Today we’d like to introduce you to Sonia Ballantyne.
Sonia, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit. At an early age, I recall telling my parents I wanted to make my own money. My father supported these ideas because he has always been an entrepreneur, one I have admired. From Trinidad and Tobago, he came to the U.S. and became a business owner, promoter and real estate investor. He has always faced adversity with pride and a relentless spirit.
So, it just made sense that at the age of ten, I approached my parents and said, “I want to start a business!”
I loved sweets and soda. However, in the Ballantyne household, they were reserved for special occasions. I liked to freeze soda in a cup and make my own slushie. My mom quickly informed me that what I had been creating was known as a “flip”. I knew that the name alone would pique interest. My mom took me to our local grocery store and I bought a few sodas, a couple of packs of Kool-Aid and small plastic cups. I froze the soda and Kool-Aid mix and just like that — I was in business.
The next day, on the bus ride home from school, I sold out of both flavors! I was bringing in about $50 a week off my $10 investment. My peers and some adults grew to love my flips and I had my first real encounter with entrepreneurship. Ventures afterward included a mobile manicure and pedicure business, holiday cookies sales, event promotion, dorm-room hair styling services, and lastly, I was “Uber” before Uber. My real taste of entrepreneurship was when I launched SVK in 2007. It thrived for two years before dissolving the company due to a lack of planning. I felt like a bit of a failure at 27.
My brother convinced me to further my education and get my college degree. The plan was to go to law school afterward and pursue a career as a criminal defense attorney. I completed an internship and decided law may not be my career path after all. I ended up going back to a major retail company where I had worked on and off from age 19. I knew that the company had a vested interest in promoting more women into managerial roles. I soared and went all the way to senior management. I was one step away from getting my own store.
However, this still wasn’t enough. Something was still missing. I stepped back from my managerial role to dedicate more time to SVK and my clients. Just like that, barriers began to fall. I can tear up thinking about this shift in my life because I feel I’m truly stepping into my purpose and the feeling is exhilarating.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It hasn’t always been a smooth road, but without roadblocks, there is no journey! I’ve learned to enjoy the bumps along the way. I have overcome challenges such as self-doubt, difficulty accepting criticism and not being comfortable initially in accurately pricing my passion.
Tackling self-doubt is necessary for entrepreneurs. For me, it started to creep in when my sales would pause or my items were not selling as fast as I had hoped. But this habit of second-guessing myself lessened when I leaned more into my faith and started paying attention to the moving pieces around me. I see now that I was being positioned to take the first leap: Stepping down from a managerial role in my other job to focus exclusively on SVK.
Opinions and constructive criticism are necessary. Initially, I was sensitive to others’ ideas or feedback about my business decisions, such as leaving a secure job. I had to develop a thick skin and realize that not everyone is going to want me to win nor appreciate every arrangement I create. I quickly learned how to be more receptive to others’ input — they could be prospective clients, after all. Clients are how I maintain my livelihood.
My work is a personal passion. So pricing the goods and services that I provide did not come easily to me. Clients would tell me that I wasn’t charging enough — that told me that they saw more value in me than I saw in myself. When I thought about it and realized how “badass” I truly was, pricing my arrangements became less of a challenge. My confidence grew, as did my business. My time has value and I had to learn to price it that way.
The second time around with SVK is different. The way a recipient reacts when they receive one of my arrangements is confirmation that I’m living my purpose.
Please tell us about Sonia’s Vokalized Kreations.
SVK is comprised of passion, personalization, luxe and service. We streamline the process of gift-giving and provide each client with a quality experience.
There are two unique features of my company. First, the majority of items that make up my arrangements are from a small, domestically owned business. This is critical because it’s a bonus for both parties. It’s another marketing avenue for the small company, as well as keeping me unique. Secondly, I recently launched my own line of branded items — catering to the woman on the move — but also further ensuring SVK arrangements are like no others.
My specialty — and what I’m known for — is SVK’s ability to say all the things a recipient wants to say in an arrangement. “Gifts That Speak for Themselves” is not only SVK’s slogan but our daily mission. What sets me apart from others as a business owner is my commitment to my clients. Whether they’re spending $50 or $200, I treat them the same.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
Nothing. I am extremely grateful for the ups and downs — they have helped me develop resilience and perseverance when faced with adversity.
I experienced financial hardships in 2009, as did so many other small-business owners during that time. I made the difficult decision to shut down Sonia’s Vokalized Kreations (SVK). Rather than dwelling in that setback, though, having never finished my undergraduate degree, I decided to switch gears and give school another try. I worked hard, fulfilled prerequisites, and went to my school of choice: Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. To do so, I had to leave Florida for a time — my comfort zone — to pursue this goal.
Going back to college turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. I learned how to better accept circumstances that come along. When I’m interrupted or distracted now, I don’t question it, but get excited for the outcome. As my past has shown me, I know there is a lesson in all that comes our way. It took a business downturn and change of lifestyle (and location) for me to trust that there’s value in adversity. I can move lighter, now, because I know that a higher power always has my best interest at heart.
The fact that I not only completed my degree but also restarted SVK — a business that I had ten years prior — is a huge accomplishment. I’m most proud that I surpassed self-doubt and allowed my passion for unique gifts and the happiness they bring others (and the givers) to lead the way. I am thriving in my moment and know that I am right where I am supposed to be.
- Our personalized gift arrangements start at $100 and up. We work with budgets since many of our arrangements are custom based.
- Our specially designed portfolios clutches are now available for $105. They are made with you in mind.
- Website: www.svkreations.com
- Phone: 832-791-1115
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: svk_2k
- Facebook: Gifts That Speak For Themselves
Ke’er Orr owner of
Point Click Photography
CoLab Production House