Article by Cheryl Rice
Photos by Shana Sureck
When you think of tax accountants, you might think of people who are steady, fixed, and predictable. But Melody Do, founder and owner of Kara Enterprise LLC, is more of a restless spirit. “I’m the type of person who kept changing her major in college,” she said with a laugh. “I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.” Even after college, Melody said there was one year in which she changed jobs six times. Nothing was resonating with her. Nothing seemed to fit.
She always had an affinity for numbers and, as a result, she often worked in finance in one capacity or another. She remembers the day when her future started to become clear. “I was in my thirties and I was driving,” she recalled. “I remember thinking, ‘What is it that I want to do with my life?’ Then I saw a sign advertising a Jackson Hewitt tax class.” She decided to sign up to learn more about tax accounting and found that it was a great fit for her interests and talents. She even went back to college to earn a degree in accounting. That was 15 years ago and it put her on the path she is still on today: as an entrepreneur and independent tax advisor with a booming consultancy of her own.
Melody’s family came to the United States from Vietnam when she was nine years old, so she has a special appreciation for the opportunities available in this country. Her parents fled the oppressive communist regime of the early 1980s, and although she was just a child, she remembers what a frightening time it was. “That was a terrible place to be, a terrible place,” she recalled. Because her parents took the risk and brought the family out of those perilous circumstances, Melody has had the chance to follow her dreams ever since.
As an independent accountant, Melody has focused her practice on small businesses like restaurants, salons, and automotive repair shops. For business owners like these, who rarely can afford to keep a full-time bookkeeper on staff, she is able to provide a full range of accounting, reporting, and tax preparation services. Her portfolio of clients (called her “book”) was steady for several years, but like any other business owner, she wanted to see it grow. Thanks to a grant from the city of Hartford, she was able to take part in a business development program with the University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center, a program that she credits with more than tripling her book.
Melody emphasized that it was the marketing lessons she learned that helped more than anything. “Before the program, I had done a lot of mail pieces for advertising. It just didn’t work,” she said. To bring her marketing to the next level, the Center suggested that she focus on online channels like Facebook and Google Ads.
“They sent people to my office to help me one-on-one,” she said. “They took pictures, and even helped me set up a website. It was the right place, the right time, and the right people to build my business.”
Melody credits getting “out there” in front of people with taking Kara Enterprise to an entirely new stage of success. Her online marketing has opened her up to a whole new client base and a steady stream of referrals has built up her book even more. She expects to double her business again this year on top of the 300 percent growth she has already experienced. “You have to fight for it and work really hard,” she said. “but the Entrepreneurial Center & Women’s Business Center is there for you when you need partners to help.”
It’s the partnership with the Center that Melody feels is most important, and that partnership is still ongoing. She says Shelli McMillen, Program Manager for the Hartford Small Business Technical Assistance Program, has been especially helpful in steering her in the right direction. “Shelli made me feel so special,” she emphasized. “She sent me the help I needed to get me on Facebook and build my website, and she still sends me referrals.”
When asked to give advice to other entrepreneurs like herself, Melody emphasized the importance of education. “I thought I knew everything, but I didn’t,” she laughed. No matter what an entrepreneur needs, from business planning to marketing support to help with securing financing, Melody says that the Center provides the kind of partnership that business owners need in order to be successful—and much of it is available free of charge.
“I’m still so excited!” she said about working with the Center. “They are such wonderful partners, and I’m so glad I found them!”