A Matter Of Perception

It started off in 2003 as a modest, home — based business in Jackson, Mississippi; a spare bedroom was its office, and tax preparation its only service. The owner, Tim C. Lee, planned to work for a predominantly black clientele. He never expected that his growing business, TCL Financial & Tax Services, would suffer from prejudice within his own community.

“People had a perception that a 100% black — owned business was not as professional, not as reliable, not as stable as a white — owned business,” says Lee, who recognized the need to teach potential customers how they could benefit from his services. “Despite the fact that most of my clients are black, I have to convince them that I am competent.”

Among those convinced is Sederick Williams, a local landscaper, who went to Lee after co — workers recommended the tax preparation service. Lee amended Williams’ tax returns going back three years and helped him obtain larger refunds. He also repaired Williams’ credit problems using TCL Financial’s credit restoration program. “That proved his competence to me,” says Williams, who has been a loyal customer for two years.

Three years and three offices later, Lee has built a tax preparation service that provides the expertise and sensibilities necessary to attract and retain black customers. TCL Financial, which also provides business payroll services, accrued revenues of $250,000 in 2006. The company employs 15 workers and is poised to generate $300,000 this year.

It has been a long fight for Lee, the 34 — year — old CEO and founder, to establish credibility with his clients and gain their confidence. It all began in 2002 when Lee started a tax return preparation course. By 2003 he had quit his job as a retail manager and begun helping friends and business associates prepare their tax returns through his home — based business.

Many of his clients were unaware of all the deductions they were entitled to, according to Lee. “People didn’t know what questions to ask, and the tax preparers didn’t volunteer information,” he says. He realized that growing his business was the best way to educate his clientele. Lee financed the opening of his first office with $3,000 he had on hand and $5,000 from his mother; the Small Business Development Center at Jackson State University helped him secure a loan for an additional $5,000.

Within a year, TCL Financial was generating $180,000 in annual revenues, and Lee was ready to expand. By 2005, he’d opened his second office. He began teaching his own tax preparation classes, using free IRS publications to instruct the class and promoting it with radio and newspaper ads. The class was a good source of potential customers and it provided Lee with recruits to staff his new office.

In 2006 Lee needed to open a third office to accommodate his growing business. The third location is the firm’s main office and remains open year — round, not just during tax season. “Look for TCL Financial & Tax Services to expand,” says Lee, who plans to add financial planning and check