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Solopreneur Spotlight: Cecilia Guerra (Attorney, NYC)

At Protonn, we work closely with independent professionals, to hear out their stories and to understand their professional needs. We had the opportunity to connect with Cecilia Guerra, an independent attorney based out of New York City with over 10 years of experience working as a solo. During this enriching session, she shared the reasons behind her transition from employee to an entrepreneur, lessons that she learned along the way, tips & advice for aspiring solorepreneurs and the reasons she loves being an independent attorney. Why did you decide to become an independent professional?

It has been an interesting journey. Initially my plan was to begin as an independent professional, however, New York City is a very competitive place. After graduating in 2004, I had a student loan that needed to be cleared off. So I started as an employee at a music company, but then in 2008, we were hit with the Economic Depression. The unexpected happened and the division I was working with was dissolved. In that moment, I had to be nimble and make a decision, as not many places were hiring. That’s when I decided to start out as an independent lawyer. I reached out to my previous employers and ex-coworkers and began working as an independent. The key takeaway here is to be agile & maintain your networks and connections, as that was the reason I could begin my ‘solo’ journey. How do you differentiate your service offering from what other lawyers offer in your city?

Prior to becoming a lawyer, I worked for the US Government, where I conducted investigations. At this job I learnt a lot in terms of International trade and import-export of goods. It was at the same time that I joined law school and within a month, 9/11 happened. Thankfully in law school, I developed interest in the transactional side of law which tends to trademark & copyrights for businesses. So I decided to look for an opportunity for law in intellectual property & managed to find it at a music company, post my graduation from law school. I handled contracts, negotiations and smaller level lawsuits that were commercial in nature, basically anything to do with business & compliance, I was able to take it on. Other areas of law that I have exposure to, due to the virtue of volunteering, is with immigration laws. Hence, due to my overall journey & the multiple projects that I handled, I was able to develop myself as a well rounded lawyer with experience across various domains which helps me stand out as an independent practitioner in the field of law. What has been the best part of your solopreneur journey?

It has to be the different kinds of people I meet and the different types of work that I am able to do. For example, litigators might have different cases and some of them may specialize and only handle medical malpractice cases, it is difficult for say a medical malpractice litigator to easily handle a commercial lawsuit which has different protocols altogether. I like to have a broader understanding and am willing to get into the details of areas that I am not familiar with for the benefit of the client. I am also able to associate myself with someone who is an expert in certain areas and I am able to work together with them for projects. So I feel, as a solo I have more options. What are 3 lessons that you learned from your career that you would like to share?

1. Be comfortable with taking risks. As you would’ve gathered from my journey, nothing is completely certain. You need to be mentally and emotionally prepared to go on the entrepreneurial roller coaster.

2. Consult with a professional for the best route for your business. You need to connect with a good lawyer and a good accountant so you can understand what options are available even if you want to start off as a partner in a company or a sole proprietor. There might be a few benefits that you want to gather knowledge on before embarking on your journey.

3. You should take care of yourself in every way: physically, mentally, emotionally and to a certain degree spiritually since you are often handling multiple roles. You need to make sure to get good sleep and take a breather. Also, as a solopreneur knowing and accepting early on that you might need support for routine/small tasks helps so that you do not burn out trying to handle everything on your own. Are there any particular challenges you face as a female solopreneur in New York?

While there are many women solopreneurs in the trade, I feel this field is quite male dominated. And while none of them would say it out loud, there is a sense that you are not being taken seriously. Sometimes when women go to the bank to acquire finance/loans for their business, if they are single, they might get asked if they are going to have support from a husband or family.

On the positive side, in the USA, there is something called a Minority & Women Owned Business Certification, which is for the benefit of companies that are perceived to be marginalized. So, a woman who has been in a business for at least 2 years and is a 51% stakeholder can apply for this certification and get certain procurement opportunities from both the federal government & the state government. While the process is long, if you are the only woman run business vs a male led company, you have chances of winning substantial contracts which is an absolute advantage. What advice would you give to someone just starting out as an independent consultant?

1. It is critical to identify which state you want to run your business in, because every state has different taxes as well as laws. You need to make sure to do your homework and find out which state you want to operate out of. Once you know which business and which state you want to run your business from, get yourself a lawyer and an accountant who can advise which entity is best suitable for your business. Though you do not necessarily need to open it right away, it is beneficial to be aware of it.

2. Give yourself a budget for the business and plan inventory & your sales channels accordingly. For example, recently I had a prospective client calling me to say they bought $5000 worth of inventory and the products are missing UPC codes and they are now unable to sell on Amazon, so you do not want to be stuck in a situation with inventory at hand and no place to sell it on.

3. Educate yourself on policies: For example, there is something called the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in Europe, which is a data privacy law and has extra territorial reach which means if we want to sell a product from the US to Europe we need to have protocols in place that comply with those laws because the fine for noncompliance can be 4% of your GDP, which is a huge fine. Closer home, in California there is a new law on the same lines to protect the data of the citizens of that state. This is the kind of data that you might not be aware of and hence getting a lawyer onboard for consultations also gets critical. What is your #1 productivity hack that you'd like to share with other independent consultants reading this?

Lawyers, we live by a calendar. Google Calendar is my best friend. I put all my deadlines 2 days ahead, so I can make sure to complete those tasks and remain ahead of the curve and it also gives you 48 hours of buffer time to deal with any unprecedented situations and still meet the deadline. I also make sure to keep my focus on my ultimate goal and try to achieve it by scheduling my tasks beforehand. Also setting aside specific days and time slots to complete clerical tasks, helps you stay on top of them. For example, we have to file a lot of documents and if we leave it for the last minute, it can get extremely overwhelming, so I allocate one hour each on Tuesdays and Thursdays to get the filings done and avoid any delays. What role has video communication played in your professional journey / how do you harness the power of video in your line of work?

I personally use video communications a lot to schedule my client calls, manage my interns and get our work going. No matter where in the world you are, you can schedule meetings, meet one on one and get work done. I don’t feel this mode of communication is going anywhere, I think it is here to stay! Finally, what are your views on social media and content creation?

I use LinkedIn quite often and want to know more about Instagram. I know some lawyers use TikTok to communicate points about law in a fun manner, however, I do not prefer it as I am unsure how seriously I would be taken on that platform. So my preferred choice is LinkedIn for the moment!

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