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The Role of Technology in a Black-owned Firm

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Nayo Carter-Gray, CEO and founder of 1st Step Accounting, combines her love of technology with her pride in being a black accountant to approach challenges at her firm. Here, she explains how technological advancements play a major role in her firm and why they are essential to diversity in accounting and supporting underserved groups

Feb 25th 2022
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As the CEO and founder of 1st Step Accounting, I am motivated by technology. Ever since I can remember, I have been inspired by some sort of technology. Whether it was a videogame console like the Nintendo or my first Macintosh computer that plugged into the TV, this technology gave me a new world to explore. 

From those early days and throughout college, I have experienced the technology revolution. I recall when technology that we now take for granted, such as cell phones and the internet, were first introduced to the public. (Yes, I remember when Windows 95 went live!) Therefore, I knew when I started my firm that I was going to take advantage of technological advancements.

Additionally, as the black leader of an accounting firm, I feel I must lead by example. In building my practice, I understood that one of my responsibilities as a black accountant was to be a bridge to help minority-owned businesses face any financial challenges coming their way. Our current discriminatory economic system was not built to help black businesses thrive. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the financial disparities in communities of color and a lack of resources for minority-owned businesses. This issue won’t be solved overnight, but helping to prepare as many minority-led businesses as I can for financial success will continue to be a core mission at my firm.

Combining my love of technology and my pride in being a black accountant is how I tackle many challenges. My role in this industry is bigger than simply serving monthly or annual clients. My role is to give rise to the next generation of accountants, ones that look more like I do, by showing them that the past is not indicative of what's to come. A key part of this is using technological advancements to stay ahead of the curve.

The first one I initiated at my firm over a decade ago was going paperless. While this may not sound like a big deal, when my practice first started, it was a tax-only firm, which was not traditionally how tax firms operated. I knew investing in a high-quality scanner was necessary in order to pull off going paperless. I also knew I needed to store the documentation somewhere secure, and a file cabinet didn’t seem secure enough. This led me to research cloud-based storage sites, or client portals. Having these two pieces of technology in place from the start allowed me to serve clients from my hometown of Baltimore all the way to Colorado. I knew that I was on to something.

As I expanded my business to include bookkeeping, consulting and education, I began looking for other ways to streamline and automate the day-to-day processes that felt repetitive and mundane. I wanted to eliminate the processes that diverted me from doing what I love, such as talking to clients and learning about their goals. This is how I found and fell in love with QBO and Zapier, both of which have freed up my time so I’m not glued to my desk all day.

Fast forward to today. Since technology has always played a major role in how I run and grow my practice, it's at the center of all I do. And because I'm constantly researching new technology and consistently improving the day-to-day activities in the firm, I'm usually at the forefront of what's exciting and fresh in tech. 

I stay ahead of the curve by looking at tech advancements outside of the accounting industry. Often, the technology I use most frequently has nothing to do with our industry. These apps and SAAS applications have expanded what I can do and how I can do it across devices. Broadening my tech horizons has led to some amazing discoveries. Apps such as GoodNotes or ConvertKit have diversified the capabilities of my firm and increased the number of people we can reach in mere minutes.

I apply this principle of looking beyond our industry to discover new, exciting ways to grow my business. I love to participate in classes or mastermind groups consisting of business owners across industries. Not only does this give me insight into any troubles they’re facing, but it also gives me ideas about how I can serve my small business clients better. Plus, I get to see firsthand how interconnected business woes are, especially when it comes to using technology.

My firm is now expanding, and there are new challenges that come with hiring and delegating. I love that my team is just as excited as I am to test and discover new ways to do our jobs that will allow us to serve clients more efficiently. We are learning through this journey that breaking down the traditional model is painful and frustrating, not only for us, but also for our clients. However, in doing so, we are building a unique and special model that will allow our clients to see the value in our services in the long run. 

Our industry is not doing a great job of recruiting new talent. Somewhere along the line, we are missing the mark. This is why I created the Taking Your Firm Virtual Summit and established an endowment fund for new accounting students at Coppin State University.

I feel it's time to pass the baton to this next generation, the generation that will not be afraid to challenge the status quo and that will embrace technology along the way. I encourage you to think about how you can help usher in the next generation of accounting leadership and how we can break down an economic system that hurts communities of color and minority-owned businesses. Let’s use technology to reach this new generation and inspire and encourage them to join us.  

Want to hear Nayo speak live and in-person? Join us in San Diego, California May 9-12, 2022, for AccountingWEB Live Summit, a brand-new in-person conference and networking event for accounting professionals. 

Hear from many experts in the industry on the future of accounting, discover new fintech for the digital age, and attend CPE accredited sessions to move your business forward. After two years of lockdown, you can spend time meeting like-minded professionals discussing tips, tricks, and the challenges you face at breakfast briefings, networking lunches, and an unforgettable off-site dinner event. Learn more at https://www.accountingweblivesummit.com/summit-what-to-expect

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