Being a Virtual CPA & Understanding PPP Loans with Hannah Smolinski (Part 2)

CPA Podcasts

Phil sits down with entrepenuer & YouTuber, Hannah Smolinski. They talk extensively on the difficulties that small businesses face when trying to understand the PPP loans. Hannah is becoming a rising star in the world of understanding and clearly communicating what small businesses owners need to know about the PPP loans. Check out her YouTube channel :


Narrator: 0:00
This is the second part of the conversation between Phil and Hannah about being a virtual CPA and understanding PPP loans. If you haven't listened to the first part of this episode, check your podcast feed.

Hello, and thank you for tuning in to another episode of CPA Review and More. We are pleased to bring you the #1 podcast for CPAs and CPA candidates. If you'd like to learn more about how Yaeger CPA Review can help you, find us on our website at Now, here's your host, Phil Yaeger.

Phil: 0:38
What I do find interesting is people like yourself who are taking a bad situation and sort of turned it into something good. And now you're famous on YouTube. Aren't you?

Hannah: 0:50
[Laughs] Not quite.

Phil: 0:53
You only get like 20, 30 calls a day about speaking?

Hannah: 0:57
Not quite like that. Not quite.

Phil: 1:00
Do you enjoy doing podcasts?

Hannah: 1:02
I actually do. I think it's fun. I like to talk to people. I think there's a lot to be said for just—I don't know—this year. There's a lot to be said for this year. There's a lot to be said in business in general. And, just, I don't know, there's a lot of stories to tell right now. Everybody's got a unique story, especially going through this year and surviving it. And so, I don't know, I think it's pretty fun.

Phil: 1:25
A lot of the people who are probably in their 30s, maybe even older, I don't think they thought they would ever see anything like this again. And what this is—when I was growing up, the big thing was Polio, and now it's scary. I mean, no one really knew anything about it. And I remember we took our Polio shots, and my mother was afraid to let me go outside. So I tell people: Polio, that was our pandemic. Personally, this is worse. But I've spoken to so many people on this podcast, and yes, they actually increased their business, their visibility, especially in different areas of consulting. You also, you have a niche that I think a lot of people don't have. Am I correct?

Hannah: 2:16

Phil: 2:16
'Cause you said you know more about the CARES Act and PPP than anybody else?

Hannah: 2:22
Not anybody else, but I would say I'm a pretty well informed individual at this point.

Phil: 2:28
How do you charge? I'm just curious. Do you charge per job or by an hour? How do you charge your clients?

Hannah: 2:36
Yeah, so the way that Clara CFO Group, we work with clients, if it comes to like just virtual services, we charge a monthly retainer. So we have a couple different packages that we work on for PPP forgiveness we've been doing hourly because there's a really wide range of—I mean, it could be like a super simple question, you could have like a little Schedule C sole proprietor that has a fifteen thousand dollar loan and can answer all the questions in 30 minutes and then...

Phil: 3:04
You're not charging by the engagement. Am I correct?

Hannah: 3:08
Yeah, no, I'm doing hourly for—we're doing engagement letters and we're assisting with PPY forgiveness, but we're doing hourly on that.

Phil: 3:16
Don't you think it's hard to make money on an hourly basis.

Hannah: 3:19
Yeah. I would say I don't like charging hourly. That's why my main business model for Clara CFO Group is to not charge hourly. I'm a big fan of flat-rate retainer packages. However, just PPP forgiveness is so hard to predict.

And I've seen people charging really high rates based on the size of the loans. I just personally don't feel good about it because of kinda the …

Phil: 3:45
You have a conscience. You have a conscience.

Hannah: 3:47
Yeah, my hourly rate is very, I mean, it's not low. It's high because I'm in high demand. So it's okay if people really want to work with me, then there is an hourly rate for there. But I've seen people charging, you know, $10,000 on a flat rate to work on a million dollar loan.

Phil: 4:05
Well, okay.

Hannah: 4:07
To me, I feel like I can serve that client for much less and still do a very good job.

Phil: 4:12
What's your overhead like? And, where are you right now, as we speak?

Hannah: 4:17
I'm in the Seattle area.

Phil: 4:19
Oh no, I know you're in the Seattle area, but...

Hannah: 4:21
Oh, I'm at home. Yeah, no, I'm at home. So I work from home. I have I have an employee, I have a couple of employees, and then I have some contractors that work for me. My overhead is labor, administration help, marketing. I mean, I have very low overhead when it comes to all of that. So really it's just about making sure that I can bring home what I need to bring home and invest in the business and keep growing. I mean, I have labor that I need to hire right now to help keep expanding this business.

Phil: 4:51
I think that's great. I mean, aren't you happy and proud of yourself? You should be.

Hannah: 4:56
I'm very proud of myself. Yeah.

Phil: 4:58
Do you get up every day and stand and look and start smiling? Do you do that every day?

Hannah: 5:03
Yeah. I mean, I'm I'm very thankful to be where I'm at with everything. And I think I think starting your own business is hard and...

Phil: 5:12
Yes it is.

Hannah: 5:12
...doing it all by yourself can be really challenging. But I'm really proud of the growth that's happened and I'm seeing trajectory for the future and I've got my plan in place. So I'm excited.

Phil: 5:24
And no one can say you're only going to make this much money.

Hannah: 5:28
No! Yeah, I know. I think that's the beautiful part about entrepreneurship is that you can really take it wherever you want to take it.

Phil: 5:36
You're looking for people to hire to do PPP and other type work, right. Do you only hire people with previous experience?

Hannah: 5:44
Yeah. So when I'm hiring for other CFOs, I've started to realize, like there's...

Phil: 5:50
Oh, you hire for other CFOs. Okay.

Hannah: 5:52
Yeah, so I'm hiring in, internally, more CFOs so that we can have more of our retainer clients, because we're just seeing that that is a real need in the marketplace, is to have really good virtual CFOs working for more businesses. So I do like those people to be experienced. I mean, if I can hire somebody who has 10, 15, 20 years of experience under their belt—the benefit of my firm is that where we don't need people to work full time. Accounting jobs are notorious for working full time or more than full time.

Phil: 6:27
Which I think is unnecessary, because what it's doing is it's burning people out.

Hannah: 6:32

Phil: 6:33
And they say they don't want to work in this. They want some type of quality of life.

Hannah: 6:38
Exactly. And I think that that is—and then I was seeing people leave the accounting profession, especially women, like if they're trying to raise like families and stuff, they were leaving accounting professions and doing things that were basically totally disregarding this huge skill set that they have or doing something that maybe, I don't know, trying to do something altogether different.

Phil: 7:03
Are the people demanding these unreasonable hours—do you know what age group they were in? Are they in the group that maybe are so much older that they said, “Well, that's what we went through; so there's nothing wrong with us saying, 'hey, you gotta work a lot of hours'”?

Hannah: 7:17
You know, I think there's a lot of that built in from just, kind of like, the old school mentality of an accounting practice. You know, the old school—and I'm going to just say old school accounting practice—is, like, get as many clients as you can and churn, churn, churn, churn, churn.

But my mentality is more like, no, let's select our clients based on the best fit. Let's charge a price that's reasonable for us to be sustainable and pay people well, and then for them to also have a reasonable price that's predictable. And then let's make a win-win-win situation here. Like a win for the clients that the service is tailored to exactly what they need. We are working the right amount of hours so we're not burnt out and that we're getting fulfillment from helping these clients. And then ultimately it's still profitable. So it's a win-win-win. You can't argue with that.

Phil: 8:11
You're taking—you know what—you're saying, “I'm want to make a good living; I want to help people, but I don't need to be greedy”. You know?

Hannah: 8:21

Phil: 8:21
Because I honestly believe—and by the way, I'm not a religious person in any way—but greed, a lot of stuff today is because of greed.

Hannah: 8:30

Phil: 8:31
And if you take your philosophy, I think you'll find you'll be making a lot of money one day anyway.

Hannah: 8:39
Yeah, I think so. I mean, I think it's not about making tons of money overnight. It's about building something that's sustainable and something that I want to build it so that I want to keep working here. And I want other people to be attracted to working here as well. And how do we make that? So I mean, I would much rather have a good lifetime value of this business than just an immediate greedy spike of income.

Phil: 9:07
I have to ask you something about Seattle, very quickly.

Hannah: 9:09

Phil: 9:10
We took a cruise out of Seattle three years ago. The restaurants on the wharf—is that would you call it?

Hannah: 9:18
Mm hm.

Phil: 9:20
— had great food. How are the restaurants doing on the wharf? Were they really hit hard?

Hannah: 9:23
Well, they were already hit hard, because they're working on this massive tunnel project. There is a big—probably when you were here—there's was this big highway that went right along the waterfront.

Phil: 9:32
Oh, yeah, I remember that.

Hannah: 9:33
And so, they were drilling underneath that whole area with this huge huge project. Bertha was the name of the drilling. It's like a big thing. But that was a big thing because they were tearing down all of that construction and then they were doing the construction underneath. So a lot of those businesses got shut down during the construction time and they were kind of trying to revamp the waterfront to make it more attractive to make more pedestrian traffic and whatnot. So now they are probably hit pretty hard. Most restaurants in Seattle are—I mean, we know that restaurants were one of the hardest hit.

Phil: 10:05
You're from the—you've seen the east coast, right?

Hannah: 10:0
Yeah, yeah. I grew up in Tennessee. I mean, I grew up going...

Phil: 10:10
Where's your southern accent? I don't hear a southern accent.

Hannah: 10:13
It went away. I don't know. It's gone.

Phil: 10:17
Sounds like the virus.

Hannah: 10:19
[Laughs] Removes accent along with your taste.

Phil: 10:23
You lose the accent—magical removal of the accent. But you can hear my accent right? I'm from Australia originally.

Hannah: 10:30
No, no. I can't. No, there's no accent there.

Phil: 10:32
Have you met a lot of New Yorkers?

Hannah: 10:35
Not too many, actually. I mean, we don't run into a lot around here.

Phil: 10:37
Well, we are a rare breed.

Hannah: 10:40
Mm hm. [chuckles]

Phil: 10:44
You know I'm very biased towards easterners. But, I'll tell you, you have impressed me. Not that it's going to make a big difference in your life, but no, I'm impressed with what you've done. And I really think you're going to accomplish a lot. I mean, I'm impressed with people who are entrepreneurs. And entrepreneurship takes guts. You have to have guts. If you don't want to be an entrepreneur, that's fine, go work for someone. But you know what? You're not going to make the type of money and get the satisfaction when you're working for someone who basically is giving you garbage. Right? And you could be working on your own and not taking that. You have to have a certain type of mentality, personality to want to work on your own. And I commend you for that.

Hannah: 11:31
Some people—it's for some people and it's not for others. I did the slow launch. I did the holding on to the side for a long time before I swam on my own, because I kept my full time job and was building my practice on the side as a side hustle until I could get it to a point where I could take that leap one hundred percent.

Phil: 11:51
Well, that was what was comfortable. You had to do what was comfortable for you, right?

Hannah: 11:55

Phil: 11:56
So anyway, do you see this continuing? You want to grow your business? Are you going to still use YouTube? Is that what you're going to use?

Hannah: 12:02
Yeah, I love YouTube for a marketing channel, for a way to educate people, for a way to make an impact and make information freely available. I think it's fabulous, and ultimately, it can be a channel that is marketing, but then it can also be a source of income as well. So that doesn't hurt.

Phil: 12:24
Do you have LinkedIn at all for anything?

Hannah: 12:26
Yeah, I'm pretty active on LinkedIn. I want to use it more. I don't get into doing a lot of video and stuff on LinkedIn, but I definitely like it. And then I just like staying connected with people. I mean, all the time, I just do calls just to connect with old colleagues or meet new people or just expand the connections. I think it's a fabulous tool for that.

Phil: 12:48
You have a very good personality. I mean that. Seriously. That's very important. And you project very well on video.

Hannah: 12:55

Phil: 12:56
That's also important.

Hannah: 12:57
That's helpful and...

Phil: 12:58
And also, you've got a real nice microphone.

Hannah: 13:01
I was going to say, a nice microphone helps.

Phil: 13:03
Nice microphone. By the way, I like the button. I want to wish you the best. I hope this wasn't as boring. You know, I have always said, 'what I want to do is: I want to do this'.

And I was going to start off being a little more—not obnoxious—, but I have certain views & opinions, and when I started this thing, I had someone working for me. And every time I would say something, this person would say, “Don't say that! It'll hurt your brand.” Now I wasn't going to go and insult people. But my personality is, as they say, 'he's a quick wit'. And people actually find it funny. They don't find it insulting.

So, I didn't use that quality. So I guess what I'm saying is it's good to listen to people. It's good to have mentors. But sometimes you've got to think on your own and say: you're not always getting the best advice from that person.

Hannah: 13:58

Phil: 13:59
You have to take a chance occasionally. Hey, you're on your own? That's taking a chance.

Hannah: 14:05
Yeah. I mean, you got to follow, like, uniquely, what is you. What is you? What makes you different?

Phil: 14:12
As I say, the song I wrote, I've got to be me.

Hannah: 14:17

Phil: 14:19
So anyway, Hannah, thank you for putting up with me.

Hannah: 14:23
Thanks for having me.

Phil: 14:24
I wish you the best with your seven year old.

Hannah: 14:27
Thank you.

Phil: 14:28
And also, I hope you do really well. And, you may not believe this, but my niece who is in Colorado, they need advice on their PPO stuff. And I was talking with them yesterday, and she says she has no one who understands that. So I said, “you know, I think I'm talking to someone tomorrow”.

Hannah: 14:46
Yes. Send them over. Send them over to my YouTube channel.

Phil: 14:49
They have three businesses in Colorado.

Hannah: 14:53
Oh, wow. Yeah.

Phil: 14:54
And one of them is a big domestics, and they have an insurance agency. And I'll mention this to them. So if they call you and they mention my name, just, if you can help them...

Hannah: 15:06

Phil: 15:07
...and charge—I don't want to say this because my niece might hear this—they have a lot of money.

Hannah: 15:14

Phil: 15:14
But no, [unintelligible]

Hannah: :
[00:15:06] Yeah, I'm sure I don't want to say this because there are a lot of money, but I mean.

Hannah: 15:16
Sure, yeah. So I mean, right now everybody is dealing with tons of small businesses are trying to deal with their PPP loans. Right? They may have gotten the money. They used it. And now it's kind of time to talk about...

Phil: 15:28
Tell us what PPP loans are. A lot of people might not know that. Seriously, they don't know what it is.

Hannah: 15:34
So PPP is Paycheck Protection Program. It was a program that came out with the CARES Act, which came out in March of this year as part of the stimulus. So people got funds to use for payroll costs and non-payroll costs, but very specific non-payroll costs. Really the money was meant to be used to cover payroll, to keep employees employed.

So with that, my company has been helping, helping with the forgiveness process, mostly by just helping with information. So we have a YouTube channel, Clara CFO Group, that has tons and tons and tons of information on how to get your PPP loan forgiven, what you need to be doing, what you need to be thinking about.

And then I am an adviser to Upside Financial. So they have a product that helps small businesses basically put together everything they need to take to their bank and get their get their loans forgiven, maximize their forgiveness. And they know all the rules. They have advisors that you can actually schedule calls with and talk to a real person, because that's been one of the biggest things—is just there's been very few people who actually are advising and doing this, especially at a reasonable price. So Upside Financial is doing it for a flat rate price, which is pretty incredible from the tiered pricing I've seen coming out from CPA firms that are helping with this PPP forgiveness. So with Upside Financial, I'm literally helping with their product saying, “hey, these are the questions I've seen from people; this is where people get confused. Let's give people more information here”. And they're going and fixing it, because they're a software company. Essentially their software company, trying to help small businesses. So...

Phil: 17:10
And if people want to speak to you, how can they get a hold of you?

Hannah: 17:14
Yeah, so, you can email me directly at And that's probably the the easiest way to get directly in contact with me.

Phil: 17:26
Repeat that one more time.

Hannah: 17:29
Yeah. So you can get in contact with me at That's Hannah with an “h” on the end and you can email me directly, and I'm also on LinkedIn. So find me there as well.

Phil: 17:43
Have you had any problems with that—by the way, we were talking about that earlier. There may be more of those loans coming down. It won't be as great as the first one, but we need to get that money into the society. People are hurting.

Hannah: 17:58
Yeah, businesses are hurting. I mean, I think any dollar spent given to a small business is pretty much coming back multiple folds because it's keeping people employed is keeping keeping the economy going. So, yeah, I'm pushing for more funds. Definitely.

Phil: 18:15
And, you know, I wish the damn Congress wasn't so political.

Hannah: 18:20

Phil: 18:20
That's not going away. But, you know, they're just hurting the people. It's a choice. But, you know, they get paid anyway. So what difference does it make to them? It's—there's something wrong about it. But that's another story, right?

Hannah: 18:33

Phil: 18:35
That second part will be part of when Hannah becomes president of the USA.

Hannah: 18:41
[Laughs] I don't think I want that.

Phil: 18:44
Hannah, you're a real sweetheart. I wish your best and much, much success. And it was—I gotta give you the time—that's what I was thinking.

Hannah: 18:52
Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Phil: 18:55
You're welcome. Just stay well, stay safe and be healthy and successful, OK?

Hannah: 19:00
Thank you. You too. Thanks so much.

Phil: 19:02
You're welcome. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Phil Yaeger and this has been CPA Review and More. And next week. We have a new show. Once again, if you have something specific you want to hear about, we can find that person. There's no problem. Luckily, I've been doing this for close to two years. I can't believe a number of people I've spoken who actually want to come back and speak again.

And they're also in areas that people want to go into today, like consulting. And people really don't know about those areas. There's more to it accounting than going to work at a CPA firm and doing audits. I hated that. I really hated audits, you know. And I got out of the profession really after five years and then I went to college teaching. So anyway, take care. Have a nice day, and I hope to meet you one day.

Hannah: 19:56
All right. You too. Bye.

Phil: 19:58
Thank you. Bye now.

Narrator: 20:00
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