Taking life as it comes is a skill that Sonal Lobo has mastered with her endless creativity. After completing her studies, she went on to work as a lecturer for four fulfilling years but realizing her inherent interpersonal skills of communication and grievance redressal, she took the plunge and hopped on to a journey as an HR Professional and an Engagement Specialist. When her love for cooking made her venture into the Food industry, Sonal discovered her niche in chocolate-making and made her humble business, “De Gratia” an instant success. She is not only winning hearts with her chocolates but is also a published writer with her own blog called “Heart Musings” and finds comfort in poetry, stories, and the world where creativity knows no bounds. We at Storiyaan decided to have a conversation to know more about this indomitable spirit.
Questions and answers
What intrigued you about a career as an HR manager after being a lecturer for four years?
In my academic life, I had to teach students as a part of my curriculum. Most of the teachers who were mentoring me were impressed by my way of conducting a class. I enjoyed teaching, and that is when I thought of pursuing it. When I started as a teacher, I understood I have the capability to communicate about problems and solve them if necessary which is similar to an HR professional’s work. Eventually, I decided to take the risk and went for it without second thoughts.
Often, people fail to maintain their passions in life along with their professions. In comparison, you've handled your love for writing, and you work very efficiently. How do you manage the coexistence of these things in your life?
Writing has been my passion since my childhood. It is my happy place; I enjoy scribbling or writing poetry which has never stressed my work schedule. I ensure that I keep my work and passion separate and write to give my creativity an outlet.
What led to the decision to explore your chances in the entrepreneurial journey and what was the reason for your motivation?
The journey began with a desire to do something of my own. I was not aware that I would go for chocolate-making, but with my family’s encouragement, I started learning, watching YouTube videos, and finally, after hard work and patience, I was able to make fine chocolates. I began receiving orders from my family, and it motivated me further. I pursued two courses, the orders started swelling and the reviews were always positive.
Could you provide us with a sneak-peak into some memorable moments you had with your customers in ‘De Gratia’ and what makes these memories unique for you?
During the pandemic, I got an order from a clubhouse; I was thrilled but equally tensed about the process with the extra hygiene issue. I had to be extra careful, keep sanitizing, and take proper care of the raw materials to ensure that they were safe. The hard work paid out, they loved the chocolates. Another experience was during Christmas when I made chocolates for speech therapy students in one school, and they shared their love and thanks for my chocolates with a quote. These are a few memorable incidents that keep me going.
What was the first clientele reaction you received from ‘De Gratia’ that has instilled confidence in you and has been the turning point of your journey?
My first client was my dad. As somebody with a sweet tooth, he loves chocolates. One day I made chocolates for him and he was instantly pleased with their taste. His appreciation and encouragement instilled necessary motivation and pushed me to be as good as I can. So, that was a turning point in my journey as it gave me strength as my struggles were bearing fruits.
What were some of the hurdles that dropped your way when you were initially starting, and how did you make sure that people would seek your services?
Initially, the phase was quite daunting. The market was already saturated with home bakers, getting the food license was also a cumbersome process and it was difficult to figure out the marketing technique that suited my service. All these factors made me want to quit but I learned to stride head-on. I started creating small pools of trust within my family and close circles and their appreciation and reviews spread through word of mouth. That is how I was able to reach out to people initially and slowly build trust.
During the lockdown, most of the businesses have faced a severe financial crisis. What was your strategy of cutting down losses during this phase, and how did you achieve it?
As my business is not my primary source of income, it did not hit me financially but it did affect my clientele. People were skeptical about the hygiene process, to deal with that, I started making small videos about the precautions undertaken and shared them with my clients. I also took up other courses and certifications and tried increasing my flavor range. After few orders, the customers were satisfied with the quality and cleanliness of the product.
The power of prayer is unimaginable. As a spiritual believer, what do you think about the capabilities of prayers, and how does our life get motivated by positive energies?
I believe we all need inner energy to guide and protect us. Prayers for me are communicating with God, sharing my feelings, deepest desires, and troubles. As a Christian, I read Bible, and I get all my answers in the book. When life gets challenging, it is my faith in God that gives me strength and energy. Prayer is like spending time with oneself and someone above.
What would be your message to young girls and women out there?
In my observation, I have realized that young girls suffer from low self-worth and self-confidence. Everyone is talented in their way and must try to discover and hone their abilities and interests. Especially to married women, my message will be to not give up on your careers or hobbies. I think both career and passion are significant to make one feel satisfied and proud about own self.
How overwhelmed do you feel sometimes managing both works at the office and business simultaneously? What is the mantra in your life that guides you during the rough phases?
Whatever I do, it is out of love and passion so that it doesn’t overburden me. I never put half-hearted effort and do work in compromise. I don’t want to do anything that I will regret later on. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I take time out and prioritize self-preservation. I schedule and divide my time so that I am not burned out.
1. Your most favourite dish – Anything with Chicken.
2. The genre of music that you love the most – Country.
3. Your biggest strength – God.
4. Poetry or short stories? –Poetry.
5. Favourite place to visit – Switzerland.