Sistahbiz Spotlight on Sonaya Williams: The CEO Partner

The founder of The CEO Partner®, a systems driven, profits-obsessed, Digital Project Management agency that helps smart CEOs grow their business and meet their goals.  

Sonaya started her service based business in November of 2011 while still working full-time in Corporate America as a Senior Financial Systems Analyst. Since then, she has built a six-figure consulting agency and learned a ton of good and bad lessons along the way. We had a chance to catch up with Sonaya and learn more about her entrepreneurial journey. 

What’s the #1 piece of advice you have for black women starting new businesses?

You’re a genius. You’re a woman of many talents. Pick one and focus on it make it your expertise. I find that many black women want to do so many things at the same time which leads us to not focus on making one thing great. If you took 12 months to commit to one thing, you would be amazed at the results. Then you would be able to have the brain space and capital to fund many of your other dreams. Focus is hard but it’s the most important factor in becoming successful… FAST!

Has your product/service gone through iterations and changes? What was your strategy for learning from customers and improving the product?

Oh yes! The business I have today is not the business I started with in 2011, which was standard operational procedures. In the beginning, I did what I knew how to do, not knowing if anyone would buy it. At that point, it was about testing and seeing what would sell. Once I figured out the client who needed what I had and I got comfortable selling I started to notice a different need for this client. I also started to notice that some of the clients weren’t ideal for me. So, I expanded my services to fill the need of business and team management for online businesses. That’s when my business started to take off. I found myself in circles of online entrepreneurs that needed my service to grow their business and they started to refer me. The strategy that worked for me was to listen to what customers wanted and improve from there. Sometime a client would ask for something that I would be interested in but didn’t have the capacity to do and I would outsource it. This gave me time to see if it was something I wanted to add to our services or not.

How did you acquire the necessary capital required to scale your business and get to this level?

I worked full time while I building my business to a point where it could support me full time. After I tested my service and knew it was sellable it took me 9 months of working full-time in my corporate job and reinvesting my pennies into the business to go full time in my business and part-time in corporate role. I hired a business coach that was ahead of where I was so that she could help me make the right moves to grow the business I wanted.

What area of your business did you have the least experience in when you started? How did you handle the learning curve and ensure the business succeeded in that area?

SALES. I had no experience in sales. In my corporate career, I never sold or had to convince anyone of anything. I was in the business of implementation. The projects I was assigned were already sold to the product sponsors. I got a coach and they help me excel at sales. I remember having to call 50 people in a week to have sales conversations. I dreaded it but it help me learn to listen to the needs of the client and provide and solution.

What is your morning routine?

Right now my morning routine is non-existent as I try to get as much sleep as I can with my 2 young daughters not sleeping through the night. But an Ideal morning routine would be getting up and going for a run or work out 1st thing. Coming back, having breakfast, coffee while reading a chapter in a business book, then getting showered and ready for the day. Ideally heading to the office before 10am.

What advice do you have for women trying to cross cultural lines to grow their business? Can you speak to this from both a race and class perspective?

Don’t lower your price or standard because you’re going to a different market. Your business is known for what you do and they will either be a fit for you or not. Not race or class is a fit for every business.

Tell us about your first big deal and how you achieved it? (This can be a retail distribution deal, large-scale contract, sponsorship or funding round)

My 1st big client that made a huge difference in my business was landing a highly visible online business coach. I knew that successfully working with her would change my business and allow me to work with other 6 & 7 figure online business owners. It was random how I got connected to her. She was posting on social media how she needed an Operations Manager or needed to know how to hire one. So I messaged to find out more and we had a sales conversation where I showed her how it would look for us to work together over zoom. And she hired me on the spot. I worked with her for 3 years and helped her take her business from $350K to 1.2 Million in revenues.

If you can share one message to inspire black women in business, what would it be?

If you allow it your business will become your life. That’s not the answer. You want to have a business that supports your life. Always make time for family, friends, and self-care. Your business will thank you and grow because of it.

How have relationships impacted your business? What advice would you give entrepreneurs about how to manage business relationships? What relationship skills are most important for business success?

Relationships are a huge part of the business. It’s all about who you know. I’ve built my business on referrals as a result of the relationship I have. I make a conscious effort to stay connected and top of mind to my partner, past clients, and industry friends. Make time to stay connected. Even if it is 1 hour a week and you are only reaching out to 1-2 people.

Can you tell us about a great failure or disappointment that you learned or benefited greatly from in your business?

In 2016, I had been in business for 5 years. These 1st 5 years were spent on building the business I hadn’t spent much time on myself or allowing myself the freedom to do anything. So when I met my now husband in 2016 I was thrilled to go on a 3 week holiday to London and Paris with him. I really felt I had the perfect team and systems in place to support my absence. But, I didn’t. I lost $20K in business. Put off 2 future launches that were to generate an additional $15K. Although my team was great they weren’t the team that was going to take me to my next level. After I returned we revamped out systems and replaced team members that were no longer a fit. One thing I realized was that they were too dependent on me answering their questions in messenger whenever they had them. So we implemented a systems update process where every team member is responsible for updating their procedures quarterly.

Makisha Boothe

Makisha is Head Business Coach and founder of Sistahbiz Global Network. She specializes in rapid improvement and innovation, and helps women with business startup and design.

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