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Female Founders: Dawn Santoriello of CFP® On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

A Success Mindset I just knew in my heart I would be successful even if my circumstances at times would make others think differently. I had naysayers telling me to quit and go work for a big company. I was never going to do that. I knew that my book would be a game-changer for my business, and it has turned out to be.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dawn Santoriello, CFP®.

Dawn Santoriello, CFP® is the founder and CEO of DS Financial Strategies, a fee-based financial planning firm that develops customized plans designed to maximize the efficiency of your money. Located just outside Philadelphia, Dawn is focused on empowering women, couples and entrepreneurs to reach their financial goals with peace of mind and economic confidence across the U.S. On launch day, her book, The Spiritual Path To Prosperity…The Truth About Money Revealed, became #1 Best Seller on Amazon in the Budget & Money Management Category and # 2 in the Investing Category.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I grew up poor during my early childhood. We couldn’t afford to go to the dentist and as a result I had a black hole in my tooth. Thank God it was only my baby tooth! My birth mom was addicted to drugs and alcohol and not around much. My grandmother tried taking care of me and my half- brother and half-sister. When that became too much of a burden my brother went to live with his aunt and my sister and I were in and out of foster care homes. We spent some time with her dad where I was abused because I wasn’t his. Ultimately, we ended up with loving foster parents who eventually adopted us when I was 10 years old. After what I went through I decided I never wanted to be poor again and I was going to help other people with their finances. My mom taught me how to manage my money and I was good at it. When my first career choice as a model/actress didn’t work out I went into the financial services field.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The most interesting story that happened to me was COVID. I had just become a Certified Financial Planner™ in November 2019 and I was planning my first event as a CFP for April 2020. We all know what happened next. Lockdown. The craziest thing happened to me. Being a business owner, I would stress about my income and expenses. Well, when COVID hit my fear about money disappeared. Pretty Ironic right? I decided to pivot and hire a business coach and that led to my signature talk and my book. I started doing virtual events and my business expanded nationally. I also got involved with an amazing networking group and developed stronger relationships than I had done at in-person events with women across the US and Canada.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was first starting my business, I tried to imitate other successful advisors using their stories and presentations. At one point I referred to myself as a financial swing coach! That just wasn’t me. I’d also go through this 30-minute presentation which bored most people. I learned that I can’t be anybody else but me. When I found my voice and was brave enough to use it my business turned around. I combined my love of spirituality (law of attraction) with money. I also shared my story which I didn’t do previously because it was embarrassing-being stuck in a parking garage with $200 to my name and I am a financial planner? This story resonated with people, and they were attracted to working with me because it wasn’t just all about the numbers. I help my clients manifest their dream life, clear their money blocks, and manage their money.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have had many mentors along the way but there was one who helped me take my business to the next level. He worked for a marketing company and I just figured he was trying to sell me some newsletters for my business so I didn’t get back to him for 4 months. It turned out he wanted to help me grow my business, not sell me newsletters. He sent me to

an all-expense-paid trip to learn about a particular financial company. There I learned a strategy that helped my clients and led to me having my biggest month ever, $80,000. He also gave me a great lead program with no upfront costs to me which generated many new clients for me. Prior to that I always had to bring in clients without help from anyone. I am grateful for him taking a chance on me when I wasn’t a big advisor at the time. Most marketing companies only want to support advisors that are big producers.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I would say fear, especially if the are single, with or without children. Giving up a salaried job with a steady income to go start your own business can be scary financially if you are the sole breadwinner, especially if you have other people depending on you. Common thoughts would be, what if I lose everything while trying to get my business off the ground? My family will think I am a failure.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

Having a support group of women who have started their own business that you can get advice from and mastermind together with. I am a part of a great networking group of women where we do just that. We support one and other and help each other get to the next level. Access to information is critical and can save you time and money and networking is crucial to growing and expanding your company.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

More women should become founders because owning a business is very rewarding and you can share your unique voice and ideas with the world to make it a better place. Having a business that is aligned with your values is a great way to make a major impact on the world.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

One myth is that you will be successful immediately. Just because you started a company doesn’t mean clients/customers are going to be knocking down your door to do business with you. You have to get out there and market your business. This is why having a strong network is a key factor in you being successful sooner.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

No, I don’t think everyone is cut out to be a founder. It takes more than passion; it takes tenacity and a strong drive to succeed. There will be tough times and you will have to make tough decisions and you must be able to think on your feet. You must be a creative problem solver. The type of person who should seek a “regular job” is someone who likes to have set hours, a salary, 2 weeks paid vacation, and company paid benefits. This person wants to just do the job and when the day is over, they leave work at work.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

The five things you need to thrive and succeed as a woman founder are

1)Drive. I went into the financial services industry because I was good with money and I wanted to help other people reach their financial goals. The driving force behind that was the fact that I grew up poor before I was adopted. I was so poor; I had a black hole in my front tooth because we couldn’t afford to go to the dentist. I never wanted to experience poverty again so from that point I studied really hard, got the best grades and that poured over into me working very hard to make my business successful.

2)Tenacity. I was on a mission to prove that anything is possible and out of nothing you can create anything your heart desires. I started working in the financial industry and moved to an area where I only knew my two brothers who did not immediately become clients. I did this two additional times in areas where I didn’t know anyone. I went from having $200 and being stuck in a parking garage to turning my business around and make over 6 figures later that year. There were a few rough times in my career, but I never gave up. I just did whatever it took to keep my business afloat, even if that meant taking on a side hustle to make ends meet.

3)A Success Mindset I just knew in my heart I would be successful even if my circumstances at times would make others think differently. I had naysayers telling me to quit and go work for a big company. I was never going to do that. I knew that my book would be a game-changer for my business, and it has turned out to be.

4)Your Tribe of Supporters. This is the key to success. My tribe is Fem City, a global woman’s networking group. Your tribe will elevate you, challenge you to grow, and support you in times of need. The members will also promote you and your message which will expand your business. You are only one person but with a tribe you can expand that influence through other people sharing your message. The love and support I received from my Fem Sisters had a direct impact on my book becoming a #1 Best Seller.

5)Self-confidence (Own Your Power) Don’t be afraid to be yourself. I was trying to copy other people in my business, mostly men by using their stories and their systems. It didn’t work for me. When COVID hit and I decided to share my story. Your story is your glory. I was embarrassed to admit my own financial difficulties as a financial planner. By finding my voice and speaking my truth I was able to grow my business in ways I didn’t think was possible. I created a #1 Best Selling Book on my first launch day, The Spiritual Path To Prosperity…The Truth About Money Revealed. I also developed my Signature Talk/Workshop which launched me nationally. I now embrace who I am and have found my niche. I work with women, couples, and entrepreneurs who embrace the law of attraction and want to reach their financial goals with peace of mind and economic confidence. I combine my wo- woo self with financial know-how.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I have inspired others to follow their hearts and their dreams. I have changed many people lives financially for the better. I have donated to charities such as the American Red Cross. I also did volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

My movement would be to have a program for foster kids to have a place, program, or person that is also going to be a mentor and be there for them through the entire process until they are adopted. They can even stay in touch once the child is adopted. Foster kids need stability in their life since that is what is missing as a foster kid. I didn’t trust anyone and was closed off as a young child because I was always getting sent away to another home. Kids need to know they are loved and they are wanted.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to have lunch with Oprah Winfrey. I love that she started her own channel and has made spirituality mainstream with her show Super Soul Sunday. My dream is to be on that show with her.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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