Welcome to BYOB: Be Your Own Boss, a feature series highlighting some of the stylish self-starters we love.
Monika Dixon, the powerhouse entrepreneur behind the eponymous PR firm, didn’t plan to start her own full-scale business. But two years after its birth, Monika Dixon Public Relations has all the benchmarks of a successful company – an impressive roster of clients, a team of enthusiastic full-time workers, a downtown Chicago office space. The fact that Monika, a native of Poland, got this business off the ground single-handedly is impressive enough. But add a few details about her background and rise to success and you’ll see that her story is not also impressive, it’s also interesting and – quite frankly - inspiring.
I caught up with Monika over lattes at Beatrix (chai for her, white lightning for me) to discuss her own success story, how to create a job you actually love and (of course) style. Read on for this installment of BYOB: Be Your Own Boss.
Monika Dixon: I came to the US from Poland in 2002. I planned to go back there for university but after September 11 it was hard to renew a visa and I decided to stay.
I worked during the week and on the weekends I went to a community college. While working I was building a social network for a Polish-American community called BeeCloser. I got very involved with the Polish Consulate and the Polish-American Chamber of Commerce which was great for networking.
After 2 years I decided to switch my business to a public relations agency for the American community and that went really well. Clients thought of me as the Polish-American connection and I wanted to branch out from that so I started Monika Dixon Public Relations. In April we’ll celebrate our second anniversary.
SS: When you were growing up did you think you would be the kind of person who would start a business?
MD: In school I was always involved in extracurricular activities. I also played professional volleyball for 10 years and that thought me about being around people with many different personalities. It’s a lot of pressure to win a game and keep your integrity. I was never home, it was school, homework and training in the afternoon- I think that helped me make decisions on my own.
I never thought about running a business, I just thought I had something to offer that could help people. In business everyone talks about your pitch or how you gain new clients. I just tell them what I can do for them and how I can make things better.
SS: What advice to you have for somehow who wants to start a business but doesn’t know where to start?
MD: Identify a mentor in your community and reach out to them. Intern even if you don’t have any experience, get your foot in the door.
When I was building BeeCloser, I was going to school and I worked. I didn’t have family here so I had to rely on myself. Ultimately it’s up to you whether you’re successful or not. It takes hard work and dedication because you’re not going to take off right away.
SS: What’s the hardest part of being you own boss?
MD: Balancing my time. I don’t sleep a whole lot. Also, you cannot allow other people to affect you decisions. If you sometimes feel insecure – and we all do – take a break, step away.
SS: Why did you chose Chicago as the place to start your business?
MD: This is where I met my husband. I feel very comfortable here and it reminds me of Europe. We live in Old Town and it’ s a little community within Chicago that is very European. I love the shops and I walk everywhere. Everyone is very nice. I find people in Chicago very nice and welcoming.
SS: What are some items every working woman should have in her closet?
MD: A big bag to fits everything and great pair of comfortable heels that will carry you through a meeting. I have two dresses in my closet that I know always look perfect and I don’t have to iron them.
SS: Do you have a story about the process of starting your own business I can share with readers?
MD: It’s very scary to start your own business because you worry about everything. It can be hard to handle the stress that comes with it. There are different levels of starting a business so you have to know when you are ready to take the next step. For example, when I started the company our office was in my house. I transformed the lower floor into an office but then we were getting so busy and we needed more space. [I talked with my girls] about the goals and how many clients we had to have to sustain an office space. Looking for an office space took me six months, it had to fit our needs and budget. Just be sure to plan, plan, plan.
SS: Did you expect it to be such a big business?
MD: Not at all, all I knew was that I wanted to be fair and keep our integrity. We are still a boutique firm with big dreams.
Photo of Monika Dixon by Marcin Cymmer