Talking Leadership with Michelle Boxx

Steve Rush: Today’s guest is Michelle Boxx, who is the Chief Executive Officer at Boxxbury Marketing, where she trains entrepreneurs on marketing and business development. She is a columnist and a speaker. It is the blonde fixer herself, its Michelle Boxx. Welcome to the show Michelle.

Michelle Boxx: Thank you for having me.

Steve Rush: So your journey to CEO is not a conventional one, is it? I was doing a little bit of prep after we spoke and met, and I found a couple of videos on YouTube. One in particular as a 15-year-old high school girl addressing a political rally, tell us a little bit about that?

Michelle Boxx: Yeah, absolutely. I initially started out in policy and politics, and my very first campaign ever was when I was 12 years old, and then I went on to interning in a presidential race here in the states, and then from there, I was given this opportunity. They thought would be really great at this rally to hear from a student speaker, and so they asked me; and I had not given a speech publicly before and I said, yes. Not really knowing totally what I was signing up for and then I went on to speak at this event; ended up having five hundred people at it, which is quite a lot for your first speech at fifteen years old and went on and gave that speech. It was actually kind of the catalyst to my whole political policy career and everything I’m doing now as an entrepreneur. 

Steve Rush: So having so many experiences at such a young age in what most people would call an adult world and adult life, what are some of the lessons that you have learned from that time in your life that you now use in your adult life and your leadership career?

Michelle Boxx: Oh, I have gathered so much. You know, I learned a lot about through policy and politics. I learned a lot about communications, of course, but I also learned a lot about leadership. You know, speaking at that, that one. You know the video you found, which it is so funny that you found it. I have tried to take it down so many times, but I have lost access to the ago. And I’ve found through that, I ended up launching a website a few months later that was really a policy website geared at covering legislation here in the States and I recruited a whole bunch of my fellow high school friends to help me with it, and so we would literally read legislation, we would post content every day. And so the website got 10000 page views monthly just organically from us posting this information, and so that was really my introduction into marketing, into leading the team and everything that I do now as a CEO.

Steve Rush: And it is a super experience because people get often confused with leadership, has something to do with the job title or a career or a salary, but actually, what you have demonstrated is leadership is about just behaviours and we can have leadership skills and behaviours at any age, right? 

Michelle Boxx: It is so true. A lot of it is really just jumping in and saying, okay, you know what, I am going to do my best here and I am going to figure it out, I mean, so many of us in life do figure things out as we go along. And so it’s better to not wait for that moment of coronation, if you will, and instead just jump in and say, okay, I’m going to do my best here. This is the result we are looking to achieve and nurture these people in the process.

Steve Rush: It was an early start in politics. Did that turn into a full-blown career, what happened next?

Michelle Boxx: Yeah, so, you know, obviously starting out at 15. You are still in high school, so I end up graduating early at 16 and continuing in politics, so I was working in political campaigns. I became a radio media political commentator, so I had a weekly radio segment and I was a columnist as well, so I was writing a lot of publications, and so I got to work in campaigns in Nashville. I did some work in D.C., Kansas City, where I grew up and so it was really an interesting time for me because I was pretty much doing it full time but it was a myriad of things and all different aspects of policy, politics and media.

Steve Rush: Given that, you were so busy at such a young age. Any regrets, anything you might look back and think, we should done that differently?

Michelle Boxx: No, actually, I am incredibly proud of everything that I accomplished and showing that initiative so young. I think that is something I am proud of, it really did lay the foundation of everything that I do now. And, you know, I still had my social time with friends. I still, you know, still a very normal in a lot of ways, but at the same time, just very driven, very clear about what I wanted and I felt really blessed every day to have that opportunity. I mean, how many high school students can say that people actually cared at all what they had to say that young? So it was just a really cool experience for me. 

Steve Rush: And of course, the more experiences we have, whatever age they are, that lays down those foundations that we can draw back on later in life. After your career in politics, you then became a really successful real estate agent. Tell us about the transition and the journey.

Michelle Boxx: Right, so it is such an unconventional path that I took, but you know, if you can put yourself in your shoes of a high school student who is getting quite a lot of attention at a very young age, there’s definitely pressure associated with it. And I think when I turned 18, 19, I just realized that I needed to maybe take a step back. I think when you are 18 or 19; you don’t totally know fully what you believe on the political policy realm just yet, a lot of it has been kind of spoon fed to you, if you will.

And so I took a step back and, you know, especially nowadays, I think it was such a smart move because, you know, Google, obviously, and you know, all the other search engines, they chronicle you forever. As you said, you found that video from when I was 15, and though, you know, if I had continued on down that path, I may not agree with some of the positions or the stances or the things that I had taken, and so I chose to be pretty quiet for a little bit.

I actually moved to a totally different city. I got my real estate license. I had had a subscription to Forbes since really, I was probably about 15 years old, I had always read about how so many CEOs, business executives, and successful entrepreneurs have a real estate background, and so I went ahead and I got my real estate license. And then it was an interesting experience getting your real estate license at city where, you know, no one.

Because real estate is very much a networking and connections kind of industry, and so I had to build everything from the ground up and I had to figure out business really quickly. When I had only been on really the policy and political end, so from there year one I think I sold only like four houses, but year two, I sold 20, and so to have that intense amount of growth obviously is considered pretty good and the industry, especially for a city that you just moved to. So I got to speak at the National Association of Realtors Conference that year, and just to talk about everything that I had accomplished. It was really cool because it’s just another experience of realizing there are a lot of grit and determination that you really can succeed in any field.

Steve Rush: That is great, and what you have just described is a lot of internal drive and determination and focus. Of course, we all need that external lens. During that period of growth and development for you, how did you seek and find other ways to grow and become more effective in yourself and more effective as a leader too?

Michelle Boxx: That is great. I read a lot about business models actually, so it was a lot of modelling and seeing what other successful agents and brokerages throughout the United States had done, and to completely make their model my own, of course, with a few tweaks. I think if anything, that is something that has really propelled my successes to my ability to think extremely conceptually and to look at everything and say, okay. How do I break this down into a system? How do I turn this into something where, you know, is implementable for me? What are the step by steps that need to happen? And then from there going on and actually just doing the implementation.

Steve Rush: And all the great leaders I’ve worked with, coached, supported and worked with, they’ll have this philosophy of lifelong learning, don’t they? Where they are able to just copy and paste and take the best bits of all of the people they work with, make it their own, also still of course maintaining that authenticity and it seems to me Michelle that you have managed to create a unique view that is also authentic.

Michelle Boxx: Thank you very much.

Steve Rush: You are welcome. During that period of time, transitioning from politics into real estate, what was maybe the one thing that you learned the most?

Michelle Boxx: I think the realization that you can’t do everything alone, that you really do need support, so you need your mentors, you need your team, you need. I think that if you have a lot of internal drive, it is very natural to think, you know what, I can figure this out on my own. I can do all of this on my own. I am independent. It is fine, and then just really putting your ego to the side and saying, you know what? I don’t have all the answers. Like you said, you know, copy and paste and really having the network around you to support you along your way up.

Steve Rush: And since leaving the world of real estate behind. You know, run a firm where marketing and business development of pivotal to what you help other clients with. How did that transition come about?

Michelle Boxx: Well, so the way I describe political campaigns or what people should know is throughout my time in real estate, I was in real estate full time for five years. And in addition to that, I was also running political campaigns, and so it’s basically like having two full time jobs or some would say that political campaigns and end up itself is two full time job.

And so with real estate, you learn a lot about marketing. Obviously, you learn a lot about sales and you learn a lot about modelling and business. But then on the flip side with political campaigns, I imagine it as a business where you basically have six months to get the entire brand off the ground, to get the entire business off the ground, and you have one day, which is election day, to make all of your sales. And if you don’t make all those sales, you’re out of business, and so it’s an intense amount of pressure. And so I really channelled all of that, and to realizing all of those experiences made me really, really effective in business and I realized that so many small business owners are really great at what they got into business to do, but they’re not so great many times at the actual business end. When it comes to sales, marketing, business development, pricing, you know, all of those things.

And I realized with my experience I couldn’t really help them. With real estate, I felt like I was looking more for a challenge. It started to be the same thing every single day and I needed to grow, and that has just been a hallmark of who I am. And so I went ahead and started my marketing firm and initially, it was just supposed to be marketing and it moved into Business Development as well as I realized the need of small business owners and we were generating revenue a week from starting. 

Steve Rush: Well that is a massive achievement and so early into new business to be driving revenue, well done you. So you’ve become known as the Blonde Fixer and know if anybody ever met you Michelle or seeing you, they will know the blonde bit, but the fix a bit, not so much. So what is the most common things you often find yourself fixing for others, right now? 

Michelle Boxx: Sure, so the fix or term in and of itself is actually a political term. A fixer basically handles crisis management for political campaigns or candidates and that kind of thing.

But I also shifted over into making it about business as well, so a lot of times for a business…so we worked with about 100 hundred businesses in our first year, whether it was on a retainer basis or just one off consulting calls.

And so a lot of times I would get on these calls and I would quickly realize we’re not know anything about their costs and their pricing. And so many times I find that, you know, businesses are so focused on marketing and sales and getting the revenue in. That they don’t check to make sure that they’re properly structured, and if you’re not properly structured in terms of your margins, then unfortunately, you’re going to hit a cap eventually and if you don’t have the margins built in. You are going to have a lot of difficulty in scaling your business long term, so a lot of times the very first thing we do is work on the pricing, so make sure they really have a real grasp of what their costs are.

And then also a grasp of what their current production limit is, whether it’s a product or service, how much they can literally do right now without hiring anybody else, and then from there, we go ahead and make sure those prices are correct. For example, one of my clients we ended up increasing her pricing extremely significantly, and she said, well, no one is going to buy it at this price, and I was like, just try and you will see.

And so through that and then our marketing as well, she not only was able to raise her prices, which of course, increased her margins, but then she was able to actually get more sales and she was getting before, so that’s basically what we do on a day to day basis.

Steve Rush: It is really interesting, isn’t. What might seem obvious for most people geting that kind of basic foundations, right for their business. People often get distracted when they are running their business; the main reason is for that? 

Michelle Boxx: I think it is overwhelming for a lot of small business owners. You have so many tasks that have to be done, so many hats to wear and it is easy to let things fall to the wayside. I think that sales and marketing does seem obvious when you look at it from a big picture view.

But on a micro view, many times they get focused in on the creativity or the production of the product or the service that they’re creating, and everybody has different personality types as well. 

So I think that’s why so many small business owners I mean, we really look at how critical that is, though, because the majority of small business owners do fail within five years, which is one of the reasons I started the firm. I think a lot of it is easy to get distracted. It is easy to get overwhelmed, and it is easy to just keep procrastinating and pushing things to the side and hoping they will resolve themselves, but many times, they actually just get worse.

Steve Rush: And I guess just like many start up business owners and indeed most business owners, they arrived at being in their own businesses because they were good at something they were passionate about or had some real desire, but of course, that is not enough? You need people around; you have the right skill sets, the right personalities that can offer you differing views and different behaviours. Right?

Michelle Boxx: Absolutely, and also, just taking a look at, again, what your skill sets are, kind of what you just touched on. And realizing that if you want to be a person that is creative and just focus on the creative end which is what many like you said, many small business owners, that’s what they start their businesses is, it is a passion project. That is okay, but you have to find a way to find the right people that will be on that other side for you, and we’ll be doing the stuff that you may not want to do, and so that’s a lot of where we come in. It is just filling that gap.

Steve Rush: Right and I also wanted to explore with you the whole principle of pricing, because when anybody runs that business and me included, getting the value vs. fee, vs. right proposition is incredibly important, and I think that confidence plays apart in that, doesn’t it, particularly if you’re new into business? So how do you help people with their confidence about getting the right price for the right value?

Michelle Boxx: I love this topic. I love telling the story about when my first real estate sales, where I was negotiating the commission for myself, so I was talking to a prospective seller and they asked me what my commission was. And I so desperately wanted this listing because I was just starting out, and I think that there is that feeling of desperation that a lot of small business owners find themselves in when making a sale.

And instead dialling into that desperation, I chose self-regulation and I took a step back, took a deep breath and said, you know what, I’m going to charge even more than I think I can get. I am going to charge way more, actually, and so I just leaned into it and said, okay, you know what, I want my permission to be this amount, and it had been about 2 to 3 percent more than a lot of people in my firm were getting.

And he said yes, and that was an incredible lesson for me to realize that so many of us do undervalue ourselves and so many of us, not only we don’t see our own value, but we also don’t realize that we are the determining factor of our value. We sell yourself short and so really being unapologetic and realizing what is the worst that can happen? You know what they say no, or they needed to negotiate. You can always renegotiate, and that is all it is but to sell yourself short is doing your business a disservice and doing you a disservice. And It feels good internally to be compensated well for your work, and I think it’s incredibly important to just always say to yourself, okay, and how much more can I charge here? Just taking that beat, making that moment. How much can I charge? There has been times with that political consulting where I have literally doubled what I thought I could get. Just to see and make it a little bit of a game for yourself, just to see what people perceive your worth to be, and you will be amazed at how little resistance you get when you confidently say it.

Steve Rush: And of course, we all have a different value that we place on people’s services, times and expectations but often it’s our own internal dialogue that either talks us into something or talks us out of something; and actually confidence can increase value because people feel assured, they feel certain about the services and the products that they’re going to get from you, right?

Michelle Boxx: Of course, there are clients for every price point that you want to charge. If you have a dream amount that you want to charge and you feel like you can justify that value, then there are people who out there who are willing to pay that. Your job is just to find them. That is really all it is. It is really all that marketing and sales is.

Steve Rush: So Boxxbury Marketing now in a period of growth. So what is next for you and for Boxxbury?

Michelle Boxx: So what we consistently found in year one was even though we worked with, you know, over 100 businesses, that many small business owners, of course don’t have massive access to capital to pay intense monthly retainers over time. And then many of them also really needed a space to learn instead of just us doing the work for them, and so we have actually we’re in the process of launching 60 different courses that cover our marketing, business development, sales, pricing, and just everything that you would need to know. So 60 different courses for 60 different industries, and we have also teamed up with other knowledge experts like business accountants and attorneys. So basically, these business owners will be able to purchase something that’s specific to their industry to be able to build out this business model, and then from there, they’ll be able to watch and have these courses permanently, and as we add to them, they’ll get the new editions as well. So we’re progressively hiring a sales team that is going to be to be selling these courses out and it’s just really an exciting time for growth for our Boxxbury right now.

Steve Rush: Well congratulations on continued growth as well Michelle.

Michelle Boxx: Thank you.

Steve Rush: For all our guest that come on, the show. We ask them to share that top Leadership Hack so we can look into your mind. What is your top Leadership Hack?

Michelle Boxx: Absolutely, so one thing I would say is to facilitate feedback from your team. I found that it is so important to check our egos at the door and to simply not be afraid to get that feedback. You would be amazed at the wealth of knowledge that your team, whether it is your sales team or whoever else has, even if they have not been in executive positions. Many times, they can fill in that missing piece of the puzzle, so many of us as executive type’s area lot in our heads. And it’s really important to rely on your team to see where those puzzle pieces are, where they can say, okay, look, actually, maybe this isn’t as clear as you thought it was, or maybe we should be doing this so we can all feel a little bit more unified. And so facilitating that feedback from them and making it a two way street has been really critical to me and my staff.

The next would be empathy, compassion, and kindness, putting that all in as one. A good story about this is a sale member of mine on my team. She was recently experiencing trouble with rejection and I guess there had been a couple of people who had rejected her who were not very kind. And she got all the way to the point where she was ready to quit, and she never said anything to me, which is where that facilitating feedback that I already mentioned comes in but then the other thing was she had gotten so in her own head that she felt she wasn’t cut out for the role. And so when she finally came to me and she told me that she was ready to quit, I just really instead dug in instead of accepting, you know, the instant quitting and then just tried to get in with her and where she was at, and so I empathize and provided solutions to her concerns.

And she’s been a numerous sales positions before, and she told me that she had never had a leader tell her before that they actually cared and to show that they actually cared. And it’s startling how many people don’t feel like their leaders and the executives truly care about them, so really diving in deep with that and taking that time to slow down and really get into where they’re feeling and then we were able to find a creative solution for her. Where she is still able to sell for us, but in a way that she does not hear the rejection in such an intense fashion. So just really customizing that for your team and being empathetic, I think is so critical.

The next would be investment in the individual. It kind of ties into that empathy aspect, but I really like to dive into my team’s professional goals. You know, right now we have a really, really large sales team. Over 60 people and I dive into, you know, where do you see yourself going in life? You know, how does this job help you get there? Because I know that if they are happy and satisfied, they will stay longer, but I also know that if they really feel like a job is pushing them towards their best potential and really helping them elevate, then they’re going to give the best result. Really just diving into them and investing in them as an individual’s critical as well.

Steve Rush: Super hacks, thanks, Michelle, for sharing those. What is really important is recognizing is from a leadership perspective the more that you give and get on the agenda of others, the more that you get in return from working together. So great stuff, this part of the show also, we are going to invite our guests to share what we call the hack to attack. So this is when a situation is going particularly wrong or not worked out well, and we now use it as a tool in our kitbag to lead and support and help others. What will be your hack to attack?

Michelle Boxx: So this is quite the story. When I was about 17 years old, I would say. I tweeted something on Twitter and this was, of course, in my time in politics and policy. And I tweeted something without really thinking about it. I thought it was tongue in cheek, and apparently, people did not feel that way. We ended up getting screenshotted and put on an article that was seen by twenty thousand plus people and I received over a hundred hate messages, death threats, that kind of thing overnight, which is, of course, pretty alarming when you’re 17 years older anytime, frankly.

And what I learned from that experience. Is one to first simmer down before you react, it was a pretty alarming time, but then I just really learned the importance of our words, that our words really have power, and it sounds trite to say, but it’s so critical in terms of leadership at in terms of leading our team. Words can sting for a really long time, and so for me, it was just that reminder that, you know, to always check how something might be perceived before we choose to say it.

Steve Rush: Wow, it’s a massive lesson to learn at such an early age, but one I suspect you use readily when you’re coaching and counselling others, right?

Michelle Boxx: Yeah, absolutely.

Steve Rush: And of course, communication had changed now; where we could get away with saying it and people would hear things. They can unhear those things, maybe forget it. Whereas now with texts and social media, once we have written those words, they are there forever.

Michelle Boxx: Right. It just it is like a nice big punch, unfortunately, to a lot of people if you don’t say things that correct way. And I think that it’s just a reminder as well that. You know, when we put things in text, our tone of voice and a lot of the other senses that we use to typically engage with the world as is absent. All you got is the visual, and so to really be mindful of how that is perceived.

Steve Rush: And with social media, being so present in our lives, even more important now. To the final thing I’d like to explore with you today Michelle is, if we were able to do some time-travel, go back to meet that 15 year old Michelle, who was courageous, political activist, ready to take on the world, what advice would you be giving her now?

Michelle Boxx: I think that Michelle at that time was incredibly driven, but also really afraid of not getting to places fast enough, not accomplishing the dreams fast enough, and so I would really advise Michelle at that time to do something called living and day tight compartments. 

And it’s a concept that Dale Carnegie wrote about in his book about Stopping Worrying, and it’s really to leave the past in the past. To leave mistakes in the past, of course, learn our lessons, but just leave them in the past and then also to not worry about the future and where it’s taking us instead to have your plan to focus every day, minute by minute, hour by hour, focusing in on the tasks that need to get done. And once you have that plan in place, not leave it any time to second guess or to overanalyse, just implement, implement, implement, and you’ll get to where you want to go.

Steve Rush: That is great advice. I can resonate with that, and of course, the more that we can focus on the now being present, more likely we be in control, rather the stuff that hasn’t happened or stuff that’s chasing us that really helps us be present in the moment and be more focused.

Michelle Boxx: Absolutely, and I think that it is really easy to not even realize how much we worry and how unproductive that really is for ourselves, as unproductive for our mental wellbeing and done for our performance as well. And so if you really start to be conscious of how much you worry every day and how much you’re analyse, overanalysing and just in general getting nervous, you’ll start to realize there’s a tremendous amount of time every day that you waste, and so alleviating that actually makes you the most.

Steve Rush: So our listeners today, Michelle, may be thinking how to find out a little bit more about the work that you do. Now you’ve got a strong following on social media, so how would you like our folks listening today to connect with you?

Michelle Boxx: I would love everyone to check me out on both Instagram and Twitter. It is at @blondefixer, and I typically try to post helpful articles and just helpful tips in general, just things that we are implementing within our firm for our clients. I try to give free advice every now and then as well, and if you have any feedback from this episode or have any other questions, I would love for you to reach out to me there.

Steve Rush: So as folks have listened here, they can go to our show notes and click on those links direct to get to your social media pages.

Michelle Box: Perfect. 

Steve Rush: Finally just for me. I just wanted to say a massive thank you, Michelle, for being with us on the show. I know it has been a busy time for you at Boxxbury and I’m super grateful for you sharing your Leadership Hacks. Michelle Boxx, the Blonde Fixer. Thanks for being on The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

Michelle Box: Thank you so much, Steve.

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