Episode 465 – Nayo Carter-Gray

Nayo is a CEO with a passion for Paper Crafting

Nayo Carter-Gray, CEO & Founder of 1st Step Accounting, talks about her passion for paper crafting, creating crafts for others in the office, and how it helps hone her attention to detail and develop relationships with clients and co-workers!

Episode Highlights

• Getting into paper crafts
• Creating a happy space
• How her paper crafts help with her attention to detail
• Developing relationships with her paper crafts



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Pictures of some of Nayo’s wedding invitations

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    Welcome to Episode 465 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett, and each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. To put it in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and”, those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiate you when you’re at work.

    If you like what the show is about, be sure to check out the book. It’s on Amazon, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, a few other websites. All the links are at whatsyourand.com. If you want me to read it to you, that’s right, this voice reading the book, look for What’s Your “And”? on Audible or wherever you get your audio books. It goes more in depth with the research behind why these outside-of-work passions are so crucial to your corporate culture. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s reading it and now listening to it and writing such nice reviews on Amazon and more importantly, changing the cultures where they work because of it.

    Please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast, so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week, and this week is no different with my guest, Nayo Carter-Gray. She’s the CEO of First Step Accounting out of Baltimore, Maryland, and now she’s with me here today. Nayo, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?

    Nayo: Oh, my gosh, I’m so excited to be here.

    John: This is going to be a blast. We’ve been talking for a long time, and now we get to record it and share it with the world, so I’m excited for this. I have my 17 rapid-fire questions, get to know Nayo out of the gate here. I feel like I should buckle up for these answers. Normally it’s the guest I’m telling to buckle up, but I feel like I need to be ready. Here we go. I’ll start out easy. Favorite color.

    Nayo: My favorite color is blue.

    John: Mine too. Okay, we can keep going. How about a least favorite color?

    Nayo: My least favorite color probably is brown. It’s so funny because I am a brown person, but I feel like it washes me out. It’s just one of those colors that’s really hard to match up or find something to coordinate with. I’ve been really actively working on adding more brown in my wardrobe this year because I dislike it so much. I’m like, I just need to embrace the suck. Right?

    John: Okay, okay. Yeah, brown is a pretty common least favorite color. It’s almost like it’s just there so then the color can pop. It’s like khakis.

    Nayo: Yes.

    John: They’re just there so then the shirt looks good. Yeah, I hear you on that. How about a favorite actor or actress?

    Nayo: My favorite actor is Larenz Tate, and that’s because he is yummy and dreamy. If I see him in public, he probably would get accosted. My husband also knows that that is my hall pass, so if at any given opportunity I see Larenz Tate, just know.

    John: It’s on. It’s on.

    Nayo: Yes.

    John: That’s awesome. That’s so awesome. Maybe he needs his taxes done. Who knows? He needs some accounting work.

    Nayo: Right. That would be awesome.

    John: Right? There you go. There you go. I have to deliver these in person. I don’t know why. This is my only client that I have to deliver in person, but it’s just how I do it here, full service. That’s awesome. How about puzzles, Sudoku, crossword or jigsaw puzzles?

    Nayo: Probably Sudoku.

    John: Okay.

    Nayo: Yeah, because they have Sudoku games on the phone. I’m really big into technology. If it has a mobile app, more than likely, I will play it. At the same token, I do like Scrabble, which I consider like a…

    John: It’s kind of crossword-y.

    Nayo: Yeah, kind of crossword-y, but just like New York Times crosswords, that is not my jam.

    John: No, no, no. I don’t even know what these words are. I don’t know how to spell that.

    Nayo: Right. Exactly. I like Math, not English.

    John: Right. Right. Amen. Amen. How about your first concert?

    Nayo: Oh, my first concert, I believe, was MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice.

    John: Yes.

    Nayo: Probably it was around the time when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out, so it was like a real big energetic concert. I believe that was my first one.

    John: Man, Hammer and Vanilla Ice together, that’s amazing. That’s a lot of parachute, a lot of billowy pants, a lot, a lot.

    Nayo: A lot of dancers too, a whole lot of dancers.

    John: 50 people on the stage at one time. It’s like, where’s Hammer at? I don’t know.

    Nayo: I’m sure we were in the nosebleed seats. I was just excited to hear the music.

    John: Yeah. No, that’d be awesome. I had that album or CD, I guess, back in the day. How about, this is a fun one, favorite toppings on a pizza?

    Nayo: Toppings on a pizza, mushroom and pineapples.

    John: Oh, okay. I’ve never heard of those. Okay.

    Nayo: I do like mushrooms and pineapple, and if it’s a barbecue chicken pizza, I’m more than likely going to eat it.

    John: Yeah, I’ll have that too. Just load it up, just all of it, just pile it on.

    Nayo: See, but that’s the thing. I’m not really a load-it-up kind of girl.

    John: Yeah, but simple.

    Nayo: Most of the time, yes, give me three toppings or less. Anything more than that, I’m like, it’s overkill. This is no longer pizza.

    John: Now I’ve to get a fork.

    Nayo: Yeah, it’s too much. I love a good New York style slice. I’m a thin slice girl, eat the pizza on the street, so hot that it’s burning the roof of your mouth. I love me some extremely hot cheese pizza.

    John: There you go. Just a slice.

    Nayo: Yes.

    John: That’s awesome. I love it. That’s so good, so good. How about, yeah, you’re East Coast, planes, trains or automobiles?

    Nayo: Planes all day, every day. You can get me on a plane and go anywhere. I am willing and able and ready with a passport.

    John: There you go. Oh, with the passport. We’re going international. Okay, okay. All right. Preferably. Are you more window seat or aisle seat?

    Nayo: I used to be window seat, but now I’m aisle seat because the older I get, the more my bladder says, ma’am, we need to not be hopping over people while we’re on the plane for more than two hours. I definitely turned into an aisle seat kind of girl.

    John: That’s awesome. No, no. I’m aisle as well, mostly long legs but, yeah, same reason. I don’t want to have to get up over people. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Nayo: Star Wars. Even though I do love my Star Trek, Star Wars, though, I’m just so amazed at all of the animated creatures that are in these new movies. Just seeing the creativity that goes, it’s like, who thought of this animal with these words that are coming out of their mouths? Somebody, translate. Right now, I’m watching Boba Fett. I’m like, this is crazy. Yeah, definitely Star Wars.

    John: That’s awesome. How about your computer, PC or Mac?

    Nayo: PC, and that’s because just about all the programs I use are PC-based, even though I have an iPhone and an iPad.

    John: Okay, so everything else.

    Nayo: Yeah, but for computer use, PC is the way to go for me.

    John: There you go. There you go. How about a favorite day of the week?

    Nayo: Oh, that’s a good one. I like to say Mondays because I crush it on Mondays. Monday is really, usually a very heavy phone talk to people day, so I am in sales mode. I am an extroverted extrovert so, for me, that’s probably my favorite day because I get to talk to a bunch of random people and learn about their businesses or what their needs are and then put my salesperson hat on and say, “Let me tell you why I’m so great and you want to work with us.”

    John: Right. You already knew it, but I’m going to make sure you know it.

    Nayo: Yes.

    John: I love it. That’s awesome. How about a favorite ice cream flavor?

    Nayo: Oh, there is an ice cream company here in Baltimore called Taharka Brothers, and they have this ice cream flavor called Honey Graham. It is my absolute favorite. It’s a local creamery, and it’s got graham cracker chips all in it. It’s just really sweet and creamy and lush. So, if I’m going local, it’s Honey Graham. If I’m going national, it would be something like Haagen-Dazs’ Vanilla Bean, which is different than vanilla. It’s vanilla bean.

    John: Oh, no, Vanilla Bean is, yeah, it’s a little snooty. I’m not going to lie. It’s a little snooty.

    Nayo: Or either the Caramel de Leche.

    John: Oh, yeah, Dulce de Leche.

    Nayo: Yes, but it’s got the waffle cones in it, so it’s like caramel cone de leche something, but those two are my favorites.

    John: Nice. I love that local one though. That sounds great. That sounds really good. Really good. How about balance sheet or income statement?

    Nayo: Balance sheet all day.

    John: Oh, all day. Okay.

    Nayo: Yes. Balance sheet tells you a whole lot about a business. I like to really see if my businesses are hustlers or if they’re hobbies or if they’re really in business. I can tell a lot about a business by looking at their balance sheet. I want to see what those accumulated earnings are looking like.

    John: Ah, there you go. There you go. You just didn’t have one good year. It’s like, yeah, how’s it piling up. I like it. We’ve got four more. Are you more of an early bird or night owl?

    Nayo: I am totally a night owl. That whole early morning thing, the only time I’m excited about the early morning is if I’m getting on a plane to go somewhere.

    John: Okay. International, to somewhere warm.

    Nayo: Yes. I would rather stay up ‘till 4 AM as opposed to getting up at 4 AM.

    John: There you go. I like it. I like the way you think. All right. How about a favorite number?

    Nayo: Oh, my favorite number is four. I have two actually. It’s four and seven, and the reason being is because, for whatever reason, whenever it came to school and being called on the roll, I was either number four or number seven.

    John: Oh, okay. All right. Yeah, with the Carter, there you go, with the Cs.

    Nayo: Yes. It’s like, if I go play the lottery, four and seven always make it to my sheet.

    John: Those are good numbers though. Those are solid. How about when it comes to books, audio version, e-book or real book?

    Nayo: Real book because audio books are, I consider that cheating. It’s really cheating.

    John: That is cheating because you can do double speed, and you’re just reading a book in two hours.

    Nayo: Yeah, and I’m not as engaged when I’m listening to audio books. I find that I tune them out. The one audio book though that I did listen to and enjoy was Bill Clinton’s autobiography. It was because it was in his voice. It was like, oh, the President’s talking to me, that’s kind of cool.

    John: Right. Right.

    Nayo: Other than that, audio books, I’m like, no, thank you. I’d rather have a real book and flip the pages, even though I love my Kindle, but give me a real book where I can dog ear and put some flags on it.

    John: There you go. All right. The last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own.

    Nayo: The favorite thing I own. That’s anything that has technology built in. I’m a real techie, so I love all of my little tech gadgets. If I had to pick one right now, one guilty pleasure that I’m absolutely in love with is my Ember mug. It’s because it keeps my drink hot, and they come in these pretty colors now. I have a bronze one here at the office, and then I’ve got a black one at home. It’s an expensive luxury because this is, it took me a while. I had to have a talk with myself about buying this mug because it’s like, it’s a mug. Why are you spending over $100 for a mug? It definitely helps me enjoy my morning cup of coffee or my tea because it keeps it hot.

    John: Yeah. If you use it every day, it’s 30 cents a day. What do you need?

    Nayo: Oh, I love it, 30 cents a day. You framed it for me, so now I don’t feel guilty about my purchase.

    John: Just everyday, putting a quarter, a nickel in the jar and then there we go. We paid for it. There we go.

    Nayo: Boom. Love it.

    John: That’s so awesome. I want to know more about paper crafting. How did you get started in this? I’m sure that we all did some sort of paper crafting in elementary school. We called it art, supposedly, and then our parents acted excited to get this thing that was terrible. Is that where it got started, or were there other influences as well?

    Nayo: If I think back to it, that’s probably where it did get started. My dad is very artsy. He can draw calligraphy. He loves photography. My dad can sew. My dad is really creative, and my mom is the complete opposite. She’s very straight laced. Things are black and white with her. She’s a neat freak. I’m like a mix of both of them. My dad encourages that creative stuff, and I realized that having just the mindset of, oh, let’s do something with our hands, see how you can transform something, really helps me in my day to day because it gives me something else to build and grow and transform. It started at elementary school. We did papier-mache, and I was amazed how I could take some newspaper and take an old soda bottle and turn it into a lady and paint it and present this to my dad as a gift. Believe it or not, he still has this.

    John: Okay. Okay. Well, you were probably really good. That’s probably why.

    Nayo: God, no. It is terrible. The lady is not smooth at all. Bless his soul, he was kind to his daughter, and he has held on to this papier-mache woman bottle for all of these years. Later on in life, one thing I realized is that I absolutely love papers. I will go to the office supply store and just browse the paper aisle. People don’t realize that papers have different weights, different textures, different colors, different sheen. It started there. Then I started doing some research. I worked with a lady who did scrapbooking, and I was like, what is this scrapbooking thing? She would show me these beautiful books she created with pictures of her kids. I was like, see, this is better than looking at just a plain old photo album.

    John: Right. Yeah.

    Nayo: Yeah. I started going to the arts and crafts store and buying those, they have these big books of paper, and they have all different designs on them. I was like, oh, this is cool. I started making cards, or envelopes actually, because I think if you’re going to get a piece of mail, if it shows up in an envelope that doesn’t look like a bill, you are more inclined to open it. I started by making envelopes, but then when I got married, I was like, I’m not liking any of these wedding invitations. I was like, I’m going to create something for myself that I absolutely love. I was scrolling Pinterest and came across a couple of designs, and I said, okay, how can I make this for me? I went to, there is a whole conference about paper. It is a paper trade show.

    John: Nice. Okay. It’s like the Super Bowl of paper.

    Nayo: Super Bowl of paper, I love it. It was in New York. I took the Megabus up and went to this show and was blown away with what all these people were doing with papers. I made a contact. We have a couple of vendors. I started ordering some samples, and I created my wedding invitation. It was such a big hit that all of my guests was like, oh, I’m coming to a fancy wedding, because I took it to the next level. It was a peacock-themed wedding. I had the wedding invitation with the peacock feather that was embedded in, and we have the colors. We did an ombre, like purple and teal and blue. The paper was a metallic silver.

    John: Yeah. Oh, wow.

    Nayo: Yeah. That project just opened my eyes. Oh, this is fun. I wind up doing it again for one of my girlfriends who was getting married. I did it for her. I was like, this is my wedding gift. Don’t ask me for a present. This is the gift.

    John: Then you came in wearing a papier-mache dress to go callback to when you were a kid. There’s a lady in a papier-mache. There it is. She’s coming alive. Okay, not really.

    Nayo: That’s funny.

    John: That’s awesome. Yeah, and people are like, these are amazing. This is a fancy wedding, like you said. It’s what I do. It’s what I do.

    Nayo: We got so many calls about those invitations. They were like, am I supposed to wear a tuxedo to this wedding? They were like, I don’t know what to wear. Is this formal? Because the invitations were completely over-the-top formal, but I was like, this is my day, so it’s going to be fancy.

    John: Yeah, totally. If you’re going to do it, might as well do it nice. That’s great. That’s really cool. Then it just kept going?

    Nayo: It kept going from there. I have done about three or four wedding invitations. I’ll do cards for my loved ones. Whenever I need to just walk away from a project, I will just go and maybe do, I have all these different tools. I can make stickers now.

    John: Oh, wow.

    Nayo: Yeah. As a matter of fact, last year, so I’m a big planner person. I wanted to track how many new bookkeeping clients we got, so I created these little butterflies that have the base of the butterfly was a particular color. I put some, it’s like a sheer paper over top of it, and then I will write the clients’ name on the butterflies, stick it in the back of my planner. It was cool to see how many butterflies, my little ombre-colored butterflies at the back of my planner.

    John: I love it. That’s awesome. Yeah, and then you could see what they were. Because when you’re in the heat of it all, you kind of forget. Wow, look at all the people we’re helping and look at all the new work we have.

    Nayo: It’s a visual representation that is very pleasing to the eyes. One of the things I like to do is really create that space for me to visually see, this is happy time. Even with my office, I put my little designer hat on and said, how can I build a space that is lovely and beautiful? Even though it’s not paper, it still translates into, this is what I will want something to look like, and I transformed this blank, gray slate into something that is very colorful and friendly and light and airy, which is what I do with the cards.

    John: Visually appealing. Yeah, which, on a bigger umbrella, is what you’re doing, just a lot of times it comes through in paper.

    Nayo: Yes.

    John: It’s through other things, too. That’s awesome. Do you feel like any of this gives you a skill that you bring to work?

    Nayo: It does because it helps me see how the smaller details can make such a large impact. One of the things people don’t realize about me is that I really do spend a lot of time designing a bunch of things for my business. I did the Taking Your Firm Virtual Summit. When you see the sales page and how it has all of these elements with the colors or the videos and the placements and the bullets, even down to adding all of the emojis. Just being able to say, okay, the page is white. How can we make this visually appealing? It’s like me taking the different papers and putting them together and merge them to make them look beautiful and visually appealing. Yeah, so, definitely translates.

    John: I love that because it’s a different muscle that you’re exercising outside of work, and then when it comes time to use it at work, you’re like, oh, I’ve got this. It’s a different lens that I look through, and I want it to be this way for the users. I love that so much because that’s above and beyond the accounting technical skills that you have, but it makes you better at your job.

    Nayo: It absolutely does, and it makes me better at Instagram reels too.

    John: Right, which no one told us about in accounting school. You better be good at Instagram reels. That’s amazing. That’s so funny. Is this something that you talk about and share with colleagues and clients? Do they know about this? Or does it just come out, and then they say, wow, this looks amazing, and you’re like, I know because I’ve been doing this since I was four.

    Nayo: It’s just one of those things that comes out. Every once in a while, I’ll share one of my designs, and people say, “Oh, where did you get that from?” I’ll be like, I made it. They’re like, “You didn’t make that. You’re lying.” Or they’ll get something in the mail from me, and they won’t even realize I really made that envelope that that letter went in. They’re like, I was wondering where you bought that envelop from. Because, again, I’m big fan of.

    John: It’s one of a kind, one of a kind.

    Nayo: Yes. Exactly.

    John: That’s how much I think about you. That’s cool, though. I would imagine that the conversation then goes further, and it’s a little bit of a deeper relationship maybe, a little bit of a different relationship.

    Nayo: Yeah, it can be. They feel special. I call them these little delightful moments. Every once in a while, you want your people to really understand that you have created something for them. They feel like, oh, she did this just for me. I’m like, I absolutely did. I may have chosen a color that I just knew you would absolutely love or chosen a pattern that I’m like, this is fitting your personality. Even if the piece of paper ends up in the trash or in a box in the closet, when they go back and look at it, like, I like this. I need to figure out where she got this from. So, yes, definitely a conversation starter sometimes.

    John: Yeah. It’s just another dimension to you, beyond helping their business, doing accounting or what have you. It’s, well, no, there are other sides to me, too. Then maybe it unlocks the other sides to them as well. You come across another crafter. We’re never going to hang up. I’ve only got one call on Monday now, and it’s going to take eight hours. There we go.

    Nayo: Right, and then I find somebody to go with me to the paper trade show.

    John: Exactly. Then you get two seats on the Megabus for $2.

    Nayo: There you go.

    John: That’s awesome, though. I love how you’ve recognized how it manifests at work, which is cool because sometimes it’s just, you don’t really notice it until after the fact. That’s really, really cool. Is this something that you would share even before you had started First Step? Is it something that maybe came out earlier as well, or was it pretty much all work all the time?

    Nayo: Even now, I’m usually all work all the time. I love accounting. I love that I get to do this all day, every day, and I get jazzed up by serving my clients. Every once in a while, it’s like, okay, I need a break. I need to do something creative. I need to create, what I call, something beautiful because every once in a while, we have the clients who don’t really understand what we do, so they don’t value the balance sheet.

    John: Right. Right.

    Nayo: I’ll step away and create maybe a paper flower or my little butterflies. I’ll go to the arts and crafts store and just buy something and just, let’s see what we can make today. Sometimes, half of my my little creations don’t see the light of day. It’ll just be me practicing, starting something and seeing how it turns out, and then I’ll be like, okay, I’ll come back to this project later.

    John: Yeah, you go to your happy place.

    Nayo: Yes, exactly.

    John: It’s like, you know what, I need a little bit of break. This is what brings me joy. It’s one of those where, if I told you, you could never do crafting again, it would be like, ah, that’s a source of joy for me. That’s my go-to.

    Nayo: Yeah.

    John: Because accounting is joyful sometimes, but sometimes it’s not. Crafting is always great. It’s always good. It’s always there for you. I think it’s really cool that you have that. You could step away, and you’re doing it for you. It doesn’t have to be something that sees the light of day. I enjoy crafting. Am I any good? It doesn’t matter because I’m doing it for me.

    Nayo: That’s right.

    John: Clearly, you are because you’re mailing stuff to people. You’re not going to let that out. That’s awesome. Do you have any words of encouragement to people listening that maybe they like crafting, or maybe they have an “and” that they feel like no one’s going to care about or it has nothing to do with my job?

    Nayo: It’s your “and”. It’s not anybody else’s. We don’t care about what other people think about your “and”. Do the thing. Even if you feel silly, do it anyway. I am a big fan of classes too. If there’s something that you’re like, hey, I want to learn more about this, take a class. There are so many classes. Even the Airbnb experiences, you can find something on Craigslist. I will take a class. The arts and crafts stores will have a little informational setup where they teach you about the products, and you can create a craft right then. So, spend some time doing it, hang out with a girlfriend or a guy friend and just enjoy the moment. Because sometimes it’s not even about the thing you create, it’s about the experience.

    John: Totally. Oh, man, that’s so good. I love that. It’s not someone else’s “and”. It’s your “and”. There you go. I love that so much. Well, I feel like it’s only fair, since I rudely peppered you with questions at the beginning of my episode, that I turn the tables and make this the first episode of the Nayo podcast. Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it. I’m all yours. Whatever you want to ask, fire away.

    Nayo: See, I only really have one question for you.

    John: Oh, boy.

    Nayo: Because we recently met in person.

    John: Right.

    Nayo: I was not expecting you’d be as tall as you are. Do you get that often, or was I the only one?

    John: I get that all the time.

    Nayo: You do?

    John: I’m not even freak tall. I’m 6’3”, 6”2-1/2”, 6’3”. Like I was telling people, it’s appropriately tall. I can still sit on an airplane and not be uncomfortable, but I can get things off the top shelf at stores. I’m kind of the best of both — people taller than me, I’m like, what kind of car do you drive? How do you fly on an airplane? How do you do anything in life? This is crazy. I’m like the size of a point guard on an NBA team. They’re this tall. It’s not even — but it is, I get it all the time. It’s because the social media circles are not life-sized, and I’m by myself, so I’m not next to people, for them to be able to size up. Oh, wow, he’s clearly taller than the average person. Yeah, I think I need to add that to my social media profile bio, is just appropriately tall. Then you’ll know.

    Nayo: Or surprisingly 6’3”.

    John: Yeah, surprisingly 6’3”. Right. Right. Because I don’t want to put 6’3” as if that’s cool. No. I just want you to know so then I don’t get that. I get it all the time, like that all the time. Or it’s like, oh, wow, your voice really does sound like this. I’m like, well, yeah, why would I — like on a podcast, I’m going to fake it? I’ve got a helium tank here, doing a fake voice the whole time I’m doing a show.

    Nayo: That is so funny.

    John: The stuff people say is pretty awesome, but it means that you’re listening, and you’re following, and you’re making your workplace a better place. I appreciate you being a part of What’s Your “And”? This has been so much fun, Nayo. Thank you so much.

    Nayo: I’m so excited. I finally got to connect with you, and you forced me to schedule because my schedule is all over the place. Half the time, I’m like, yeah, I’ll do something, and then my little brain is squirrel, squirrel.

    John: It’s all good. Everybody listening, if you want to see some pictures of Nayo’s creations or maybe connect with her on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. Check out those Instagram reels, and while you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture.

    Thanks again for subscribing to the podcast on Apple podcast or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, that who you are is so much more than what you do.


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