Continuing with the theme of Financial Literacy Month, I thought it made sense to interview a very financial literate person – an accountant!
Shalini Dharna, CPA, CA has over 10 years of experience in accounting and finance. Shalini graduated with honors from the University of Toronto with a B.Com specializing in accounting. Gaining experience at Ernst and Young and BDO, Shalini has served clients from various industries with different needs and requirements. In this role, she audited financial statements and provided areas of improvements to business owners.
Shalini also worked as a financial analyst at the Ministry of Education managing a portfolio of child care funding recipients, and being the financial lead in the transfer of the family support programs. In this capacity, she developed policies and procedures to evaluate financial statements to ensure proper use of childcare funding. Shalini’s background experience in financial statement preparation and analysis, combined with her experience in accounting and tax, offers an excellent combination that provides businesses with solutions and strategies that maximizes operational efficiencies while supporting growth and profits. Her goal is to help businesses and individuals succeed in achieving their financial dreams.
I had first met Shalini when I was starting to work on my business full-time earlier this year. She hosted a tax workshop for small business owners. Later on this year I discovered she belonged to one of the Mastermind Groups facilitated by Karen Baring (I’m a HUGE fangirl and it’s not just because we have the same first name!). Follow Shalini on Facebook || LinkedIn.
Check out the interview below for some honest advice from an expert.
1. Growing up, did you always know you wanted to work in the financial industry?
Up until grade 11, I was actually pursuing a career in medicine; specifically, I wanted to be a pediatrician. I always loved being with children so I thought being a doctor who would help fix children would be an ideal job. I actually switched to business, accounting specifically, literally as I was applying for universities! I had taken business classes as my electives and when I was applying for universities and just realizing what my life-path would be like as a doctor, I realized as much as I love the idea of helping children, I didn’t have the passion for science and medicine that would drive me to succeed. I did, however, really enjoy my accounting and business classes; and my father being an accountant with his own business – it made sense to me to pursue business if I didn’t want to be a doctor anymore. So being an accountant for me was actually more of a process of elimination than something I always knew I wanted to do.
2. What do you like best about being an accountant?
It actually makes me feel like a financial doctor; people come to me with concerns or issues in their finances and I help them come up with strategies and techniques to fix them and reach their financial goals.
3. At what point did you decide that you wanted to be part of the family business?
It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my son that I even considered joining the family business. I had a nice job with the Ministry of Education but it was an almost 2-hour commute each way to get there. A 4-hour commute every day with a small child at home was not the lifestyle I wanted as a mother, and there was no flexibility to work from home. So at that point, my parents talked to me about joining the business; I could work the hours I wanted to learn the business and take over the practice while also being there for my family. It was a no-brainer and I have never looked back.
4. What do you like the least about running your own business?
Like most entrepreneurs, I think my least favourite part is looking/asking for business. I’m not a salesperson or marketing person and that stuff does not come naturally to me. Generally, I find “Selling myself” to potential clients very uncomfortable, albeit necessary to grow my business.
5. What questions should entrepreneurs ask when looking for an accountant?
Essentially you want to make sure the accountant meets your needs. If all you care about is someone filing your taxes, then really any accountant will do. If you want someone to bounce ideas off of, to help you understand your numbers, and help you in your business…then you need to make sure that’s a service that is offered. Not all accountants do consulting services – many just ask you to sign the tax return and see you once a year.
Secondly, you want an accountant that deals with the size of your business. Many accounting firms deal with medium to large size businesses so they are not familiar with small business or solopreneur needs.
6. What makes Dharna CPA different from their competitors?
A few things actually. The first is that in our firm we have financial planners too. This means we can take a detailed look at all your finances (taxes, investments, insurance, debt structure, cash flow) and come up with a comprehensive plan to make sure everything is working together. Usually, an accountant just does taxes, and a financial planner will do either investments or insurance – but they never talk to each other so you don’t know if everything is working well together! Since we have both our strategies can address all these areas.
Secondly, we are a full-service firm. We offer bookkeeping, accounting and tax services, in addition to our financial services (offered through our sister company Progressive Financial Strategy) so we are a one-stop-shop for all your financial needs. Having an in-house bookkeeper is especially important because it gives us a more detailed understanding of your business and we can have more informed discussions together.
7. Is it better to operate as a sole proprietor or incorporated?
This is one of the most common questions we get! Unfortunately, it is not a black/white answer. While many accountants will say to incorporate because the accounting fees are higher, the reality is whether incorporating is the best choice for your business depends on a number of factors! There are pros and cons to both which need to be evaluated based on your personal and business needs.
8. What is a common mistake that entrepreneurs make when it comes to their finances?
Not hiring Dharna CPA! In all seriousness, the most common mistake I find is not understanding all the small business deductions available to them, but more importantly, how to use them advantageously. Asking questions before you make decisions is key; because we often can’t go back and change what you’ve done!
9. Do you provide any other services that are beneficial to small business owners?
The financial planning combined with accounting services is the most beneficial. So often we find people making personal decisions via their debts/insurance/investments that actually are detrimental from a tax perspective either now or in the future.
I also offer consultations to new business owners. Most accountants will not educate new business owners on their accounting and tax responsibilities, and this is something all small business owners need to know! So I created a Business Requirements 101 consult that I give to new business owners to help guide them. I also do a yearly workshop in February on small business deductions so for those doing their own bookkeeping they know what to claim and how to record it. (NOTE: Makinthebacon readers can get 15% OFF this online workshop until the workshop date. Use the code: BACONVIP).
10. What one piece of financial advice would you give to small business owners who are just starting out?
Other than do my consultation, take the time to do your bookkeeping and review your numbers. You will have a lot of trial and error in the beginning but without reviewing the numbers you won’t know what worked and what didn’t!
11. What advice would you give to accountants who want to run their own business and work with small business owners?
My advice to other accountants wanting to work with small business owners would be to adapt to the clients level of understanding. Accounting and tax can be technical and if you want to build a relationship with your clients you need to be able to explain to them in a way they understand. This will make the business owners see you a valuable resource to their business success and not just a commodity they need once a year to file taxes.
ADDITIONAL OFFER: New clients who mention this Makinthebacon blog post can receive 15% off any of Dharna CPA services (one-time). Contact Shalini: firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation to discuss your specific needs.