firm do this when the COBRA rules changed. They put a post on Twitter and Facebook letting people know there was an important change with a link to more information. That link led to an in-house produced video on their Web site. No IT resources or expenses were required. If video isn’t an option for you, your firm could do something with a PowerPoint slideshow, press release, or similar venture.

Another idea is to use traditional media, like radio, in conjunction with standard cell phone texting services. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City runs radio ads during morning drive time prompting individuals to “Text Blue” with their age, gender, and ZIP code. That information is forwarded to an e-mail account. A standard quote is generated and a return text is sent with the amount. A link is included in the text message, leading individuals to Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s Web site for more information and to apply. What a simple idea, yet they are having tremendous success. And cell phone carriers have a service that allows you to easily set up a text destination name which forwards to an e-mail account, so you can give out an easy-to-remember text domain in your ad.

How about an application specifically built for use on Apple’s iPhone? While setting up a Twitter or Facebook account is simple, creating an iPhone app may be a bit more involved. The good news is there are numerous, low-cost consultants that will build one for you, often in a matter of days. If you can dream it up, it can be built quickly and rather inexpensively.

Today there are more than 200,000 applications built for the iPhone. That may sound like a lot, but compared to the millions upon millions of Web sites, it is quite small. We are still in the early stages of smartphone applications, so there is opportunity for you to make your mark. Why not create an app with your agency name that asks the individual for just a few pieces of information and promises the top three quotes to be sent to them? You can prepare the quotes in the same way you do today and then send an e-mail to the prospect.

Here are some other ideas for your Web site:

  • Include “others like you” statistics on your site. This is what Amazon and iTunes do today. They show you the top selling items, what others like you purchased, etc. Consider posting a simple stat from your individual customers such as “68 percent of our customers purchased the PPO plan with a $500 deductible.” Or “individual customers under age 30 overwhelmingly purchased the high deductible health plan option.” Whatever your stats are, post them. People love to see that sort of information when they are shopping online.
  • Create a mobile version of your Web site. Whoever created your Web site can put a piece of logic in your home page to display the “graphics free” page to any mobile device. The software can detect whether it is being read by a PC browser or a phone. This will give the mobile user a faster load time and better experience. You can then advertise that you have a mobile version of your Web site.
  • Add something practical, such as a widget for individuals to ask for a quote, or a new ID card if they are a customer. You can have those requests e-mailed to you for follow-up.
  • You can often get a college intern to work for free on Web projects. They know mobile technology and social media and need the work experience for resume building. Today’s economy presents a prime opportunity to get technical help from college students.

So when thinking about reaching the individual market, be sure you are considering mobile phones as a way to connect. The key is to start with small, practical steps so you can continue to help individuals while building up your capabilities. Some of the best ideas and applications are the simplest ones.

Shawn Jenkins is the CEO of Benefitfocus, a healthcare benefits software company. He can be reached at 843-849-7476.