Bola Sokunbi is a Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI), finance expert, speaker, writer, podcaster, social media influencer and founder of Clever Girl Finance, a platform that empowers and educates women to make the best financial decisions for their current and future selves and to pursue their dreams of financial independence in order to live life on their own terms. CleverGirlFinance.com has also been voted as one of the top personal finance websites for women.
Bola had been featured by Time.com, Cheddar TV, NYC’s PIX11 News, CBN News, The Chicago Tribune, as well as on several other finance websites and podcasts.
Who is Bola Sokunbi and what was your motivation for starting your brand?
I’m a certified financial educator and money expert who is passionate about helping women achieve the things that they want for themselves in life. My interest in personal finance came out of my own need and learning how to save and invest. Coming out of college, I wasn’t finding any resources I could identify with. As a female, I found that there was a lot of content that existed related to finance, but men typically created them. Even the first personal finance book I picked up for women was written by a man. So, I sort of had to figure out how to navigate my personal finances. Time progressed, I started to figure things out, and people would ask me how I did it. I got to the point where I wanted to do something I was really excited about and personal finance and money are some of those things. I like planning, setting calendars around savings and investment goals. That’s where “Clever Girl Finance” (CGF) started. It started off as a need then it turned into going into business for myself and teaching women how to do the same.
What were some of the main challenges you faced with building you brand?
The challenges I faced were challenges that any typical business owner that is starting from scratch would face. Figuring out my voice was a challenge. Initially, when I first started CGF, I wanted to share a wealth of information but I also wanted to be relatable. It took me a while to find my own voice and my own style, but I knew what I wanted, I just didn’t know how I wanted to deliver it. The other challenge is just finding like-minded people in the entrepreneurship space that were in it for the long run because building a movement takes a long time. I like the quote that says “If you’re building a business, it’s like being in a relationship for seven to ten years”. Businesses get sensationalized especially with social media. When I came into personal finances, I didn’t know anybody in the space. The only person I knew of was Dave Ramsey.
As I started to grow my brand I started to identify with other people in the space. When you start a business, people look at you as competition and aren’t as friendly. So, it took a while to find my people, which I did eventually find. The other thing about finding like-minded people is that when you don’t really have people who are pursuing the same thing or have friends that are pursuing a similar path, you make a lot more mistakes because you don’t have the insight. So, networking is super important. The third challenge, I would say, was just achieving balance, focusing on self-care.
How did you discover your purpose?
It was something that was always in front of me, but I wasn’t looking at it. I’ve always been passionate about finance and after I had my kids, I was in a space where I wasn’t feeling fulfilled at my job, although I loved my job and loved what I did. I just felt that it wasn’t impactful enough because I was working in a space where I was supporting other businesses and what I was doing was great, but I wasn’t really helping the girlfriend that was struggling with a life situation.
CGF took a couple years to figure out. I didn’t know what it was called; I didn’t even know that it was a finance thing. I had a book where I would just brainstorm ideas of things that I could potentially want to do from a business perspective. I’ve had several businesses in the past and I realized that all of my ideas in the book all led back to wellness, finances and wanting to help other people.
What are the businesses that you had in the past?
I had a photography business for about seven years, which did really well. I had a retail business and sold bridal accessories. If I go way back I used to sell Avon to my moms friends. I’m one of those people that it’s not enough for me to go to work and come home just to hang out. I get that from my mother.
What motivates you to keep going?
It’s a number of different things. It’s getting feedback from women that CGF has helped them, hearing their success stories, making simple behavioral changes, connecting with people that share how they’re feeling about their finances and how it has allowed them to make massive changes. All of that is very motivating. Also, wanting to leave a legacy of something positive for my kids motivates me.
From a financial perspective, what advice would you give to people who may be experiencing hardship due to the partial government shutdown?
The shutdown is unfortunate, but what’s happening with people’s financial circumstances is not necessarily unique due to this shutdown. The shutdown just amplifies people’s financial habits or choices. The impact of a shutdown could occur in the form of job loss, having to move, or having a family emergency. There are many ways that the impact of the shut down could manifest itself. So I don’t think people should think that this situation is just unique to the shutdown, because it isn’t. This can happen to anybody that has an impact to his or her income. I think it really does give you a microscope to take a look at your financial state. At times like this, people start to realize, “Oh, my God, I should have done this, I should have done that”. They start to realize the importance of all those messages about saving money and having an emergency fund. People who are facing financial hardship right now, whether it’s due to the shut down, or some other reason really need to pay attention and look at the entire financial picture and determine where its hurting most.
If you’re not getting an income, you can’t pay your rent, you can’t pay your bills. But what are those bills? What is the total amount of money that you need to keep yourself afloat every single month? You need to know what that is. Then once you know what that is, it’s time to get radical. So let’s say you lose your job. What can you do to generate income? A lot of people can do a lot of things if they’re ready to get uncomfortable. So it can mean that, you sell stuff in your house that you never use or get a part time job at a place that you wouldn’t necessarily think about working at, but it will give you a source of income. And you can’t care what people say about you because you’re working at the grocery store, or working somewhere to get income. It could also inspire you to put your own future into your own hands and think about businesses you can start. Studies show that the highest number of multimillionaires that own businesses that actually succeed come out of hardship; they come after a recession or depression. If you look at the era of the Great Depression or even the 2018 recession and you look at the aftermath of that, you’ll find that there were tons of successful businesses that came out of that difficulty. That’s because when times get difficult, people get serious. They get their entire life together.
If you have savings outside of your retirement savings, you can start to leverage that as well. For people who have not had any financial hardship and just want to be prepared, this is a wake-up call because life can happen to anybody. You may not work for the government, but you could lose your job and things could happen that could cause you to be financially unstable. The thing is when you have money, a financial crisis is merely an inconvenience because you have that buffer to pay your rent, pay your bills, go buy gas and go out to eat. So again, a situation like this is a wake up call. Think about the big financial picture. What are your expenses? Where can you cut back? How can you increase your income? Know how much you need to have in your emergency fund. Get your plans in place and make your budget your friend. This is what’s going to help you be prepared when something does happen.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, and resources?
- “Smart Women Finish Rich” by David Bach
- “Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich: 75 Avoidable Mistakes Women Make with Money” by Lois P. Frankel
- “The Richest Man in Babylon” by George S. Clason
- “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill
- “The Personal MBA” by Josh Kaufman
Tell us about some of your accomplishments and which one are you most proud of?
I’m really proud of being able to save money and set the standard for how I want to live my life. That allowed me to quit my job to start a business. One of my big accomplishments, when I was coming out of college, I saved $100,000, which is a big story. In 2018, I was featured in Time magazine and Money magazine. There are a lot of things that I’m really proud of being able to accomplish, but my biggest accomplishments are my kids. I’m really proud of them and I hope I make them proud.