From $500k Debt to a 7-figure Law Firm - How I Reinvented Myself in Business
I’m Caralee Fontenele and I adore speaking all things business.
During a podcast guesting with Emily Osmond of the Emily Osmond Show entitled Reinventing Yourself in Business I had the pleasure and a fantastic time talking about my humble beginnings and some pretty intimate details about my journey of how I wiggled myself and my law firm out of a half-million dollars debt and transforming it into a multi-million dollars law firm.
I always had a natural knack for business and ever since I had a taste of online marketing, I always knew that it is something that I would love to do.
The biggest thing I am working on right now is helping fellow law firm owners scale their businesses to become 7-figure law firms without relying on referrals. How to position your law firm to be visible to your target clientele through law firm marketing ideas and marketing law firms online. Utilising Google reviews and Google ads.
The biggest smack in the head was the realization that I worked so hard on someone else's business and worst it happened to me twice!
Going through separation and divorce was really tough especially if you’re not the person earning money, you can be financially disempowered.
I felt I don’t have many options, no legal help, or financial means. But I was given good legal advice during a free initial appointment but the solicitor did not talk about the cost, and I was so scared about it. Until I was handed a consent order and I felt I needed to sign and just get on with my life. Only to realize later on that I have only placed myself at a disadvantage. Especially since I was a big factor in how the business grew into a successful multi-location business, thanks to my love and skills in marketing.
I was into helping small businesses with their local marketing even before websites, and social media were a thing.
I remarried to a lawyer but he was not great with the business side of things so again I helped with the marketing and I got back to uni to become a lawyer!
Having gone through the experience. I decided I'm going to be a divorce lawyer, a different kind of divorce lawyer, one that gives guidance and support and straight forward with the costs and options.
I was working at his law firm and he was practising different areas of law. But you can only do so much when you working on someone else's business until it got worst. There was a significant amount of debt and struggle in the business.
Plus it wasn’t all that easy when I went back to uni either. Coming from a fairly low socioeconomic area then, with no ambition to go to uni and no expectations, I dropped out of school and did hairdressing and jumped to different jobs. Having no direction it’s hard to find your thing.
I had a lot of doubt about myself, that I wasn't smart enough, I couldn’t do it and I wasn't going to make it.- a lot of limiting beliefs. But I stopped beating myself and sure enough I was doing it.
Until he pursued a different career that gave me an opportunity but left me in debt. I wanted to work it out and make it work, now that I'm in the driver's seat.
Literally, he left and said, “I’ll leave it with you.” I started implementing ways of paying off the debt. I cut off work that was just turning money over and not getting ahead. It gives you room to focus on what you really need to focus on. And so we specialized in Family Law.
My law practice is not just about me. I wanted to choose a name that wasn't my name. So I did a radio campaign in which the business name needed to change and we ran the ads for a new name and did a series. It was an amazing idea of putting my law firm out there.
I was already a junior lawyer, admitted in 2012. I needed someone who could supervise me so I hired a senior family lawyer. I worked on getting the debt paid down. Making sure I was consistently chipping off debt every month for several years and getting a marketing strategy in place and getting work in the door. I started growing the business.
Attracting clients with modern law firm marketing ideas. During 2012 if you don't have a website you're quite behind and a lot of old-fashioned law firms are not yet in that space. So, I focused on my personal brand and profile around town, I wanted to be the go-to person, so I went to a lot of networking events, and sponsored networking events. I used that avenue to invite people to the event and constantly reach out to people and get to know people and built the business and local referral network that way.
It took a lot of courage, I feel awkward and I tend to just talk to people I know. But in marketing, you need to be intentional and know that to expand your network you need to put yourself out there.
Now, I have business offices in Brisbane and Gold Coast, a team of 14, 7 solicitors, and a 2-Million dollar turnover at the Collective Family Law Group.
I authored and published 3 books and the 1st one sold 20 thousand copies in New Zealand.
It got big quite organically. I was doing food shows and cooking demos on stage. That sort of side of business taught me PR and online marketing. I have taken a lot of skills and knowledge from that into my law practice.
In my firm we do things differently, we are getting clients through OPTIN… taking online marketing for law firms and content marketing for law firms.
You can definitely turn a traditional business like a law firm and apply modern law firm marketing ideas, strategies and principles and it WORKS! It’s more fresh, inviting and connects with people.
I really love online stuff. I tried to create a membership before, 5yrs ago there was little info about these things. I KNEW I WOULD LOVE TO CREATE AN ONLINE BUSINESS BUT IT WAS HARD TO CREATE WITHOUT A VISION.
I applied what I learned to my law firm and created an online course for people going through a divorce, who can't afford a lawyer I know through experience that the divorce process is intimidating and costs a lot of money, but you need to have direction.
I have done a lot of business and development courses. But you get to a point where it becomes annoying that you just want to ask your business coach - ” just tell me what it is that I’m meant to be doing!”.
I love the online space so much but the healthy foodstuff then is just not the right fit for that vision and the divorce is what I talk about all day at work and that client only needs you for a certain time. It was a long time going through this thought process
When you are already in the space and it was working but not working for me. I dig deep into my heart and soul into what it is. I was struggling to see the vision for the business. I was feeling what works is not the right fit.
I realized I spent all this time and effort and I'm sad to let it go but the minute I made the decision, and I got 2 coaching clients who came to me and wanted to work with me.
The decision was I really want to teach people how to become unstoppable in their businesses and do what I have done in creating a mindset and life through your personal brand and business.
Now, I’m working on my business and not in it. We get into business so we get more freedom ourselves yet so often we get more bugged down and work harder than ever.
When you’re stuck in the business, no longer in alignment and things just don’t flow and you get in your own way because you’re making the smallest things a problem. JUST STOP.
Go back to the basics. Ask yourself what your passion is because what your passion is now can be very different from when you started. Look for what your actual magic source is as it may not be the same when you started. It could be something else!
What I wish I knew then that may have helped me along the way is when it comes to going for it (business). Just step aside and follow your dreams. Especially if there are a lot of things holding you back, all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons- none of which are actually a real concern. YOU ARE JUST GETTING IN YOUR OWN WAY!
So, if I can go back in time to give my struggling self a piece of advise I would say —
“Girl, Just step aside and don’t get in the way of your own success. You’ll be fine. You have got this.“
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