At 17 years old, Dimeta Smith Knight wrote in her yearbook that she wanted to own her own business someday. She’d fallen in love with accounting during a high school class and decided it was the perfect career for her.
But even with that determination, accomplishing her goal would be no small feat. On top of the usual challenges of being a small business owner, Dimeta faced additional barriers as a Black woman in a field dominated by White men. Less than 1 percent of all Certified Public Accountants in the U.S. are Black, and an even smaller fraction of that 1 percent are Black women.
Like many great entrepreneurs, Dimeta turned a perceived weakness into opportunity. She recognized that Black, Indigenous and POC business owners may struggle to find CPAs, because they’re such a rarity in those communities, and she’s helping to fill that gap for many small businesses.
“Minorities tend to start their own businesses at a faster rate than non-minorities, so it is helpful for them to have service providers that can actually relate to their stories and are really invested in their personal success,” she explained. “That is often one of the areas where minority communities suffer, because they don’t have enough access to those credentialed professionals.”
Because much of her business is rooted in a desire to help those communities, Dimeta sees accounting as so much more than just numbers.
“I understand people first, and I understand their passions, so I help them make their passions profitable. We are literally curating their financial story while allowing them to pursue their dreams,” she said. “ I try to do a good job of translating that and then of course helping them understand how everything that they do in a business will ultimately be told in their financial story.”
Since Dimeta Smith CPA was founded, the firm has grown to include seven employees and helps clients around the world, from immigrant-owned businesses in Nashville to a boy’s home in Africa to a technology firm in Bangladesh.
While reflecting on the last 10 years as a business owner, Dimeta recounted some of the most important lessons she’s learned along the way, which apply to any field or industry.
Before starting Dimeta Smith CPA, Dimeta worked as an accountant for a healthcare company, so she created a CPA firm without ever having worked for one before. Dimeta succeeded because of her skill as an accountant and a leader, and just as important was her willingness to grow and learn.
“A lot of what I’ve learned is of course through research and associations, and making a lot of mistakes and failing forward,” she said.
One of the biggest things Dimeta has realized recently is that there’s a lot of truth in many of the cliches around business, especially “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
While it’s true that you have to take risks to grow your business and reach new levels of success, there are some lessons that you can only learn by failing, she said.
“I have tried to grow the firm in multiple ways, pursuing multiple partnerships, even developing joint ventures with different firms, and sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. But what I do know is that I have learned great lessons through failure.”
Dimeta has also learned the importance of building a strong foundation for your business and getting certain things in place before you actually need them.
“Three things that I have been promoting to friends, family and even Facebook followers are that you’ve got to have relationships, resources and reserves,” she said.
Without those things, your business will not be able to weather the storms that inevitably arise, a reality which is clearer than ever during COVID-19.
Great relationships will allow you to stay connected, both with sources of information and with your clients. Resources allow you to deal with the unexpected, whether in your personal or professional life. And reserves are vital for sustaining your business in times of crisis.
“We have no idea what’s going to happen in the future. So you need financial reserves, but you also need physical and spiritual reserves,” Dimeta said. “These last three months have shaped the course of the future for many families, and it’s unfortunate that many families and businesses will never recover, because they didn’t have three months of reserves.”
As an accountant, Dimeta is uniquely equipped to help her clients financially prepare for situations like these, but she does so with the awareness that she’s still learning, too.
“I don’t have all the answers, but what I’m trying to do is make sure that every lesson that I learn, that I really take it to heart and am able to share that with people and implement it in my own life,” she said.
Much like her desire to equip BIPOC business owners with the resources they need to succeed, Dimeta also works to invest in the younger generation, especially girls interested in STEM and college students who want to be accountants.
“Some days it may be hard, but I love most days just realizing that I can give opportunities to people,” she said.
Dimeta recognized that while most college students need internships, larger companies tend to only hire students from the best schools or with the best GPAs and connections. With her internship program, she seeks out students who may be overlooked for other opportunities.
“I want anybody who has the desire to pursue a career in accounting to be able to do so,” she said.