Ask the Entrepreneur: Lauren Dixon

by Lauren Dixon

Q. What did you expect when you set out on the journey to start your own business?

Lauren: When I started Dixon Schwabl 24 years ago, I sought to create an ad agency unlike any other in Rochester.  I interviewed leaders of area firms and asked them what they liked and disliked about agencies they worked with, and launched my business applying their candid feedback.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew I needed to listen to these leaders and adapt my agency in response.  I started by hiring the best and brightest people I could find to join me on this journey, and sought to develop a workplace and culture that reflected the passion, energy, creativity, and drive of the advertising industry. This is reflected in our workplace environment with its three-turn slide from the second floor to the lobby, koi pond, fireplace, and individual temperature controls in offices.

Q.  Is being an entrepreneur everything you thought it would be?

Lauren: I have always valued the opportunity to create a “WOW” for clients and employees, and launching my own business allowed me to do just that.  I am constantly asking myself the question: “Is Dixon Schwabl ‘irresistibility attractive’ to each and every one of our employees?”  Entrepreneurs are always looking to implement exciting and innovative ideas, and I find this to be true even 24 years after launching Dixon Schwabl!

3. What kinds of challenges have you faced that are unique to women in entrepreneurship?

I think entrepreneurs—male and female—face similar challenges, particularly in today’s competitive global economy.  Dixon Schwabl creates a family-friendly work environment so all employees feel that they have the freedom to share in school or extracurricular activities, and have time outside of work.  If they want to go to a kindergarten play or high school sporting event, or even take care of a sick pet, they are free to do that without any worry.  There is a strong sense of teamwork and camaraderie at Dixon Schwabl, and employees pitch in for each other all the time to ensure a seamless work environment.  Balance at work and at home is critical for today’s employees, and we strive to make it happen!

Q.  What advice would you give to women who are thinking of starting their own business?

Lauren: I would encourage women to think strategically, because during the initial year or two of starting a business, so much time is dedicated to getting the business off the ground and profitable, strategy can take a back seat.  Think about your long-term goals, and why you started the business in the first place.  Also, be sure you seek help to take care of the little things that can rapidly become big things!  I waited 14 years before hiring an executive assistant, and I honestly could have used some help from Day One!  Reflect on your core values, mission, and vision (if you don’t have these develop them) and don’t be afraid to seek outside help or consultancy to craft your strategy moving forward.

Q.  What skills have been the most important in getting you through the challenges you have faced?

Lauren: Listening is a fundamental skill applied to nearly every aspect of the workplace and incredibly important for entrepreneurs to embrace.  Asking questions of employees and then listening carefully to their responses is a key part of facing challenges.  Another critical part of running a business is hiring and retaining the very best people.  In the workplace, far too many managers perceive employees merely as a “supporting cast” for leaders—employees are partners and collaborative team players, and it is critical that businesses attract top talent.

Q: When you think about the future of your business, what keeps you up at night?

Lauren: When Dixon Schwabl developed its new mission, vision, and strategy for 2010-2013, we sought to develop “buckets of passion” that each and every employee would be able to embrace to build a successful and strong path forward for the company.  In part, this strategy has helped me avoid many of the worries I had early on in my company’s history.  Knowing that Dixon Schwabl has a firm foundation, dedicated leadership, and inspired employees is reassuring even in the most uncertain and challenging of times.  I think that for entrepreneurs, it is important to have a strong and strategic foundation to avoid—or at least dilute!—those moments of uncertainty and sleeplessness!

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