May 3, 2022

Episode #32: Michelle Merritt – Circle City Coaching

Michelle Merritt is a business leader and career coach who guides professionals through the job search process, from resume creation to offer negotiation. After a 20+ year career in recruiting and corporate communications, she founded Circle City Coaching (formerly Merrfeld, LLC) in 2012 to serve clients throughout the US and beyond.

Known to be a ‘corporate cheerleader’, she embraces her unique blend of positivity and a direct communication style to teach others how to build strong networks and develop their personal talents and strengths. Connect with Michelle on LinkedIn… or schedule a time to speak with her on the Circle City website,


hello this is coach tim campsall and i’m your host for the self made is a myth make a difference together show where we’re talking with successful business owners to hear their story of the journey to building their business and because we know that success does not happen in isolation we are recognizing the folks who have come alongside of us to help us as we are building our business i’m excited to have a fellow business owner from indiana with us today my guest holds a guinness world record for the largest high heel race in the world so we are definitely going to want to hear more about that she loves to entertain and started a garden during covid and she’s most proud of her amazing family who never fail to show up for one another it is my pleasure to welcome michelle to the show today hello michelle hi tim how are you it’s good to see you again we were saying before we got started it’s nice to be back engaging with people again in person and virtually both so true now um before we get into the i just need to hear more about the this high heel race right so um i it’s uh unfortunately it’s mounted on my wall right over here so i can’t take it down but um so when i was in fort wayne indiana i was the president of the women’s bureau board of directors and we had a um a program called react it was a rape awareness rape crisis center and you may have heard of something called walk a mile in her shoes it is a high heel race where predominantly men wear high heels four inch red high heels and walk a mile to speak out saying that rape and sexual assault is unacceptable and they’re going to stand up against that and for the the people in their lives who have been survivors and victims um that said one year we’ve done the race a couple years we’ve had great success and one year my dear friend liz and my other dear friend denise who had kicked this off um decided we were going to the three of us decided we were going to go for the guinness record and very long story short i ended up chairing it that year and we made it 967 walkers i believe the guinness record still stands um i would never try it again but i’m glad we did it and it’s a the award holds a place of honor in my office that is awesome well michelle let’s have you uh introduce yourself tell us a little bit of your personal story where you’re born where you live a little bit about your family and your hobbies sure so my name is michelle merritt i am the founding partner of circle city coaching um we provide leadership coaching to people in the job search process so resumes um interview coaching job search coaching salary negotiation coaching etc started this business over 10 years ago now which is mind-boggling to me i swear i would never be a business owner both of my parents are small business owners i watched them go through the blood the sweat the tears of it to their point of retirement today and swore that i would never do it and life took a couple interesting turns more than a decade ago and i leveraged my experience in community engagement in national recruiting at the fortune 100 level and ultimately opened this firm with my partner who doubles as my husband jason so um where were you born where do you guys live so we live here in westfield we moved back to westfield after spending a little more than a decade in fort wayne um i am from indianapolis originally jason’s originally from northeast indiana um i grew up in decatur illinois um soybean capital of the world and moved back to the racing capital of the world so um i’m a midwest girl as jason is a midwest guy at heart so um we love the midwest i think it’s the greatest place to live people often ask me if you weren’t doing this what would you be doing i’d probably be hosting a travel show about how much i love indiana um contrary to the media and the press we get in the midwest i think it’s the greatest place to live fantastic um and so you in your introduction i shared that you started a garden tell us a little bit about that i did i did so i grew up in with grandparents as a very big influence in my life and jason’s parents were older so we knew their depression gardens growing up you know and so during covid we found ourselves with a little bit of time on our hands and started the garden that our grandparents had we no longer try to plant vegetables that we can you know we had i think the most expensive three eggplants you’ve ever eaten um but that’s okay and um we do still have a huge garden with flowers and all of that and we entertain all the time so you know you guys will have to come for dinner we we love to entertain and cook out and do all of those things so we still have all the flower gardens we have an english cottage that we love to to garden around but um we’ve given up the vegetables well i i we have a vegetable garden and it is so much harder than what it appeared to be when my growing up when my dad did it i i do have had some of those experience of expensive plants and a couple years in a row i or i’ve had to to re re-buy plants because i planted them too early and the frost killed them and yeah it’s so it’s a lot of work it you don’t just throw it in the ground and get some tomatoes out of it right in central indiana last year as you know we had frost well past mother’s day which is the planting day so you know every night for a week our entire backyard was covered in bed sheets so that we could and we’re running in and out it was just nonsense and so perennials and and um flowering things are where we’re at today as a result wonderful well michelle is there is there a funny story that your family likes to tell about you that you’d be willing to share with us if you had my mother here i can tell you exactly which one she would share um so we were at um mount rushmore several years ago my parents you know they they were business owners they um we didn’t have a lot growing up because everything is i’m sure you’ve experienced gets put back in the business and you’re always focused that direction as a family and so in my mid-20s my mother announced and when my mother announces you don’t say no um that we were all going on the classic road trip to mount rushmore and so we went and we’re horseback riding and it’s fair that horses and to say fair it’s fair to say horses and i are not friends um my younger sisters all decided we were wearing horseback riding and of course i got the horse that wanted to stop and eat along the way and not actually be on the trail and so my mother is saying michelle tell the horse to go tell the horse to go you know and i’m like come on you know and i’m trying to like bribe it along buddy i’ll get you a carrot come on you know what do we need to do here and being my perfect salesperson you know sort of voice and and my mother probably says she’ll just tell it to go and i she says i screamed in what she calls my devil voice mother i am it was one of those moments where it just sort of radiated through the forest and i’m sure every hiker for miles hurt and yeah i’ve never been on a horse since

and that was over 20 years ago so there you go so michelle tell us how the business came about and at what point did you have the confidence that you could run your own business sure so there are days i still don’t have the confidence i can run my own business but it’s been a decade

but let me say that um you know i was in a position where um i was working as the vice president of the chamber of commerce in fort wayne um we came to a place where it was no longer the right move for me to stay i felt like it was time for me to move on um took a little time off which i was fortunate to do and have the support at home to do and not everyone can do that i recognize that and um to figure out what i wanted to do next and in doing so um certainly um realized that i had this ability right i’d been a headhunter and a recruiter for many years um had been very successful at that it was 2012 and people were starting to go back to work after the downturn right and so people were calling me up saying hey while you’re figuring out your life will you help me with my resume will you get me through this interview i’ll pay you and i i said okay and i knew enough to not put those checks in my personal bank account so i called my banker stephanie vite who was an amazing banker and um said i have this money what do i do and she said congratulations check your email you’re becoming a business today i just sent you the paperwork and here we are so it was totally by accident it was not something that i planned in fact it was everything i said i would never do and every time i think that we’ve come to a point where maybe it’s run its course here we are and we keep moving so um it’s you know we’ve had a lot of help along the way i love the theme of what you talk about because i’ve known people over the years who say oh yeah i did this all on my own nobody did it on their own so um you told us a little bit earlier about uh circle city coaching but give us some more details what do you what more specifically do you do for how do you help folks and um and how can folks uh learn more about you sure so um we have been writing resumes at the leadership level meaning um senior professionals to c-level executives um for a decade now um and then we leverage our experience in recruiting in corporate culture jason has a background in higher ed and specifically um education technology and so we leverage those backgrounds to really help people navigate the job search process learning how to build a network all of those things leveraging that network and then we help people by by guiding them through the interview process as well as the salary negotiation process it’s funny how few of us were actually taught to negotiate yeah right correctly right so we do a lot of salary negotiation coaching things like that so you can always find us on our website linkedin is the place where we hang out most that’s sort of our social chosen social media if you will um and i would say just reach out so hold on wait a minute you can negotiate your salary you can rumors are true especially at this market right right but you have to be careful with that right i mean you have to really give some thought to the strategy behind what you’re asking for and why and to know what makes up your compensation it’s probably the number one conversation i have with people make sure you understand what makes up the compensation that you want right you might get a ten thousand dollar raise but if your insurance by the time you factor in um deductibles and all of that is eight thousand dollars higher it may not be worth the move sure yeah so it’s sort of a good on paper guy or gal you know you got to kind of navigate that and know what that really means so michelle tell us the story of where someone pushed you or inspired you that you could do it even though maybe you weren’t sure and the impact that that person had on you you know there’s been a lot of those people along the way so it’s hard for me to pick just one um but i will say you know i come from a long line of doers right um and i was very fortunate to have a partner in jason who said you know figure it out whatever it is you want to go do go do it right we’ll figure it out and probably the best affirmation of that um came not long ago when my son called home and said mom i negotiated a raise and i said well good job buddy and he repeated back everything that i thought he had never listened to right because you never think your children actually listen right and all the things that he had overheard me say to clients over the years all of that were repeated back to me wow and i thought here we are right and he’s now negotiating raises regularly and doing a great job so um hands down he is our greatest success story for many reasons but um you know i think there’s just been so many people along the way but you have to have in my opinion if you’re going to choose to have a partner it has to be someone who’s in your corner and that’s where we say all the time in our family we show up we may not always show up as our best selves but we show up right we are here in the tough days we’re here to celebrate but you know when the going gets tough the three of us know that all we have to say is i need the other two step up oh that’s great every time right and we don’t say it lightly right we don’t put people out but we you know i need whatever the other two of us will always step up i love that what’s your biggest learning over the years as a business owner oh gosh that i’m not going to get it all right right i mean not everyone’s going to like you right i’m a certified gallup strengths coach jason and i both are um i love that right positivity is my top talent so i’m really taking it i have to tell you i take real offense on all this toxic positivity talk these days in the media but um you know because i am so positive i tend to think that everyone’s going to find a silver lining and everyone’s going to like us and all of those things not true right and there’s going to be someone who doesn’t and that’s on them yeah and and so it’s been a real learning lesson for me because i’ve always been that person who strives to get everyone to communicate communication is also in my top five talents um and get everybody in their proper places so everybody’s working together well and sometimes it doesn’t work right and that’s okay you know it’s okay to move on yes

i’m similar in that and wanting people to like me my coaches had to tell me multiple times tim just delete that email don’t even stop reading it it doesn’t matter who cares what they think of you right they’re they’re just not your people and that’s all right move on right and i think knowing who your people are is vital and you’re onto something there right it’s like okay there are some people who aren’t my people yeah right um you know but if you are middle of the world midwesterner you know you’re probably my people right i i love a good midwesterner i like the people from other coasts too i really do but um you know i just i know who our people are and in fact we’re going through a marketing exercise right now to really identify those personas in our um as we look back on the last decade how that’s changed and all of that so um luckily i’m not the research person in the organization so i don’t have that big project but it’s being done with gusto as we speak so that’s awesome so michelle we know that business success doesn’t happen in isolation so tell us about a challenge that you had over the years and and a fellow business owner who came alongside you and helped you through that right so we have a we have some great partnerships right um but the one that comes to mind the most over the years and it’s it’s funny it formed out of friendship and then we both started doing similar work um you may or may not know deborah boggs but um dev and i got to know each other and of course her husband steve and jay we all became friends um when we all lived in fort wayne none of us live there anymore um but over the years we deb and i transitioned from doing complementary work within the community to doing similar work now they work with more c-level executives we work with more mid-tier executives things like that and um just over the years have really been there for one another and there have been so many other mentors along the way that when i think of a business owner she’s certainly the person that is always in my corner right she’s that colleague and i and we say this a lot you know we’ll send a text a dear diary text of you know here’s the crazy thing that someone said to me today or or something like that um and you have to have that person right so we’re grateful for that partnership there have been so many mentors along the way um you know when i was a headhunter i didn’t even know what recruiting was when i was recruited to be a headhunter i’m 100 serious i didn’t i just knew recruiters were the people who called me and bugged me right i didn’t know what successful recruiters did and garth young um came alongside me as the managing partner at management recruiters at the time here in carmel and um came alongside me and said let me teach you and he did and you know all of the partners at mri the tammy ramsey one of my long time mentors as a recruiter you know there there just have been dozens and dozens of people you know moving to fort wayne and so many people within the fort wayne community i think about dottie davis who has been um was the deputy chief of police in fort wayne we served on multiple community boards together i mentioned liz schatzland and denise bates and chris rachel i mean they’re just there have been so many powerful people who have come alongside me every time i think i’m going to fail plus again i made the right choice in a spouse you know and so i’m really really lucky there because i didn’t always make the right choice in people in that area of my life so you know that plays a huge role in that right and so all of those people have come alongside what i mean i could go on for hours with lists so when the person listening to this didn’t hear their name please no it’s just because i can’t get through the whole list i feel like i’m not awesome right but i mean it’s true they’re just they’re just so many fabulous people and it’s i feel like it’s an insult to ever say that i did it myself yeah you mentioned um having the support of of jason your your spouse the thing i hear a lot is it’s very lonely at the top and and folks you know business owners don’t have somebody that they can you know reach out to to talk to so um just elaborate on that a little bit just having that that support at home and the ability to you know to talk shop and and share stories and and motivate and encourage one another just sure boundaries are your friend right so um we have a motto here boundaries are your friend and uh we don’t talk shop when we’re not at work right we have very set times that we talk about work and then we don’t because we live together full-time we went through a pandemic full-time we’re parents together we’re business owners together all of those things and it each one of those things can consume your life if you’re not careful right so we have some really structured things about our week and about our work week about the time we take every friday morning to run down the week talk about the week ahead what’s working what isn’t what we need to address and then we close the books and we’re done right because otherwise it can really take up your whole life but um you know and i’m hesitant to i am lucky i don’t like the word blessed because i feel like that suggests that someone else isn’t right but um and and i’m hesitant with the world lucky too because we are very fortunate to have each other but let’s be really clear we worked really hard on ourselves we worked really hard to be the person that is worthy of the other person and we work at that every day and we work at that for our son too and he chooses to um show up and work at that as well so um it’s a it’s a really good team and with his partner and and all of that she’s a part of this team now too and and we all just show up for each other i love the boundaries and and i’ve talked with my clients a lot about that is you know for for family members who work together you have to leave the family relationship at home right when you come into the office and vice versa as you said is when you get home you’ve got to leave the work stuff at the office and and you know via family and the two worlds you can go ahead i’m sorry i was just going to say the two worlds as you said need to stop right at the door otherwise it gets very complicated sure and as you can see we share an office even right so the second floor of our home is all office and so but once we walk downstairs that’s it it’s done that’s awesome i love it yeah so michelle as you think over the next three to five years uh what are the biggest challenges that you’re going to face to reach your goals and who are the types of people you’re going to need in your life to help you overcome those business challenges so you know it’s interesting we are at a place right now and that’s the three to five year what’s your plan three goals three to five year interview question right that we teach people to answer every day as well but um you know what i’ll say is as we look to scale the business we have come to that by being incredibly candid and i hope i don’t get bombarded with marketing people after saying this out loud so please please don’t instantly message me um but we have come to that place in scaling our business where we’re trying to figure out have we taken it as far as we can take it you you know this bridge right where absolutely at what point do we have to bring in outside experts we build a nice little life here do we want to expand or do we want to just continue the steady growth that we have and we have decisions to make we’re not there yet and again please please please do not um send me a bunch of marketing spam i already have a great marketing person um but you know we’re at that point any and even our marketing person anthony has um challenged us to say um you know you have decisions to make yeah and and we’re grateful to have his support and his knowledge in that time too so what what an exciting um time because you’re right this week i face this with my clients all the time is you know there’s a great book of what got you here won’t get you there right and and another way to look at that is the business can only grow you know to the owner’s knowledge skills and and capacity right and so every every successful business owner comes to this point where they have to decide right do we want to scale it to the next level or don’t we and there’s not a right or wrong answer right it’s it’s whatever the individual wants um if they decide that they want to take it to the next level it does mean you know thinking differently and and preparing differently and and bringing in different resources but at the end of the day it’s it’s whatever the business owner decides that they want for themselves and and you know and again there’s no wrong answer it’s it’s what you will decide that’s right for you right you bet you and we ask our clients the same kinds of questions right you know our clients face it on more of an individual basis every day as well sure right yes i can imagine right do you do you really want to get that promotion and take on all that added responsibility yes or no right right and it doesn’t make you a failure if you choose not to no right and i think that’s really the myth right you and i’ve talked before about the hustle and the grind and all of that and people are addicted to the hustle right and it’s so sad to me and there was a time in life when i was flying all over the country recruiting executives from one place to the other and you know going out to fancy dinners and then you know at 10 o’clock at night and fancy clubs and all the stuff i mean i did all that i’ve done it but you know there’s an addiction that comes to that grind and you really have to for me i really had to be careful yeah there because that can take precedent over everything absolutely if you’re not careful yeah yeah and and you know there is a difference between you know working harder versus working smarter right and so we don’t to scale a business doesn’t mean that we have to go back get sucked back into that hustle and grind right but we we it does mean that we have to understand the tools and and the best practices to help us to scale and you know and i love what you said we we also have to protect ourselves against that because culturally right hustle and grind is romanticized right and and it everybody talks about it as if it’s the way it’s supposed to be and and certainly when we’re starting a new business we we need to do the hustling grind but that it’s not sustainable we we can’t work those long hours on a year over year over year there too many businesses go out of business because the business owner gets burnt out right right i remember and i’m dating myself a little bit but there was a commercial a few years back by cadillac about the hustle and the grind and all of that and it was out for a minute because they just got obliterated and i think ford didn’t turn around and made an opposing commercial or something but um and it was only out for a minute but i remember because i’d been so addicted to the hustle when i was a recruiter that like the first time i saw this commercial it left such an impression on me right it was very wolf of wall street kind of thing and yeah and i was like oh my god this is the greatest thing ever i have to go buy a catalog right and it was jay who had to say come back here calm down you know because you have to have those people in place who will check you yes i i i’m sure you run into this as well in your industry but um i have so many people that business owners that i talk to that are just exhausted right and tired and worn out and beat up and and they don’t even they’re not even excited about their business anymore because they’ve hustled and grinded for too long right right and you lose you can lose the passion but i think you can get it back but you’ve got to take you’ve got to be conscious about it you’ve got to take a step back align yourself with people who are going to tell you the hard truth in a way that is still supportive of you and really be able to take take that time and not everybody’s fortunate enough to take a sabbatical right but um being able to take some time for some self-care we make fun of that word right it’s not a pedicure itself i mean if you want a pedicure go get one but it’s it’s not a pedicure right it is really about that time to step back and take care of yourself and make sure that you really are seeing things clearly absolutely so jim rohn one of my favorite authors he said one of his quotes i i just i i love it you we become the average of the five people that we spend the most time with so as you think about that in in your business journey is that something that is exciting something that makes you nervous what’s your standpoint on that quote so i i always make a point to surround myself with people who are tons smarter than me right um so if you look at my circle personally and professionally uh because they do tend to blur sometimes not all the time um i’m a big believer in having separate parts of your life um but who i surround myself with every one of them makes me step up right um you know one of the things i the story i always tell is that um i entered high school and probably graduated high school with a fifth grade reading level i’m a writer today wow right those two things don’t make sense right and back then you took the standardized test at the end of the year and they posted your scores on the door because it was the 80s and we didn’t really care about your feelings right and so um sorry and so um everyone knew that i was not a good reader and quickly got labeled the dumb cheerleader right and which i wasn’t sure later so um and you know i went all through my high school career barely getting by in that regard and you know it wasn’t until much later in life when i was recruiting that another partner at mri ken burns um came to me and said i think i i i think there’s something i can help you with and he was willing to call me out to say that he had noticed this and wanted to help me with some goal setting that would get me to where i needed to be today and you know that was a great kent served that great a great purpose in my life at that time and it was it really turned me into a ferocious reader that led me to open a business where i write for a living now let me say i have great editors right every editor needs an editor but um you know it really made a huge difference to surround myself with people who were not only smarter than me in some way shape or form but were willing to be kind to me and help me step up right and there isn’t one person that is regularly in my life that doesn’t make me step up that’s awesome right if i’m comfortable there’s something wrong now that doesn’t mean i don’t feel warm and welcomed and all of that right it’s not as though someone’s belittling me that is not making you step up sure right there is a giant difference between arrogance and confidence yes but having those people really makes a huge difference so just closing out here michelle if there was something catastrophic that happened in the business who’s the first person you’d call and what would that conversation be that’s a good question so um you know obviously i my assumption is jay would already know so we would remove him from the list because they would probably be a part of that right um so then it becomes um there are four i have i have four incredibly close friends so depending on the catastrophe right um the level of that um you know up until very recently i still had all of my grandparents and they were in many ways the people that i checked in with um i have great parents who do that too the difference though is that my parents want to care for me as their child first yes right as opposed to walking me through the business always um and so you know up until very recently it was my grandfather’s and i still have one grandfather left he’s 90 he’ll be 99 this year um best dancer in macon county illinois and um has has a line of girlfriends let me tell you but um that’s okay it’s a great way to live in 98 and soon to be 99. um you know so definitely it’s still that circle right i i can turn any direction and know that depending on the need there’s somebody there because we’ve built that circle over the years and that didn’t come easy right and we talked to people about their network all the time in building and activating their network for their careers that didn’t come easy sure um you know and so as we think about the business and where we want to move in the future there are people in our lives that we help build up and are who have helped build us up and we help build them up and when again all we have to do is say i need yeah i love that so michelle some incredible people you’ve had in your life who have helped you on your journey if they were all here on the show today what would you want to say to them you know i i think again i can’t list them all because there’s just too many but um you know it’s just a truly a true sense of gratitude and thanks you know um they know i love them i can’t say that enough and and and we don’t let those things go instead we’re a family who we say the things right the things that make you a little uncomfortable all of that we don’t leave without saying goodbye or i love you we don’t hang up we say that to our friends to our people closest to us um you know we we do not let things go unsaid some of that’s out of life experience so um they know how we feel that’s awesome michelle been a pleasure speaking with you today thank you so much for being on the show thanks for having me it’s great to see you again yeah you too to everyone who tuned in thanks for listening to the self-made is a myth show with your host coach tim camsell be sure to help us spread this movement by liking the show and posting us on your social media to join our movement go to be mad together dot com all right folks that’s a wrap make sure to pay it forward and i’ll see you all next time take care