“Running a business used to be the worst thing I could think of for my career” – Sonja Mednikova, Founder of BySonjamed

As a natural-born non-procrastinator, Sonja shared with us her own simple-yet-powerful remedy for procrastination – how to stay focus and efficient in this modern world full of distraction. When being asked “What would you do when the business doesn’t go the way you wanted?”, she answered without hesitation that she and her team would change the strategy until they find something that works. Quitting on the business is not her solution. How interesting it is to see Sonja now as a dedicated entrepreneur while years ago her view on entrepreneurship is nothing but boring!

We did not know what to write in the contract

Three years ago, I was spending the summer at home in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Compared to Finland, the corporate social media world there was much more developed back then. I was fascinated by how many cafes and other small businesses have such an active online presence, particularly their stunning developed Instagram accounts. They had done a very great job taking advantage of social media as a tool to engage with customers and grow the business.

I came back to Finland and realized that there was an actual need for a service that helps small businesses to get more visibility and attention, to visualize and represent their brands on social media. Unlike big companies, most of the SMEs handle online marketing on their own, which is not so effective especially in terms of strengthening the customer relationship. It is not enough to deliver only solid good customer service. The beauty of social media is that it’s a great mean for brands to go beyond the buying process and stay in touch with their customers all the time. When the relationship is nurtured with positive emotions, customers will keep coming back.

I have been involved in social media for a long time. I started using Instagram from the early beginning when the platform had just been launched. It’s my favorite social media channel. Fortunately, this business lies in the sweet spot between market demand and my own interest.

I had a friend with whom I started this. She was mainly responsible for taking pictures and I was handling the management part. Generally, we did most of the things together like formulating the strategy, meeting with clients, preparing the first contract. I remember the first time making the contract was a huge struggle. We did not know what to write in the contract and I had no experience with entrepreneurship. We simply thought: “Let’s do it” and we got the ball rolling without having any background knowledge. We are also foreigners in Finland, which was quite hard for us to know the Finnish legislation, business processes, and culture. I did google everything.

The first and second-degree connections are powerful

All in all, there was also a lot of fun. We luckily got the first client just in the first day of operation. This was a huge achievement for us, which kept us going. We were so excited and jumped right into work. The starting of something is always exciting.

We knew this client from a classmate. She was doing a school project about social media content for a company. Through this girl, we knew a person and through that person, we met our first client. It’s vital to get the first client from your personal network, the first and second-degree connections are powerful. It’s hard to get the client if you don’t know them. Approaching and saying hi just doesn’t work well in Finland, because everyone knows each other here. That’s why it’s essential for local entrepreneurs to network and expand the professional circle.

In theory, business is not interesting for me at all

After high school graduation, I’m unsure of what to do next. My parents said that finance and accounting are important in the business world. I was good at mathematics at school so I decided to follow their recommendation of the study. The school offered a program called accounting and entrepreneurship – small enterprise study. It was considerably theoretical.

I remembered my first business plan was about producing buttons. The whole project turned out to be an unpleasant experience that I decided in real life I would never do something like this. It was like the worst thing I could think of. The main reason is that I was not actually doing anything practical like trying to find raw materials or contacting distributors. I just followed my teacher’s suggestion about which ideas to work on. I was not clear what type of business I want to do, producing buttons is not actually my ideal type of business. I wasn’t clear about what kind of business would interest me and had no clue about social media marketing. So in theory, business is not interesting for me at all, for example, that huge boring business plan. Only in practice when I actually do something fun, like now I’m doing a lot of visual work (photos, art), that I find the real enjoyment of being an entrepreneur.

After that, I came to Finland to study international business, still with an intention to work in some company or for someone. During my study, I did not involve in any entrepreneurship activities but eventually, my entrepreneurship journey started in my final year. In the beginning, we definitely needed some advice, so we asked one of our teachers in Haaga-Helia for help in terms of accounting and legislation.

Back then the company was called Foster For Communication Agency. I had been running the business with two former co-founders. We have worked with several clients and have done a huge amount of different projects together: podcast, education, lectures, etc. Now they have left to pursue their own career path so half a year ago I decided to do the rebrand into BySonjamed.

Sonja Mednikova BySonjamed marketing desgin content communication social media instagram agency helsinki 1

I feel like people are not against me, they are here for me and want my business to succeed

I have never been an entrepreneur in Russia so I don’t have practical experience. But I can say the entrepreneurship ecosystem here is much more developed. There is support from the government, entrepreneurship societies within university and city, organizations like NewCo Helsinki, Business Finland, etc. We are actually giving lectures in NewCo Helsinki guidelines on how to start corporate social media marketing. Overall, there is a great amount of different support and assistance from several sources for entrepreneurs, which makes me feel like people are here for me, not against me, and they want to help my business to succeed.

The internal communication is always the best part

I don’t have a particular moment that is the most satisfying during my journey, but a bunch of moments. Some of the best ones I would say are when working with the team, generating new ideas, talking, brainstorming, spending hours and hours under discussion, and eventually, come up with prime solutions which everybody in the team is happy about. So the internal communication is always the best part. Next is the appreciation from the clients when you feel that they are satisfied with the outcome and that they enjoy working with you.

Certainly, there are typically some small disagreements, especially conflicts of interest. The ideal solution is to retain team spirit and good harmony. We do that by letting our team members choose projects they like to work on. Most of them are freelancers. The only disadvantage is that you don’t have your team around all the time. But for our business model, It’s more profitable and more effective.

Personal connection is the best way to obtain clients

Behind every “up” there can be several “downs”. I face challenges every day at work. For example, we have problems in terms of the strategy, deciding which parts of the operation to focus and spend time on.

Our biggest problem was sales, particularly, how to attract more clients. We tried cold calling and seeking external help but it did not work out well. Social media, design, and marketing, in general, have a huge competition on the market. We can’t compete with the big agencies. I have even felt desperate at some points. Until we started to realize the core issue: personal connections – the only way to get clients in our type of business is by networking and meeting other people. SMEs are not always willing to spend effort on extra marketing. The owners are usually busy enough with daily operation and also lack of capital. But if you have a personal connection and build enough trust, they will give you a chance. For a long time, we did not realize that personal network is crucial. Our team used the other sales tools instead, which were totally not working.

In the end, people work with people not with the company, so if you like someone you will do business with them. We never want to compete on price or try to lower the price to attract customers, because it’s not possible. However, beginners in business usually make this mistake. The value proposition should never be “low price”. The underbidding disrupts the market, challenges the other existing companies because we attract customers solely by a low price and then harm ourselves because we won’t be able to maintain that price. There must be some compensation for example low quality or unethical business practices.

The working attitude is important

I don’t think we have any language barriers here. In the team there is a native Finnish speaker, I speak a bit Swedish myself, I understand Finnish but prefer to speak English. The company’s language is English because now the local business environment is becoming more and more international. When we meet and negotiate with the clients, everything is in English. The other processes can be in Finnish depending on the customer’s preference. In my opinion, a language is only a tool of communication, it should never be an obstacle in business.

The working attitude is very important. When we recruit, our priority high-prioritized requirement is not experience or education, but their mindset and attitude. Skills and knowledge can be earned. But it’s hard to train people to meet the deadlines, coordinate themselves, be polite to customers on the phone or communicate with others in a good manner. Those are small things but they make a huge difference.

I am frequently inspired by people, not a particular person but ordinary people in general. I am fascinated by the fact that everybody is different. When I meet someone, I notice the small details and identify the good and not-good sides. Then, I quickly learn from them by implementing their good side to myself. I believe everyone knows something I know nothing about and have something I can learn from. That’s why I extremely like to travel to observe how people think and act differently than I do.

Sonja Mednikova BySonjamed marketing desgin content communication social media instagram agency helsinki 4

If you truly long for something, you will find a way. If you don’t really want to, you will find excuses.

Travelling recharges me, it fills me with energy and new ideas. I will become really low and pessimistic if I stay home for a long time. I am always curious about the world out there. There are so many interesting things happening every second around the world that I just want to explore.

I think the only thing that stops people from traveling is not money but the desire to travel. Because there are available options for making a trip on a budget. Like everything else, if you truly long for it you will find a way. If you don’t really want to you will find excuses.

You will not procrastinate to do things you enjoy

We had a course in university about personal discipline, there was a topic on how to fight procrastination. And I could not get the idea of what procrastination is about and why people can’t break that bad habit. Personally, I have a very high speed of doing things. When there are tasks given, I’m always the first one who gets things done. I’m not a procrastinator at all, maybe rarely for school subjects that I really don’t enjoy. I’m the opposite of a procrastinator. I work extremely fast on things that I have to do. I can be very focused without distractions or breaks. I will do everything as fast as I can in order to later go to the bar with my friends. My working style is to fulfill my tasks or responsibilities as fast as possible and then go have fun later.

The strategy I use to not procrastinate: Find what you really like and do it. I don’t think you will procrastinate to do things you enjoy. I value my time a lot. I can’t afford to waste my time procrastinating on something while I can spend it in a more meaningful way on some other activities that make me happy.

All failures will pass, and life moves on

After 3 years of being an entrepreneur, I no longer have a fear of failure. More responsibility comes with more stress. But when there is too much stress, I think you would come to the stage where you can’t be stressful any longer and stop paying attention to the small things. I do care about things that really important to me (family, health, my team, etc.). But the other things, I won’t let them stress me out.

When I have to face failure, I just take it positively. Every failure is a lesson. No matter how serious they are, they will pass, and life moves on. I think one of the reasons why failure is not our favorite is because we are afraid that somebody will remember it or know about it and judge us. But actually, no one really cares. People will forget and everybody cares mostly about themselves. The most important thing to do when you fail is to analyze what has been wrong and try to not make the same mistake again. Because you will for sure fail, why spending time being afraid or focusing on the fear of something that is not sure it is going to happen?

I was always having ideas on how things can be done differently in a more effective way

I worked for 7 years before starting my own business. When I was 14 I got my first job at my mother’s company in the debt department. I had to make the calls to remind people about their loan and their due date to return the money. You can imagine my voice at that time. It was indeed a fun experience. After that, I worked for a hotel in Saint Petersburg where I was a receptionist. At that time I just wanted to get the experience of working at the reception desk. I earned 125€ for a month for every morning shift. Then I worked in the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce doing different roles: partnership, organizing events, translating, writing press releases, and managing social media.

When I was working I was always having ideas on how things can be done differently in a more effective way. I’m also quite lazy, which is a bit controversial. I don’t like to work so hard. I enjoy having fun, going out doing leisure activities. I remember when I was sitting at the office, I had completed all the tasks for the whole day before 12. In the next six hours, I learned French, conducted my personal stuff that I’m interested in, while some of my colleagues were just scrolling down the feeds on Facebook. I was thinking that would be the worst thing I can do to myself – spending my time on things like that.

Sonja Mednikova BySonjamed marketing desgin content communication social media instagram agency helsinki 3

Three skills entrepreneurs should have

1. Courage

You have to be brave to take risks and take responsibility for yourself, your employees, your clients. Entrepreneurship can be very profitable and you can have a nice relaxing life: travel everywhere, buy everything you want. But in practice, it can be painful when you don’t have any clients or income and run out of cash. But you still have to survive through this, you still have to pay your employees. I have this situation all the time when the clients pay two months after the project ends, so before that, I have to use my personal funds for the salary and expenses.

You never know what happens tomorrow. The sales next month can be good or bad. Be courageous and take action. Because it’s not about any intellectual capability or know-how, you can learn everything by yourself. I don’t think that in order to be successful in the restaurant industry you have to work in a noshery for 10 years. You just need to be brave and open a restaurant. You will learn everything along the way, you can ask or hire people with experience and knowledge to help you out. Don’t let inexperience stop you from your dream. You don’t have to read too much or spend half a year making a plan or analyzing the industry before chartering your business. Because no matter how much you try to predict the problems that can happen, in reality, the risks are totally different anyways.

2. Emotional intelligence

It is considered to be more important than intelligence quotient (IQ). You should be able to feel what your employee thinks, what the customer thinks, analyze the situation and know how you should behave. Have a good understanding of psychology and other’s behaviors. Also with a good sense of humor and positive attitude towards life, you can overcome stress more easily.

3. Self-discipline

Self-discipline makes a man. From the small things like organizing yourself to get up on time, not skipping the gym, getting work done before the deadline, to the higher level of importance like following your plan and achieving what is meaningful to your life.

Eat good food and have fun

We can feel overwhelmed as an entrepreneur, there can be many tasks that need to be done, and unintentionally we stop having fun. But entrepreneurship is about a matter of fun. One of the most important things in life is to enjoy life. So make sure you have fun doing whatever you are doing. I recommend eating and drinking beer (or fresh juice), because it means you are networking, meeting people and talking about business. The dialogue is where the best ideas come from. It’s not about sitting alone and trying to solve a problem but discussing it with others, you will see the problem from many different perspectives. So spend your time networking, enlarge your circle and learn from people around you. Everybody knows something that you know nothing about.

Build your own critical thinking system to make the right decisions

Find as many as smart people you can reach and surround yourself with them, go with them for a meal or to an event. They will give you valuable advice, share their knowledge and experience with you. But don’t blindly follow others advice. Especially when you have just started, everyone will have pieces of advice for you, you better do this and that, focus on this not that, etc. You should be open-minded and listen but not necessarily take everything into consideration. My advice is not to follow all the advice. You have to make your own decisions after learning from other’s experience and know-how. That’s why learning from books and wise people is important because it helps you build your own critical thinking system to make the right decisions. You can’t experience everything on your own, so learn from what other people have gone through and take the lessons out of it.

If something is not working, try something else

Entrepreneurship is much more fun for me. I like to take responsibility, organize things, assign tasks to people, creating new stuff. If I were an employee, I wouldn’t have the freedom of choice to try all the things we did in the last three years and took part in super interesting projects. For me as a person who is always seeking for new experiences every day, this is really important.

When the business does not go as I want it to, I just change the strategy. It’s totally normal. When we first faced the problem in our business, we were afraid of changing the whole system. We were stuck to the strategy we have set at the beginning because we didn’t know if the new strategy will work as well as the old one. But after doing this many times, we realized there is nothing wrong with updating the strategy. Indeed this is a good thing to do. If something is not working, try something else. You can do that as many times as you want.

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Sonja Mednikova came to Helsinki, Finland for the Bachelor’s Degree in International Business at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences and started her “unplanned” entrepreneurship journey in May 2016 even before the graduation. The business idea – social media and communication agency – was chartered by her personal interest in Instagram and the hidden demand of local small businesses to boost their online brand visibility. When not working with her team in BySonjamed, Sonja spends most of her time traveling, exploring the world and meeting new people.


Ha Nguyen
Ha Nguyen
Co-founder of EoF - Ha is a social entrepreneur & writer who cares about children, education, fairness, the environment, and sustainability. Connect with Ha here: https://linktr.ee/ha.nguyen

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