SONA payment solutions

SONA payment solutions

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Mina Atia
Communications Coordinator

Businesses are hastily employing new technologies and more services in this new climate. Brick and mortar locations are transitioning to online stores. Businesses with an already established digital presence are exploring new avenues to market their products, facilitate payments, optimize delivery and satisfy their consumers.

This new found urge to do more and offer competitive services is what’s keeping those businesses going.

But business development alone is not enough to keep your business afloat. Building relationships with customers and gaining their trust is still key to their long-term satisfaction. A bridge between business development and services in a technology-oriented market by building long-lasting relationships is the perfect approach.

But why? That’s what Ryan O’Leary, Founder and CEO of SONA, asked himself and still does before new ventures – taking after his role model, author and motivational speaker, Simon Sinek.

“Start with ‘why’. It drills down to why you’re in business and understanding what your mission, vision and values are as a company,” says O’Leary. “And then build your business off of that, to start as your foundation, and then have everything else built around it.”

Meaning fortunate, prosperous and happy in Gaelic, SONA is a payment solutions company founded in Halifax. Its vision is to be the most respected brand in payments in North America.

“That's what drives us; to be respected. Our number one value starts with the customer,” says O’Leary. He has SONA’s values in big black and green letters on the main wall of their office as a constant reminder. “I'm a really big values guy.”

“Our focus and what our team is looking to do every single day is to work with merchants – small, medium or large businesses – to truly help them manage cost effectively, understand components of cost, understand technology and how technology can enhance their ability to accept payments.”

SONA’s values are a constant reminder for the team to ensure customers are top of mind.

After years in retail and the payment industry, O’Leary left financially successful, autonomous, higher-up positions at giant payment-service companies behind to start SONA.

“The service industry in Canada is very tied to the Canadian banking system,” he says. “Typically, major banks will either do the merchant services and the credit card processing for their commercial business customers themselves, or they'll have an associated partnership with another major company where they refer all of their customers.”

O’Leary saw fundamental differences in his former employer’s business practices. The companies he worked for were too fixated on the number of accounts signed on and business development - not on the clients, often passing them on to 1-800 call centres.

“These companies get extremely large numbers of customers, where it becomes a commodity,” he says. “We [payment industry] are very similar to the telecom industry where it's about fees, and there's generally kind of a high level of attrition going back and forth. In a lot of cases, there’s no personalized service, no seeing a face and it’s all tele sales.”

“These companies grow to a certain size where, I think in a lot of cases, they lose that relationship face to the client,” says O’Leary. “It's the biggest challenge in business as you grow and how do you maintain that same kind of culture as you scale. And that's what we're committed to doing.”

“I felt like there’s an environment lacking accountability and transparency with clients. Some of whom I might have worked with for a year and a half to bring over.”

The direction those business practices took consumed his life and thinking. He was complaining to his wife, and now business partner, Kristen, who eventually told him to do something about it.

As he calls it, O’Leary had a Jerry Maguire moment and quit the next day!

“Then I started to question the merchant service industry. Any merchant service provider would beat any other merchant service providers rate on any given day to get them to switch from one provider to the other,” he says. “But there was no commitment to provide any cost certainty to the business over a period of time.”

Signing on with lower fees is the essence of competitiveness in the payment industry, but to O’Leary’s words, there was no guarantee fees remained low in a year or two’s time. That’s when consistency became his new driving point.

SONA provides certainty to its customer. “I believe business owners should have a right to some level of cost certainty from their merchant service provider versus having to worry about fees being inflated and changing over time,” says O’Leary.

“Our contracts prevent backend providers that we're working with from making fee changes without our written consent, which is quite unique in the industry,” he says. “And that's why when you go to, the first thing you see is guaranteed rates.”

“It’s because we actually make a commitment to our clients that when we sign them on with a particular rate or fee, we guarantee it will remain consistent as long as we do business.”

SONA allows customers to cancel their contracts and leave without penalties if they don’t like the service. Part of O’Leary’s Jerry Maguire moment was why charge customers who want to leave the relationship if they’re not satisfied. According to him, it sends the wrong message.

“Why don’t we simply do what we need to do to be able to keep their business and not charge them on their way out the door,” he says. And that’s what sets the tone for SONA’s philosophy.

SONA’s unwavering drive to help customers helps it build its brand as the most respected in North America. O’Leary looks for passionate stakeholders with similar mindsets and goals to include them in the benefits.

“Our business was started because we have a lot of passion and we want to be able to change business and the payment industry as a whole,” he says.


SONA’s business model is based on a sub agent program created by O’Leary in 2017, a year after he started the company. Through the program, he employs sub contractors to help them build their business while employing SONA’s payment services for merchants.

By doing so, SONA is able to have multiple agents spreading the word about its payment solutions in their own separate networks. In return, the agents share 50 to 80 percent of the revenues with SONA.

“The reason why we went with that model – although very expensive and a lot of people said to me, you're crazy and how can you run a sustainable business doing that when you're giving that much back ¬– is we ultimately attract entrepreneurs,” says O’Leary.

“We attract people who buy into the same goals we want to achieve. And we give them an opportunity to build their own businesses, to have their own freedom and to build their own businesses.”

For O’Leary, this is the sustainable business model that allows SONA to build numerous quality relationships with vendors and merchants, through the help of its agents across the country. “Through our reputation, we get organic inquiries based on our existing team,” he says.

“We have our growing internal team supporting our external agents in the field. But at the very core, our values are aligned,” says O’Leary. “We have people that are very passionate about helping small businesses and helping them do well, do the right thing and build their communities.”

This unique mindset and attitude allows SONA to help its community and support merchants and small businesses thrive. They make SONA’s organic growth and reputational growth possible because the team is doing the right thing.

“Starting with one of those agents in Halifax in 2017, we now have 10 agents across Canada,” says O’Leary.

Powered by this business model and win-win philosophy, SONA is able to bridge the gap between payment services and new technologies by keeping customers top of mind. The team articulates benefits to customers through the building of trustworthy, client-focused relationships.

“We like talking to our customers about those technology advantages,” says O’Leary. “We always want to be competitive in pricing, less expensive and be more guaranteed, but we really want to shift the conversation to understanding more about business needs and show how this technology will fix their problems.

SONA’s website is a mirror of the service package it provides to its customers. Its one-box service offers solutions through mobile phones, e-commerce, shopping carts, point of sale, payment devices etc., all condensed into one singular approach customized for specific business needs.

“Our business success is simply a by-product of our ability to do this,” says O’Leary. “We financially will grow, do better, earn more customers and a better reputation based on our ability to take the values that are on our wall and execute them in everything that we do, every interaction – whether it be in the office, with a partner like the Chamber, or with our merchants.”

“We're committed to making sure that, as an organization, we never lose sight on what the most important thing is, which keeps us running, and it's our customers.”■

SONA is an Affinity Partner with the Chamber. Find out the fantastic merchant services they can offer you as a Chamber member!

From left to right: Ryan O'Leary, CEO and Founder, Brendan, Product Specialist, Julie, Applications Administrator, Matthew, Director of Sales, Graham, Sales Specialist.

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