After 10 years of work in International Development Sophia Lafontant left her job at Oxfam to start By Sophia & Co, an event planning company based in Connecticut. She tells me that “I thought it was going to be my path to continue work in the international development arena with a particular focus on policy.” However, like all of us, Sophia is a complex individual with an array of passions and interests that cannot be quenched by one role. The thirst for something different driven by restlessness of the status quo prompted her abandonment of the international development path for the unfamiliar world of becoming an entrepreneur . Here is Sophia’s journey of realization, preparation and launch that gave birth to By Sophia and Co.
Before any dream comes to fruition there is the moment when the dreamer acknowledges the dream and decides to change the status quo. For Sophia the yearning for creativity and taking a risk catalyzed the process to seek a career change. She says, “I started feeling restless but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I could have been happy doing the same job somewhere else.” But before making the choice to stay in the same field she asked herself why she was playing it so safe. She continues to explain that she’d been playing it safe doing what was expected of her including investing in a master’s degree but she knew there was more. Event planning had been lurking in the background but at first she never considered it as a career choice. In fact during the period of restlessness that occurred after working in the same field for years, it wasn’t even the obvious the choice. Sophia’s multifaceted personality meant that event planning had to compete with her other interests. She stresses that, “I’ve always enjoyed the arts, I’ve always enjoyed fashion, I’ve always enjoyed music, but I’ve never been one of those things”. In fact event planning was somewhat of a pragmatic choice. When Sophia first considered a detour on her set path, the goal was to “look at the things that I’m passionate about and see if there is something more out there I can do. If there is a way for me to use a different part of my brain and try to bring beauty into the world.” Event planning fit the mold of creativity and also required usage of skills Sophia acquired over time; so out of her many passions it won favor. Sophia is “organized, has an eye for aesthetics and a knack of translating visions into something concrete” so event planning was her perfect 9-5 buster.
One of the takeaways from the chat with Sophia is that just because you’ve discovered your passion doesn’t mean you should charge into your boss’ office and proclaim your resignation, then figure out how to fulfill your dreams; you have to commit to a well thought out plan. Her first step was to figure out whether a career in event planning was the right fork in the road. She tells me, “I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t a phase and it was something that I could turn into a business. You can’t always turn a hobby into a business.” In order to do so she volunteered for projects that included event planning within her organization [Oxfam] and made event planning her side hustle. She describes the side hustle which she maintained for 15 months as a period of “discernment”. “I really wanted to make sure it was something I enjoyed doing; I could handle the logistical details; decide what kind of events and what types of services I wanted to offer.” Working on event planning projects within Oxfam allowed her to build a network of individuals who could later be clients and also gave her an opportunity to flex her skills. Hence her advice is that if you are passionate about certain work and are looking for a career change, find a way of doing it within your organization as you make the transition.
Though, the side hustle and projects within Oxfam reinforced Sophia’s vision of being an event planner, being an entrepreneur was not something that she thought of automatically. “Being an entrepreneur didn’t cross my mind. I’ve always liked having health insurance,” she jokes. After much thought she concluded that while owning one’s business has its drawbacks, the pros far outweigh the cons. Working for yourself means “you are able to set your own schedule, work at your own pace and create the culture you want.”
Building a business that allows one to channel his or her passion renders flexibility and freedom, but it also lacks the steadiness of fulltime employment. Hence, leaving a fulltime job that guarantees a reliable paycheck and health insurance cannot be done impetuously. Once Sophia came to the conclusion that working for herself was the destination, she developed a strategy that would get her to the finish line. To reach her destination she needed enough resources to not only launch her business but also have a cushion for living. Her advice to anyone hoping to make the transition is to have “a decent amount of savings, at least 6-8 months”. She acknowledges that, “financing can be a huge hurdle if you are chasing your dreams” but not a barrier if one is committed to saving. Sophia prioritized saving while maintaining her fulltime job and she was able to move in with her boyfriend to further decrease her financial commitments. While moving in with a loved one isn’t an option for everyone she says, “it’s important to find ways to save. Whether it’s getting a second job, cutting down on your lattes, not shopping as much or not taking as many trips.”
When launching her business, Sophia’s honesty with herself about her capabilities helped her determine how to finance By Sophia and Co. “I knew what I knew and I knew what I didn’t know. I knew I was creative, I knew I could deliver my services, I knew that I knew jack squat about running a business,” she admits. Hence she reached out to her community as well as free online resources to fill the knowledge gaps of what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur and it seems that all the search for knowledge has paid off as she had an abundance of information about how to make it work.
The first tip from Sophia for the implementation stage is determining what you can afford; what requires breaking the bank and what can hold off. “I made some upfront investments but nothing that put me in financial strains,” she says. For example, she didn’t splurge on building her website, but she spent money on a logo because it’s important for branding. With Squarespace she was able to build an affordable site without sacrificing beauty. Another recommendation is to find and utilize free resources. In addition to competitive research, she used Your Rate, a free resource to help her calculate how she needed to price her services based on hours worked and vacation days. She stresses the importance of competitive pricing, having too low of prices can send a signal to potential clients that one’s work is not up to par. When it comes to acquiring clients, Sophia has so far been able to build her portfolio from networks that she had formed through her previous job and community. In fact, Oxfam was her first client, attesting to the importance of blooming where you are planted and publicizing your skill-set to the world.
What’s next for By Sophia & Co? The goal is to be profitable in the next year. Sophia made it clear that she doesn’t want her business to be a side hustle, but she says “in order to continue to do it full time I need it to be profitable.”
Last words from Sophia
What she wishes she could have done differently? Taken business classes and found a mentor.
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