First take action
Francina “Peaches” Downs clearly recalls sitting at the kitchen table and watching her mother, Annie, write out all the household bills, diligently balancing them with the family’s modest income. Because of her mother’s care with the expenses, Francina remembers February especially fondly, because it was then that her mother reaped the rewards of vigilant money management and tax preparation. Francina, the oldest of six children, smiles as she recollects: “We would all get excited because we knew at tax time that we might just get a new pair of shoes or get to go on a little trip, maybe even get some pocket money.” Francina credits her mother with “managing our money so well that we didn’t know how poor we were!” Perhaps it is these fond memories that first led this successful tax-preparation professional down the path she walks today.
Born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina, Francina Downs was the daughter of mill workers. “I had a lovely childhood,” she remarks. “Although my parents worked hard to support us, they made time to take us to church every Sunday and to sit down and really talk with us about life. They instilled in us the belief that we could be, have, and do anything in this world if we were determined and willing to work hard.”
Francina graduated from Greenville’s Berea High School and went on to attend Greenville Technical College, where she earned an associate’s degree in accounting and bookkeeping. While in college, she worked full-time to support herself, riding the city bus to get where she needed to go. She recalls, “The bus route that I took to get me into downtown Greenville passed by this billboard promising the possibility of ‘Extra Cash for Those Willing to Learn,’ along with the chance to ‘Meet People’ and receive ‘Free Training.’ It seems like I read this advertisement for years, and I finally asked myself, ‘What you are waiting for?’” Francina remembered the words of advice from her father, Frankie: “The world is filled with all types of opportunities, and in order to succeed at something, you must first take action.” “So,” she continues, “I finally called the number and registered to learn how to prepare tax returns.
Confidence To Start
Francina stayed with that tax-preparation company, even relocating to Michigan, and worked her way up to eventually running several branches. “Every day when I went to that cubicle, I imagined that I was walking into my own office. I treated every one of those customers as though they were my own personal clients.” She enjoyed learning all aspects of the tax-preparation business, but she also learned how she didn’t want to do things. “The way they handled their clients was not how I wanted to work.”
While living in Michigan, Francina also attended Davenport University, graduating with a double major in software application development and information technology. There she saw the writing on the wall and knew that, regardless of her career path, technology would play a large role. She explains, “Although my prior studies and major focus were in accounting, I wanted to diversify my education to include the technology industry.”
After heading back south to pursue her master’s degree in accounting and finance, and later becoming a CPA, Francina worked as an accounting specialist in Charlotte, North Carolina, for one of the country’s largest nationwide equipment and tool rental corporations. “It was at this job where I had great experience working with large volumes of various business accounts,” says Francina. Working with these accounts, she dealt with numerous tax law changes; this experience, she recalls, helped to “strengthen my expertise in the tax and accounting industry” and better understand “the total structure of the accounting and financial cycle of the business.”
But after working at that job for several years with no opportunity for growth, Francina had a firm conversation with herself. “I told myself, ‘Peaches Downs, it is time to make a change.’ I knew that I had the skills and the ability to go out on my own. I knew the financial and accounting business and I loved it. I knew how I wanted to treat my staff, and I knew how I wanted to treat my clients. I said to myself, ‘You have the personality and you have the credentials – just step out there on faith, and do this!’”
It was Francina’s desire to create her own identity in the accounting industry that spurred her to action: “I wanted to provide such first-class customer service that people would want to come to me to have their taxes done.” So Peaches Downs made a change. She moved back to her hometown of Greenville, finally ready to pursue her dream. “I wanted a name for my business that had personal meaning to me, so I settled on CTS Tax & Accounting Services,” she explains. “CTS stands for ‘Confidence To Start,’ and that’s exactly what it took to make it happen! It took confidence in myself to jump in to opening my own business. And although the economy was tough at the time, I refused to believe that, with my positive attitude and my strong faith in God, along with hard work and dedication, the company would not succeed.”
Francina Downs now runs a full-service, year-round tax-preparation, accounting, and bookkeeping company through which she serves the needs of about 250 clients. While she currently has only one office, plans are in the works to open another branch. In an effort to expand her clientele, Francina often attends neighborhood-association and networking events. She also sends newsletters to community churches and other groups offering free tax workshops and small-business seminars.
A twenty-year veteran of the tax-preparation business, Francina and her team at CTS Tax & Accounting Services, an authorized IRS e-filer, prepare all state, federal, and local tax returns. They also file Schedule C and Partnership (1065) and S corporation (1120S) returns, and they even offer pickup and delivery services. CTS offers tax problem resolution for those who owe back taxes, including offers in compromise (OICs), IRS correspondence, and filing of delinquent tax returns for clients in order to bring them back to full IRS compliance. CTS Tax & Accounting also offers notary services, refund anticipation loans (RALs), and installment payment plans, as well as reliable bookkeeping services for small businesses. “Our mission,” says Peaches, “is to prevent our clients from becoming IRS statistics by assisting and educating them in the required process with integrity. My favorite thing about my job,” she continues, “is meeting with and handling each and every one of my clients with loyalty, integrity, and respect, and making them my most important client during that time. I enjoy listening to their needs, educating them about tax law changes, and assisting small business with their bookkeeping and tax needs.”
While it might seem that Francina loves everything about her work, she does echo a sentiment familiar to many tax professionals: “In addition to the continuous education that is required in this profession, my least favorite thing about my job is that April 15 comes too fast.” Never one to shrink from a challenge, Francina continues, “The hardest part of my job is trying to educate and provide the correct IRS information to a taxpayer who has been misinformed and has received incorrect tax information over the years, thus putting themselves into a serious tax liability with the IRS.”
First-class customer service
Francina has been partners with Drake Software since 2008, when she and a friend attended a seminar in Charlotte. In the market for tax-preparation software, Francina was determined to do her research so that she didn’t end up saddled with a program she would later regret buying. At that Charlotte seminar, she sat near the front of the room where she could gauge reactions to the product, and what she saw surprised her. “There were people there who had been using Drake for years,” she said, “and they came to the workshop just because they loved the product so much. People were so excited,” she laughs, “that I thought it might be a scam!” Not one to be easily sold, she attended two more Drake seminars to see if she got the same feeling. “I wanted to be sure. I said, ‘God, I know you didn’t bring me this far just to leave me, please help me make the right choice here!’” Again, Francina was impressed by the instructors’ knowledge of the product, as well as by the enthusiastic response of the participants. “The people were just so positive,” she says, “especially with regard to the customer service.”
Francina agrees that it is Drake’s customer service that really sets the company apart. “I tell my clients that I don’t have all the answers, but that with Drake I have great resources to back my business up.” She appreciates the ability to call Drake’s customer service and to receive help immediately. “They say, ‘Hi, Peaches, how can I assist you?’ I can get my question answered right away and can even upload a problem screen to them in seconds. My clients are always confident that, with Drake on our side, everything will work out right.”
Francina also credits Drake with helping her double her business in the last three years. Drake Software enables her to enter clients’ information faster and with greater accuracy. “Because of Drake, I can offer yearly comparisons, e-mail attachments, and bank products that assist my clients with various banking needs. It also saves tremendous time in putting together engagement letters for tax-preparation clients to sign. Drake has also helped open another revenue door in that I can now provide services to clients that were delinquent with the IRS.” She cites Drake Advisory Program and CWU software as other favorite Drake features.
This businesswoman happily recommends Drake Software to her peers in the tax-preparation industry. “Drake believes in small businesses,” she remarks. “The folks at Drake walk arm-in-arm with us and help us help our clients, and if that’ first class customer service, I don’t know what is!”
“Next day a new day”
Each new day at the office begins with a prayer in which Francina expresses her gratitude to God both for her business and for the people she will see that day. She then makes herself a cup of green tea while she reviews her clients’ needs before they arrive. “The better prepared I am to meet their needs, the better my chance of serving them with the first-class, professional service they deserve,” she states. When Francina first meets a new client, she begins by telling them how much she values the opportunity to work for them and how much she appreciates their trust in the business. She normally allows one to one-and-a-half hours per client (though she admits that, with Drake Software in her corner, it really doesn’t take that long), seeing an average of five to seven clients a day. Her mantra for beginning and ending each day with a clear mind and a cheerful countenance is simple: “I try very hard to never let a day’s problem go unsolved. In other words, next day a new day.”
When she’s not busy reaching out to her community through CTS Tax & Accounting, Francina plays an active role in the NMCA (North Main Community Association), where she participates in event setups. She also works with Neighborhood in Action, an organization that helps people become homeowners and fight local drug trafficking. In addition, she offers free tax-preparation gift certificates to be auctioned off in order to raise money for charity events.
Francina is also active in her religious community. Her ability to organize led her church to put her in charge of the Christian Education program, a task that involved making sure that all of the teachers and Bible-study groups had and were following their curriculums. Francina also served as a Sunday school teacher for preschoolers for three years, and that program more than doubled in size during her tenure. “It was very rewarding,” she says. “Children would encourage their parents to come to Bible study saying, ‘We gotta go see Sister Peaches.’”
Francina also enjoys taking long walks, doing yoga, Zumba dancing, and completing crossword puzzles and word searches. Another favorite pastime is reading motivational books; she cites The Secret of Ages by Robert Collier as a favorite. Mostly, however, Francina loves spending time with her family, cooking a good meal and popping in a funny movie. The crowd always requests her famous lasagna, which she is more than happy to make. “We usually go to my mother’s house after church,” she says. “Since my father passed away, we try to shower her with love whenever we can.” Sundays were important to Francina’s father, who would lead a family discussion about the day’s sermon and how it might apply to the children’s lives. “We’re continuing the tradition,” says the devoted daughter with a smile.
Investing in others
Francina is looking forward to becoming an Enrolled Agent this year, a step that her clients’ needs inspired her to take. “This new certification will give me the privilege of representing taxpayers who are in need of an EA’s services,” she says. “My inspiration always comes from my clients and their needs.”
As she looks forward, Francina still lives by the words she took to heart when beginning her own business. “Develop a positive attitude that transforms your every challenge into an opportunity,” she says. “Avoid negative places, friends, and family because life is too long to spend it with people who try to drag you down, and it it’s too short not to invest in others.” Finally, says Francina “Peaches” Downs, “Value every customer or client who comes through your door. You can’t go wrong if you cultivate strong relationships and focus on customer loyalty.”