Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in business development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Dr. Johanna Pagonis, CEO of Sinogap Solutions, located in Sherwood Park, AB, Canada.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

We support organizations in achieving their mission by maximizing human potential across their workforce. We design workplace learning strategies that enhance leadership and employee engagement at every level within your organization. This translates into the achievement of business goals, whether it be increased profits, customer loyalty, and/or social contributions to their community. We support organizations in creating a culture of employee engagement and empowerment by equipping leaders with the confidence and skills to make their organizations a better place to work.

Since the full-time establishment of Sinogap Solutions in 2020, I have worked with over 50 companies to develop customized leadership programs that have successfully equipped supervisors and managers with the skills necessary to maximize the human potential within their teams. Our clients come from the public, private, and non-profit sectors. We specialize in working with law enforcement organizations - male-dominated industries. Sinogap Solutions Leadership Consulting is committed to progressively challenge the established leadership landscape. My vision is to eliminate the leadership gender gap across Canada by empowering women with the requisite skills and strategies to lead themselves and others. In conjunction with developing women leaders, male allies are included in developmental opportunities to discover what they can do to advocate for gender parity within their organizations.

Tell us about yourself

I am the CEO and founder of Sinogap Solutions Leadership Consulting and the author of Choose to Be a Leader Others Would Want to Follow. I launched Sinogap Solutions after recognizing many habitual workplace challenges while in my role as a manager. These familiar obstacles included a lack of managerial training, limited access to mentors, and dealing with unpredictable challenges while maintaining an air of confidence, even though doubt crept into my mind.

I recognized I was not alone in my struggles since many of my managerial colleagues shared in these common tribulations. My workplace experiences contributed to attaining my Ph.D. in adult education, with a focus on uncovering how workplace managers can advance into emotionally intelligent leaders. The discoveries I made inspired me to quit my senior management position with the Government of Alberta and launch my own business.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Launching a business at the start of the pandemic. I took my 13-year part-time consulting business to full-time in February 2020, one month before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, and the world as we knew it changed forever. Within one week, my company lost every single booked contract we had for the foreseeable future. My business came to a halt in the middle of what was going to be a very busy Spring. We design and deliver employee engagement and leadership development strategies, which requires us to facilitate large groups and lead face-to-face meetings. But, no one is interested in investing in professional development or focusing on improving their workplace culture if they don’t know if they will be around in a year. And this is not unique to just me. According to the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce Report, 88% of under-represented founders experienced the loss of contracts, customers and negative mental health impacts. I started to become anxious and depressed. One morning, I had a panic attack, that I had made a terrible mistake and let my family down. I started to lose hope and, with it, my confidence that I could succeed in this new career.

After many personal reflections and seeking emotional support from family, friends, and a therapist, I began to remember my purpose: to make a difference in the lives of all people by helping organizations create a culture of employee engagement and empowerment. I decided to make an intentional commitment to myself that not only would I keep moving forward, but I would also look at this time as an opportunity to focus on my company’s vision, mission, values and brand myself as an expert in my field. I started to form partnerships with other entrepreneurs and collaborate on projects that would enable us to give back to our business community and support them during a time of crisis. As a result, I started to break into new industries I would have never thought of providing services to before. My mentor said to me once, “Never waste a crisis.” So that is what I decided to do.

Since the pandemic, my business has grown exponentially. In my first year, I made just over $1,000 net. Now my business is generating over $100,000 net. My team has grown from just me to four exceptional people who work with me and inspire me every day. The biggest reward as a business owner…my employees telling me that before they worked for me, they had a negative mindset about work due to the toxic workplace cultures they experienced. Since working with me, they have developed a new mindset…a mindset of possibility because they get to create the workplace conditions that allow them to thrive. They set their hours and their schedule. Even though our timelines are based on the needs of our clients, we have a lot of control over how the work gets done. Together, we create the workplace culture we always wanted but never had.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

Making sure you make payroll, lol. When it was just me, all I had to worry about was myself and making enough money to pay the bills. But now I am responsible for others. Because my employees have shared that this job is one of the most, if not the only, positive working experience they had, I feel a tremendous responsibility to make sure I don’t let them down. Meaning I am asking for regular feedback from them on what is working well and what can be improved. I also want to make sure that we generate enough revenue so that I can be able to compensate them for what they are worth. And they are worth a lot!

I am always thinking about the future and how they fit into that future. What opportunities can I present to them that will challenge and excite them? And being open to the opportunities/ideas they bring to me. I love investing in new ideas that my employees present, but that also has to be balanced with what we can actually do. Staying focused on the business strategy/annual plan while allowing room for play and imagination is critical. I don’t want to follow trends; I want to set them! I want to be setting the bar by challenging traditional and antiquated ways many consultants in my field practice. My employees play an important role in setting that new bar, so I must be willing to give them room to explore.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Believe in yourself. Beyonce said, “I don’t like to gamble, but if there is one thing I’m willing to bet on, it’s myself .”When times get tough, remember you are offering a valuable service to others. Advocate fiercely for yourself, and don’t be afraid to show others what you have to offer. It was only when I started to reach out to my network and intentionally develop it that my business began to flourish. It was because I was offering something others were not, and my clients knew it!
  2. Establish a success circle. There is a great article from Forbes, “The Nine Types of People You Need in Your Success Circle.” Relationships are the building blocks of anyone’s life or career. Therefore, if you don’t have a support system, get one fast! Developing connections with others has been the single most critical thing for my career success. Although resilience comes from within, the ability to be resilient, especially during difficult times, is dependent on the support we have from others. We all need a cheerleader sometimes, as much as we need someone to give us a swift kick in the ass when we want to give up.
  3. Support others. I love this quote…not sure who said it, “And when you get to where you’re going, turn around and help her too. For there was a time, not long ago, she was you.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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