How do you start your day?
By reading the papers and checking social media.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Never do anything that comprises your reputation and integrity, no matter the fee.
What are you reading?
Elena Ferrente’s Book 4 in the series.
Briefly describe your business and inspiration for it.
Gabay-Rafiy Bowler is a women-owned and run law firm in downtown New York City. We handle both transactional matters (contracts) and litigations (business disputes). My partner (Sari Gabay-Rafiy) and I were inspired to open our practice after six years at a large New York law firm. We wanted to create a more well-rounded way to practice law and live life, while providing excellent service at reasonable rates.
What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Aside from the money, there was no good answer to the question Why not? in starting our own law firm. We believed not only in ourselves and our abilities, but also in that there was another way to practice law.
What was the tipping point for realizing you had a good business?
When clients began referring clients.
What has been the key to your success?
Hard work, persistence, discipline and a positive attitude.
What lessons have you learned along the way that you wish you would have known at the beginning of your start-up career?
There is no shame in keeping it lean—it’s not about the bells and whistles, it’s about the quality of the work and the responsiveness to the client. Of course, presentation to the outside world is important to your brand and business, but don’t invest too much time and money in finding the perfect location or the nicest office with the long marble conference room table. Clients don’t give that as much weight as you may think, at least not in our line of business. They want to know you’re always available and will help them find solutions.
What challenges did you face in the early days of being the Founder of your own business?
The change in office environment was an obvious early challenge. I missed the collegiality of having other people (both attorneys and administrators) around me. As a result, I make more of an effort to stay connected with colleagues and friends, not only through email, but in personal interactions as well, having lunches and drinks after work, for example.
What is the biggest challenge you have had in your business to date and how did you pull through it?
Our biggest challenge to date has been getting work during the recession (in 2008, for example), and encouraging clients to pay invoices. As far as securing client assignments, I’m creative about finding work. I also have the attitude that no task or matter is too small to deserve my attention—and I keep at it.
My business partner and I consistently reach out to people to remind them we exist. Early on, for example, we held a cocktail party to thank clients for their business. We didn’t get as many attendees as we hoped, but the invitation alone served its purpose as a reminder to colleagues and clients that we were around.
In assuring that clients pay in a timely fashion (or pay at all) I invoice monthly, even if it’s a minimal amount. It’s important to stay on top of invoices, and to continually follow-up with clients—sometimes in a stern manner.
When self-doubt hits, what do you do?
I talk to my law partner, Sari Gabay-Rafiy.
What is your biggest fear as an entrepreneur?
Prolonged slow months.
Which aspects of being a start-up entrepreneur do you love and/or hate?
Love: the freedom, and the ability to help people and see change happen; also the administrative aspect of running a business, aside from practicing law.
Hate: the uncertainty of where our next client is coming from.
Are there any go-to resources that you have found useful in running your business (service, web site, etc.)?
I think it’s important to be current on what’s happening in the world and the law; reading a few daily newspapers every day has helped me generate new ideas for business. It’s also given me an excuse to get in touch with clients, for example, when I send them an article I feel may interest them. In addition, it generally helps in social situations, as current events are an easy avenue of conversation.
What do you do outside the office to help you stay creative/productive?
What would you say to another woman who asked you if they should take the leap and start their own business?
You have to like risk, and you must have the desire to hustle in getting business every day. If you can ask yourself Why not?, I think you’re more than halfway there.