Business Link’s Client Feature blogs allow us to highlight some of the many incredible Alberta entrepreneurs we work with, like Sariette Banyk Chia, CEO of ALSF – Alternative Legal Services Firm Incorporated. We connected with Banyk and asked her a few questions about her entrepreneurial journey as an immigrant entrepreneur, and the impact that COVID-19 has had on her business:
Q. What is your background?
A. I was born in Cameroon, and immigrated to Canada in 2014. I attended law school at the University of Yaoundé II, and was a student in law back in Cameroon when I moved to Canada. My background as an internationally trained lawyer permits me to get my credentials assessed by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and today, I am currently working on the certification program to become a lawyer in Canada. In the meantime, I operate as a legal agent, a certified court worker, a certified family mediator, an Entrepreneur, and a qualified paralegal with years of legal experience.
For the past few years, I have accumulated the following recognitions: Afro-Canadian Award Nominee Best Entrepreneur 2019, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs Nominee 2020, and Award-Winning Best Immigrant Entrepreneur 2020 (PME Laurier 2020). I am a proud wife and mother of a lovely boy.
Q. Tell us about your business and what it does.
A. Our company is called ALSF. Alternative Legal Service Firm. It was incorporated in January 2018, so it has been running for the past two and a half years. ALSF is a bilingual (English and French) firm providing assistance in self-representation, legal drafting, family mediation, and commissioning of Oaths. We do representation as legal agents before the Alberta Provincial Court, the Alberta Human rights commission, the Alberta Workers Compensation Board, and the Appeal Commission for Alberta Workers Compensation Board. We also provide consulting services with regards to immigration in partnership with Express Lane Immigration. Our Immigration consultant serves clients in Alberta and around the world.
Q. What motivated you to start your own business?
A. Arriving in Canada with an international background as a lawyer gave me the desire to become a lawyer or work in a law firm in Canada. Unable to get a job in Canada with my international background in law, I enrolled in a legal assistant training course at CDI college and graduated in 2015. This still did not help me get a job in a law firm. However, I did not give up on my dreams because of the challenges. I decided to do volunteering work with many legal organizations and law firms, which helped me to better understand the legal system in Alberta and how to sell legal services as an independent paralegal or legal agent.
The hunger for success and the passion I have in providing legal assistance and services motivated me to start ALFSI. Another good reason for starting the business was to be a voice to voiceless internationally trained lawyers who are facing challenges integrating. I wanted to impact their lives and give them hope. I am deeply passionate about legal services and facilitating access to justice for families in Alberta. In fact, that passion drives me to business and business will drive me to success.
Q. What are you most proud of? What is your biggest success?
A. We are most proud of being able to successfully handle legal matters that don’t require a certified lawyer. Our goal however is to become an accredited law firm in the near future.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge as an Immigrant Woman Entrepreneur in Alberta?
A. Being an entrepreneur is challenging, but being an immigrant woman entrepreneur is more challenging. My biggest challenge as an immigrant woman entrepreneur in Alberta has been the establishment of my business credibility and visibility with regards to legal services. An entrepreneur is nothing without credibility and visibility, and an immigrant woman entrepreneur finds it difficult because she is living and doing business in an environment where she typically has no connection, so it will be harder for a client to trust her.
Q. What is your biggest challenge now, in light of COVID-19?
A. Our biggest challenge now in light of COVID-19 is having our physical doors closed for more than three months, and not being able to sell our services like we did before COVID-19.
Q. Have you had to pivot your business due to the impact of COVID-19? If so, what have you done?
A. We have been working virtually. We have been trying to sell our services virtually, but it is still challenging.
Q. What has this pandemic taught you about you and/or your business?
A. This pandemic taught us the value of online marketing!
Q. What advice would you offer other small business owners as they continue to navigate the impacts of COVID-19 on their business?
A. Continue to cope with the situation, and understand that it can happen for a business to continue to face challenges.
Q. How has Business Link helped you? Why did you come to us?
A. Business Link has helped me a lot. I knew nothing about business when I reached out to Business Link, so I have learned a lot!
Q. Have you received support from other organizations? If so, which organizations?
A. Alberta Women Entrepreneurs, Microbusiness Inc, WOW Women in Business, Economic Development Council in Alberta (Conseil de Development Economique en Alberta), AJEFA (the French-Speaking Legal Professionals Association of Alberta), Fleury Solutions LTD and Argeen Tax & Accounting Services Inc.
Q. What advice would you share with other female Immigrant Entrepreneurs in Alberta who want to start or grow their own business?
A. Believe in themselves, be perseverant, work hard, be around positive people, and connect with good business mentors.
Q. What’s coming up next for you?
A. We are working on the following projects: Independent paralegals masterclass and mentorship for immigrants internationally trained lawyers. We are also planning to expand our organization through franchising.
Q. Is there anything you would like to share?
A. I would like to encourage any immigrant out there who is struggling because he or she wants to make his dreams come true. Yes, it is possible only if you work hard and refuse to give up!
Where you can find ALSF:
ALSF on Facebook