An executive must be strategic, informative and decisive regarding the direction of the company. It is about doing what’s right over profit. It is being aware of how you show up as a leader of the company, a leader in the community and the overall culture of the organization. It is about working towards the greater good, while also preparing for financial challenges, unforeseen events that arise and knowing when the company needs to pivot swiftly to prepare for the changes in the market.
As a part of our series about powerful women, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sonya Hopson.
Sonya Hopson believes anything is possible for anyone to achieve. She believes your life is yours to live, you do not need approval or acceptance other than your own. It’s those tenants that led her to entrepreneurship and to starting HIRE Strategies in 2013.
After many years working as a successful business development and human resources professional for other firms, she launched her own agency so that she could implement the best practices in the industry while focusing on relationships.
A key to building futures together with her client partners and talent is transformation. Her work is so much more than transactional. She helps her clients create a diversified organization with an effective culture that delivers results. And it all begins with people.
HIRE Strategies is a licensed, certified, industry-leading woman-owned staffing firm based in North Carolina specializing in job recruitment in office administration, construction, and manufacturing. Their mission is to partner with clients to meet the ever-evolving challenges of workforce flexibility by providing them with high-quality staffing solutions tailored precisely to their requirements.
I started my career in accounting & finance thinking that was the path best suited for me and aligned with my educational background. I realized pretty quickly that the responsibilities and duties associated within my role as an Investment Broker was very transactional and provided little to no opportunity for relationship building which I had a natural tendency to want to explore, coupled with the fact that maybe being an investment broker was not necessarily a natural talent for me. Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My next employment opportunity was with a staffing firm working in the collections department. Even though I was still in an accounting role, I was able to work in a team-oriented environment and found solace in building relationships with clients whom I made collection calls to. I was able to turn an uncomfortable situation into learning more about the person on the other end of the line. I loved hearing about their families, hobbies they enjoyed and before I knew it relationships had been established over the phone. As a result of establishing and maintaining those relationships, I was exceeding my goals on collecting past due invoicing with minimal effort — merely by making connections and creating partnerships that translated to success in my role.
Here began my journey into sales! I started selling software to C-Suite clients in the MD market and found it to be very intriguing, along with it being a very financially lucrative opportunity for me; however, I realized there was still something missing for me. I didn’t ideally have a passion for selling a particular product, I needed something more tangible that allowed me to make a greater impact on the organization that I partnered with. I was able to secure a position at a staffing firm in the DC Metro area as a Business Development Manager. My primary duties were to build relationships, identify and assess the clients’ needs, and recruit the talent the client needed to advance their firm’s objectives.
I knew once I made my first successful placement that I had found my passion! I can now do what I absolutely would do for free and earn a reasonable wage. I had found a career that would highlight my natural talent effortlessly while also establishing lifelong relationships & partnerships along the way.
I worked for several firms that afforded me the ability to strengthen my skills and abilities; however, there would be challenges and improvements that I wanted to make that unfortunately I did not have the ability to make as I was not the leader of the organizations. I could merely make suggestions that may or may not be considered.
Becoming an entrepreneur for me was out of necessity and the burning desire to make even more of a significant impact to positively affect the lives of others. I was in the midst of a divorce and I needed to earn enough income to support three daughters as a single parent. I believed in my own talent and abilities and decided to take the risk which has afforded me so many new personal and professional opportunities for growth and enhancement as a result.
Thank you for joining us! Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
There are so many experiences and stories that come from being a minority woman owning a business in a male dominated industry. There have been quite a few situations where I feel as if I wasn’t taken seriously or had to prove my abilities for others to feel comfortable with partnering with me.
It took me some time to become comfortable seeing myself as a leader! I questioned myself more than others around me did. I was always so unsure of my leadership that I carried two business cards with me for sales appointments. Why? Because I wanted to have a Director of Sales card for the people I encountered that would be more comfortable seeing me with that title and a CEO card for vendors that I interacted with so they would know who the decision maker is. I still struggle with imposter syndrome as many entrepreneurs do, however I no longer carry two business cards. I am confident in what we can offer as an organization and “choose” to partner with companies that share similar core values as ours and are equally confident in our services that we offer. I am in a Leadership role which affords me the opportunity to directly impact the lives of others for the better and I do not take that lightly. It makes me strive to be a better and more effective leader to make an even greater impact.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Early on, I made a lot of mistakes however I made a mistake that ended up costing the company $9,000 as a result. This mistake was made before the company was even generating any revenue and was a result of me not reading the fine print of a document and to cancel the contract prematurely caused a financial loss in the first 30 days. It was an honest mistake; however, I was very hard on myself about even making the mistake. The lesson learned was that mistakes are not really mistakes, they become lessons. So, let’s just say, I very much learned a valuable lesson
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders? An executive must be strategic, informative and decisive regarding the direction of the company. It is about doing what’s right over profit. It is being aware of how you show up as a leader of the company, a leader in the community and the overall culture of the organization. It is about working towards the greater good, while also preparing for financial challenges, unforeseen events that arise and knowing when the company needs to pivot swiftly to prepare for the changes in the market.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
I enjoy creating an environment that fosters positivity, innovation, initiative and the ability to make an impact on those around me. Whether it is being transparent about my own personal life struggles and challenges, having empathy for my team and being a leader, or setting the standards high for our industry, I wake up every day with an intentional desire to be better than I was the day before. My only competition is myself.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
Holding the weight of the world on your shoulders. Wanting something more as it relates to personal growth for your team members more than they want it for themselves. Learning to be tolerant of status quo behaviors while trying to keep the team engaged and motivated to achieve the overall mission.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
That you can do as you please when you own a company. That you can work 2–3 hours a day and be effective. I work harder as a CEO than I ever have as an individual contributor. In our organization, I am the founder however I still play a very active role in the day to day operations of the company. I have a team that I trust to lead their various departments, however I have a high achiever personality and I am always looking for innovative ways to improve the organization.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Women tend to struggle more with Imposter Syndrome. If a woman were to read a job description to see if she is qualified, she may be reluctant to apply if she doesn’t feel that she is 100% qualified. For a man viewing the same job description would feel very comfortable applying if he had half of the qualifications needed to be successful in the role. From my own experience in applying for sales roles, I needed to have superb references and a proven portfolio to even secure a position while my male counterparts may only need a resume and a handshake. I think women must be confident, arm themselves with knowledge to aid with the confidence and create opportunities for themselves when they may not exist. We must always be willing to learn and volunteer for leadership roles when the opportunity presents itself.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
For me, it’s that 90% of my role is now a leadership role versus the Sales & Recruiting aspect of the role which I still enjoy very much. Because I did not have a great deal of management and/or leadership experience prior to becoming an entrepreneur, it has been more on the job training. My desire is to be a servant leader that works for transformative change with my team. I want to be a leader that inspires others and engages my team to want to do better and want more for our community. To create an organization that it is making a valuable impact on people’s lives for the better.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? You must be dedicated, driven, persistent, consistent, resilient and stand by your personal core values, ethics and convictions. Do not alter who you are as a person to make revenue. Doing the right things, having integrity and being mindful of how your decisions affect those around you — that is what’s most important.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be okay with not knowing. You will never know it all. Just become comfortable with knowing who, why and how? Who can help with this issue? Who would be the best resource for me to connect with? Why am I doing this and what is the intention? How will I implement this process? How will it impact my team? How will it impact the organization? Oftentimes, we get discouraged because we feel that we as the leaders should have all of the answers. If you are strategic enough to build the right team of individuals, one of you should have the best solution to solve the problem you are seeking to solve.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes! In 2016, I started to look for office space for a new location to accommodate our growing team. At the closing for the office space, I was able to meet the previous owner (Diane Kuehn with Vision Point Marketing) and went out on a limb to ask her if she would be willing to meet me for lunch to provide some advice. We met about a week after and I decided to basically word vomit every single challenge I was having, problems with my team, the company being unstructured, me reaching burn out, you name it and I mentioned it.
She was so kind, just listened intently and then told me about EOS better known as Traction and that I should look into implementing this system into my organization. Long story short, I read the book and determined the issues I had stemmed from not having a team of leaders and not having structure within the organization. We later hired a certified EOS instructor and we have seen a tremendous improvement in how our organization runs as a result. We still have challenges; however, we now have a structured format and proven system for communication, problem solving and holding each other accountable. Every Traction anniversary, I think of her and how grateful I am that Diane listened to me at a time when I needed it most with no judgement and offered valuable insight to help a peer that she barely knew. I don’t even think she was aware of how valuable this one meeting was for me at the time. She is still a valuable resource, mentor, and friend that has been available to assist if and when needed.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I define success as to what type legacy I want to create. It is my intention to set a positive example and representation for my daughters whom have I impacted along the way. As a result of watching their mom stumble and fall, then get back up again as giving up would not be an option for me or them.
I strive to be authentically me and to leave every person I interact with enlightened with positivity and encouragement for them to also be the best version of themselves. I hope to inspire other women to chase their dreams, no matter how big or small. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself to dream Big because you just might get it.
I am hopeful that with every placement that HIRE Strategies’ makes, someone’s life has been improved for the better as a result. If we make a daily, continuous effort to do just this — imagine how many lives will be impacted as a result. We have the opportunity to be change agents in the staffing industry. Especially in today’s climate — it is our responsibility to promote diversity and inclusion, choose client partners who also want to make diversity and inclusion a priority. We must also make concerted efforts to help any and all people who need our support with securing employment, career advancement or just assistance with job readiness, preparedness, training, and coaching.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1.) When things get tough, always remember “why” I started
There have been times when I have reached entrepreneurial burnout especially during my first 4–5 years of being in business. During those moments, it is then when I have to remind myself of why I started to keep myself engaged and the momentum going.
2.) Leadership must align with the desire to inspire others around you
Not every person is a natural born leader. Some are natural leaders, and some develop once they are in the position to lead. Whichever is true. I believe you must have a genuine desire to lead and inspire others. When your team believes in the mission of the company, they will naturally work hard to support the vision as a contributing team member.
3.) Identify resources you trust to assist with areas that you are not as strong
This has been essential life lesson for me as I am person that is constantly striving for what I consider to “perfection” and there are times when I haven’t been comfortable accepting areas of weakness especially from a Leadership perspective. What I have learned is that I must hire for areas where I am not as strong so I can show up in the areas of the business that I do excel.
4.) Make time for self-care
During the initial phase of starting and growing the business, I was working 60–70 hours a week and missing quality time for my children. I was wearing multiple hats thinking that was the best use of my time and energy along with what the business needed. However, after several years of committing so much time, energy and neglecting self-care — I reached burnout. I have now made a conscious decision to take time for self- care to include, exercising regularly, meditating, and spending more time reading and strengthening my knowledge.
5. ) Read, read and read more — constantly be willing to learn
I realized that I had reached a point where my past experience and skills could no longer guide me through significant challenges that I faced. I needed to obtain more knowledge, enhance my Leadership skills to truly build the culture of the organization. Knowledge is power and having a desire to be continuously learning aids with your personal and professional development.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to create a movement on nonjudgement, compassion and communication that leads to effective change. The current climate that has fostered systematic racism and oppression didn’t just start; it has been from years of societal judgement based on the color of someone’s skin. I choose to believe that there are more people who do not have those predisposed biases than those who do. My ultimate goal would be to start a foundation to serve underprivileged children and adults and provide services that will aid to balance out the effects of systemic racism and classism. To be able to provide educational resources, assistance with business ownership, credit and financial educational resources to any and all that could benefit and have a strong desire to change the trajectory of their lives for the better.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite one is to run your own race. I have followed this concept from as far back as I remember, and I have taught it to my daughters. When you spend time worrying about the person next to you or constantly striving to one up your competition, you begin to lose sight of your own goals and vision. I tend to stay focused on making improvements, building the right team and the rest will come as a result.
My second favorite is “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help other people get what they want’’ by Zig Ziglar. I wholeheartedly believe this! The reason why HIRE Strategies exists today is because I helped so many individuals find employment that also allowed companies to achieve their expansion and growth objectives thereby creating an opportunity for me to be an entrepreneur doing what I love!
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I would love to have lunch with Oprah or even a phone call or email, I will accept any form of communication. Our childhood experiences are very similar, and I find strength and inspiration in knowing that even through her challenges, that didn’t stop her from being the very best version of herself even with not having the best examples during those formative years. I too was not raised by my mother or father, experienced suffering as a young child yet those experiences, no matter how unpleasant, have helped form the woman that I am today and a mother to my daughters that they can be proud of. I didn’t necessarily know who or what I wanted to be, I just had plenty of examples of what not to be. That is what fueled me along with the birth of my girls.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.