Building A Community To Achieve Your Goals

Tuesday 4 September 2018


If you scroll down to the bottom of the home page of Sonya Looney’s website you’ll see she has 18 different sponsors. The 2015 24-hour Mountain Biking World Champion attracted these backers herself.

“It used to be ‘oh you just go fast’ or you get a good result or you win and people want to sponsor you but really it’s not about that now,” Sonya tells me on the Best in the World with Richard Parr podcast. “It’s about having credibility. It’s important when people are looking to make purchases because they are looking at you as the authority. But you need to build your own community and you can really easily do that online with the all the different platforms out there. There’s a million. It’s just finding the one with the right voice for you.”

Sonya has over 38,000 followers on Instagram, 10,000 on Twitter and 34,000 people like her on Facebook. She even has her own podcast. Sonya has three pieces of advice for anyone wanting to become a brand ambassador or to get sponsors.

1. Don’t make it about you

“When you write a proposal don’t make it about you, make it about them. Make it about how you are going to make them sell more products, how you are going to help them build their brand. And figure out what their brand message is and make sure that you fit in with that.”

2. Don’t just take anything

“I have tons of sponsors that approach me but if it doesn’t fit what’s working with me then I say no because the moment you start promoting something you don’t believe in you are going to lose all of your authenticity. And that’s easy to do when someone walks up to you and offers you to do an Instagram post but it might not fit what you are doing at all.”

3. Be approachable

“It’s about building community. And once you start building community the sponsors will come. And you have to go after them but you have to respond to people around you, you have to be nice. You have to lead by example. And really the great thing about social media and videos and all the things that we have is that we can show people what a lifestyle looks like and we can empower people to go for those things and to do those things that they want to do because if they feel like they know you it makes it easier for them to try.”

Sonya admits that it is not an easy process but it is worthwhile nonetheless.

“I went on my own as an athlete and it’s really hard because basically you have to be your own agent and you have to negotiate and you have to be able to sell yourself and that’s not my favourite part of my job. And there’s a lot of rejection involved. It’s normal in any entrepreneurial endeavor to have a lot of failure and a lot of rejection but it starts to get to you. So in those moments I have to stop and I have to focus on why I am doing what I am doing and tell myself it’s not about getting sponsors. It’s not about trying to make money. I’m doing this because it makes me feel alive and it helps me make other people’s lives better because I’m able to set examples. I’m able to tell my stories and that’s what really matters.”

Sonya only took up mountain biking at the age of 18 while she was earning her bachelors degree in electrical engineering at the University of New Mexico.

A masters degree from the University of Colorado followed and she stayed in Boulder to work as a solar engineer. Sonya began to learn that she was more passionate about marketing and building businesses than she was about engineering.

The opportunity for Sonya to change directions then presented itself.

“I had written a blog post about a backpack. It was in about 2008 or 2007 when blogs were kind of the big thing. And I didn’t know who was reading it. I didn’t know anything about it. I was just doing it for fun. I ended up sending so much traffic to this company’s website about their backpack that they called me and wanted me to be on their team and later they offered me a job as their national sales and marketing manager. It kind of worked out and I was passionate about something and I didn’t have a background in it. And a lot of time people think: well in order to do something new I have to be qualified and there is an imposter syndrome but you just have to do it. So I said yes to the job. And I figured I would learn as I went. I was able to travel the United States and I started racing my bike in more places because my work was paying for my travel and I had more flexibility to train. So that was really a huge stepping stone for my career to get to where I am today.”

Sonya cycled 234 miles when she became World Champion in the 24-hour Mountain Biking race in 2015. She only stopped for 7 minutes to go to the bathroom and change the batteries in her lights. Along with this victory in California, Sonya has ridden across the Sahara Desert, the Himalayas, the jungles of Sri Lanka and the rural mountains of Haiti. So how does she approach difficult challenges?

“It’s something that is a learned mindset. In my first few races as a professional I would be upset and I would be crying in races because I felt like I wasn’t good enough and I sucked. But really you realise it’s not about that. It’s about the experience and it’s about the adventure. So every single time things aren’t going well you have a choice and an opportunity. And you can go down the rabbit hole of ‘this sucks, I suck, blah, blah, blah’ and that teaches your mind to think that way in all situations. You can train your brain and there are actually changes. Your brain has neuroplasticity so you can actually affect the way that your brain works. So whenever you are doing something challenging and things aren’t going the way that you want you have the opportunity to look at the stress and say ‘I’m going to get better because of this. And here’s an opportunity for me to look at the next hill.’ And instead of saying ‘oh my gosh I’m so tired, my legs hurt, how am I going to make it up that hill?’ You can say ‘I’m going to make my way up that hill and it’s going to make it even easier the next time I go up that hill because I know that I can do it.’ And it’s not about doing it perfectly. It’s not about feeling good the whole time but it’s about conquering it. Because once you start building that and once you start overcoming hurdles and feeling good about it, you don’t have to enjoy it, but once you can overcome it you realise the more that you can do and it gives you more confidence in your life and it gives you more confidence to try new things that you haven’t done before.”

When setting and achieving her goals Sonya uses the advice given in the 12 Week Year book by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington.

“Annual goals are difficult because they are long and also because it’s hard to stay accountable and we usually wait until the end of the year. So the 12 week year, you set goals every 12 weeks and you pretend 12 weeks is a year and you also don’t set too many goals.”

Similarly to Olympic Wrestling Champion Brandon Slay, Sonya believes that for whatever you want to achieve you should set process goals.

“The goal is the direction you want to move but you can’t always control the outcome so if you are trying to get a raise at work, say that was one of your goals. You can’t really control what your boss is going to do but you can control your daily actions and what that means is taking those steps and working towards the goal will help you trend in the right direction. So what do you need to do at work on a daily basis to perform better and to show your boss that you are doing better? Or like if you are trying to lose weight and you are trying to lose weight in a certain period of time sometimes you can’t always control that. And even exercising, sometimes you gain weight because you are putting on muscles. So what are you doing on a daily basis to get healthier?”

“So focusing on your process rather than your outcome is the biggest thing in setting a goal. Set the goal and then forget it and then focus on the daily actions that you need to do to achieve that goal.”

To succeed in her targets, Sonya has a method to stay accountable.

“Finding people to support you. I have a friend of mine that I work with and we meet every two weeks and we talk about our goals and we make sure we are staying on task with what we are trying to do because saying it out loud really helps.”

One of the ways Sonya builds her community is with her Plant Powered Tribe Facebook Group. Sonya follows a plant-based diet. Usually she will start her morning eating steel-cut oats and throughout the day she will have cups of greens, vegetables and grains such as sprouted brown rice or quinoa. The mountain biker uses the app Dr. Greger’s daily dozen to stay across her nutritional needs.

Previously on my podcast, Olympic swimmers Stephanie Rice and Rebecca Soni told me that they had become vegans after they retired from competitive sport. Both swimmers believe that they would have still accomplished their success had they had a plant-based diet while they were competing.

Sonya Looney’s lifestyle change has occurred during her mountain biking career.

“A side effect is I actually got faster and I wasn’t expecting that to happen. I was concerned about what would happen. What if I don’t get enough protein? Which is the common question when people stop eating meat. But I didn’t win the World Championship until I changed my diet. So I became the 24 hour World Champion 2 years after eating a plant based diet. And why you are more successful as an athlete on a plant based diet is because it’s highly anti-inflammatory because you are eating fruits and vegetables and legumes and all the things that are really good. You are getting high quality nutrients. And most of all because your heart health is getting better you are removing any symptoms of heart disease that you are having. You are able to get better blood flow to your body. And you need blood flow. Especially as an endurance athlete. And your recovery gets better too because your body isn’t fighting against the things you are eating, your body can help recover whatever systems or muscles you are straining as an athlete. The most important thing is that you get enough calories because a lot of people are worried ‘oh like I can’t put on muscle or I’m losing weight’ and I definitely do not have that problem.”


Sonya Looney was talking to Richard Parr on the Best in the World with Richard Parr podcast.