Sonja Nagel is a woman with a plan.
Currently executive director of the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce, Nagel has achieved great success through years of hard work and innovation that have brought her from one coast to the other.
“Believe in yourself and reach beyond your comfort zone,” said Nagel, who is originally from the tourist town of St. Andrew’s by-the-Sea, N.B., about an hour west of St. John.
Nagel moved to B.C. in the 1980s to do a co-op placement as a sales representative at an airline for her travel and tourism program through Fanshawe College in London, Ont. She went on to work as a hotel sales manager, before getting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“I moved into one of the best jobs of my career, which was Tourism Vancouver and I did convention sales,” Nagel recalled. “That was just after Expo ’86 when we were launching Vancouver and the Vancouver Convention Centre as a convention destination. So that’s kind of how I got my ‘big break.’”
Nagel moved to the Cowichan Valley in the early ’90s and commuted for a decade to Victoria as account executive and director of sales for the Victoria Conference Centre, followed by working with Tourism Nanaimo and the City of Nanaimo to develop their convention market.
“I’ve been involved in these great kinds of opportunities to really place destinations and facilities on the map,” Nagel said, adding that she then did three years of work from home for a membership organization before taking over leadership of the chamber in 2012.
“It was a great background to work for a membership organization and take that sales, marketing and servicing and all the transferable skills I had from the tourism and hospitality industry and take that and roll that into the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce,” said Nagel.
Nagel also has experience running a business from home as she ran a lady’s clothing line while raising her children in the ’90s.
“I had a thriving business going with that line,” Nagel said. “I took advantage of the opportunities to continue in the business world yet still have the flexibility to have my kids thriving.”
According to a report by CIBC there are more than 800,000 women business owners in Canada and in B.C. Specifically, over 37 per cent of the province’s small businesses are self-employed women.
“There are certainly more women than ever that are taking the leap and getting into business,” Nagel said, adding that mentorship can be a great thing and she’s had a great mentor. “She taught me to believe in myself, take charge, always put my best foot forward. Those were really great little snippets of advice that have carried me well in my career.”
Nagel said her advice for young women looking to start their own business is to save money, consider starting part-time, make a business plan and find a great mentor. Nagel pointed to various self-employment and business skills including Community Futures Cowichan, Small Business BC, the Women’s Enterprise Centre in Victoria and Global Vocational Services in Duncan and joining the chamber.
“There’s tons of resources available. And I tell these people, when they get their business going they should join the chamber. We hear it every day, this is such a great way to launch a business and provides networking to these startup businesses,” Nagel said.
“This is the story of women entrepreneurs. They’re passionate about something and they want to try to turn that into a business.”