In honor of National Small Business Week (May 5 – 11), we’re launching a new series to showcase some of the small businesses that power our country.
Entrepreneurship has always been in Sonia Dumas’s blood. Just ask her four brothers. When they wouldn’t pick up their toys as kids, Sonia did it for them — only to sell them back for a profit.
Sonia’s ventures have come a long way since she was 8. Before starting her own business, she spent 14 years opening high-end lifestyle hotels across the U.S. Today, Sonia runs Colorado-based Curio Haus, a marketing firm that helps connect financial advisors with clients.
The name she chose for her business (translation: house of curiosity) reflects the questions that led Sonia to start the company, namely: “How do you develop memorable experiences?” and “How do you drive growth?”
Most importantly, Sonia wondered how she could harness the expertise she developed in the hotel industry to develop effective marketing for financial advisors that target the same client base. The question had legs, and Curio Haus was born.
Sonia spoke with us about the challenges and rewards of being a small business owner, and how a desire to simplify led her to FINSYNC.
Is starting your own business something you’ve always wanted to do?
Starting my own business has been in my blood probably since I was 8. My first business was collecting. My parents would complain about toys being left all around the house — my four brothers wouldn’t pick them up.
So I decided, I’ll pick up those toys. And I took all their toys and put them in my room and I put my parents’ piano chair in front of my bedroom door and I started to sell my brothers their toys back. No overhead. No expenses. It’s a free product. (laughs)
Back in elementary school my girlfriends would be coloring mermaids and rainbows and unicorns, and I would be designing what my penthouse office would look like. It’s always been in me.
What inspired you to start Curio Haus?
I love marketing and branding and developing experience. And I thought to myself, how can the art of the guest experience that is so prevalent in luxury and lifestyle hotel development transition over into the financial industry?
At the end of the day, they service the same clients, it’s just a different service. We have the specificity of focusing on affluent or high net worth individuals. Why can’t the best practices in hospitality be transitioned over into the financial industry, but in a way that combines modern buying behaviors, smart technology and high-touch experience?
It’s a hefty question wrought with a lot of compliance challenges and roadblocks within the financial world, but I really feel like that’s how disruption happens — with a bold question.
What’s the best thing about being a small business owner?
For me, it’s the spectrum of relationships I get to build on a daily basis. I love looking forward to the journey of having a complete stranger either become a strategic partner, an advocate, a client or just a local friend.
As a marketing strategist, my services impact the lives of people I’ll never meet. At the end of the day if my team develops the right meaningful campaign for a financial advisor, it’s going to connect with somebody and bring clarity and security to their financial world. And in some indirect way, I’ve made a difference in our society.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned running a small business?
Specialization. Finding your niche audience, your niche product or service is by far the best and fastest way to grow. Being generic and everything to everyone — only certain global brands can do that well and they struggle to sometimes show a profit on Wall Street.
From a small business owner side, the more specific you can be about who your audience is and what you offer them, the better. It’s just the best way to grow because it automatically attracts that tribe, as Seth Godin always brings up.
Our company took a leap of faith. Originally we started out just doing general marketing, and 30 days later we completely shifted. We decided we’re not going to just do marketing for anyone and everyone. We’re only going to focus on helping financial advisors and fintech firms grow.
Every industry has its own nuances, buying behaviors, best practices and regulations. If you become an expert in what you need to know about your client’s specific industry, it just makes the conversation and the campaign so much easier to do.
Being this specific is the best thing we ever did — I wouldn’t go back. It was scary. I’ll admit it is absolutely scary because you’re technically putting all your eggs in one basket of one industry — or one segment of a segment of an industry. You really have to say, is it worth it? We did our research to make sure it would grow with us.
Do you have any advice to small business owners?
Be able to pivot quickly. If something’s not working, accept it as a lesson because it’s not a failure. Just accept it as a lesson and then shift and move in a positive direction. And I know that takes a lot of courage because there’s always that internal voice that says maybe I’m not really good enough, and that’s a lie.
You are good enough because, one, you would have never launched this company. And, two, you’re good enough to figure out a better way to be of service to the world around you. Pivot and shift in a positive direction and you’ll go a lot farther than trying to force something that’s not working.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced running a small business?
The two things that are a consistent challenge for me are cash flow and processes because they’re the foundation of running a successful business. Cash flow is like fuel in the jet. I don’t care how much money you spent on that jet, if you don’t have fuel you’re grounded. You’re not going anywhere.
The other thing is processes, and they’re not to be underestimated. Processes enable a business to be efficient and innovative and adaptable — not to mention it keeps the business owner sane knowing that there are systems in place to deliver what was promised to clients.
How has FINSYNC helped you address those challenges?
For me, FINSYNC brings clarity and confidence both to our processes and cash flow management. From the FINSYNC command station, I can see the financial health of my firm on a daily basis. I love that I can monitor the profitability of client engagements.
The cash flow dashboard when you first login can either give you a heart attack or it can make you rest well at night. It can push you to say, okay, I have a 45-day window to bring in another client or do something different. And it’s good to have that kind of heads up, versus talking to your accountant or getting statements once a month only to find out you’ve got two weeks.
The other thing I love is being able to know where to quickly trim the fat on value-depleting expenses and say, how can we become leaner in certain areas, or where should we become a little bit more generous in certain areas? Especially if it’s client facing, and it’s going to improve the value of our relationships with our clients.
What made you choose FINSYNC?
I researched several things — accounting, project management, invoicing and what payroll would look like. So I was thinking about a lot of different things and wondering, is there something that packages that all together without me having to subscribe to five or ten different apps to make it happen?
For me, it’s about time. Time is my most valuable asset. At this stage in my life, I don’t have time for another app that adds complexity to my world. For the most part, I have a drive for simplicity. As executives we’re in this ever-vigilant battle to make our lives more simple. I was just looking for a way to streamline our processes. How can we streamline marketing and communication so that it’s simple, effective and relevant to both our team and our clients?
How does FINSYNC help you run your small business more efficiently?
Everything about the system is very intuitive and simple, and the customer support team is fabulous. They always get back to me and even if they don’t know, they’ll figure it out. It’s great to be able to bring up features and know that the system’s always being developed with real owners in mind, and that they’re very high touch.
At the end of the day, it’s that relationship — these people are part of my financial team. FINSYNC, on some level, is a part of my financial team. They’re in the day-to-day because so much relies upon what their system does. And only seeing it get better — I love it. I can’t see myself on another platform.
Sonia Dumas, Chief Marketing Officer of Curio Haus