Growing up we are taught to work hard and make lots of money to be able to live well. But we were not taught the other financial principles, such as, how taxes affect our income and how we can utilize tax law to our benefit. Judge Learned Hand said “Over and over again courts have said that there is nothing sinister in arranging one’s affairs to keep taxes as low as possible. Everybody does so, rich or poor, and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands.”
Reaching and surpassing a 10-year milestone being a business owner is something to celebrate. I feel blessed, I have learned a lot and grew in the process. Especially starting out in a foreign country where you knew nobody and the laws are different. I am grateful for the opportunity I had working for other CPA firms who gave me a great start.
The love of tax law began in law school where I was the recipient of the merit award in Taxation and Estate Planning for my law degree. Coming to the US I could not practice law because of the different legal systems from South Africa but divine intervention took place when all of a sudden after we had arrived there was talk about April 15th everywhere, little did I know there were other tax deadlines.
How did I start a business? I did not know that I had an entrepreneur spirit in me. It was not only about becoming my own boss. After spending years working for other CPA firms, and after the birth of my daughter plus the encouragement from my husband, something changed in how I wanted to pursue my career. It did not make sense to work 70 hours during tax season building wealth for someone else and miss out on the growth of my daughter. Therefore, I set out to pave my own path. The opportunity to sit across the table and listen to another business owner, what keeps them up at night, their dreams, family, issues with taxes and to be the one to come up with all kinds of legal tax strategies to help alleviate some of those fears and show them what’s possible using tax law to their benefit because I have already spent time acquiring knowledge and expertise to be their Tax Advocate, that’s gold!
As a small business owner, I understand what challenges another business owner is facing. No matter the industry, there are common components to owning a successful business. You start out with excitement that you have this business idea and a few months later you realize that you missed a lot of steps, your foundation is not solid. You now wear many hats. It’s not just your product or service you need to focus on.
It’s all the components of a business. Such as: a business plan, startup capital, office space, furniture and equipment, software to help your business run smooth, licenses/permits, credentials for your industry, marketing your services or product, how much to charge, managing your money, hiring employees, saving for retirement (It was easy to save for retirement when you were working for another big company. Now that you are on your own you need discipline). At the beginning you can do it all but to grow you need a good community of Professionals to help guide you, such as, a bookkeeper, accountant, attorney, insurance agent, financial advisor, business coach, etc). Most of all you need good systems. Be a perpetual learner and take action on everything you are learning.
Being a small CPA firm, I have a great network of other professionals I can mastermind with to share ideas without competition with each other and that’s embracing an abundance mentality. I belong to large organizations who offer support and continuing education, such as, Certified Tax Coach (CTC), American Society of Tax Problem Solvers (ASTPS), American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), California Society of Certified Public accountants (CalCPA), National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP). I also serve on Not for Profit Boards. What surprised me the most is acquiring the best leadership skills by simply taking on a leadership role in a not-for-profit. You can read all the books on leadership but if you are not in a leadership position it’s all just knowledge. It is the application of that knowledge that actually stretches you. For me, Toastmasters was my doctorate degree, when I served as the District Director in 2015-2016. I never dreamed of leading a group of over 1,500 volunteers and motivate them to buy-in to my vision. I ran with the Theme Going for the Gold. Imagine the Possibilities! I had to be excited about it in order for my team to be excited. No matter the challenges we were facing I had to stand up, show up, and be the driving force behind our team of Division Directors, Area Directors, club officers and members as a whole. The District covered Riverside and San Bernardino counties. We completed the year as a President’s Distinguished District for the first time in 20 years. That is the highest recognition a District can achieve. I was grateful to all our members for finding their gold. Servant leadership is the key to learning. It is not one more thing to do. Listen, observe, you don’t have to talk all the time at a board meeting but contribute the best you can. I also learned a lot this past year serving on the Board of Directors for the Temecula Chamber of Commerce and being a member of the Rotary Club of Temecula for several years.
It is scary to be a business owner but as Susan Jeffers said, “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway”. I read a lot and one book that helped accelerate my goals was the 12 week year, and learning the Scrum system. Taxes continue to be the single biggest expense for business owners. Did you know that an average amount the small business owners waste in taxes is $15,000 per year and they don’t have to pay this money if they put certain legal tax strategies in place with the support of a Professional Tax Strategist?
Some of the major services that we provide are: Tax Planning, Tax Resolution and Tax Preparation. What brings me joy after I have worked with a client and we came up with a tax strategy doing tax planning is to hear them say, I was able to reinvest all those tax savings into my business, my family was able to take vacation after a long time, I opened a retirement account, I like the entity structure that we now have because we can do more. That gets me to wake up and go to work.
With Tax Resolution, we help give our clients a fresh start to rebuild their lives, by filing delinquent taxes, offer in compromise, negotiating installment agreements or bank levy or wage garnishment. Receiving an IRS letter or being audited can be an intimidating and complex process. I see my profession as a position of trust because people come to me with very sensitive information and that is where humility plays that major role. When I can see them as another human being who has dreams and goals and not just a transaction.
Through Tax preparation we help with compliance, but our services are more than just putting numbers on a form to satisfy a filing requirement. We use this time to understand your situation and develop affordable strategies, we can help you avoid costly decisions. We follow our Core Values in working with our clients: Humility, Integrity, Respect, Excellence, Understanding and Service (HIRE US). I am passionate about empowering other women in my profession. I have been invited to speak about Women in Accounting by the State University of Utah, AAUW to speak to 8th grade girls at their annual STEM conference at the University of Redlands, and local high schools during their career day. I also give internship opportunities to college students.
Here are some of the highlights and accomplishments we are grateful for and celebrating for reaching and passing the 10 years in business:
- 2016 Woman to Watch: Experienced Leader, CalCPA, and AICPA and its Women’s Initiative Executive Committee
- 2016 President’s Distinguished District Director, Toastmasters International District 12
- 2016 Milestone Award, Toastmasters International Region 10
- 2014 Lead by Example Firm Leadership Award, American Woman’s Society of Certified Public Accountants (AWSCPA)
- 2014 Best Selling Co-Author – “Why Didn’t My CPA Tell me THAT”
- 2014 Excellence in Marketing, Toastmasters International
- 2014 Spirit Award, Region 10 Toastmasters International
- 2013 Sterling Business of the Year, Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce
- 2013 “40 Under Forty”, Murrieta Chamber of Commerce
- 2013 one of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Public Accounting, CPA Practice Advisor
- 2012 Division Governor of the Year, Toastmasters International District 12
- 2012 Lydia Boyd Leadership Excellence Team, Toastmasters International District 12
Our CPA Firm is about quality not quantity when we work with clients. Being able to give our clients that Close Personal Attention is important. It’s been a great roller coaster ride of possibilities for the last 10 years. I am still imagining the possibilities and going for the Gold, while helping our clients discover that it’s not how much you make, it’s how much you keep! As Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done”. It’s great to live, work and serve in Temecula.
Esther Phahla is a Certified Public Accountant and Certified Tax Coach in Temecula. She is the Best-Selling Co-Author of a tax planning book “Why Didn’t My CPA Tell Me That”. She also holds a Master’s of Science in Taxation. She can be reached at (951) 514-2652 or visit www.estherphahlacpa.com