From Underpaid Lawyer to Financially Free Entrepreneur and Blogger – an Interview with Dafina from Dollars Plus Sense

In this entrepreneur spotlight, we have the honor of interviewing an inspirational lawyer, blogger, and female entrepreneur, Dafina from Dollars Plus Sense!

 

 

  1. Tell us about yourself and your business?

 

My name is Dafina. I’m a lawyer and have a successful law firm that I’ve been running in NYC for over a decade.

 

I’m also the editor and founder of a personal finance blog called Dollars Plus Sense (www.DollarsPlusSense.com). My goal with Dollars Plus Sense is to teach professional women how to manage their money better so they can save more, get out of debt, and eventually become financially free.

 

{I love your website and your mission to help women manage their money better! As someone that is working hard to change old thinking patterns, pay off debt, and have financial freedom, this is so close to my heart and so needed in our society.}

 

  1. Where were you at in your life (personally and professionally) when you started your law firm and online business?

 

I was never one of those people who had a desire to be an entrepreneur. I planned to get a “good paying job” when I graduated from law school and work my way up the “legal corporate ladder.”

 

However, the thought of working for myself came up one day when I was working for a small law firm in NYC.

 

As I was going through the client’s file, I saw a retainer agreement between the client and my boss. The retainer agreement revealed how much my boss was charging the client for legal services, and I knew what he was paying me (around $35,000 at the time) to pretty much do ALL the legal work. At that moment I thought to myself “Wow! If only I could find clients of my own, I would be making WAY more money.”

 

Although the desire to have my own firm sparked within me, I wasn’t brave enough to go out on my own at the time.

 

Until one day…I asked my boss for two months off to study for New York’s bar exam (at the time I was licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey). I wanted a New York license so I wouldn’t be restricted to what areas of law I could practice in New York.

 

My boss didn’t need me to have a New York license for the type of law I was practicing at the time, and when I requested two months off to study for the bar he said: “Okay, you can have the two months off to study, but I can’t guarantee your job will be here when you get back.” I knew that was a nice way of saying “If you leave, you can’t come back.”

 

As I was leaving, another lawyer from the firm approached me with an idea of starting a firm together. So, in essence, what PUSHED me to start my law firm was I got fired and I had a partner who I could take this leap of faith with.

 

I wouldn’t say the journey was easy, but after two years, we were able to build a successful law firm.

 

When I finally started earning a decent salary, I went CRAZY with my spending. I’m naturally a spender at heart and I felt like I deserved to treat myself because I worked so hard to get to this point. The problem with that is I was living from paycheck to paycheck and found myself having to work HARDER just to maintain my lavish lifestyle. It started to take a toll on my physical and mental health.

 

At that point, I knew I had to get serious about my finances. I had a goal of being financially free and was determined to achieve it. I mapped out a plan that would allow me to be financially free in 10 years. However, I saved aggressively and invested my money which allowed me to be financially free in 6 short years.

 

Once I achieved financial freedom it felt like a big weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I worked only because I WANTED to, not because I HAD to. Having that option made getting up and going to work so much easier and enjoyable.

 

After seeing what I was able to accomplish, it became natural for my family and friends to come to me for money advice. I saw how I was able to help those closest to me, so I decided to start a blog because I wanted to also help as many women as I could that were outside my immediate circle.

 

I’m passionate about teaching women about financial wellness because money gives you power and options. It gives you the power to use your money to drive change, and the option to walk away from situations that are not good for you.

 

{Wow Dafina. This is eye-opening in so many ways and I really appreciate your honesty. Being backed up against the wall – or fired – is often what leads entrepreneurs to their own success, and I love that you turned a seemingly negative moment into a success story. And then your spending! My husband is the spender in our home, and I’m always reminding him that the more he spends, the harder we have to work haha! Thankfully he has learned a lot about financial freedom over the past few years and has made huge improvements. Financial wellness truly does bring that power back into your hands, which is something that I want for everyone reading this today.}

 

  1. What were some of the challenges that you faced in starting and growing your business?

 

When you’re an entrepreneur there are SO MANY challenges when starting and growing a business.

 

For my legal business, the biggest challenge I had was probably my scarcity mindset. I knew the law and was confident in my ability to win cases, but I was not confident about my ability to get clients.

 

With a scarcity mindset, I felt like it was hard to get clients so I didn’t want to charge them too much and scare them away. However, what ended up happening most of the time was I got problem clients or people seeking free legal advice.

 

My mindset had to change. I had to recognize my worth.

 

I stopped offering things like free consultations and raised my hourly rates. Once I did that, I made my results speak for me. I worked hard to advocate for my clients, and most importantly I got the results they wanted. I win over 90% of my cases.

 

As time passed, my clients referred others to me and I no longer had to hustle to get people through the door in hopes they would hire me to be their lawyer.

 

As for my blog, the biggest challenge I was faced with is figuring out how to get traffic and run an online business. Blogging is so different than practicing law because there isn’t a “blogging school” that teaches you how to be a blogger and run an online business. Sure, some people teach you about blogging, but it’s hard to know who REALLY knows what they’re talking about versus who just wants to sell you a dream.

 

I’m still going through the growing pains of my blog (similar to how it was when I started my law firm). Meaning, I have to give it time for my results to speak for me.

 

It takes time for people to trust you and see you ACTUALLY know what you’re talking about and you can get them the results they want.

 

{This speaks to my soul! My scarcity mindset was the big thing that held me back in my life and business. I’ve been learning, listening, growing for years – through plenty of pain and struggle – and I’ve found that adjusting your mindset is definitely the KEY to kickstarting that growth. Once those results and referrals start flowing in, it changes the whole game!}

 

  1. A lot of new entrepreneurs worry about trying to grow in a saturated market. What was one of the main things you did to set yourself apart from other online businesses?

 

There are a TON of lawyers and personal finance blogs out there, however, the main thing I do to set myself apart from other personal finance bloggers is be true to myself and honest with my clients.

 

I notice lawyers have a bad reputation of being “liars” and I think it’s because so many of them will tell clients anything just to get their business.

 

If I don’t think I can help you, or I don’t think you have a legal case, I will let you know that. People respect that…and even if I can’t help them at that moment, they may hire me in the future or refer me to a friend.

 

When it comes to my blog, I’m open and honest and I love to share my story.

 

I’m not afraid to let my readers know I struggled with money just like they do. Some people are afraid to let others know about their failures because they want to appear to be an “expert.” However, I think my failures are what made me an expert when it comes to handling money.

 

I made those mistakes so my readers don’t have to.

 

{I think being honest and real definitely takes you farther in business! And as bloggers too, I think people want to see our imperfect side, our flaws, and the things that we learned the hard way. If we’re just people sharing our stories and helping others avoid the mistakes we made, we can serve our audience without ever feeling like we have to ‘sell’ them anything.}

 

  1. How much time do you dedicate to your blog/business each week?

 

I dedicate about 50 hours to my law firm and 30 hours to my blog each week.

 

{So important to recognize the level of work and dedication that goes into growing your own online business!}

 

  1. What were some of the essential investments that you made in your business in order to see it thrive?

 

For my law firm, an essential investment was hiring good staff to assist me. Having good people on my team allows me to operate my firm like a well-oiled machine. We all know our tasks and we work so well together.

 

One thing I learned as an employee is if you feel like your boss values and respects you, you will go the extra mile for them. So, I made it a top priority to treat my staff well and show them how much I appreciate them…because I truly do!

 

For my blog, there are so many things I feel are essential investments that you need when you’re first getting started. For example, a good email provider, website hosting service, graphic design, and blogging education.

 

As I continue to grow, I’m sure hiring good staff will also be an essential investment…but I’m not at that stage yet.

 

{Yes! Having a good team and the right tools definitely helps you run your business like the well-oiled machine that it needs to be in order to be profitable! Here is a list of some essential investments for bloggers for anyone reading!}

 

  1. What advice would you give to a beginner that’s trying to start monetizing their blog or sell their services? What’s the first thing they should do if they want to be successful?

 

Like any business, I think the key to success is not taking any shortcuts and to operate your business with integrity.

 

Money is important, but it can’t be the only motivating factor.

 

You have to truly want to give value and help people solve their problems. If you care about your clients/customers and you provide value to them, the money will come.

 

Also, if you consider yourself a professional in your field, you have to stay on top of what’s going on in your industry.

 

So, for my firm, that means knowing when the laws change and how that affects my clients. For my blog, that means increasing my financial literacy and keeping an eye out for any tools, services, or promotions that can help my readers achieve their financial goals faster.

 

Finally, recognize when you’re NOT an expert and seek advice from someone who’s achieved what you want to accomplish. For example, although I have a successful law firm, I recognized I needed help learning how to build a successful online business. Therefore, I invested in education to learn how to grow my blog (just like how I invested in education to become a lawyer and invested to increase my financial literacy).

 

So, don’t be afraid to invest in yourself.

 

{Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself. The best advice I’ve ever heard.}

 

  1. Looking back at everything you’ve learned and experienced as an entrepreneur, is there anything you would avoid or do differently now that you know how to build a successful business?

 

Looking back, I wish I wasn’t so scared to take a leap of faith and started my firm sooner. As humans, fear is something that’s supposed to help protect us from danger, but sometimes fear can cripple you and prevent you from moving forward and elevating.

 

As for my online business, I was more fearless about getting started, however, if I could change anything, I would be more careful about who I take advice from.

 

Although I’m a firm believer in educating yourself when you’re not an expert on a subject, I don’t recommend buying a TON of different courses. Pick ONE person you KNOW has accomplished what you want and follow them. Once you’ve learned all you possibly could from that person, then you can move on to learn more from someone else.

 

{Great advice!}

 

  1. Lastly, where can we find you and connect with you online?

 

You can find me at www.DollarsPlusSense.com or shoot me an email at dafina@dollarsplussense.com. I look forward to talking to you.

 

{Dafina, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us, give us these helpful gems of wisdom, and inspire other hopeful entrepreneurs to take that leap! I hope everyone reading this will walk away from this interview with the confidence to pursue their goals, invest in themselves, and also take control of their finances. Looking forward to following along on your blog too!}

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