S3. Ep. 1 - A Founder's Story - Leslie Nester of Fox Insurance Agencies
Bridget Haight: Hi, and welcome to OnPoint, a podcast by Oak Street Funding, where we bring research and data backed insights to dig into the minds of industry leaders, to learn how to stand out, navigate and break through this ever- changing industry. I'm your host, Bridget Height, and you can support this podcast by following us on Spotify, Apple Podcast, on your website, or wherever you get your podcasts. We'll be there hanging out, talking to industry leaders and ready to empower you to grow your business, now let's get on point. Today, I am delighted to welcome Leslie Nester to the show, Leslie is the founder and president of Fox Insurance Agencies based in Minersville, Pennsylvania. She has an incredible story to share today, and I am excited to share it with our audience. Welcome, Leslie.
Leslie Nester: Hi, thank you for having me today, I'm so excited about this.
Bridget Haight: Well thank you for being here, we'll just dive right in, the first thing I'd like to know. Tell us how you got started in the insurance industry and what led to starting your own agency.
Leslie Nester: Sure, I graduated with a Bachelor's in Finance and dove right into the world of banking on the sales side. We had really crazy goals, I was grinding every day for somebody else and thought," If I'm going to work this hard, I want to do it for myself". So Nationwide Insurance had a program at the time that we used some shared office space, it was to bring in new agents. It was an 18 to 24 month program, so I interviewed and was selected to participate in that, and started the agency from scratch. A month into that journey, I found out I was pregnant with my oldest son, so that was a surprise. So I was newly pregnant and working towards some serious sales goals, managed to finish the program still six months early with a newborn in tow, and so the rest is history.
Bridget Haight: That's awesome. Man, talk about... That's some transformative years there.
Leslie Nester: It was.
Bridget Haight: So how did you decide on the name Fox Insurance, what's the significance?
Leslie Nester: This is a fun story. So I've always had a thing for a red fox, I think because my hair, for those of you that can see me, it's bright orange.
Bridget Haight: It's lovely.
Leslie Nester: My sister who works for me and is my, I call her my left hand, because I'm right- handed and she's lefthanded, and she's my left hand. So her son who's now three was born with my hair color, my sister has black hair, and so she birthed this lovely little red head. And so she was in Ireland for a wedding right around the time that we were renaming the agency, and so my mom was texting her updates because she had the baby for the week and she sent her the Fox emoji. And I said," Why'd you send her the Fox emoji?" And she said," Oh, that's Zayn", and I was like," Light bulb, it's significant to her and also to me", so...
Bridget Haight: Perfect.
Leslie Nester: Fox inaudible it was.
Bridget Haight: And it's a good conversation starter.
Leslie Nester: It is, people always say," How'd you come up with the name?", and I just point to my hair.
Bridget Haight: Nice, okay, so in 2017 and 2018, you expanded your agency to new locations. What did that process look like?
Leslie Nester: That was a crazy process, the agency was small and I knew I needed to do something to grow quickly. So the opportunity came up to purchase an agency, this was going to more than double my agency overnight. And so I really needed to make sure that my processes and staff, everything was in check and in place to be able to handle such a jump. So September 1st of 2017, we bought another agency. I always say we, because I couldn't do any of this without my team, but we bought an agency September 1st. I've always been very process oriented, my agency runs well, and so we were excited about that. You talked earlier about when I had my son starting the agency, it was a lot going on, my house actually burned down 14 days after I bought the agency.
Bridget Haight: No.
Leslie Nester: Yes, it was a crazy time because the agency was not quite set up how we had anticipated, there were a lot of issues we were dealing with getting the book cleaned up from a loss standpoint. And then my house burned down 14 days after purchase, and so I don't know how I did it. A lot of people complimented me on it, but I never skipped a beat, we just kept going, doing what we needed to do.
Bridget Haight: How big was the agency at this point, how many employees did you have?
Leslie Nester: Nine.
Bridget Haight: Okay, so it was you and your sister at that point?
Leslie Nester: It was myself, my sister and two other people prior to that, and then I picked up five.
Bridget Haight: Wow.
Leslie Nester: During that transition, I also picked up a few bilingual staff members because about a third of that book was Spanish speaking only, and I speak very limited Spanish. So quite a few challenges with doing that, but we've come a long way since then.
Bridget Haight: That's awesome, so what advice would you give other business owners who'd like to grow their businesses?
Leslie Nester: I think my biggest piece of advice is to just... If you know what you're doing and you know that you know what you're doing, be confident. When I was trying to purchase that agency, I had so many people in my ear saying," You need to do this and you need to do that, you need to be more aggressive and you need to handle it this way", and I stuck to my guns. I was confident that I knew my industry, I knew who I was purchasing the agency from. I know my demographics, my market, my clients, and everything went exactly how I wanted it to go. And I trusted myself, so I just feel like make decisions and do them with conviction, make sure you're confident in what you're doing.
Bridget Haight: I love that, and can totally understand. I mean, if you find yourself doing the thing that you love and you know that if you're confident in doing it, I think that it also makes you feel better than anything, it's fantastic.
Leslie Nester: Yeah, I did it my way and it worked out, and I was like...
Bridget Haight: Girl boss. So how do you fight burnout, because you have to have burnout having such a big business, especially in those early days of starting the business, how did you deal with that?
Leslie Nester: Tons of burnout. I mean, like I said, I had my first son 10 months after I started the agency from scratch, so I was a new mom, a new business owner, lots going on, purchased the agency, had the house fire, it was exhausting, I was working around the clock. We joke, I didn't have maternity leave with my son at all, we joke about my... We had Blackberry's at the time, they're in every picture of him as a baby, they're like," Where's the Blackberry", it's a fun little game we play in his baby book. But yeah, I think, I got a coach about two years ago, business slash life coach, and I think it's important to do that. I've heard people in the past talking about getting a coach and I didn't really buy it until about two years ago. And I think my agency started to plateau, I was getting burned out, doing too much, burning the candle at both ends. I also threw a divorce in there, so I'm a single mom as well of two boys, just too much going on by myself. And so I brought in some extra resources, and one of the things that I learned through that process is to really take care of yourself, to make time for yourself, to stay charged, and I think it's helped a lot. I've worked on several areas of my life through that process with my coach and yeah, just making time for yourself, super important. If you're not in a good mental space, you're not going to be good to anybody, your business, your family, your friends, yourself.
Bridget Haight: So true, so are we talking you go on a hike or a vacation?
Leslie Nester: I like hikes, I like vacations, I actually, for the first time ever, I just came back from two weeks of vacation. I took the boys to the beach for a week and then I traveled with my neighbor for a week on a little girl's trip and just a quick few days away, and it was amazing. And let me tell you, this is the first time ever in 12 years that I've not checked... I checked my email once in two weeks and it felt amazing knowing...
Bridget Haight: Bliss.
Leslie Nester: That the team had it, and I called to check in once or twice and the girls were like," We got it, we got it".
Bridget Haight: And just to know that it was so well deserved had to feel good too.
Leslie Nester: It felt so good.
Bridget Haight: That's great. So how would you describe your leadership style? Has it changed over the years?
Leslie Nester: I would say it changed a lot, maybe not noticeable to everybody, but to me, when I first started, I was super control freak. This is mine, this is my baby. And when you're first starting an agency from scratch, I'm not multiple generation here, I started this myself. So at the beginning, I knew every client, I've talked to and touched their policy, I've known everyone since the beginning. So once we expanded there in 2017, I had to really relinquish some of that control, and trust that things were getting taken care of the way they needed to. So I've really relaxed my role in the agency, and I trained everybody well, they know what they need to do. I try to lead by example in that I have a bunch of moms working for me, family is most important, and I emphasize that with my staff and I lead their example with that. I let them see me having an amazing, I call it work life harmony, and so that's important to me that they feel that too. And so if they see me living that every day, they feel comfortable doing that too, and they come in and they give it their all because that's what we do, we work hard and play hard too.
Bridget Haight: So you create a positive work environment, it sounds like.
Leslie Nester: I try to.
Bridget Haight: I would like to work in a place like that, that sounds fantastic.
Leslie Nester: Yeah, it's fun.
Bridget Haight: So one challenge that many small business owners do face today is hiring and retaining talent. So how have you approached that challenge?
Leslie Nester: I think hiring is a bit of a challenge for everybody, myself included. I think you have to get creative with who you're hiring and how you're hiring and what job descriptions look like nowadays. I think free time is important to people, to the extent you can be flexible with them. I mean, I have nine employees right now and no two work or are paid the same. So you have to really figure out what motivates... Some people are motivated strictly by money and they want to be paid a lot, some people are motivated by," I'm taking care of extended family, and I need free time to be able to do that". Some are motivated by," I'm a stay at home mom, but I want to make some money", so how does that look as an employee? And so I'm trying to be flexible with that because I know there's more to life than work, and I think if you treat people right, they'll show up for you every day, so for me, it's been being creative in how I hire and what I allow to happen. A lot of my employees seem very non- traditional, but it works for us.
Bridget Haight: That's great, so looking back, is there anything you would've done differently when starting your business?
Leslie Nester: I don't think there is anything I would've done differently. I'm happy with my journey, I've learned a lot along the way, did I make some mistakes? Of course. But I think they were necessary for the growth.
Bridget Haight: You said it a little while ago that when you first started out, you were super control freak, and that that was...
Leslie Nester: I was.
Bridget Haight: But it sounds to me like that's what it required in the beginning, and because of that initial control freak attitude, you built a team around you that you could then relax and be able to delegate responsibilities to others, so it worked for you it sounds like.
Leslie Nester: It has worked, yes. And I think it's been awesome to watch them grow as people and as employees. I try to take a lot of the things I learned from my coaching situations and just from life in general and share that with them, I have a lot of young women who work for me, it's something I'm very passionate about is women standing on their own two feet. And so I just try to always be an example for them.
Bridget Haight: That's great.
Leslie Nester: Of what to do and how to be successful and take care of themselves.
Bridget Haight: Yeah, that's important. So what has been the most difficult part of owning your own business?
Leslie Nester: I think what's tough for me, and this is a resonating thing that comes up a lot is, owning your own business I don't really have a boss, so I don't ever get that," Hey, good job, I'm proud of you, you did amazing", encouragement. Or I also don't have anybody who says," Let's figure this out, I got you". So I think that's been a challenge for me, I sometimes feel like... And I've worked with my coach on this quite a bit, looking at this more of as an opportunity than a threat, but just that I feel like I'm standing alone sometimes. Who has me, I'm responsible for these nine women who work for me, are taking care of their families, I'm responsible for that. I need to make sure that this succeeds and grows so that they can continue to grow and take care of their families. And it does sometimes feel like you're standing alone, so I think being the business owner, that's a little bit of a challenge for me.
Bridget Haight: That makes total sense. So what is the best part of owning your business?
Leslie Nester: The freedom, that's why I started this. I serve on a local board of directors for our women in crisis here in our county. I am also our PTO vice president, I'm very involved at school, I'm a very involved mom. That's why I started this business, I sometimes have a little guilt around taking time off to do that, but that's why I started this and why I set it up the way that I did so that I have time to do those things and be active in the community.
Bridget Haight: Sure, that's great.
Leslie Nester: And be more than just an insurance agency owner.
Bridget Haight: So before we close today, I do have one last question, it's a fun question. If you could choose someone to have dinner with, living or not, real or not, fictional or not, who would you choose to have dinner with?
Leslie Nester: This is a really funny one, but I would pick Sara Blakely. Do you know who she is, founder of Spanks?
Bridget Haight: Oh yes.
Leslie Nester: Oh my gosh, I just love her. She's a mom and a wife and she's so much fun and she's silly and smart and hardworking, and I just... I love so much about her and I think it would just be fun. I follow her on social media a little bit, she makes pancakes for the kids every Sunday, drawing pictures, and she always has motivational things to say, her business was amazing, she's a great mom. I just think it would be fun to pick her brain a little bit, how do you do it all and stay happy because sometimes it's so stressful.
Bridget Haight: You know what, I bet you would have a lot to talk about and I bet she would easily say," Good job, you're doing a great job".
Leslie Nester: Maybe she'll listen to this and invite me over.
Bridget Haight: Maybe she'll listen to this, we'll send it to her, we'll send her the link. Well, it's been so lovely talking to you, thank you so much for joining us, Leslie.
Leslie Nester: Yes, thank you for having me, this was awesome.
Bridget Haight: Thank you all for listening to OnPoint, a podcast by Oak Street Funding, where we bring research and data backed insights to dig into the minds of industry leaders, to learn how to stand out and navigate and break through this ever- changing industry. I'm Bridget Height and tune in next time, wherever you listen to podcasts, as we get on point, and don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review. Thanks for listening, to get in contact with someone at Oak Street Funding, please call 8- 4- 4- 3- 5- 3- 8- 0- 2- 2, that's 8- 4- 4- 3- 5- 3- 8- 0- 2- 2 to learn more.
Today I am delighted to welcome Leslie Nester to the show! Leslie is the founder and president of Fox Insurance Agencies based in Minersville, PA. She has an incredible story of entrepreneurship, resilience, and leadership to share today and I’m excited to share it with our audience. Want to learn more? Call 844-353-8022 to speak to an Oak Street Funding team member today.