As Lennie and I have been working towards getting the new and improved Lenspeace up and running, we've both come to recognize our shortcomings as business owners. Like many other freelancers and entrepreneurs quickly found out, there's so much more to running a business than just doing good work. While someone might be gifted in a particular industry or field of study, that doesn't mean that person has the business know-how needed to run a successful business in that (or any) industry.
In this month's article, we're going to share our path to financial transparency, why we're doing this, and who's helping us along the way.
Over the past few years–and especially in 2020, we've seen a lot more companies "taking a stand" on issues relating to racism, sexism, homophobia, environmental sustainability, and other "hot" social justice issues. Unfortunately for most of these companies, their new marketing campaigns are nothing more than virtue signaling–they talk the talk but don't walk the walk. And while Lennie and I like to think that Lenspeace couldn't fall prey to virtue signaling, we want to have a way to make sure that our actions aligned with our values.
In 2019, one of Lennie's creative partners, Gage Mitchell, had his sustainable brand design studio, Modern Species, B Corp Certified. Based on the direction Lenspeace was heading, Gage suggested that we also look into becoming a Certified B Corporation. After doing some research and having conversations with other people within our network, we decided that getting this certification would be a critical step in the future growth of Lenspeace. But what is B Corp Certification and why is it important?
Since 2007, B Corp Certification is the only certification that measures a company's entire social and environmental performance. The first step to reaching certification is the B Impact Assessment. The B Impact Assessment evaluates how your company's operations and business model impact your workers, community, environment, and customers.
Administered by the nonprofit B Lab, the B Impact Assessment consists of a series of questions divided into 4 categories: Governance, Workers, Community, and Environment. You want to get at least 80 of 200 possible points with the ultimate goal of increasing your score when you recertify every 3 years.
But depending on how a business is structured and how well it has documented its values, policies, and historical data, the assessment can either be a breeze or a significant challenge. Thankfully, you don't have to do it alone.
When Lennie and I started seriously discussing B Corp Certification, she reached out to a financial contact she knew who had helped people get certified. That contact pointed us in the direction of Nathan Stuck and Carianna Morales. Nathan is the Co-Founder and Chairman of B Local Georgia, an organization growing the B Corp movement in the Peach State. They work with B Corps in Georgia to collaborate and serve that community. They also help interested companies achieve B Corp Certification.
Nathan has partnered with Carianna from the Emory chapter of Consult Your Community (CYC). CYC is a national nonprofit organization that mobilizes college students to provide pro-bono consulting to local, predominantly minority-run small businesses in their communities. Through semester-long, skills-based consulting projects, students leverage their education, digital fluency, mentorship networks, and knowledge as customers to help local businesses address a specific need.
After a few Zoom meetings, Lenspeace was on track to become a CYC project for the 2021 Spring semester. The Emory CYC and B Local Georgia were going to help us reach 80 points and find ways to continue improving our score in the coming years.
Unfortunately, there was still something holding us back.
B Corp Certification proves a company is meeting the highest standards of verified performance from supply chain and materials to charitable giving and employee benefits. A company's positive impact is supported by transparency and accountability requirements. Thus, several vital questions in the assessment are surrounding two topics: company policies and financial transparency. To get the points for these questions, we need documentation of our policies regarding who we work with (employees, partners, vendors, etc.) and how our financial history aligns with and supports these policies. We didn't have any of this information.
Since Lennie and I only had experience as sole proprietorships, we had never taken the time to think through hiring policies, benefits packages, and many other business factors typically handled by an HR department. And as I mentioned in last month's article, Lenspeace fell apart in 2019, so we've been in the process of rebuilding the business from scratch. This meant that we didn't have one full year's worth of financial data to answer the assessment questions. So if we wanted to complete the assessment, we needed to pause our project with B Local Georgia and the Emory CYC. We had to ensure that we have the foundations of our business established before bringing anyone else to the table.
This meant refiling the business with the state as an LLC, updating the business' articles to include me as an equal partner, getting set up as an S Corp for tax purposes, and opening a new business bank account. And to ensure we did all of this correctly and in alignment with B Corp standards, this time, we decided to hire a long-term CPA and a bookkeeper.
Going through the assessment helped us clarify the types of individuals and organizations Lenspeace is committed to working with. We want to support local businesses owned by women and members of the BIPOC (black, Indigenous and people of color) and the LGBTQ+ communities. And while we'd already found our bookkeeper, we were struggling to find the CPA who would be a perfect fit for Lenspeace.
Last week, Lennie mentioned on her Instagram account that we were struggling to find a CPA to meet our criteria and needed a referral. Within a few minutes, she got a private message from her friend and colleague, Andrew Twigg. He had the perfect CPA for us. He had worked with them for years, they'd saved him thousands of dollars, and they didn't charge an arm and a leg. And while they weren't local, this CPA's name led us to believe they might be BIPOC and their pronouns are they/she, which meant that they were likely a part of the LGBTQ+ community. But the real clincher was when we did a quick Google search to learn more about them and found their mugshot. We were 90% sold.
If you Google Uto Iha, one of the first things to appear is their mugshot. From the start of the Portland protests until the fires took center stage, Uto had spent most evenings fighting for what they believed in. But on one fateful Tuesday in August, their weekly D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) night was canceled, so they hit the streets to speak their truth and were arrested. That story, plus the fact that we couldn't stop smiling and laughing during our initial Zoom meeting (and all subsequent calls, as well), meant that we had found our CPA. Not only did they have the knowledge and experience we needed, but they were in alignment with our overall goals and couldn't wait to help us reach them. We never expected that working with an accountant could be this enriching and fun. So please join us in welcoming Uto Iha to the Lenspeace team.
The two primary goals for our monthly articles are transparency and accountability. We also hope that our openness can help any of you struggling with the same issues. We can't just say that we want positive and impactful change in how businesses operate on a local, national, and international level. We also need to be that change and support others on that same path.
To that end, we hope that you'll take some time to look into B Corp Certification and your B Local Community. You can also look for your local CYC to determine if your business could benefit by being one of their chosen semester-long projects. And if you're looking for an accountant that's knowledgeable, personable, and easy to understand, please reach out to Uto to see if they're a good fit for your needs. We've included a brief write-up and contact information for all three referrals below.
By the way, I'm giving myself kudos for even the smallest of achievements. So I'm celebrating the fact that this month's newsletter was only ~10 hours and not 2 days late. Way to go, Sha!
Until next month, borahae!
B Local Georgia is an organization created to serve the Georgia B Corp community. In addition, they work to build a community of like-minded businesses and business leaders to redefine a capitalist system that works for all stakeholders. If you're interested in certifying your business as a B Corp, reach out to them so they can connect you with the appropriate resources. Connect and get in touch with them on LinkedIn to stay updated on the latest news and upcoming events.
Consult Your Community (CYC) is a national student-run organization that provides pro-bono consulting services to small businesses across the United States. Each semester, teams identify and execute recommendations that revitalize, strengthen, and grow our clients' businesses. At the Emory chapter, we pride ourselves on working closely with minority-owned and female-founded small businesses in the Atlanta area. Through CYC, Emory students gain hands-on business experience and develop skills that prepare them for their future careers, while local business owners become empowered to foster their own economic independence and sustainability.
If you have any questions or are small business owners seeking to work with them, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Uto is a CPA licensed through the Oregon Board of Accountancy. They started at a Big Four firm where they specialized in individual international tax returns. Uto then moved to a local Portland firm where they expanded their tax skillset to include closely-held businesses (S-Corps and partnerships). Their goal is to provide big firm-level services to small businesses and their owners at reasonable rates. Uto thinks everyone should have access to business and tax strategies–not just the wealthy.
You can reach Uto at email@example.com