As someone who founded a company by cashing in their 401k during a recession, Sonja Rasula is no stranger to uncharted territory. She’s made a name for herself with her curated shopping experience called Unique Markets, and in the process became a champion for small and local businesses. Based in Los Angeles, we connected with Sonja on how she’s keeping business strong amidst a pandemic, the importance of sticking to a schedule, and staying connected to loved ones. Read Up.
Describe what you do for a living and how you are adjusting to social distancing.
I’m a founder and community leader who is passionate about helping small businesses and creatives succeed. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about this time of working from home and the chaos in business, because I started my first company, Unique Markets, during the last recession. I’ve beaten the odds so many times and I want other people (especially people of color and women) to see that it’s possible to start something amazing right now. I risked my entire 401k and bootstrapped the business, and now we’re in our 12th year when most businesses don’t reach the five-year mark. I’m one of only 2% of women-owned businesses to reach $1 million in a year.
As for social distancing, it has been pretty easy for me since most of my time I’m on email or on the phone anyways. My team uses Slack a lot and does Zoom meetings twice a week so we get to see each other. I’m super lucky because I’m in LA and have a yard so I can step outside anytime.
How do you typically start your day? What daily rituals are you practicing?
I’m a morning person so I’m up early at 6:30 AM. I immediately make a pot of coffee and clean the kitchen while waiting for it to brew — I never did this pre-pandemic. Then I sit and scroll the news, Instagram, and email to prep myself for the day and see what is happening in the world. I also look at my calendar so I have an idea of what I need to prep for and work on.
I wish I could tell you I had cool daily rituals like yoga or meditation, but I don’t. I’d say the daily rituals I stand by are making coffee and burning candles. Oh, and taking an afternoon nap! Crucial to reset for a productive second-half of the day.
How are you staying productive while at home? Any useful tips?
I stick to a schedule that is just like being at the office so I don’t get sucked into the lure of Netflix or suntanning or scrolling TikTok. So I work all morning, take calls, have meetings, and break for lunch. Then work all afternoon.
My best tips are to stick to a schedule, have regular check-ins with staff/peers/even friends that are recurring and on the calendar, and remember to create a way to socialize with your team because that’s also a big part of office culture that is missing right now. I created a channel on Slack called TheWaterCooler so people can post fun, stupid, casual videos, or memes or articles they like, etc.
What is keeping you grounded/balanced at the moment?
Change is the only constant and nothing is owed to us. If you accept that, everything works out.
During this time of social distancing, people are leaning on things such as streaming services, puzzles, painting, at-home workouts, to name a few, what activities are you using to take your mind off of things?
I chuckle every time this comes up because if you’re an entrepreneur, someone who has employees to take care of, you know I’ve been hustling like a MF since March. But I will say this, I dug up my old PSP and OG Gameboy and have been playing games, hahahaha. And just last night I ordered a couple of cool abstract puzzles, so #chillgoals.
How have you stayed connected to friends and family during this time?
We have Zoom and Facetime calls, which has been really nice because I had never done a video call with my parents before. They live in Georgia so I only see them a few times a year, suddenly now we’re texting and calling and they started using Instagram, so now they can keep up with my sister and I that way! My mom even watched my last IG LIVE and made comments. Mind blown.
What advice would you give to someone who’s struggling in isolation right now?
Stop what you’re doing and reach out to three people – do this everyday. Even quick little text conversations make a huge difference in mood and perspective. You need to stay in contact with others everyday because as human beings we need connection, it helps us thrive.
Also if you ever start to feel anxious or panicked, or depression starts to pull at you, try this great exercise that will give you an amazing reset in just under a minute: Take a long, deep breath through your nose, hold it for 10 seconds, and release it from your mouth. Do it 3 times in a row and you’ve literally altered your emotional state through simple breathwork!
What accomplishment or new project are you most proud of while social distancing?
Since what Unique Markets does is create massive 2-day-only pop-up markets, where thousands of people attend to shop, we knew our “normal” business was probably dead for the next year. So we launched our first-ever Virtual Mother’s Day Pop-up, with a curation of over 30 small businesses so people could still shop for Mom. And the whole team has created how-to videos and advice for small businesses from home, including people who are never on-camera or involved in social media, so that’s been great to see happen!
What are you most looking forward to once this is over?
Being able to travel and see my family in-person. I miss everything else like going to the movies and to bars but at the end of the day, it’s all noise. Family and friends are the most important!