Karla Dennis | Founder of Karla Dennis and Associates
Success leaves clues.
Finance Strategists sat down with Karla Dennis, founder of accounting and tax firm Karla Dennis and Associates. She shared her views on the past, present, and future of the company, as well as the insight that led her down the path to success.
Who is Karla Dennis?
Q: Who are you and what’s your background?
I am Karla Dennis. I was born and raised literally on the streets of Compton, California.I lived with both parents and my two siblings. My father was a military man and my mom did not graduate past 8th grade; thus, they stressed education. Vacations were a trip to the local library to get a book about a foreign place. Any place outside of Compton was foreign. My parents instilled discipline to the point that I was up at 6:00 a.m. school day or weekend. You had chores, you studied, you read, you worked a job to help support the family. I worked from the age of 14 through my school. My first real job was fast food. I graduated Compton high and walked my application down the street to Cal State Dominguez Hills where I graduated with a Bachelors in Business with a Concentration In Accounting. I was not offered the traditional CPA firm job after college. After college, I went to work as an admin with a tax law firm where I grew my interest in tax law. I then pursued and received my Masters In Taxation from Golden Gate University.
Q: Who has been your biggest influence, and why did they have such a significant effect on you?
My parents are my biggest influence. They raised three children who all graduated college and landed on their feet. No scrapes with the law, no drugs, and no gangs. Yet, we were surrounded by gangs and drugs. My parents made us keep our focus on educating our way to a better environment. My father left the military and went to work for USPS. When he came home, my mother fed the family and then she went to work at night as a waitress. We could not afford to buy clothes, so my mother made our clothes. She taught us how to plant and grow a garden where we picked our vegetables. My siblings and I had to dig the dirt, fertilize it, plant the seed and pick the vegetables, go to school, do our homework, get good grades, work a job, keep the house clean and be respectful while doing it. My father told us he could only afford to give us three things, but those gifts would prove to be the most valuable assets we ever had in life. He instilled discipline, hard work, and integrity. This life lesson gave me the will to know that no matter my circumstances, I am able to affect change If I am willing to consistently work hard at what needs to be accomplished.
Q: Knowing what you know now, what would you have told yourself when you were in your twenties?
Knowing what I know now, I would tell myself that the dates may change but the secret to success will forever remain the same: hard work plus discipline will get you what you are looking for in life. Keep your head down and work. When I was first starting out, I thought there was something I didn’t know about business so I kept changing things, not realizing I was raised with the formula for success. My parents wanted a better life for their children. They worked hard at teaching us to work hard. There are no get rich quick schemes in business. You have to find a successful action and repeat it over and over again. You may make micro changes but don’t deviate from the formula.
Q: What is Karla Dennis and Associates?
Karla Dennis and Associates is a Premiere tax advisory, accounting, and business services firm. We cater to individuals and businesses owners who want to work with a firm they can trust to handle their tax and accounting business with integrity.
Q: What makes your company different from its competitors?
Our focus is on ensuring that clients achieve their goals in life, whether that is raising good kids, retiring early, or not getting in a tangle with the IRS. Overpaying income taxes is a trip wire that can prevent clients from reaching that goal. Through getting to know the client at their core, we are able to translate their goals into tax savings. The more the client saves, the more they can invest in reaching their goals. We are not all about the numbers, we want to know what is important at the client’s heart so we can ensure our advice is in alignment with their goals.
Q: What led you to start Karla Dennis and Associates?
I was working about 60 plus hours a week at the law firm. I was in a male-dominated field and had done well for myself. My spouse and I had decided to start a family. I knew being a good mom meant I needed to spend time with my children. I knew being successful in the firm required a lot of hours. I wanted us to start a family, be a good mom, and have money and my career. I was really at a crossroads in my life . I remember this being very stressful and thinking to myself, “Am I going to have to give up my career to be a mom?” I have always had goals and known what I wanted. It was a really difficult time, but I made the decision to walk away from the law firm. I was not an attorney, but I knew enough to try to go out on my own and make something of myself. So, I made the decision to start my own little company. At that time my spouse and I lived in a two-bedroom house and I was determined to do something; I left the law firm and I started a company on the kitchen table of my home. I knew that my spouse made enough money to cover the house note. There was no money for the extra things I wanted and I knew I had a baby on the way. It was stressful. I had a little money left from leaving the law firm. I started passing out flyers, using word of mouth and tried my best to build my business. I started out with a few firefighters, police officers, and teachers. I felt comfortable enough having these clients come into my home and the word started to spread. I actually needed to make more money to really kick off my business. I needed to try my best to replace the income that I was getting at the law firm. I gradually started to build up a clientele and little by little my little company started to grow. Despite the growth, I had a newborn son and clients going in and out of my own home. It was quite a commotion. I made the decision to give birth to Karla Dennis and Associates.
Q: What has the experience of building the business taught you?
Building this business has taught me that success is still met at the intersection of hard work and discipline. I have learned what doesn’t work because I have made mistakes. I realized if I did not give up, I would not fail. Failure is the result of giving up. Having a business is never about the business owner. It is about serving your clients and your staff. When you have learned to do both of these in concert with one another, you will realize that business is a game of time. You have to be willing to put in the time and be willing to be in a never ending learning cycle. Learning what not to do. Learning how to make good and swift decisions on data. I highly recommend businesses know and measure their key performance indicators. The numbers that drive the business.
Q: Where do you see things headed for you in the next 5 years?
I am currently blessed to be working with my four sons in the business. My youngest, who just graduated high school, handles answering tax questions in our online business groups. My sons are the future of Karla Dennis and Associates. The three eldest run their own departments and they are being groomed to lead with discipline, hard work and empathy for their teams. I am currently growing an online education company to be able to get the vast majority of taxpayers the information they need to achieve their goals. I never plan to retire. I will free up more time so I can help raise my future grandkids. My plan is to pivot into having a talk show and coaching a few business owners needing a tour guide to get to the intersection of discipline and hard work.
Fit the pieces together!
The old adage, “Hardwork and discipline will get you what you want in life”, resonates with what Karla Dennis have shared to us above. If it’s a goal of yours to start your own business, make sure that the idea has legs before spending significant time and money on developing it. You may find that there are no shortcuts or hidden secrets to success – just keep plugging away at finding something that works for you and repeating it over and over again until your dreams come true.
This is where we can help with our team of experts who have been through this process themselves as well as understand how all the pieces fit together from an overall financial perspective. Please reach out to a financial advisor in Melville, NY if you have any questions, or visit our Financial Advisor page to see all the areas we serve.