When entrepreneur Barry Dixon, the visionary behind the Greenville, North Carolina-based private mental health service Dixon Social Interactive Services, had a chance meeting with a young man he mentored at the suggestion of one of his graduate school professors, little did he know the encounter would lead to the launch of a successful behavioral health company that would span the length of 19 years.
“In 1999, I declined an offer from one of my past professors to mentor a 16-year old young man who had some issues. I wanted to work somewhere and make money! She said she would try to make that happen. A few months later with student loans coming due, that professor again approached me and I accepted. There was a mentoring program that she arranged for us to work through. The rest is history,” Dixon told TNJ.com in a recent interview.
That 19-year “history” is a remarkable feat when it comes to the longevity of a business. According to Bloomberg, one-third of all new ventures close within two years and half close within five years.
Dixon says he continued to mentor kids and did such a good job that the program started referring more kids to him. Later, when the state’s mental health systems divested, the program became privatized. “They contacted me along with others who were also independent contractors, and gave us an opportunity to either work for someone else or start a business. I decided to start my own business,” he recalls.
After connecting with other contractors in the field, he says, Dixon Social Interactive Services was formed. Dixon runs the business alongside his wife, Derria, who handles logistics.
And while some sociologists have reported mixed ideas about married couples working together, others, such as Marion McCollom Hampton, Ph.D., a senior partner at Banyan Family Business Advisors, say, “husband-and-wife business ownership duos can work swimmingly.”
Here, the couple tells TNJ.com more about their award-winning business, and shares tips on running a successful business with one’s spouse.
TNJ.com: What are your individual responsibilities and how did you agree upon them?
Derria: Barry is the visionary and the critical social worker. When he started the business, I was a chemist at a pharmaceutical company. He’s clinical, and I have the analytical and administrative skills, which includes quality control and quality assurance.
TNJ.com: What, if any challenges go along with being partners in business while being partners in marriage?
Derria: Being together all the time at home and at the business is a big challenge. There needs to be boundaries with work and home. For example, when I want a vacation, I gotta have it!
Barry: Knowing your partner’s skill set and assessing that skill set and not assuming that because you are partners, you both know what each other is thinking, and figuring on what each other can do and cannot do is important. Knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses really helps out.
Derria: One thing we found out is that it’s good to have someone to talk to because sometimes it’s necessary. It is important to know when to reach out for help instead of trying to solve it yourselves.
TNJ.com: What have you both learned about being an entrepreneur that perhaps you did not know back when the company was launched?
Barry: I didn’t know how dog-eat-dog the business world is. In the human services field, you work off of your compassion, but yet it is still a business and with that there are a lot of “business poaching” mentalities in terms of regulating and servicing people. It can get cutthroat and really tough, which adds a lot of stress. It was an awakening, to say the least.
TNJ.com: What practical advice do you have for couples looking to launch a business together?
Derria: I recommend that couples have a plan even before starting the business. For example, figure out how you will cover yourselves financially for at least five years. When we started out, Barry was working at the company full time, and I started working there part-time. We gradually moved towards both of us being there on a full-time basis. We had another income while we were building the business. That was our plan.
Barry: From a business standpoint, my advice is to establish an advisory board; small numbers of two or three people at first, with a plan to expand as the business expands. These advisers would be professionals who know the business and are familiar with you, your style and your vision, and who can offer advice, support and resources to you.
From a personal standpoint, it is good to have counsel such as family support and couples support, so that when you have children or transition from one age to another or one season to another, you have people who can help you through life’s changes.
TNJ.com: What does a typical day look like in running Dixon Social Interactive Services? Or is there no typical day?
Barry: Derria does quality assurance, billing, claims, quality improvements, finances, etc. while my role is clinical-oriented to include the business aspects, programming, service delivery, etc. I’ll also add that when society and communities are not doing well, we are usually very busy! We are dealing with all the stuff that makes people not function at a capacity that is healthy for them and for society as a whole. It runs in waves; so, there are days that are quiet, and others where you feel like you are at the pique of a mountain and you just want to jump off! There are so many crises coming at you… family crises, individual crises, operational issues, requirements from the state, requirements from the local counties, governmental changes, etc.
Derria: That’s exactly what my days look like!
TNJ.com: Are there any short- to long-term goals in the works?
Barry: We are looking towards acquisition. We would like to expand the services we have for our staff and expand our ability to service the patients we serve and the families we serve while providing more stability and opportunity for our staff members. As well, Derria and I have been leading at the front lines for almost 20 years; we are at a different place in our lives, age wise and from a work standpoint.
And we’re open to either a partnership or an acquisition. Whatever we can negotiate that would benefit everyone including the consumer, that’s what we want to pursue.
Derria: We’ve been a Mom and Pop business all these years, and now it needs to be more than a Mom and Pop business.
Barry: I think if we are in the Mom and Pop category, we would be an “advanced” Mom and Pop because we were able to make a lot of money in a little bit of time, and establish systems that small- and medium-sized companies like ours don’t have. We’ve acquired and retained highly skilled professional people to work for us, contractually as well as part-time and full-time, and were able to cover a lot of ground in these years that we’ve been operating. We’ve gotten awards and commendations, and have shown ourselves as a staple in our community. We’re proud of that.
About Dixon Social Interactive Services
Dixon Social Interactive Services, Inc. is a Behavioral Health Company that provides therapeutic interventions to assist consumers with adjusting to and coping with the behavioral expectations of society.