Typically, adding fees to things that were once free isn’t going to be received well. Our Tax Pro Assistance Program was free in its inaugural year. So what gives? For 2024, we decided to change things up. (It’s not as bad as it sounds, don’t worry). In fact, it has been a smashing success. And our participating businesses are seeing the impact. By the end of this story, you’ll see why.

Why the Fee?

If you’ve ever looked at the financials of a company you’re trying to invest in or you’re trying to understand the financials of your own company, you know things can get complicated. Of course, the information is out there to learn for free, but it’s all over the place. And often, you don’t have a guiding hand available to answer your questions and put it all into an easy-to-understand perspective. A unique perspective that applies to you and your situation specifically.

That’s why for many small business owners in the South Suburbs, SDA’s Tax Pro Assistance Program has been transformative. Launched as part of the SDA’s Business Growth Services (BGS), the Tax Pro Assistance Program has evolved to meet the growing needs of local entrepreneurs. By evolved, we mean it got better. Much better. The program now provides high quality financial assistance to small businesses at a fraction of the typical cost.

Emmanuel Davila, Director of Business Growth Services at the SDA, said: ”We aim to build a sustainable model that will allow us to continue offering this essential service and reinvest in additional financial literacy training for business owners.”

Additionally, 2024 marks the launch of four cohort programs. Davila said: “One centers around marketing main street brick and mortar businesses throughout the Southland and the other three cover topics such as business financial fundamentals, modern marketing, and HR & team management.”

Overall, the program offers a comprehensive approach to financial management. Through webinars in both English and Spanish, business owners are educated on crucial topics. Topics like cash flow management and working effectively with financial experts. This is where foundations are built. And with that foundation, businesses are equipped to see the road ahead with clear eyes.

$350 Fee vs. $2,000 Fee

By subsidizing the cost of tax preparation and financial statement services, the SDA ensures that businesses can access reliable financial assistance. These same services can otherwise cost as much as $2,000, making our nominal fee of $350 a drop in the bucket in comparison—without skimping out on quality. As for businesses that needed additional financial statements, the cost of our program was about $500.

Marisela Zambrano, Relationship Manager at the SDA, has seen the program’s positive impact on participants. “We’ve had very positive feedback. People were willing to pay the nominal fee, especially those who participated last year and knew the quality of service,” she noted.

Another business, Haus of Beaute, participated despite being yet to reach profitability. Its owner, Adodo Robinson, said, ”The fact that I could have high-quality tax advice really set me up for success when I wasnt profitable—it helped me save money and improve my bottom line. Having confidence in my tax returns is crucial, especially when seeking capital.”

Real Stories, Real Impact

Zachary Warren, who owns his own barbershop in the Southland, has faced numerous challenges since the pandemic began. “Trying to find resources is the ultimate challenge,” Warren recalls. The Tax Pro Program, he says, was a “godsend,” providing clarity and guidance during the pandemic—a time of serious uncertainty.

The leadership of Christina Macklin, a CPA at Ringold Financial Management Services who led the program, played a pivotal role for Warren. He said: ”She helped us understand what documents to submit, the difference between personal and business finances, and how to keep up with receipts.” This level of detailed support helped Warren’s Raz.r.Headz stabilize its spending and better manage its financial resources.

Similarly, Taylor McCleneghan, who owns a product development firm specializing in handmade goods, shared how the program has been big for her over the past two years. “The first year was free, which was great. It gave us clarity on what we needed to do for the following years and how to manage and balance our sheets,” McCleneghan said. Her business, Small Shop, has also faced the economic challenges brought on by inflation and supply chain issues. Through all of that, however, the program has provided a steady hand.

Looking Ahead

Plans to integrate the program into a broader suite of financial literacy services are already underway—think business financial fundamentals and modern marketing. As Davila points out, “Were looking to build out a sustainable model that will allow us to reinvest in additional financial literacy training and other business growth services. Our goal is to help businesses not just survive but thrive, by providing the resources and support they need to grow.”

Moving forward, Davila said there are no plans to change the fee again. The program is made possible through funding from Cook County and funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The SDA’s goal is to expand the number of participants, helping more businesses in the Southland build a better foundation for financial literacy.

About Southland Development Authority

The Southland Development Authority is a nonprofit business organization launched in 2019 by business, civic, and political leaders from around the Southland who recognize the potential of the region’s people, businesses, and real estate. Our mission is to bring the resources and capacity needed to achieve transformative, inclusive economic growth for the south suburbs with a focus on investments in the Southland’s communities, industry, housing, and workforce.

We work steadfastly to connect Southland business owners, investors, and individuals with key resources to operate and thrive in the region, from equipping mid-size and small businesses in our Business Growth services Program with customized advice and consulting services, to helping local residents access the tools needed to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. With a deep institutional knowledge of the Southland’s people, markets, and history and our multifaceted, experienced team, the Southland Development Authority is a powerful partner for any individual, business, or investor.