In this interview, Her Expat Life spoke with Mari Ribeiro, a trademark lawyer and CEO of Ribeiro Law about life as an expat and female entrepreneur.
1. Congratulations on starting your own business, Ribeiro Law! Tell us more about this venture and what made you decide to start your own business?
Thank you so much! I own and run my own virtual law firm helping savvy entrepreneurs block trademark theft and helping millennial entrepreneurs, professionals and creatives elevate their lifestyle through our Elevation Coaching.
Honestly, I didn’t choose the entrepreneur’s life, the entrepreneur life chose me! I started my career working as a lawyer at a law firm and then one day, out of the blue, I was called into my boss’ office and I was told that today would be my last day working with the firm. I was handed a 2-week pay check and told to pack up my office by the end of the day. The cases had dried up and I was dismissed after two years.
At the time I felt so rejected and unwanted. So, I decided to open up my own law firm but at the same time I was brushing up my resume and applying to work at other law firms. And I said “Okay, God, which ever one takes off first – either my firm or being offered a job - then that’s what I’ll do.” Because I don’t come from a family of lawyers or entrepreneurs, I put almost all of my focus on interviewing and applying for jobs. And after some time, I got hired again. Then the exact same thing happens again. One day my boss came into my office, and he said, the exact same thing my former one told me: today is your last day, here is a 2-week pay check, pack your things by the end of the day.
It wasn’t until I got laid off the second time around to learn the lesson that there is no such thing as “job security” for me an employee. I finally understood that if I wanted “job security” I would need to create it for myself by being my own boss. This time, I was fully committed to being an entrepreneur so that only I could be responsible for my own salary.
So, I said, “Okay, God, I hear you now. I'm not supposed to be an employee.” And I started putting some energy, attention and focus into building my own law firm. I needed to be laid off two times, one right after the other, to fully commit to becoming an entrepreneur over 7 years ago.
2. Can you tell us about the challenges you faced as a female entrepreneur and how you overcame them?
The challenges that I faced as a female entrepreneur was more personal than professional. I found challenges around my mindset; I thought so negatively about things, my perspective was always focused on what could go wrong and I had a lot of self-doubt. I was always afraid I would make a mistake and when I didn’t get the results I wanted to see in my business, I would be really hard on myself. I only knew how to be a lawyer, which is different than knowing how to run a business that happens to offer legal services.
So my biggest challenge was getting out of my own way and understanding my thought processes so I could shift them to think and feel more confidence. Before I could get to a place of confidence, I had to start from a place of courage. At the beginning, it was even a challenge just to tell people that I now have my own business and how I could help them. It felt strange to market and promote myself when I never had to do this before. So I started investing in my personal development: reading books on mindset, healing my relationship with money, listening to affirmations to strengthen my courage and release self-doubt, learning how to trust myself as the creator of my own reality, taking courses on how to have sales conversations with potential clients.
But most importantly, I invested in a business coach to help me see my challenges and guide me through them. I still work with a business coach to work on my personal and professional development so that my business can thrive. And it’s why I started supporting my clients as an Elevation Coach so their business can thrive too.
3. What advice do you have for aspiring female entrepreneurs?
First, know that you can do it. And you can do it in feminine, graceful, beautiful ways that don’t require you to take on these masculine characteristics in order to enjoy success in your business. You don't have to act like a man, you don’t have to think like a man, you don’t have to assert yourself like a man if you don’t want to.
Second, I would invite female entrepreneurs to get very clear on knowing what success looks like for you personally. Too many of us have been told what success looks like without even asking ourselves if this matches with what we truly want for ourselves. A few years into my career I had to learn that my unique definition of success as a trademark lawyer and Elevation Coach didn’t include a huge office, lots of staff and me wearing a suit. I had these things, and I didn’t feel successful.
I started exploring my own definition of success and realised that it included the freedom to travel whenever I wanted instead of being chained to a desk; hand selecting the best clients to work with instead of dealing with rude clients just because they pay my invoice; having a fully remote team that was reliable without me having to micromanage them; working less hours and making more money by leveraging technology, automation and systems; having a business that worked for me and not the other way around; creating a firm that didn’t require me to be in any one specific location but instead could support my untethered lifestyle; and enjoying my work with ease and grace instead of constantly feeling stressed or overworked.
When we start to be honest with what our personal definition of success looks and feels like, we can start creating it in our business and avoid living a life that someone else told us we should live.
4. How do you help clients? You talk about blocking trademark theft and scaling businesses. Can you give more detail on what this means?
Of course! I make sure no one can copy or steal your brand so that you can confidently scale your business. The brand is the face of your business. It’s how your clients and customers choose your product or service over your competitor.
When your brand is unique and catchy, your competitors will want to copy or steal it so that they can snatch your clients and customers. The only way to avoid this is by registering your brand as trademark. That’s where I come in as a trademark lawyer.
The trick is getting your trademark registered before someone else does it first. The sooner your brand is trademarked, the less likely you’ll have to rebrand your whole business and start from scratch.
Most of my clients have big plans to scale their businesses to national and international levels. They see themselves selling in different countries, in big box retail stores like Target and Wholefoods, franchising their business and expanding their brand in to other industries to reach more people. Scaling your business requires a trademark – it’s not optional - and most likely you’ll need more than one trademark to protect your name, logo, slogan or tagline, packaging and any other part of your brand that makes you stand out from the competition.
With our Elevation Coaching, I support millennial entrepreneurs, professionals and creatives with strategies to help them scale their business while still living a lifestyle they love. Too many times business owners become a slave to their business at the expense of their family, health and freedom. Our Elevation Coaching prioritises my client’s wellbeing so that they can experience success while minimising these challenges.
5. You are a lover of traveling - Where have you visited that has left a lasting impression on you and why?
I celebrated the new year in Dubai, a city I had been dreaming about visiting for over 10 years. I always viewed Dubai as an exotic and alluring place but something that was out of my reach. I saw it as way too luxurious, way too expensive and way too far for me to visit. The desire and doubt that I would ever experience Dubai was equally strong. So bringing in the energy of a new year by watching fireworks from the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world – made a lasting impression on me. It was like I was finally realising that anything I wanted to be, do and have, I could.
During my trip, I extended my stay and saw more opportunities to expand on a personal level and on a professional level. I no longer see Dubai as a city I dreamed of but more of a hub to lend itself to more travel adventures and ways to support international entrepreneurs who are also living an untethered lifestyle like I am.
6. What made you decide to pursue Law as a profession? Where did you train/get your education in Law?
I didn't really think I was going to become a lawyer until my senior year of college my mom just kind of told me “oh don’t worry, you’re going to be a lawyer, you’ll see” She said it very nonchalantly and as a matter of fact. At the time I wanted to graduate and get a job but this was during the recession where no one was hiring. So my mom and I made a deal: we agreed that I just do one semester at law and if I didn't like it, then I could leave and try again with my job search. I was totally tricked because my mom knew that I was going to love the law and she was right. I graduated law school from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
7. As the Law changes in every country, how can you best serve people internationally? Are there a lot of protocols to go through?
You’re totally right, the law if different in each country and if you're in the United States, the laws can be different in each state. The cool thing about trademark law is that it is the same no matter what state you’re in because it is under U.S. federal law. It doesn't matter if my client is in Florida or New York or California or anywhere in between, I can still represent them because trademark law is the same everywhere in the United States.
One of best parts of being an internationally travelling trademark lawyer is that I also have an international network that my clients get to leverage. When we work with international trademarks, we partner with other international trademark lawyers that we know and trust to help our clients expand internationally. We make this a smooth process so that our clients only have to come to us and we take care of the rest for their international trademarks.
8. What are the pros and cons of running your own business?
The biggest pro for me is the freedom: the freedom to choose your clients, your team, your work hours, your location, and so much more. Running your own business gives you such a sense of freedom that you get to decide how you want to experience it. I love that I control my own calendar and who gets on it. I love that I’m free to log in to work from a different time zone, I love that I get to work with clients who resonate with me and that I can freely say no to those that don’t. I love that I have the freedom to communicate with my clients through video messaging rather than a boring email. I love that I have the freedom to create a fun and loving working environment for myself, my team and my clients.
Now, what most people fail to mention is that with great freedom comes great responsibilities – which some may say is a “con”. When you are running a business, you are not just responsible for yourself, but also to your clients, your team, your vendors and people in your network. This is not to be taken lightly. You will be faced with hard decisions, taking on tasks that you cannot delegate and saying no to short term gratifications that don’t align with your vision so that you have the capacity to say yes to the things that do. Taking on this level of responsibility requires practice, discipline and perseverance. These are some of the things I help my coaching clients work through. Being an entrepreneur has it challenges just like being an employee has its challenges. I invite you to consider is which of these challenges do you want? This is why entrepreneurship is not for everyone. Just like being an employee is not for everyone.
9. Is there any advice you can give to women who want to travel or live abroad?
Yes: do it and don’t wait! I feel like we women tend to be a bit more fearful when traveling or living abroad. We might worry for our safety or leaving our family and friends behind or afraid of stepping out in to a new world all alone. I totally understand and have felt this too. But I would encourage women to do it in spite of their fears and find ways to manage the fears without letting it hold you back.
When I first started traveling full-time, my journey started in Madrid, Spain. I picked a place that I had visited a few times, where I could speak the language and that I felt I could get around easily and safely as a solo female traveler. Being intentional with selecting your travel list is a great way to manage your fear so it doesn’t hinder your from exploring this gorgeous world. There will always be a reason not to travel but there will always be more reasons to go for it, my lovely friend. To me traveling is the most enriching experience and which is why I have made it such a large part of my life and my business.
10. In your spare time, what do you like to do?
Girl, I love doing yoga! I am such a yogi that I love going to different studios in different countries and meeting different yoga instructors and being exposed to different teachings of yoga.
I’m also super into astrology! I study the energies of cosmos as a tool to better understand myself and those around me. In my free time, I’m just a big ‘ol hippie learning more about energies and the metaphysical world to help me shape my experiences and co-create my reality.
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