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An Interview with a Paperless Practitioner Doing Things Her Way

Welcome back to the second in our series of interviews with Gusto partners who just so happen to be doing some pretty cool things out there in the exciting world of accounting. In case you missed the last one, we introduced you to Bruce Phillips of Aprio Cloud, all while extolling the virtues of payroll and benefits solutions provided by our friends at Gusto. Go give it a read.

Before we jump in, we encourage you to pay Gusto a visit to find out how they’re bringing payroll and benefits into the 21st century. Forget flying cars, what the future needed was a modern solution to getting your people paid, onboarded, and insured. I mean, flying cars would have been nice but hey, this is pretty good too.

This time around, you’re meeting the incomparable Nayo Carter-Gray of Maryland-based 1st Step Accounting. Not to play favorites but we’re particularly fond of her paperless approach and how she’s using technology to embrace the deskless lifestyle.

Going Concern: Let’s get some introductions out of the way. Tell us about your firm.

Nayo Carter-Gray: 1st Step Accounting is a virtual accounting and tax preparation firm that is environmentally conscious and focused on leveraging technology for efficiency and convenience.

Nayo Carter-Gray

The culture I’m building for my practice is one of flexibility and freedom. I truly believe no one should be tied to a desk because of the advancement of technology, and so I try to ensure that my customers can work with us regardless of location and can access all information with at bare minimum a smartphone.

GC: As laptop hobos ourselves, we fully get behind the deskless lifestyle. What all do you do over there?

Carter-Gray: We currently offer accounting and bookkeeping services, tax preparation and planning, education and seminars (online and in-person), QuickBooks online setup and training, IRS and state tax audit and collection services, as well as consulting for small business growth and development.

GC: Nice. So a solid well-rounded suite basically. Bit of a personal question maybe but why did you start your firm?

Carter-Gray: I started my firm initially as a tax preparation firm, and I focused on multilevel marketing business owners because I was a MLM business owner. I found that my team members and other colleagues were being fed bad information when it came to reporting the business income and expenses on their taxes. After the first tax season, I discovered a need for bookkeeping and education for the small business community since the larger firms don’t want to waste their time and resources on these customers because they don’t earn them enough billable hours.

GC: It’s funny, we’ve heard that from other firm owners about starting with tax prep and then branching out when they see a need to provide more services to their clients. It’s almost as if tax prep is a gateway drug. So, if the little old lady you’re helping cross the street asks you about your work, how would you describe your job?

Carter-Gray: I make accounting a little less taxing for small business owners all across the U.S.

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GC: Excellent play on words. While you’re making things less taxing for your clients, what tools can you not live without?

Carter-Gray: So many to choose from! My project management system Trello keeps me on track, my forms builder Cognito Forms helps me organize data collection from clients, and my online scheduler/CRM vCita does just about everything: it helps me keep my schedule in order, allows my clients to conveniently book appointments that work for them, and helps me to keep communication and notes in one centralized location.

As an honorable mention, I can’t live without my SideTrak second monitor for my laptop which conveniently attaches to the back of the laptop and slides out to make working from home as easy as working from my office.

GC: And Gusto, natch! How did you first hear about them?

Carter-Gray: Another accountant mentioned them (not sure who), and shortly after I heard about Gusto, I attended QuickBooks Connect where I got to see all the features for myself at a breakfast they hosted. I switched my largest customer at the time a month later because I was so impressed.

GC: Excellent first impressions aside, any surprises about partnering with Gusto?

Carter-Gray: No real surprises because Gusto did a fabulous job of presenting its product. I will say the payroll autopilot feature definitely lived up to the hype. I have several clients on salary and this makes payroll a breeze!

GC: Positive feedback is always nice. How about you? What do you think is the best perk of partnering with Gusto?

Carter-Gray: I do love how Gusto listens to its community and makes improvements based on our feedback. And it’s awesome that Gusto offers a discount or revenue share when we refer the product to our communities.

GC: Alright, enough about all the benefits of partnering with Gusto. What are some challenges your firm has faced in 2019? And don’t be afraid to tell us the really tough stuff.

Carter-Gray: This year my firm struggled with finding a project management system to stay in constant communication with my clients. After taking some hard but necessary feedback from a few clients that left the firm this year, I decided to make it a priority to find/create a system that would allow us to stay on track of deadlines and give our customers the insight they needed to know what was going on with their project.

Another challenge is because I’m the only person working in the firm year-round, my personal goals have hindered the growth of the firm this year. I’m currently sitting for the CPA exam, which is very time-consuming and it has taken away from major marketing efforts to bring in tons of new clients like I have in the past.

GC: Wow, that’s got to be incredibly difficult. We’re sure you’ll do great. Back to your clients, are you seeing any future trends on their side our readers might be interested in hearing about?

Carter-Gray: My clients will continue to grow in their respective industries. Because I work with businesses that are newly formed or have only been in business for one to two years, I get to watch their growth from part-time hustle to full-time enterprise. So I’m expecting a few of my part-timers to go full time in their businesses in 2020 because of their steady growth.

GC: That’s gotta be fun for you to see your clients thrive. On that note, can you tell us about an interesting client situation that you’ve advised on? Or something exciting your clients are working on?

Carter-Gray: The most interesting situation that I have advised on may not be very interesting at all to most. For me, I’m very interested in watching my clients grow. So the situation I have had the most pleasure of advising on was watching a current client who is a hair stylist create and sell a physical hair-styling product. To be a part of the team that helped her go from concept to reality was an amazing experience.

The client’s reality is that the older she gets, the harder it will be for her body to sustain the hours she puts in at the salon standing and styling people’s hair. So creating her product is going to allow her to create an exit plan before she actually needs it, and this is so inspiring and interesting to me.

GC: I bet! I’m happy to report that we’re done with the interrogation portion of this interview, now on to the easy stuff! What’s your usual breakfast?

Carter-Gray: Usually it’s two eggs over easy, but during the winter months when it’s cold or I’m traveling, it’s apple cinnamon oatmeal.

GC: Everyone has a routine for winding down at the end of a stressful day. What’s yours?

Carter-Gray: I love me some good TV and a delicious Coca-Cola slurpee. I can drink them every day no matter the temperature.

GC: Man! I haven’t had one of those in FOREVER. Alright, tell us a fact about you that would surprise people to hear.

Carter-Gray: I was a parent by the age of 14.

GC: Yep, definitely surprised! What a wonderful example you’re setting of how hard work and a forward-thinking attitude can take you far in life and make an impact in the world.

So that’s all we’ve got with Nayo Carter-Gray. Feel free to check her out on YouTube for more. And if her glowing review of Gusto made you eager to learn more about how partnering with Gusto can help you and your clients seven ways to Sunday, be sure to check out their partner program for more details.