No. 11

How This Seasonal Santa Business Puts Inclusion First

How This Seasonal Santa Business Puts Inclusion First
Charles and Kari Graves, proprietors of Deaf Santa Claus, aim to make the Christmas spirit truly accessible to one and all.
by Keila Hill-Trawick, Aja Evans Dec 15, 2023 — 5 min read
How This Seasonal Santa Business Puts Inclusion First

About this series

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Discover the more surprising sides of your business finances. From unique seller spotlights (did anybody say taxidermy?) on tackling cash flow to monthly advice from a Financial Therapist and CPA — check out these stories and more from our banking newsletter.

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This article is for educational purposes and does not constitute legal, financial, or tax advice. For specific advice applicable to your business, please contact a professional.

As a kid, Charles Graves recalls being really excited to meet Santa and receive gifts on Christmas. Diagnosed as deaf at three months old, his family knew very little sign language. Watching his siblings meet and interact with Santa Claus, Graves would only get a smile and a nod — no other connection. “As a child, I remember just being let down in that moment,” he said. 

In 2019, the New Braunfels, Texas, resident decided to don a Santa suit and create that connection for today’s deaf children himself. By 2021, the Texas School for the Deaf night residential educator invested in going to Santa school, bought a new Santa suit, began working with interpreters, and travelled the country to bring holiday cheer to one and all. 

Alongside his wife and business partner, Kari Graves, who is also deaf and portrays Mrs. Claus, the duo travels to various bookings: parades, tree lightings, light shows, organizational events, and private parties, from California to Washington, D.C. (They even make appearances virtually, via Zoom!) 

Their business, Deaf Santa Claus, has filled a need for deaf children to meet and communicate with Santa Claus in American Sign Language (ASL). “What we do is so important. There are very few deaf Santa Clauses out there, and for deaf children to meet and communicate with a Santa Claus in ASL is transformative for everyone involved — the children, their families, and especially us,” said Graves. “We are deaf ourselves, and we have lived this life experience. Seeing the next generation of children go through the same language deprivation experiences creates feelings we couldn’t stand idly by.”

Kari Graves explains that the couple has always had an entrepreneurial spirit — she’s a graphic designer by trade and owns Sweet Turtle Boutique, which sells products she designs. It wasn’t until 2021 that the couple realized the need for a more inclusive Santa and decided to launch Deaf Santa Claus. The couple partnered with deaf-owned companies CHILMARKeting and FEINer Solutions, a deaf-owned marketing agency and web development company, to build their business and online presence. “Our booking season is very brief, from around Thanksgiving right up until Christmas, so it’s a hectic time for Charles going from place to place,” Graves said. “That’s why our online shop is so important. It allows us to use the exposure from in-person events to drive online sales. Having a reliable operation allows us to focus more on the children.” Allowing customers to shop merchandise online has helped Deaf Santa Claus bridge the experience between in-person and online shoppers.

“Having healthy fiscal habits year-round is crucial for a seasonal business,” said Graves, but thinking about the holiday season before anyone else is and planning ahead is what gives them more latitude when making business decisions.

Booking event space and travel, photoshoots, creating copy, and prepping inventory are done far in advance — sometimes even immediately after the holiday season. “Not only are our lessons learned still fresh in our minds, but we’re also able to take advantage of good deals for props and decorations for the following season.” 

Planning ahead also allows them to shop around for the best deals andavoid rush fees or high shipping costs, she added. “There are a lot of hidden costs to last-minute planning that often go overlooked, but they’re avoidable and ultimately eat into your margins.”

That means Deaf Santa Claus’ schedule is set by July, and booking requests are available by August. “The window of opportunity is so limited, so if you’re not ready in time, you miss out on potential revenue and are stuck with unsold inventory all year,” she explained. Another perk of prepping before the holiday season? “We can enjoy what we do!” Graves said. 

For now, Deaf Santa Claus is a side gig, but Graves is preparing to join the business full time when he retires from his day job. “We’re trying to save as much as we can and build our business’s potential to take off [then],” she said. 

And more important than their financial success is their work’s transformative power. “We got into this business thinking about how many children we can see in one Christmas season. Working backward from the desire to see as many children as possible, we realized there’s a hill to climb, and we built a business around that need,” Graves said. 

“We’ve met many people who have not thought about how a deaf child is supposed to tell Santa Claus what they want for Christmas if Santa does not sign,” she added. “By creating more opportunities for Deaf Santa Claus to meet as many deaf children as possible, we’re truly operating a business with a purpose.”

Finance in Focus: Creating More Financial Clarity — and Confidence

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Aja Evans is a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in financial therapy. She owns and operates a private practice in New York City. 

As we wind down the year, you may be reflecting on what changes you have made and how they have impacted your business. Creating small changes in the form of habits can have a big impact on your finances and how you feel about them. The goal is to be — and feel — financially stable. What worked for you?

This habit may be a tough one for some, but it’s a necessary challenge: Separate your business and personal finances. This is a common stressor for business owners and something I have worked on with clients. Separating your finances can create fear and anxiety because it removes your safety net. But together, we are going to level up.

Start by opening a separate bank account and using it exclusively for business transactions. How does that make you feel? It may be nerve-racking and scary at first, but more awareness and control of your expenses will follow. Can you now identify gaps your personal expenses were making up for? By separating your finances, it will help you track your business expenses more accurately, keep you on budget, and simplify your accounting for tax time. It is a tough exercise, but the separation may provide a sense of legitimacy. There is nothing like paying yourself because your business is thriving.

Although this task can be difficult, a dedicated business account is a testament to the work you’ve done. Remember when your business was just an idea, a hope, or a dream? Relish in how much it has grown — now is the time to give it more space to flourish.

Good With Numbers: What to Know About the Special ERC Withdrawal Process

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Keila Hill-Trawick is founder and CEO of Little Fish Accounting, a boutique CPA firm dedicated to serving micro-businesses through accounting and tax support.

The Employee Relief Credit (ERC) was introduced in 2020 as part of pandemic relief. The credit was meant to reward businesses for keeping employees, even if revenue went down, by allowing a credit back on payroll taxes paid. The program has been at the center of a lot of scams, and as a result, many businesses have ended up with costly audits and criminal investigations.

The good news?

The IRS is allowing takebacks. For businesses that may have been misled or overstated claims, the IRS is allowing them to withdraw their ERC claims. This will help business owners get ahead of the unintended consequences of improperly applying for ERC.

The withdrawal process is specifically designed for businesses that:

The withdrawal process is outlined on the IRS website, and if you’re approved, you’ll receive an official letter as confirmation. If you think this could be you, make sure to approach the withdrawal process with caution to protect yourself from additional legal consequences.

Many times, taxpayers are at the mercy of their tax professionals, and if something is submitted incorrectly, it’s not always easy to determine how to fix it. This withdrawal process puts some power back in your hands by allowing you to make adjustments in advance of any consequences of inaccurate filings.

Keila Hill-Trawick
Keila Hill-Trawick is the Founder and CEO of Little Fish Accounting, a boutique CPA firm dedicated to serving micro businesses through accounting and tax support. Based out of Washington, D.C. by way of Atlanta, GA, Little Fish serves clients nationwide.
Aja Evans
Aja Evans, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in Financial Therapy. She owns and operates a private practice in New York City.

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