Wani Iris Manly, Esq. is a corporate, security and trademark law attorney, an inspirational keynote speaker, consultant, and two-time bestselling author. She is the founder of the law firm W. Manly, P.A. a boutique, corporate and securities law firm. She started in 2008 in Miami, Florida, with offices in Paris, while serving some of the most recognizable companies including, MasterCard Int’l, Inc., Visa Inc., and Office Depot, Inc., to name a few. 

Wani is also the founder of Where Inspiration Meets Law LLC, which provides legal contracts and document templates for entrepreneurs, coaches,  heart-centered and impact driven businesses, and creatives, to legally protect their businesses while fulfilling their purpose-driven mission in the world. 

Licensed in the State of Florida, Wani has over 17 years of international business, corporate law and securities law experience, as well as intellectual property law experience while working exclusively with C-Suite executives of U.S. and foreign public traded companies, small business enterprises, entrepreneurs, individual stockholders and brokerage companies.

As a leading global speaker on living life to the fullest, Wani empowers audiences to stop acting as if life is a dress rehearsal, that tomorrow is guaranteed and to instead live the life they really want and to be unapologetic about it. Along with maintaining her law practice and speaking, Wani also consults for French companies and organizations in their humanitarian missions in Africa, and expansion into the U.S. market. Hailed as having “balls and ovaries of courage” from her daredevil move to Paris — where Wani knew no one, or one word of French, but went purely on universal signs that lead her to the iconic city of Lights. Starting her own business when she knew nothing about how to run a business except how to be a lawyer, to living in five countries, learning three languages, changing careers midstream. Wani is no stranger to taking big leaps.

Our initial meeting with Wani was a chance encounter! It’s so magical, how this has led to learning a lot more about protecting intellectual property, how to avoid piecing together contracts for business deals and developing resilience in business. We couldn’t let her off the hook without diving deeper into her passion for start-ups  and creating the enabling environments that will protect businesses and ideas legally to thrive and prosper. We had a revealing interview via zoom that you would not only learn from but it will inspire you.

What has been your journey so far, what made you go into the legal field and why are you so interested in supporting women entrepreneurs?

WANI IRIS MANLY: my journey of being a lawyer came from probably being conditioned by family. My family is from Liberia in West Africa, my father was former minister of Finance, so I spent my early years in Liberia from one year old to between the ages of eight and nine in the executive mansion. I spent a lot of time with ambassadors, heads of state, foreign governments, that’s the environment I grew up in. I am the first child to my father, this made me hang out with him often and my interests seemed to flow in the direction of international affairs, legal matters and diplomacy.

I have had my own law firm for the last twelve years and I can say that my career up until this point has centered around working with the big dogs( like they say), the ones who do hire lawyers, because they fully understand that lawyering is an essential to their business.

What I found out through my career when I worked with entrepreneurs, is that they are the heart centered people and the women more so. They are very tied to the business and sometimes they don’t see the big VISION that big heads of corporation’s usually see. That there are money issues involved at the very beginning , right from when they are starting up. They usually think that legal is the thing they need to get when something goes wrong but the corporations recognized that. Right before they open their doors to say we are open for business and put that sign out. They hire the first person, the lawyer , the Certified Public Accountant( CPA), because they know fully well that their survival, their thriving and their entire business rests on the attorney and tax authorities. 

This is what I am trying to impart and teach our entrepreneurs and sole proprietors. Our world is going through a major shift of change wherein the women are getting power.  They are stepping out; women are really coming into a space of money. Stepping to leadership, but for that to happen, your business has to be sound and that‘s for sure includes lawyers. If you don’t have lawyering set up from the very beginning, at some point you will experience the repercussions of that.

Entrepreneurs and start up’s are going into programs and collaborations, that do not always end well. What are your top three steps to take when joining accelerator  or incubator programs?

WANI IRIS MANLY: firstly, you have to know who you are doing business with, investigate these people, just because someone is coming to you with a bunch of money doesn’t necessarily mean they have your best interest at heart, so let’s not loose common sense.

The second thing is to use non- disclosure and confidentiality agreements. They should not be sharing anything with anybody until somebody signs those agreements. The third thing is that you need to make sure that your ideas are protected, you have your brand, its trademarked, your content is copyrighted. You have your ideas protected so in case something happens you can have recurse against these programs.

Entrepreneurs need to protect their businesses from the very beginning, they think of where the business is right now rather than planning for where they want it to be.

When I get very big in the future, in six months from now, that’s when am going to file my trademark application rather than doing it from the onset. 

It’s usual for entrepreneurs to start out using personal assets. How would an entrepreneur or emerging leader protect their assets legally?

WANI IRIS MANLY : I would say in the very beginning you should avoid using your personal assets to actually fund the business, there is a concept OPM (other people’s money). You should use other people’s money to fund your business. Especially if you are coming from those humble beginnings when that’s all you have. Most entrepreneurs are not in the position to give away everything like that in the very beginning. You want to have alliance relationships with people that are trustworthy and can protect all of your ideas.  Give them a small piece of what you offer and fund the business that way. Rather than giving them the deeds to your house. You have to be very strategic.

You have to study the wealthy people and learn how they initially made their money and how they don’t work for money but instead money works for them. It is a system and that system includes using other people’s money.  Africans and Blacks are not taught this. We’re fed the narrative to pull yourself up by the bootstraps. We need to do away with this slave mentality and learn what they do.  That’s how we need to start doing business. Also, don’t treat the business like your baby; then its seems so close to you. There needs to be some level of space because you are not thinking clearly and you are not thinking strategically, when you are holding it so close to your heart. 

Take the time to grow and nurture your ideas. Date them as you would date a guy in pursuit of a relationship.  ( In other words don’t rush). Do the same thing for your business, you should take the time out to do a fund raiser or to do a go fund me to get some sort of capital. Not every enterprise is going to be successful, it’s just the way that it is. If you are giving up your house from the very beginning for something that might not be fruitful, that’s too risky! You need to be smart to know how to go about it. 

What if an entrepreneur is looking for Investors, or a serial entrepreneur is ready to monetize their business ? How can one navigate through?

WANI IRIS MANLYOne of the things you can do before selling is licensing, which is the ONE thing that entrepreneurs in my experience never think of. This is the power of having legal involved in your business from day one. That’s where trademarks, copyrights  and the intellectual property comes handy. That is one way to generate money from the business even if you were to sell it or if you  are burned out with running it. You can still be monetizing it; you can also look for a way to create passive income. In these days everybody needs to have their business  in E-commerce, like we see happening during COVID-19. I would say look for a way that you could still monetize your business, whether it is royalty payments or franchising.

If you really want to sell it there are other resources you can look at, you need to look for investors. Investors are always looking to see what they can put their money in.  They are looking  for companies or ideas that they can actually give to.  You can find strategic partnerships locally like the Chambers of Commerce. You know most of us are online on social media or on LinkedIn, we are forgetting that we can actually connect with people in real life and make deals. 

Since before COVID -19 we all asked Google to solve our problems! We know how unsafe that could get, besides the average person does not fully trust lawyers. How does one procure legal services online safely?

WANI IRIS MANLY: Lawyers and legal people all over the world including the United States seem to have a bad reputation. I am not surprised , I totally understand. The good thing though about the legal industry is that it’s changing. Lawyers are now more online and accessible. I would say social channels are the first thing you should try.  You should just be friends with Google. Google those lawyers and check in entrepreneur groups. Look at the reviews and search their names, find out if they licensed, do your due diligence. Finally look to see what actually comes up, do you see the lawyer? 

Let’s take me, I am very personal and visible, but I am not a person that’s hiding behind a lawyer’s cloak. I am who I am. I write personal development books and share about my struggles, my work, my journey. I’m online and very visible with a platform. How visible, is rule no 1. You can see if  this lawyer has a bad history against them, have they been reported to the Bar have they lost their license you can actually check up on them. 

LinkedIn is a very great resource, you can see who their friends are, who their contacts are, you can contact people and say I saw that you worked with someone or you recommended someone, what do you know about working with this person? I encourage everybody to google, ask and inquire you  have to do your homework. Check Avvo, which is another great source for attorney referencing.

So in terms of fees and how expensive a lawyer is, lawyers now have really streamlined their services to make legal services accessible.  Instead of billable hours, they use flat fee engagements, especially for contracts. This is the whole concept behind Where Inspiration Meets Law. ™I created a website where am doing legal contracts bundle. People could  get their website policies, what they need, different types of contracts . 

There are so many affordable lawyers on the spectrum so that money should never ever be an issue, but you want to look at qualification, how long they have been in the business, how long they have been licensed. Social proof, it’s on the internet, the great thing about the internet is that everything is on there.

Would you like to share books and other resources that could help entrepreneurs and personal development enthusiasts?

WANI IRIS MANLY: Basically, there is one book, it’s not legal related, it’s a book by Robert Kiyosaki , author of  Rich Dad Poor Dad. He wrote a book called Cashflow Quadrant. It’s a book that every entrepreneur needs to read at least 25 times. It’s a book about mindset. So many entrepreneurs are not born entrepreneurs, they are coming from a corporate job and identify as an employee. 

This is a book where it explains to you about four different quadrants of the mindsets and four different kinds of workers. You have the employees and then you have the entrepreneurs and on the right side of the quadrants you have the business owners and you have the investors. The right side of the quadrant is who runs the world. It’s the likes of those people such as Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet that money works for. They don’t work for money, money works for them. The other side of the quadrant is us, which includes the lawyers, the doctors, the professionals with the employees being on the bottom left hand corner. The whole book point of the book shows you the mental shift that you have to make. To move from the left side to the right side, you really want to be in that investor stage where you are not working for money, money is actually working for you

One of the things about my entrepreneur journey that I wished someone told me about twelve years ago is that the strategy doesn’t matter, you can always hire a good lawyer to help you with the legal part, it’s the mental development that helps you run a business that nobody actually knows. I went to the best legal schools across the world but no one taught me how to run a business. It was a struggle for me in the beginning. I had to make that mental shift, it’s 80-90 % mentality and the rest 10-20 % strategy.

What would be your words of encouragement to someone who is about to lose their business or has already lost their business.  In terms of making a mindset switch, how would you advise them to start up again and be resilient?

WANI IRIS MANLY: first of all, I will encourage them to see that it actually is happening for them rather than it’s happening to them and to see it actually as a gift. When you begin to refrain that negative situation that way because that’s really true, it’s like everything coming out of your life is meant to be to make a way for something bigger, that’s just like universal law.

When we start to see things as a blessing, the blessing begins to reveal itself to us. 

The second thing I will say is that reach out to people and seek out to resources. There are so many people out there who are sensitive to what’s happening, people are giving away scholarship services, they are not charging for certain things, so use the available resources and learn to reach out for help. 

Do not take things alone and I will also say now there is such a great opportunity for everyone to become wealthy. I will like to remind people that some of the greatest companies that we have right now were built during a recession.  All these internet companies were created in times like this when there is a need.

There is so much opportunity. Figure out what’s the problem that you can solve for society. You can be problem solvers, take Amazon for example, the problem they solve is making everything come to your house so you don’t have to leave and they keep growing.  Figure out what problem exists in society that you can actually solve.

What problem can I actually solve, the better questions you ask yourself , the more you would create something. We must recognize, right now that you have so many businesses you can do with no money. So many issues and problems to solve, so if you don’t know right away. You can start by asking those questions to yourself or if you believe in a higher power- ask God. 

You can literally run your business for free with Facebook or any other social media platforms, if you have a phone or internet service. You can create whatever you want. So we have to start thinking outside the box and recognize we are in a new kind of system. So I don’t need to be just a lawyer, because I went to law school. You know what? I can be that and so much more, such as a coach for people, a speaker, a writer, consultant — all of which I am. We live in an “and” world, not an “or” world. Don’t limit yourself  so think outside the box.

Written by: arianadiaries

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  • Priscilla

    Very insightful and inspiring. Hard core truths revealed…as an entrepreneur, I need legal counsel right from the beginning..etc. Thanks .