“If you’re going to bet on anyone, bet on yourself.” That’s Sonya Hopson’s advice to entrepreneurs and business owners on the rise. And her gamble has paid off: In six years she grew revenue at Hire Strategies to $9.5 million, with 10 permanent staff and some 90 temporary employees on assignment in contracts ranging from short-term gigs, four to twelve months, to permanent contract-to-hire positions.
Hopson estimates around 85 percent of her business is staffing for commercial construction and around 15 percent are clients with a need to fill administrative, accounting, manufacturing, shipping and receiving positions.
“We bring in all kinds of staff and, on the construction side, we specialize in skilled trade – electricians, plumbers, HVAC professionals – typically people with at least 10 years of experience who can work long-term projects,” she said.
An early career in sales prepared Hopson to compete – and win – in the traditionally male-dominated construction industry. “In every opportunity, I was competing against a group of men; I had to go in with a portfolio, references, recommendations, and do more to prove myself. That’s just the way it is,” she said.
“You have to show up differently as a result of being a woman, and even more so in commercial construction. And, not only am I a woman, I’m a woman of color, and some people aren’t comfortable with that so [you] have to navigate those conversations and difficult situations. But I’ve embraced those challenges, and I’m able to have a dialogue to better understand why there is a bias.”
She engages the conversation directly, noting people often remove themselves from situations where bias exists. Not Hopson: “You feel uncomfortable with me because I’m a woman; because I’m a Black woman? Why?”
Her authenticity invites positive dialogue, as she seeks not to confront but to understand, she said. “Most of the time, the answers have been: ‘Well I’ve never worked with a Black woman, or with a woman in commercial construction.’ And I respond: ‘Okay, so this is new for you; let’s talk about it and you can determine if you want to work with me and let me prove my abilities.’”
Approaching challenges with positive assertion has been her life-long calling card, having grown up without parents and few role models.
“The best story about Sonya’s business is her personal story,” said Diane Kuehn, CEO of VisionPoint Marketing, the Raleigh-based strategic branding agency that works with institutions of higher education around the country. They met when Hopson purchased the office condo Kuehn’s business formerly occupied, and Hopson, who once shied from seeking advice, asked Kuehn to share her expertise for building a business. Since then, Kuehn has served as a resource and mentor to Hopson.
“Sonya built what she has entirely on her own, without the knowledge or connections or role models that many of us start with,” Kuehn said, adding that from their first meeting Hopson has remained “very real” and open to vulnerabilities. “When I started VisionPoint about 20 years ago, I wasn’t as open to being vulnerable. If I had been, I think I could have achieved more in my own mentor relationships.”
If anything, Covid-19 has increased the need for collaboration, and while it has made in-person meetings more difficult to arrange, Kuehn said working from home has freed her schedule because she isn’t traveling. She and Hopson have enjoyed “front-porch meetings” and it’s become a good time to connect with mentors virtually.
Hopson’s business has experienced both positive and negative repercussions during Covid. All those construction projects qualified Hire Strategies as an essential business, and Hopson has been in her office almost “every single day,” since the pandemic started. While most of her staff worked from home from March until mid-August, she and the executive team were in the office, available to assist clients and employees with any questions or needs that arose.
“We’ve seen a substantial decline in revenue from last year, probably it has dropped 15 or 20 percent, and all but two months of this year we’ve operated at a loss,” Hopson reports. Still, she has approached the pandemic with optimism. Step one: she committed to keep every person on the payroll for at least two months. “I didn’t want my people to be afraid. I told them, while I couldn’t predict what would happen, I would pay them for 40 hours a week. And that was before we got our PPP loan.”
Ultimately, Hire Strategies obtained PPP through BB&T, and Hopson admits she’s not sure what would have happened without it. Not only did she retain her team, she added to it. “I thought, if we have to pivot and have to do things differently, we may need additional resources. So, in the midst of a pandemic and being at a financial loss, we hired two people to the team.
One way her business evolved this year has been helping with virtual placements for clients who have taken their offices remote. For instance, they helped Wake County’s tax department, with whom they had an established and strong partnership, transition employees to work from home.
“We had to move quickly to figure out how to do that and how to provide the same temporary employees in a home environment,” Hopson explains. “We’re trying to identify how we should show up as a resource for clients, and helping provide virtual placements is a space where we can be very supportive. Call centers would be a good prospect for us, companies that need remote customer support talent.”
Before helping a business build a virtual team, she works to understand their culture and to help define how they measure employees’ accountability and productivity. “In placing temporary staff, we want to measure performance the same way they do their direct team,” she said, which is even more critical to define when employees are working remotely.
Across all aspects of her life, Hopson talks about the need to show up for others and, increasingly, she’s sought to create balance and show up for herself. “I was very isolated when I first became an entrepreneur because I felt like I had to figure this out. I was reluctant, too embarrassed, to ask for help,” she recounts. Now she looks to mentors, like Kuehn, and she reads more, seeking to learn from spiritual and business leaders.
From: The Triangle Business Journal – Check out the article here: https://www.bizjournals.com/triangle/news/2020/11/06/shes-busting-stereotypes-in-her-field.html