Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneur is Sonya Gill, digital pioneer and founder of top social media marketing agency Youzus. Tired of hitting the proverbial “glass ceiling,” she launched her company as an outlet for creativity to thrive without restriction…
Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
There is not enough room on any one page to describe my job ‘in a nutshell’. One thing I can say is that my job is to ensure that my team has the time of their life building this agency, Youzus, which I started over two years ago, into a legacy. A legacy is only a legacy if there was a journey, and who wants to embark on a journey by themselves?
Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
Simply put, I was tired of hitting the proverbial “glass ceiling.” Often creative minds are limited by their role, unable to break the rules and corporate conventions. I need to be unrestricted to create and have the freedom to take risks and fail. I’m sure many people could relate to the desire of being your own boss and living by your own schedule. While still working for ‘the man’ in 2010, I began my own blog called Youzus.com, which quickly became my creative outlet. During this time, I noticed a lot of individuals were beginning to create and curate their own personal brands online and leverage these brands to increase their own media visibility. Eventually I found myself using my online influence, which my radio and television appearances and hosting had generated me, to assist certain individuals in highlighting their expertise and/or talents to get them in the spotlight. When I realized the whole social media thing was taking off, I concentrated more of an effort towards social media and journalism and helping people with building their brands online. This was well before the term ‘social media specialist’ existed. It started with artists and then bled into small businesses and now corporations. I love building a strategy and taking it all the way to the end of its initial execution.
What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
The best part of my day is getting back to my inbox. I know it’s one of the most tedious tasks for entrepreneurs, but for me it reminds me of where I came from. I remember when I first started this company I would get so excited when I would get ONE email from a potential client. Then I started building my team, and all of sudden I would get excited about a team email asking for my advice. Now my inbox is one big beautiful mess of notes from employees, clients, referrals, meetings and, of course, spam – but I love it. It gets my blood flowing.
Abstaining from micromanaging my team is certainly the most challenging part of my day. The staff at Youzus will tell you it’s a night and day difference from last year to this year, but it has not been without its difficulties that I am where I am now. I always want to know what my team is doing and how they are doing it, but it’s a constant reminder to myself that I no longer run a blog and now have a team of experts within their own realm of experience and talents.
What is one sign that you’ve seen over the years to suggest that your work/life balance is off?
If you are unsatisfied at work, it’s going to reflect on your personal life. If you are unsatisfied in life, it will reflect in your work. The meaning of work-life balance is to be happy in both.
That being said, I’m the type of person that rarely gets stressed out, so as soon as I begin to doubt my decisions or feel anxious I know that something is definitely off. The same goes for my team; I never want any one of them feeling stressed or anxious. I’ve held positions where I’ve had obscene amounts of anxiety for whatever reason, and it was usually because of the environment I was working in or the management styles of my superiors. Because of this reason I encourage every one of my employees to speak their mind and tell me when they’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed out. I want them to enjoy their work as much as they enjoy their lives outside of work. It brings me so much joy when they tell me they’ve never had a job where they have been so happy. I want to keep it that way.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Professionally I see myself overseeing various branches of the company, in particular Toronto, Vancouver and New York. In five years Youzus will be a leader in the digital and social media space. Recently I’ve been involved in the ideation and execution of two personal apps, one called www.socialwu.com and the other www.buymysari.com. Building both apps from scratch was thrilling to say the least, so I would definitely like to execute more innovative projects as the years (and technology) progress. We’ve also started a project called the ‘WuYou’ Speaking Series, which is a non-profit that hosts social media training seminars for small businesses that are just starting up. I would really like to build this out and see how things unfold in a few years.
Personally, I am very big on family and anyone who knows me knows my family means the world to me. I see myself starting one [family], but for now being the mother hen for the team is sufficient.
What does success look like to you? Does Money = Happiness?
A healthy paycheque is great, don’t get me wrong, but when I started the company I barely had any money and I was still equally happy, if not elated. So for me, money definitely does not equal happiness, it just equals more shoes. Success for me is looking back on my journey and seeing how far I’ve come and how much I’ve created. To this day I still have a lot of ‘holy shit’ moments, like the time I saw Youzus on the TV in the back of the cab. I couldn’t help feel a sense of accomplishment. It’s moments like that that I look back and still remember not even being able to afford my rent or groceries.
What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
The day my mom came to visit me in Toronto for the first time since I moved here nine years ago. She came and visited my office, met my staff and stayed with me over the course of a few days in my apartment. I wasn’t sure what she was expecting, especially since my parents had seen me struggle so much throughout my 20s. One evening, after a dinner party at my house, just as she was about to go to sleep she came over to me and simply patted me on the back and said, “I am very proud of you.” It was in that moment that I felt as though I had reached some level of success. I was literally overcome with emotion, I began to tear up.
Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Two words: Don’t quit.
Trust me, it will work out. It always does.
Where is your favourite place to wine/ dine in your city and why?
It differs from month to month, but the flavour for June seems to be The Chase rooftop. Having lived in New York for a year, it gives me a strong feeling of nostalgia.
When you’re not working how do you love to spend your “Me” time?
With friends and family, and a nice bottle of Riesling.
Where is your favourite place to travel? Why?
Vancouver, my home. Family grounds me and always leaves me feeling like myself again when I come back into Toronto.
If you had to choose a theme song, what would it be?
Closer To My Dreams by Goapele.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
I’d probably still be doing what I’m doing; in some way shape or form ‘it’ would find me. I’d be building, leading and having the time of my life.
Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
Over the years, Youzus has supported Habitat for Humanity and Everyday Child, working pro bono on their social platforms; however, recently our charitable efforts have concentrated on the ‘WuYu’ speaking series and assisting small businesses. Personally, I currently mentor entrepreneurs with the CYBF foundation.
What to you is notable?
Individuals or thought-provoking work that make you look at life a little differently.
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#LYNL | (Live Your Notable Life)