371: How Clever Girl Finance Went From Side Hustle To Worldwide Platform

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371: How Clever Girl Finance Went From Side Hustle To Worldwide Platform

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This week we are getting a masterclass in content-based business with Bola Sokunbi. Bola is a finance expert, 4-time bestselling author, and founder of Clever Girl Finance, one of the largest personal finance media/education platforms for women in the U.S.

 In this episode she shares:

  • Her start as a financial advisor while side hustling Clever Girl Finance 
  • How she expanded past 1 to 1 business by creating courses and repeatable content 
  • How she was able to financially thrive while making her platforms free and accessible 

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Nicaila Matthews Okome 0:00

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You're listening to side hustle Pro, the podcast that teaches you to build and grow your side hustle from passion project to profitable business. And I'm your host Nicaila Matthews Okome. So let's get started.

Hey friends, welcome welcome back to the show. It's Nicaila here and today in the guest chair. I have bola Shakuni Ola is a certified financial education instructor, a finance expert and a four time best selling author of the book, choosing to prosper, as well as the three part clever girl finance book series. She's also a speaker and founder of clever girl finance, one of the largest personal finance media and education platforms for women in the US. Ola is also the recipient of the 2021 financial education instructor of the Year Award from the National Council of financial educators, bola and clever girl finance have been featured by several media outlets included time, Money Magazine, CNBC, Forbes Fast Company, you name it, and she's also been featured on Good Morning America, BBC and more. In today's episode, bola shares her journey from side hustling to starting the clever girl finance platform, testing out different revenue streams, things that she learned that have helped her business to scale and so much more. I was personally inspired by this episode and learned a lot about continuing to grow a content based business. So let's get right into it.

All right, bola Welcome. Welcome to the guests here. I'm so glad to finally have you here. Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be speaking with you. I'm a huge fan. Oh, that feeling like we were talking about pre show. We met like years ago. And it's so amazing to see your journey. I've been so inspired by it. I remember. I think at the time you were promoted your very first journal. So please, take us back a little bit.

Bola Sokunbi 3:08

Certified Financial, educational instructor, was this always your career path? Or is this something you started out as a side hustle? Certainly not my career path. So I went to college to study computer science. I'm a tech girl. I have a degree of Bachelor of Science in Computer Science minor in web development. I can build websites and a minor in business. Yes, so back. So when I came out of college, I went straight into working in technology. I worked in technology consulting, I worked in data analytics, personal finance, was nowhere on my radar. But I did always have side hustles because I come from a family that is entrepreneurial. Specifically my mom, my mom, I call her the side hustle, Queen. Because growing up growing up, I'm Nigerian growing up. She was you know, a young mom. She got married young at 19. With a high school degree. My dad was much older and she wanted to be able to bring money into the home. So she was going to school and running multiple side hustles while she was in college, I was going to her college classes and going to her side hustles so I've always had that streak in me. So even while I was working full time I was running, you know, I was testing and trying different things. At one point I was an Avon girl selling to all my mom's friends.

all my Auntie's, I'm like come buy some Avon. I had a retail and online retail clothing business. I had a photography business which I had for about six or seven years that you know, at some point was earning me more than my full time job. And so with clever girl finance, it was something I started as a side hustle. I didn't know I was going to start this but I had just had my kids I had given birth to twin babies. And I think it was one part postpartum and one part just just kind of a feeling of gap within the room when you're about to go back to work for maternity leave. You have

Your first child, you don't quite want to go and you're like, does what I do even matter? Well, this was how I was feeling. So I was kind of like in this space was like, Okay, I love my job, but who really cares about data? Well, the data I was working, when it all comes down to are they gonna say, let's remember bola for the amazing data she worked.

I was like, What can I do that is going to be meaningful to my kids. And of course, like I mentioned postpartum depression. So I was going through this phase of trying to figure out what I wanted to do. And I was actually brainstorming this for about two years, I had a journal, I would write different ideas. And when I would browse through it, as time passed, everything came back down to money. At the time, I had a personal blog, where I will talk about this were the days of bloggers, I'm aging myself now. But

Nicaila Matthews Okome 5:48

I can relate starting on blogger.com. And going from there

Bola Sokunbi 5:52

exactly. So I will talk about saving to splurge I will talk about what I was investing in, I was talking about relationships and dating, and it was just just something personal but fun. And it was like why did you talk about money? My friends, I'm the girl that was always talking to my friends about money. And they would always ask me, Well, what are you investing in? How are you saving? What are you doing? So I was like, no, but let me just start something related to money. The name Clarabelle finance came to me in the shower. Random. That's just so excited to answer your question. It does start as a side hustle.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 6:24

So you did eventually go back to that data job and then keep going with clever girl finance. Yes. What did it look like in those early days? Like, besides the blog, what did clever girl finance entail?

Bola Sokunbi 6:38

So it was let me think now, so clever girl finance. It was I had a website, there was the Instagram accounts. And I remember being one of the early stage Instagram users, because initially, Instagram was developed for photographers and I had been using it for my photography. And I was like, I'll just start posting some finance tips here. Maybe people interested in photography will like these finance tips. So it was the Instagram, the website articles. And then I started very early on starting to feature money stories from other women who had either have saved a significant amount of money, or paid off a large amount of debt or had leverage entrepreneurship to change your financial situation. So I would feature other women. And so that's what it looked like it was articles. And then I also had one on one coaching at the time. So I had myself as well as a coach. Let's talk about your money issues. And that's what it looked like it was a little small, little corner of the internet, but it was what it was,

Nicaila Matthews Okome 7:34

I love that you have to start somewhere. And I also like, yeah, you took that extra step to be certified as this financial education instructor. So can you share a little bit more about what that means? Because nowadays, I have realized that a lot of people are calling themselves money experts and money strategies. But when you go look them up on websites, there's no certification in sight that makes them qualified. And with your money, you have to be really careful with who you're listening to. So how did you go about the process of becoming certified? To speak about

Bola Sokunbi 8:08

this? Yes. So there are so many certifications out there in terms of what you can be from a finance perspective, right? You can be a financial advisor, I can be a certified financial planner. There's just different certifications. So for me, initially, I was pursuing the CFP route, which was a Certified Financial Planner out. But I realized that there was a lot of restrictions in terms of opinion based content. And a lot of contracts everywhere finances me was me sharing my opinion, my experience my thoughts. So I was like, Well, I would like to have if someone were to ask what qualifies this woman to teach finance, I want to be able to have some sort of backing some sort of credibility, because, again, I'm coming from a technology background know, okay, I've saved money, I've invested money, but sure, so have many other people. So how can I get qualified to be able to teach this with credibility? Right, what I know and what I'm learning, so I decided to go the certified financial education instructor route, which qualifies me to teach personal finance and is does not have the opinion based restrictions. In general, I don't offer investment advice. I don't say go and buy Tesla tomorrow at 2pm because I'm not a financial advisor, but that qualifies me and gives me the competency to teach and I do maintain my certification every single year.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 9:30

Yes, you go girl. I love it. I love it. I love it.

So speaking of that, now, when did you realize that you can start to make money from the clever girl finance side hustle?

Bola Sokunbi 9:45

Okay, so, full disclosure here. i That was a side hustle. I had not yet realized I could make money. What I had realized was that I needed to be able to dedicate time to see if I could turn this side hustle into something. So while I was working Full Time when running clever girl finance, the first year it made $200. That is not enough to quit your job. But I got to a point where I was just being like, Okay, I think this thing has potential, I'm not sure. But I need more time to focus on it. My full time job is very demanding. I have two little babies under a year old. I'm working. When I put my babies to bed, I'm staying up to two 3am I'm up again at four or 5am, getting them ready for daycare going into New York City. This is not sustainable long term, I was working seven days a week, 18 hours a day family business full time job. So I said, Okay, I would like to give this idea, a chance. So I'm going to give myself 12 months to work on this business to see if I could potentially turn it into a money making side hustle or full time hustle, which means I would leave my job. In order to do this. However, I'm not the kind of person I'm not that risk taker where I'm going to cash out my 401k. And then I know some people have that level of risk, but I don't, and then go start a business. I'm not that person. So I said, okay, at the very minimum, my savings, my 401k Whatever my husband and I have planned, right, it's going to stay in place. And so what can I do to create a buffer where I go out and do my tests, my business tests, but don't impact my household financial obligations, and I'm still able to meet my own financial obligations to my home. So I decided I was going to save 12 to 18 months of my expenses in order to quit the job. So that's what I did, I opened up a business account a savings account. And while I was running, clever, or finance, as a side hustle, I was still running my photography business as a side hustle as well. So between my full time job in my photography business, I started putting money aside towards this clever girl finance tests my 12 to 18 months of runway, knowing that, okay, once I have this money saved, I can then leave my full time job. I was planning, I was already winding down my photography business, because it was no longer sustainable for me to do 810 hour weddings, because I was having significant back issues birthing twin babies. So I'm gonna put those two things aside and focus on my business. And that's what I did, I saved about 18 months of runway. And that allowed me to quit my job and put in my job was extremely stressful. I was having so many mental debates. This is such a stupid idea, you're going to leave a six figure paying job, you're going to lead your form on kill your your benefits with two babies to go out of business that only made you $200. Really, like I really had to? There was a lot of mental

Nicaila Matthews Okome 12:48

push through. Yeah, the mental debate. But question here. Now, how long did it take you to save up that runway? I know it was 18 months worth but how long did it actually take you to save.

Bola Sokunbi 13:00

So I saved it in about two years. So I ran my business part time for two years clever go finance part time for two years. And the second year, I quit my job. And I had the cash in the bank that did not affect anything else. So if it didn't work out, we will just act like it never happened. The savings does not impact the goals or not. It's not talking about it. Yes. So I did that for you

Nicaila Matthews Okome 13:27

also testing out other when you say running clever girl finance. I know you had to have been testing out some new revenue streams. So you can make more than $200. Right? Yes, I was testing

Bola Sokunbi 13:37

out. So just to give you more context, during the business, I had dedicated $6,000 To start the business that was building the website. This was from my personal savings. And I was like I'm gonna pay myself back this loan I'm making to my business. So this was building the website. This was I decided to launch a planner, I remember you said we met when my planner had just come out. So I have that life planner. And then I added a business planner as a stream of income. I had my coaching that I was doing. So those are the three, the two main streams of income, I had the planners and then the coaching. And then as time went by, I was like, Okay, no, well, this one to one is great, because I'm learning about the needs of my audience, women, women of color, women of a certain age, a certain demographic, but one to one for me, it's not scalable. And in my mind, my ultimate goal is to build a business of scale and a business of impact. So one to one was great, but it was not where I wanted to be. Right. So I said, Okay, let me start some sort, of course, program and I came up with a six month accountability program, which was kind of like a membership where people would join in over a six month period every week, we would have a series of things that we did to help you stay on top of your finances. So that became another income stream in that second 30 or those are the income streams that helped to increase earnings to after I left going from $200 to I think the next day was about $50,000

Nicaila Matthews Okome 14:58

That's a nice jump That's a nice jump, though it's

Bola Sokunbi 15:01

still not my six figure income. Right? But it was something

Nicaila Matthews Okome 15:05

I know you had to invest to make the physical planner. So out of all of those, you

Bola Sokunbi 15:09

mentioned about three to four that you tested, which was the most profitable. So the most profitable was the course though accountability program was a six month accountability for them, I forget how much people paid. There was like a six month option I think was like 249, or a monthly option of like, $49, something like that. But you know, in the early stages, I was hungry. And I like, in a sense, I'm an overachiever. I come from an African household. I'm Nigerian. And I don't know if you've heard this saying, you're either a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, or a disgrace. Yes, I was none of those. Right? That was already the borderline disgrace, and then I go start a business that's making $200. So the answers are like, Paula, He's everything. Okay? Is your Are you having money problems? I can only imagine. Imagine, are you alright? So you know, so there's that. So for me, I was like, Okay, I need to figure this out. And mind you, while I was testing, figuring out different things, I was actively applying to jobs, and going to interviews, just to make sure I still had an inmate to get a job if I needed to quit this, and go back to work and make some real money. So that's the way I was operated.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 16:31

So what are you planning? If the you know, offer was good enough? Were you planning to take on the job or you just really want to keep your skills and your interview skills sharp.

Bola Sokunbi 16:39

So I did get a job. And the offer was great. And I accepted the offer, but I couldn't do it. And I still wasn't making enough money, my business, but I was like, my husband's like, listen, you've already saved this money. You still have runway room? I just couldn't do it. So I then declined.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 16:56

Okay. So not too supportive husbands, yes,

Bola Sokunbi 16:59

shouted supportive husbands is my number one fan. But in that instance, in my mind, I was like, I think I can make something up this I wasn't giving up yet. So yeah.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 17:08

And so there are a couple of really important things that you've mentioned that I want to highlight. Not only that you tested out different revenue streams, not only that you saved, but you also gave yourself a timeframe. Before you would say alright, this didn't work. And it's important to really have that mapped out, because you can't keep flailing forever. But at the same time, when you have a focus timeframe, you know, what you need to do, you know, you need to zero in and I think that search for that job that was coming from that place, that mental place of fear. And once you really realize you know, what, instead of spending time interviewing, because that takes energy and mental space away from your business, you said, I'm gonna lock in and continue to devote the time that I said I would to making this business scale.

Bola Sokunbi 17:59

Yes. And you said something that I wanted to highlight is you said that it was coming from a place of fear, which is very true. And that ties very much into my background, right. I mentioned my mom got married very young. She was 19 years old. She married my dad, they're still married today. But my dad was 30 something years old. At the time, he had a PhD, my mom had a high school diploma. And it was a situation where many times as a little girl, I would be the corner of the living room and my mom's friends would be there saying I need to leave my husband, he's beating me, I have nowhere to go, I have no money, or my husband has passed away and his family has come and pushed me out. And they had no options because they had no money. And my mom just never wanted that to be her. That's why she became that side hustle, Queen. And she was just always finding ways to create a buffer, eventually getting her own college and graduate degrees, and eventually becoming the breadwinner of our household. Well, I saw that and so for me, one of my biggest fears is ending up like those friends and those Auntie's that would be on the couch in our living room saying, I have nowhere to go. Can I spend the night here so one of my goals in life is I'm always gonna have money husband, no husband. No business. Yes, that was

Nicaila Matthews Okome 19:10

Yeah, good. I get it. I can completely relate just to feeling like you always want your own. You always want to feel like you're bringing something to the table. It's funny. My husband has a friend that's always like, joking. Like, what such a such bring it to the table. And that's, that's how I feel too. Like, we all gotta bring

Bola Sokunbi 19:28

to the table. Even just for your own peace of mind. It's

Nicaila Matthews Okome 19:32

for your own peace of mind. You know, you can it's such a confidence booster to like I could do this like, I'm a superstar. You're a superstar for each, you know, thriving in our own. Yes. So now, when did it start to click like, here's what clever girl finance is about. Here is my main revenue stream. Here's what I provide and the impact that I can give the world.

Bola Sokunbi 19:53

So I don't think there was one moment when it starts a click but I started getting positive reinforcement and positive feed Eat, which meant that, as I was testing and figure out what I was going to do, the audience that I was targeting was telling me, we love this, this is helping me, this has helped me change my finances, I am now debt free. I have now created an emergency savings fund. I've never been debt free in my life, I've not started my business, I've now done XYZ and just knowing that this business was changing lives was number one was humbling, because it was like, Oh my God, who am I to be in this position to help anybody change their life. And number two, it was empowering to me because it was like, Girl, you're onto something. The dollars may not be flowing in now. But just stick to your focus and your vision and continue to test things out. And knowing that while you're figuring out the monetary side, you're still helping people. And knowing that you got a resume you've been interviewing, if you'd need to go back and get a job, you can do that, too. So those it was really the positive feedback I was getting that just made me realize, okay, wait a minute, I'm onto something here. So let's just keep testing, let's just keep pivoting. I started doing speaking, I started doing workshops, we started doing brand partnerships. And one of the things that we do at clever girl finance is create a lot of content and brands are to recognize that So not only were we doing brand partnerships for Cleverbot finance, or with clever or finance and other brands, we're also creating content for other brands as kind of like a consultancy ghosts kind of Oh, business model. So there are now multiple different streams of income as we were continuing to grow the audience and the platform.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 21:39

Wow, I didn't even know about that kind of ghostwriting. You mentioned your audience, who did you determine was that target audience?

Bola Sokunbi 21:46

So when I first started the business, the audience was me, it was me, a woman of color a black girl, not familiar with finances, I come from a background where I'm you know, my parents told me to save. But as an immigrant moving to United States for college, they didn't know the American system. And a lot of my friends were just not aware of how things work. Even my friends who were from America born and raised here. So it was me someone who was starting that first job, someone who was making money, someone who was trying to figure out Wait, am I bad if I don't budget and my bad money? If I don't budget? How do I invest? What do I buy? So I was writing for myself for my younger self based on what I had learned. And then as time progressed, I started to realize based on the feedback I was getting, and my life was evolving, that you know what I should be creating content for new moms, for single parents, for dual income households, for breadwinners for women between ages 35 to 65, who are, you know, making X amount of money for low income earners. So the content expanded very broadly. And my goal was that I wanted any woman who came to our platform to at least find, if even if you can find herself, hear me find herself in one aspect of our content that will be relatable to her.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 22:57

And when you say content, tell us a little bit more about your content strategy. How did you develop this robust content system that you have now?

Bola Sokunbi 23:06

Yeah, so at the beginning, it was me myself, and I was everything to the business as all of your listeners, knowing sort of side hustle, you are the CEO and the janitor or the intern, the coffee maker, the marketing expert. So, you know, when I first started, I had no clue about I just had a passion for personal finance and money. I didn't know anything about writing content. I knew anything about SEO. I didn't know anything about video production, podcasting, so I'm okay, let me do what I know how to do well, which is I can write articles because I've been writing a blog, right? So I would write those articles. And I'm like, wait a minute, I can take these articles and leverage them for other content, right? So I would take the articles and maybe take snippets of the article and use them on Instagram, right? So the website became the home base. So all content source on the website, all content ideas are on the website. That content today is now leveraged to create social media content is leveraged to create videos. Those videos are leveraged to create reels and shorts. It's leveraged to create podcast content. It's leveraged to create courses and worksheets. So our primary like foundational content starts on our website, right? We own all that content. And then it's then used and propagated into different formats to reach audiences at different places because some people love to read. Some people are studying on social media looking at posts some people just want to watch reels and tick tock some people just want to watch YouTube videos or listen to podcasts when they're driving. Right. So that's kind of like how we manage content.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 24:45

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So you say we So when did it go from? So just you two and everything to this week?

Bola Sokunbi 25:33

Okay, yeah, so it was me for a long time. It went into multiple people when I got accepted into an accelerator program. So I got accepted into TechStars, New York. And at that time, I was a solo founder with nobody on my team. And in order to go through this program, I needed to have support. So at that time, because that program came with funding investment into your business, which was at the time $100,000, I don't know if it has changed, I was able to hire initially, the people, I needed the most someone to help manage operations, the day to day running of the business while I was in the accelerator, and someone to help with execution in terms of just improving the brand. And to me, I felt the person I needed was a designer for a look and feel and making everything cohesive. And then part time another personal finance expert who had experience with student loans. So that was a team. A lot of people for $100,000, not a lot of money.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 26:32

Right, right. I'm here counting like, we split that between

Bola Sokunbi 26:36

that fast. But it was a really great opportunity. Because at the time I got into the program, I think maybe we had started doing 60 or $70,000 a year. That was money that was a year and a half of income that allowed me to hire three people to support the growth of the business.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 26:52

How were you able to keep paying them once that money ran out? Okay, so

Bola Sokunbi 26:57

the team kind of has evolved, right. So when we went through the program, we quickly pivoted to courses. My vision for several finance was to always have a free platform. At the time, I couldn't afford to have a free platform because I needed to pay people to help this business grow. So we quickly pivoted into courses during the program. One of the things that myself and the other financial expert did was we built out courses we built, we leveraged the accountability program that I had initially created and pivot that into courses. It was six months of content of weekly, daily and weekly content that was getting sent out to audiences for different topics. And we leveraged that to build I think, our first 15 courses and expanded on them. And then we quickly built out an additional 16 or 17 courses. So the Clarabelle finance platform has over 30 courses, on different personal finance topics that we created, or we collaborated with other experts to create. So we did that very, very quickly. That was like very long days, because we needed to have a product to launch for me to be able to come out of this program and potentially pitch to investors if I wanted to raise more capital, which I did not didn't work out that way. But we built this, this course platform very quickly. And we were able to monetize it by selling individual courses and course bundles. And so that was then how I was able to pay the team I had, and then hire additional content creators, like writers on a contract basis as well.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 28:26

I love this, this is very intriguing. To me, this is very interesting, you know, going through this accelerated program and then having to really work out, okay, what is going to be my pitch? What's going to be the overall package that I'm telling them that they would want to invest in? So you wanted it to be a free platform, initially, but it sounds like the courses are their paid courses. So how have you reconcile those two, there's all this free content. And then if you want to dig deeper, that's when you have to pay?

Bola Sokunbi 28:57

No. So our entire platform is free. Okay, courses are free today. They are free at that time. They were not. And so that was one of my goals, right. But when you go through an accelerator, there's a this is a venture capital is 100,000. Backed by venture capital in the venture capital world. It's not a lot of money. This is a bullet, right. And the goal is that come out of these accelerators. So we did TechStars, New York, which was a very high esteemed accelerator. It was it was actually like, oh, yeah, a touch of God that I got into. It was insane. But I got into it. And there's goals you meet with mentors and like this is how you should pivot your business. This is how you should make money raise capital, your goal is to raise a million dollars. And it was all this pressure and I went with the flow. Initially I quit in my pitches I pitched I went through 90 Plus investor meetings, didn't raise any money. And I realized that you know what you've done close to 100 meetings. None of this is you This is time to stop and pursue the original vision you had for yourself. Yes, I want to build a business of impact and of scale. I would love to have a million dollars. I Since spent my $100,000. But now we are here. What do you truly want this business to be for you, I don't want anyone to tell me what kind of business they want me to build. Because they've given me X amount of money. So, you know, the money I had raised from the accelerator, I was still in full control of my business. And I had then gone to a point where I can actually give you this money back, right? They have 6% equity in my business, but that's okay. Right. It's, to me was significant investment that allowed me to get where I am today, it wouldn't have happened otherwise. But then 6% And me being little my business may not having to have polls with you every Sunday to tell you what I'm doing works. And I had friends who went on to raise $1,000,000.02 million, and two times a week, they're on the phone for two hours talking to investors about what they need to be doing that's so distant from their vision, I have another friend who ended up having to go to therapy because they refuse, they blocked an exit. So they raised all this money, they grew the business to about $200 million. Multiple investors, he had a small percentage of it when their grads came up 200 million, that's a lot of money. And they blocked the exits. And he was devastated. So I had to think about that. I've gone through 90 Plus meetings. And of course, you know, black girl trying to raise money, I was being told all kinds of things. Um, black women don't really care about their personal finances like that. When my wife is a CFO, she doesn't care about money. Oh, you should wear lipstick when you meet male investors. Oh, you should wear high heels? Or what does your husband think about you trying to raise money? Do you have kids don't talk about them. They're too much baggage. These are investor meetings with VCs that you see all over Instagram. I see them now. And I laugh because I'm like, you guys. Yeah. People that people know that were telling me this, you told me your minority focus your women focus, I'm gonna get in there, you're like, what does your husband thinks about you. But to me, that was a eye opener sign that, you know, this is actually not where you want to be, you have a goal, you have a vision, you're trying to make a platform that supports women, regardless of whatever. And so coming out of that program in 2018. We're continuing to test them pivot, grow the business, grow the audience, and then the pandemic rolls around. And during this time, again, this is me and my cautious self, I had every money that Cleverbot finance make a certain amount of it goes into business savings. And one thing I learned early on is that as a business owner, depending on your business structure, you can actually open up a business brokerage account and invest in other businesses the same way that you would invest in the stock market, right? So I wasn't investing for federal finance and saving for clever go finance, that was my peace of mind. And it was like if anything were to ever happen, right? I need to be able to try to carry on this business, try to pay people until they can find good landing spots and just have this backup fun. It's just part of my personality to have money in the bank. flu pandemic rolls around and march 13 is when everything shuts down between March 13 and march 19. We are getting emails, and we are getting social media messages. And they are also devastating. Like what I'm trying to figure out my finances. My job has let me go. I'm trying to create a budget. Can you let me into your course. Can you help me? I just got my last paycheck check at work. This is all I can use to buy groceries. What can you do? Is there any way you can help? Please, please, it was just really heartbreaking emails. And so I told my son was like, listen, we said we want to build a business of impact. We want to help people our goal has always been to make this platform free if we cannot help people now at the end of the world. Because at that point, it was the end of the world, right? We didn't know anything about this thing. There was no vaccine, never seen anything. The world is ending if we cannot help people in this moment, when can we do it? So by March 19, we figured out how to make the entire platform free remove all recurring payments. And then we started to issue refunds. Incredibly, a lot of people actually did not want their refunds back. They're like, You know what, this is a reason why you're we told them why we're making the platform frame, like help other people, it's fine. So we issued the refunds to people who wanted it and we made the platform free. We got so many enrollments. Since then we've we have about 100,000 people who have taken our courses each person takes an average about five to six courses. So we have about 550 1000 individual course enrollments. It was just incredible was not what I expected. And because I had that buffer in the in the bank, I was able to say okay, team, we're gonna build the parachute as we go down. Let's figure out brand partnership. Let's figure out other revenue sources or workshops, other ways to make money now that we've made this platform free. While that was happening, brands were paying attention and because so many people were spreading the word about our courses being free. It helped us grow our traffic skyrocketed, and we got all the as opportunities that three or 4x, the revenue that we had planned to make by being a paid platform, and that really blew my mind. It was at that point in 2020, that the entire platform became free, like, you don't pay for anything. The courses are free, and they will remain free. And we're just pursuing our other sources of income. So since then, we've evolved. I still do occasional speaking and workshops, we do brand partnerships on the clever girl finance platform on the platform we do. And the partnerships vary their social media, their content, video, a variety of different partnerships, advertising, we have advertising now, yes, through advertising partner through our content. Books now. So I've written four books, and we still have the planners which have been improved, we have an upcoming planner partnership with Erin Condren. So we have now multiple streams of income created, which now helps us kind of create that sense of stability. As we continue growing.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 36:11

I had no idea all that clever girl finance platform entailed, I had no idea you'd gone from this paid platform to this free platform in the pandemic, no less the time where everyone's just trying to, like, make some money charge for something. And so to have this reverse experience of saying, I'm going to let it be free, I'm gonna do what I set out to do. And then to have these kinds of blessings come, it is just such an impressive feat. And it really is inspiring to me, you know, makes me rethink a lot of the things I want to do moving forward, you I'm sure can relate to as a business owner, you go through so many periods of transition, yes. Because now you're in this right, you hired yourself, you can't just leave. Yeah, so you have to continually check in with yourself like does this feel right? Is this what I want to be doing? Is this how I want to impact the world? Yes, yeah, that really inspires me on that level. Thank you. So let's talk a little bit more about the brand partnerships. Yes, it sounds like one of the initial real injections of money that allowed you to keep this platform free. In addition to brands reaching out to you, were you pursuing a certain amount of partnerships to keep the business in a healthy place? Okay, so

Bola Sokunbi 37:24

I love this question. I have so much to say about this question. Because my my thought process has changed over the years. So brand partnerships was income source that we were pursuing because brands started reaching out to us. I mentioned earlier, we create a lot of content so we people always ask me Do you have PR who's running your PR, we don't have PR content is our PR return out a lot of content and Clarabelle finance. So right now we have about 17 writers the blog is updated every single day, this content is turned into videos and podcasts and we create a lot of content. We're a media company that focuses on financial wellness. And so brand partnerships was one and without that, okay, this is a way to bring in extra money you work with brands, they pay you big bucks, sometimes a little bucks for something on Instagram and do a video do it this way that I realized very early on that when you're doing a brand partnership, it is great for revenue, but again, I have to go back to my vision. My goal was to build a business of impact that helps women specifically women of color, change their lives. And when you're doing your brand partnership you're no longer promoting your brand or your vision you are promoting that brand vision and that brand's goals who's trying to monetize your audience by paying you a fee that might be a lot of money to you but is quite insignificant to them. Again, when we remove all everything I said from it comes to dollar signs I'll take the money because I have bills to pay great but I had to think bigger I do not want to be a brand partnership business because I'm not here to promote other people's brands. It is great to have it as a nice to have like you put on a beautiful outfit and I put on the brand partnership as my earrings. Great. Okay, I can take those earrings off whenever I like. I also realize that brand partnerships are not necessarily they're good so don't get me wrong there's nothing wrong partner because you will see that we do them a lot. Okay. But I realized that not a predictable, isn't that what I'm looking for. They're not a predictable or for castable reliable sources. Because that income is dependent on that brands finances, that brands forecasting that brands business strategy for that period of time, and brands can cancel brand partnerships. During the pandemic we have lots of partnerships canceled or pause or never to be heard from again, brands can run a partnership with you and go through financial issues and not pay you. You cannot predict when the brand is going to give you a partnership even when you do you know a multi wants a two year deal but sometimes you're locked in To exclusivity agreements, sometimes, which I don't love, because you never know what's around the corner for you. So that's how I think. And so, brand partnerships was one way. But I was like, I want to have a bit more control over what we create and create a bit more for castable income. So that's when we started looking at advertising revenue, which is ads on the content that we create, because brands are always going to be running ads to reliable sources of traffic. And when I say ads, it's not a bank promoting a new bank account or a new brokerage account. It is ads in relation to just day to day life, right? When you watch TV, you see an ad that's relevant to you those type of ads, and that's more forgettable you can see okay, summertime is slower traffic on online content, because people were outside, wintertime, Black Friday, December, people are shopping, there's more opportunity for advertising, personal finance base, January, February, March is high traffic, most people are trying to change their lives every single year. So that was more for castable. So then we introduced advertising. So if you want our website, you will see ads, some people hate them. But that is part of how we keep our platform free. So that's very important for us and for us to have. And then going back to brand partnerships, one thing that was very important was diversity in brand partnerships. So Clarabelle finance, we partner with a variety of different brand partners, we partner with financial institutions, we've partnered with shoe companies with beauty companies, or wellness companies just to have that diversity. Because end of the day, when you think about it, we are a personal finance media company. But money is one aspect that touches all aspects of your life. So you might still want to get your finances in order. But guess what, you're still gonna get your hair done, you're still going to wear some nice clothes, you're still gonna cook nice meals going to

Nicaila Matthews Okome 41:51

target, you have to go grocery shopping, you still have to do a lot of things, you know, you have to replace your toiletries. Exactly. So it makes sense,

Bola Sokunbi 41:59

broad diversification in brand partnerships, and we don't do outreach. Much our content does outreach for us. When brand partnerships and brand partnership PR companies go out to look for specific content that they're trying to partner on or create content around, they will very likely find us depending on the niche they're looking looking for. So and that's because we're churning out there are different ways to do this, right? We can have someone just out there all day reaching out sharing a media kit, this is our Instagram profile, this is our number this is our video, etc. Or we can focus the energy on creating content just by default attracts different people to us. We've gotten brand partnerships because a woman in a company has read our content and said Hey guys, this would be a great company to partner with their content has helped us so brand partnerships is one aspect but it's not a it's a nice to have. It's not something that we depend on. Because I can't predict it. I can't tell what I don't know the next bank. The next few the company is gonna do

Nicaila Matthews Okome 43:01

partnerships, man. It can be the bane of my existence, but you know what bola you are? You are very smart girl, you need to go fix some of these courses, you got clever.

Bola Sokunbi 43:14

I'm always pivoting and testing. I'm the one that like, you know, I just have so much belief in my business. And obviously like, you know, business ebbs and flows, we go through highs and lows. Like right now it's summertime, this is a low season for us. Our revenue is different during the summertime as well. But for me, it's like this is a time to now test, implement, adjust, fix update upgrade. So the summertime, we're, we have our heads down in the ground and just working on doing things I think, okay, a lot of things are evolving. There's AI now, there's Google algorithm updates, you know, social media is very much pay to play. Right? So it's testing is constantly on.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 44:01

I love the fact that your traffic grew so much because that kind of traffic is immeasurable. It is just so many people want that kind of traffic to their website. And with the not only having the traffic, but you've grabbed that traffic on your email list because those people have to register for your courses, right? Yeah, that is super valuable, right. And as I'm listening to you speak, I'm thinking about a few things. So clever girl finance is a media company, right? That's what you consider yourself. And we know that media companies can be a challenging business. What do you think helps with your success in this space of media and content? First business?

Bola Sokunbi 44:42

Yeah. So you know, one of the earliest lessons I learned I'm going to try to explain this as best as I can tell us if I'm not clear to say boy, I say that again. When you think about media, right? It's usually tied around your brand. We all know CNN, we all know Bravo TV. Right. We all look at these as brands and we go to these specific brands for content. But for me being an early stage media company, it is really important to have personal brand associated to overall brand. In order to maintain that. We like you we trust you want to get to know you, we're going to continue to visit you. Reference, right. And so I'm the face of my business. A lot of people see me and like you said a lot. People don't really know what we do clever girl finance, because you see it all the time on the video. On Instagram. Yeah. So I'm trying to maintain a sense of and I'm very introverted, right, so after this podcast, I'm gonna go and recover and like put myself under my cover.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 45:43

Me too.

Bola Sokunbi 45:48

It's something I have to do is create that sense of relatability. And a question one of my mentors asked me was, Okay, what's your favorite drink? Coca Cola, right? I love Coke Zero. Do you know who founded coke? Zero? No, but it's such a big established brand that I don't need to know. For me in early stages. In order to build that trust and light factor. People need to know who you are. And he's like, I bet you a Coca Cola first came out and was doing the testing. People knew who the chemist was the same way. We all know Mark Zuckerberg for Facebook, the same we all know Elon Musk, for Tesla, our kids, our grandkids are probably not going to care who these people are. But we do because, you know, personal brand associated. So there's that. And then the other lesson that was really important that I learned was that you look at brands, and they all like the brands who have been able to put a grip in the ground and whether long haul, regardless of the economy, pandemic, whatever is happening, have always had a very strong diversity in their revenue streams. A classic example is McDonald's. We all look at McDonald's as a fast food company. But on balance sheet, McDonald's is a real estate company, because they buy land and lease it to franchisors who then pay them for the lease of their land and to use their rad.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 47:07

Right. I learned that from that documentary. And that was really eye opening. So

Bola Sokunbi 47:12

I don't know how far off topic I am from the question you asked me

Nicaila Matthews Okome 47:15

know your topic at all right. So what we're talking about guys, what what bola is really demonstrating is she has built a media company and media companies, it's hard to see yes, people. They don't know, you know which way it will go. Your audience a lot of these media companies now they start on Instagram means they don't even have people's email if their Instagram goes down or what have you. They've lost that audience. But, you know, it's really thinking about that, because they're like Instagrams got to five 10 million, so we're good. But you have created a platform with traffic with invested usership, and people who are doing multiple courses. And so you've created something so valuable in a really risky space that can be very unpredictable. And so I just want to know how you were able to do that a yes, sharing?

Bola Sokunbi 48:08

And to properly answer that question. The way we're kind of like going through the media wave is by creating diversified content for our audience so that they can find us at any point, right? Whether it's video that they consume, or they consume text they consume, we want to have something there. So you don't say Oh, I used to read clever, go finance, but too bad. They don't have a podcast, or too bad they don't. So we tried to do that. And then on the flip side, diversifying the revenue streams, having the cash buffer, having investments on behalf of the business, right, because we have the business brokerage, and then continue to test and staying up to date with what's going on, how can we leverage AI to continue to grow? Right? How can we stay on top of Google algorithms? So we are very far our website, we're very heavily SEO focused platform, which is search engine optimization, which is basically using keywords so people can find you. And Google had a major algorithm change, which hit us and impacted our advertising revenue five 40%. Wow, one thing we'll see be like, okay, you know, what it is what it is, we'll just keep moving with the 60. Or it was okay, how do we fix this? And overhaul so that we are now meeting those requirements. And that meant working with SEO strategies, right? Having all of our writers brushing up their SEO school skills, adjusting guidelines. So we're basically trying to stay on top of changes, because changes are inevitable, right. And at the same time, continuing to meet our audience at their point of need with a variety of different content options, and also continuing to diversify our income. So that's how we're kind of managing through the changes and the challenges of media.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 49:50

And what advice would you give for fellow side hustlers, who are starting platforms, media base content based it In feeling encouraged enough to keep going, you know, when you say you have 17 writers, it can sound like oh, well, you have a whole team. It's only me, how am I going to do this? What are some tips to go from working on this yourself doing everything yourself to eventually having a team that can help you produce this content day to day? Yeah,

Bola Sokunbi 50:19

so I can definitely read because it was just me at one point. And I would say prioritizing is very important when you're on your own. For me, I picked two things that I knew could work, I did not have a podcast, there was no YouTube channel, there was no none of that it was just the content on the website and social media to have a presence. I wasn't even focused on email at the time. But those are the two things I knew that I could focus on building with twin babies with life ad, establish them. And once that happened, I've okay what can once this is turning along with their systems and automations in place, but you want to figure out how do I make things easier, there are so many tools that allow you to automate things, you don't need to have a full time writer, but you can hire a good person, you can leverage AI to create an outline, hire someone on Fiverr or Upwork. To help you build it out, boom, you have an article, right? You may need to invest money, if you don't have the money to hire, then you spend your time building out an article based on, you know, the AI outline, which I didn't have that option back then. So it's prioritizing what matters, starting with what you know you're able to do and then adding on to it. The reason why we were able to add on the podcast and the video aspect, which kind of seems seamless was because we already had content. We had articles that could serve as podcast outlines. We had articles that could serve as video scripts. So it became easier. And every time we got paid for something every time money came into the business, I would say okay, we're gonna put a little bit of this money aside so that I can hire a videographer to help me make two or three videos. This was what I got to the VR stage before that, if you look at the older videos, it is me on my iPhone, whatever can on little point issue. We can see the difference. But I was creating the content. So the second thing I would say is, once you prioritize where you know, you can put your effort and your time focus in there is understand that progress is better than perfection. In business. There's nothing like perfection. There are so many things that I look back at and I cringe. I'm like, oh my god, this is so terrible, even stuff we did last week. But you know what? It works. The job we can improve as we go and it made it so don't compare yourself to someone who has all the lights and the soundstage and the whoever and is churning out Instagram reels and can you know how people I always wonder those girls who are noticing those reels, they just jump into outfits in different cities around the world. Oh, yeah, this is like $100,000 Real and better jump. Do not compare yourself. If you can only jump from your kitchen to your living room. That's what it's gonna be. Post that real.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 52:50

Post. Okay, I'm encouraged. I hope you guys are encouraged to because, yeah, sometimes for me, it can feel like I want to do so much bola I want to, I have so many goals and plans for the side hustle pro platform, and it just feels like where do I even start. But you're right, focusing on what you can do at this point. Because one day, you will be looking back like, Oh, I remember what I only used to do a podcast. Remember when this was all it was, you know, ever gonna know when the switch happened. But it's just going to happen when you stay consistent. And one last thing before we jump into the lightning round, speaking of consistency, which I also think is a huge part of your success. You know, you kept chugging along, no matter what. But one thing I've been thinking a lot about lately is this idea of assets. So a lot of times people like to talk about assets like oh, I have real estate, I have a lot of assets, assets, but content folks content folks, flip that mental switch and realize that your content is an asset to as long as you own it, right. It's on your platform, it's your content. And you can do so many things with that, you know, I can go back to the side hustle pro catalog and I can monetize that I can make it into blog posts, I can work with brand partners, there's so many things and I had to recently make that switch in my own brain so I'm curious to know if you also think of your content as an asset

Bola Sokunbi 54:17

Yes, your content is an asset your brand is an asset your you know the brand you have built as a standalone brand, take away every content you've made that brand, even if we do it all our content, the brand clever will finance the brand side hustle Pro is still going to attract a certain audience, you then have this content that is an asset because it is attracting people that can be monetized either by you or by other interested parties. And so that makes it you know, an asset because something that you can sell, right? People always say well, how do I exit a personal brand, right? You can decide that you know, over time you start to introduce other faces To help build out this brand, and this is something that I've seen a really big financial expert do, I'm not going to mention his name because his the VATable, depending on the time of year, but I went to an event that he was at, and he was very open as to sharing what he did. And he said that his goal was to leave a legacy beyond himself. And so he has introduced other players into his media company where it's no longer just about him, you're now seeing 10 different faces, right. And so that means if you're seeing 10 different faces, they're all interchangeable. It's like CNN, we know, all of these different news classes, when they bring a new newscaster, we don't think about it because we trust the brand. So that's one way, expanding your brand beyond yourself, building a brand that can stand on a name, building those content assets that attract an audience. Anytime you have an audience that is attracted to a brand you have built, then it is an asset. But you have to own that content. You don't own the content on Instagram, you don't own the content on Tik Tok, it's in the fine print. But you own your emails, you own those articles on your website, you own the videos that you have housed in your own database. So content is an asset, there are people who will buy your podcast and hire you as an employee. There are people who hire you as an employee for a period of time to kind of continue running it. So you've given them side hustle Pro, but you know, I'll get my weekly paycheck, I'll host the podcast, or they can bring someone else you know, and gradually transition could be you and someone co hosting for a while and all of a sudden, oh, now it's gonna be soon. So that happens quite often, if you pay attention, especially on the really big podcasts, and big TV shows, you see that quite often. So yes, your content that you create, you don't have to have real estate, a tangible asset, the content, you create the work you have done, the book you have written, these are all assets,

Nicaila Matthews Okome 56:59

right? And we didn't even have time to get into the book business. For whole books that we didn't get to talk about it, but you guys go to clever, go finance, see all of Bullas books. And you know, that's just amazing. So now let's jump into the lightning round. Okay, yes, yes. Number one, what is a resource that has helped you in your business that you can share with the side hustle Pro Audio

Bola Sokunbi 57:25

mentors and other business owners and please dig deep into your Rolodex because you know, someone you can talk to about their experience. They don't need to be in your business, in your business niche. They don't need to be current in business. They may be retired, but people have experiences that you can learn from and it's such a gem. So other business owners, mentors, get out there and network, meet those people ask them questions, you get those lessons.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 57:50

Absolutely. Number two, who is a black woman entrepreneur who you would want to switch places with for a day and was

Bola Sokunbi 57:57

very cliche, but I will say Oprah, specifically in the early days of her starting Harpo media, I want to know what happened behind the scenes of building that media company.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 58:08

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Number three, what's a non negotiable part of your day time and my kids? Number four, what's a personal trait that has helped you significantly in business?

Bola Sokunbi 58:20

I'm very organized, and very organized. to a fault.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 58:26

No, I mean, I think we could all we could all believe. And then finally, what is your parting advice for the side hustle pro audience you know, who wants to do what you've done buts worried about losing a steady paycheck,

Bola Sokunbi 58:40

I would say don't be in a hurry. Right? For me. I could not deal with the mental anguish of not knowing how to build, pay my bills and build a business. So build your buffer, build that cash buffer, it's okay to take your time. It's okay to work full time around your business as a side hustle. If you need to go full time, it's okay to get a part time job to pay the bills. Don't be in a hurry. Don't compare yourself to anybody on Instagram, go at your own pace. I would also say always be testing and always be pivoting. There's many things that we have tested in Clarabelle finance that have failed I have cried tears of water and blood because it's been such a massive failure. But we you know, we get back up we test we keep moving. So test and pivot tests. Look at your favorite businesses. They're constantly testing and pivoting. Elon Musk is in a hot mess test right now with Twitter, but I'm sure he will pivot right. So case studies are out there. And then yeah, so you know those things. Don't be in a hurry, build your cash buffer and test and pivot and go at your own pace.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 59:40

Yes, I love that. What a great note to end on. I mean, my main takeaway from you here is that it doesn't have to look like any one thing like you don't have to put yourself in a box with side hustling and say, oh, I need to side hustle this way. Do what you need to do take your time so thank you so much bola for being In the guest here, this was phenomenal I learned a lot I'm inspired I got some new ideas. Where can people connect with you and clever girl finance after this episode? Yes, visit the

Bola Sokunbi 1:00:09

website clever girl finance.com And then find us on social media everywhere at clever girl finance. All right, guys.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 1:00:15

There you have it and I'll talk to you next week. Hey guys, thanks for listening to side hustle Pro. If you like the show, be sure to subscribe rate and review on Apple podcasts. It helps other side hustlers just like you to find the show. And if you want to hear more from me, you can follow me on Instagram at side hustle Pro. Plus sign up for my six bullet Saturday newsletter at side hustle Pro, that CO slash newsletter. When you sign up, you will receive weekly nuggets from me, including what I'm up to personal lessons and my business tip of the week. Again, that side hustle pro.co/newsletter to sign up. Talk to you soon.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Meet the host:

Nicaila Matthews-Okome

Hi! I’m Nicaila, the Creator and Host of the Side Hustle Pro Podcast. I started Side Hustle Pro when I was a side hustler myself. I was a digital marketer at NPR by day, side hustler by night. Through the powerful stories shared on this show and the courage to launch my own initiatives, I was able to quit my own job and go full time with Side Hustle Pro.

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