Kay gathers coworkers around the dining table for better connections
Kay Morgan has always loved trying new recipes – and the wine that goes along with it. As she began to bring on clients and hire new staff, she realized that food is something that everyone can relate to. This leads to her actually asking clients about their favorite meal during the onboarding process. It was also leads to her team sharing recipes with each other on a regular basis. Food is such a huge passion for Kay that she hires a chef to come to her annual team retreats.
In this episode, Kay and I talk about how food and conversations about food are a great way to break the ice. These conversations amongst her team allow them to get more comfortable with each other and develop stronger bonds of trust. Kay firmly believes that it’s important to take time to build relationships between team members because her clients are hiring the whole team, not just one person. She also says, “You have to be vulnerable in business in order to grow.”
Kay Morgan is the President of Your Front eOffice, Inc., providing cloud-based accounting solutions.
She graduated from Waubonsee Community College with a degree in Business/Accounting.
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Welcome to Episode 116 of the Green Apple Podcast where each Wednesday, I interview a professional known for a hobby or a passion, make them stand out like a green apple in a red apple world. So many of us are taught a false hope by professionalism that to stand out, you need to get another certification or another degree or memorize all the tax codes or be the best technician in your field but this simply isn’t true if you want to get ahead in business, because it’s still a human to human interaction.
Because professionalism preaches that people with passions outside of work are maybe less dedicated to their job or maybe not as good at their job. So many of us want to be considered as trusted advisers but focus too much on the adviser part. In order to gain trust, you need to share your “and,” that hobby or passion that you love to do outside of work because that’s what makes you more human. You’re an accountant and a foodie, as my guest is this week.
Thanks so much to everyone for subscribing or whatever app you use to listen to podcasts. There’s so many great stories of professionals shattering the stereotypes and I don’t want you to miss out on any one of them.
So now, it’s time to introduce you to this week’s guest, Kay Morgan. She’s the founder and president of Your Front eOffice, a virtual bookkeeping firm and Kay, I know running a firm keeps you super busy so thanks so much for taking time to be with me on the Green Apple Podcast.
Kay: It’s a pleasure to be here, John. I can’t wait to go through this and see where it takes us.
John: Yeah, absolutely. I mean I’m so excited that Cindy Schroeder connected us. She was the “Disnerd” for everyone that listens to the podcast and you’re on here Bookkeeping Buds group and so I was like, sweet, anyone that’s friends with Cindy is friends with me so let’s get you on the show so I’m excited.
Kay: Oh, cool. Bookkeeping Bud of the year 2016-‘17, woo-hoo!
John: Exactly. As far as I’m concerned, we might as well give it to you for next year as well. I mean let’s just do that and get it out the way.
Kay: Another one of my colleagues got it so, ugh, next time.
John: That’s all right. It happens. I gave everyone a little bit of an introduction but maybe in your own words, a little bit of what you’re up to now and kind of how you got there.
Kay: I own a company called Your Front eOffice and we’re based on a Cloud over Elgin, Illinois which is near Chicago and I got into this to prove myself I could actually do it. What other reason is there? Can you start a business? I’ve always wanted one, so the easiest thing — my background is sales and accounting so why not do bookkeeping accounting? So now, we’ve been a business ten years this year, yay, and we hand over remote accounting for other corporations. We basically outsource your accounting to us. We’re a full QuickBooks house. Woohoo! So we do accounting with QuickBooks.
John: Oh, wow, that’s great. So you have clients all over the country then?
Kay: Pretty much. We actually had one in Australia, one in England, two in Germany.
John: Wow. International. You’re like the Hasselhoff of bookkeeping.
John: This is awesome. This is great. Wow. That’s very, very cool. Really cool. In ten years, congratulations. That’s quite a milestone.
Kay: Thank you. I made it to the SBA statistics. I’m really encouraged.
John: Right, exactly. Well, one thing I love to ask everyone is just how did you get into accounting?
Kay: It’s interesting because I do love numbers and my mom pushed me out of the house. After I graduated high school, they didn’t want to send me to college because they didn’t want to pay for my MRS degree. That’s a Mrs. Degree. So she took me to the local placement agency who put me right into an accounting department because my math skills were the highest out of anything, and I ended up in a billing department of a big corporation and my goal there was to learn every desk I could possibly learn before I retired.
John: Wow, yeah. That didn’t take very long I imagine because you’re obviously gone and doing your own thing.
Kay: It was fun though. It was great to learn. It was about a medium sized business at that point, publicly traded, so it was fun. Everything in my life has to be balanced and reconciled and I like it neat so I guess that’s where accounting falls in. balance it, reconcile it, make it neat.
John: Right, yeah. Because you’ve been practicing for this for years. This was your destiny.
John: Yeah, yeah. So I know running your business takes a lot of time but what sort of hobbies and passions, when you have a little bit of free time, do you like to do?
Kay: It’s really weird but I like coloring books and I love cooking and wine and funny thing is coloring books, why is that something I love? I love art and I probably would’ve don’t that if I had gone to college. That’s probably why they want to pay for it. So you know, we’re going to pay for you to come out with an art degree and then I get to keep you in the house the rest of your life.
Somebody gave me a coloring book and they gave me 12 pencils or something. Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted that 96 colors. I wanted that big box that you get and all of the other kids had this. I had 24, that’s the most I ever had. I was in the store and it was five bucks. I’m like come on, five bucks? All right. I’m going to buy it. If I’m on hold with someone for a long time, I haven’t talked to the IRS but I hear the waiting time’s there are long sometimes. One day, I was at a technology call, I’ll open up the coloring book, by time we are done in an hour, I’d colored the whole picture. So it was kind of fun.
Food to me though probably is my passion. When we were kids, we were forced to — we got home from school, we had to call mom tell her we were there then you had to put the pot roast in and peel the potatoes, put the carrots in, what a pain in the rear as a kid. You know, yuck.
So anyways, I love working out when my brain says it’s okay to do that because it’s easier to sit in your chair and do more work for a client than it is to get up and go walk or whatever but I started reading like health magazines and cooking light and trying all these recipes and it ended up experimenting where I was a baker in the past and now, I’m more of a cook, the meals and that type of thing.
So what happened is I started talking about this with my staff and they were like, “Oh, I’m gluten free. I can’t eat this,” and, “Oh, wow. You’re working out. Did your nutritionist teach you about protein shakes? Let me tell you about my recipe,” and all of a sudden, these food conversations brought the team closer together so even though we’re all remote, we come together once a quarter face to face, and what do we talk about? Food. I talk about wine with those who like wine but most of them do not partake.
John: Right. That’s so great though, I mean especially when you’re working remotely. That’s even more important to have something that you share in common. It’s not just getting to know each other but it’s something that we all share and that’s so cool that yeah, then you can start sharing recipes and all that stuff. That’s awesome.
Kay: It’s really nice when you talk to a client. You ask them what’s your favorite meal? Now, that starts a whole other conversation so you get to know your client as well so that part’s great too.
John: Yeah. That begs the question. I mean I have to ask, “What’s your favorite?”
Kay: Well, I have a story.
John: Oh, here we go. Here we go.
Kay: I took my team on a summer outing just like a retreat to get everybody together even though we’re spending two nights together, everybody has their own room but where we stayed, there was a chef. He owns a property so I asked him to come in the first night we were there and cooked some sort of meal but teach us how to do it. And he was like, “All right. Great.”
So we had fillet mignon on the grill which I would never cook fillet mignon on the grill because I don’t trust myself. It’s expensive, I don’t want to ruin it. So coming to find out, everything you think is really hard is very simple so he taught us how to make this fillet like how to cut the meat, how to put it on the grill so you just basically put a little olive oil, salt and pepper, whip it on the grill and you just kind of tend to it. So it was really kind of niche. He also taught us how to make a salad which became a slaw.
And then he taught both left-handed and right-handed cutting. That was interesting. He’s a lefty and everybody that’s with me is a righty so it was kind of interesting how he flipped back and forth and it was easy for him. For us, I cut my finger off. The last thing he made was a flowerless chocolate cake with fresh berries. Oh, my god. It was quite rich but it was very good. I love beef and that’s my favorite. My other of course is lobster. That one, I don’t know, for some reason, I do experiment with that one better.
John: Well, that’s so cool though. Yeah, because then you know that’s something that your team all gravitates around and so then on the retreat, hey, let’s bring a chef in and let’s some have fun with this.
Kay: Yeah, it was great. I’d do it again.
John: That’s so fantastic. That’s I mean such a great idea, going to where they’re at and where we all congregate and what’s our common thing and let’s celebrate that and yeah, I love that. That’s an awesome idea. Really, plus, you get to eat really, really good food. So there’s always that. What do you prefer better about the cooking than the baking?
Kay: I think the cooking, I have to do to survive, the baking’s kind of like the gravy. So it’s like what’s that product that you offer your clients? There’s three levels ¬– small, medium, and large and the large comes with this great dessert and the first one just comes with I need to survive so I need to make food. But I think if my husband’s pallet was not like it is, I would be probably very bored because I could pretty much put anything in front of him and it becomes a guessing game. He’s like, “Is this pork?” No, it’s fish today. I mean he just wants to eat. He doesn’t really care. If it tastes good, he’ll comment.
John: Right, right. “Will this fill me up?” Check. All right, we’re good. That’s really funny. I mean was this something that you always helped out growing up?
Kay: Oh, yeah, yes. Both parents work so our job was we get home from school, get that meal going so when dad walked in the door at 4:30, we set down to our meal.
John: Wow. That’s impressive.
Kay: Yeah. Well, if you didn’t do it, you got dad’s hand and you didn’t want dad’s hand because he was in greasiest —
John: Got big hands.
Kay: Well, big hands and they’re black when he walked in the door and you’re like, “I don’t want that stuff all over me.”
John: Right, right. Plus, I’d like to eat. So we all win. Everybody wins.
Kay: Pretty much.
John: Yeah, yeah. I’m sure that this work retreat is one that stands out but anything that special, remarkable, cool or rewarding story from your times?
Kay: I think that one of the things that helped me delegate was getting to know my team. One of the ladies pointed out, we all know you but we don’t know each other. I hold back because you want to be friends with your team but you don’t want to be real good friends with your team, I guess. But to getting to know them and then giving them the responsibility of delegating things down to them, it just happened to work and they made it simple because they wanted more work, they wanted that responsibility, and I think those discussions about food made me more comfortable with them to understand them in a different light.
It’s another way to see your employees. You know their skillsets, you know how well or whatever they work and what’s best for them as far as does this one like this QuickBooks or this type of work or whatever but when you get on the personal side, then you see that level of trust and responsibility and it just made it easy for me to delegate and start growing my business so I have to thank them for liking food and wanting to talk about it.
John: Yeah, yeah. I mean that’s so cool and it’s also cool like you brought that up of not only you getting to know them but them getting to know each other. So then it becomes instead of a wheel with you in the middle and just the spokes going out, it’s more of a web of where they’re all also connected which has to just make things go better all around. I guess how much is it on the leader, you, or of a firm or a company or a manager of a department to create that culture and drive that or how much is it on the people themselves to kind of just come up from the bottom up?
Kay: I think that it’s always top-down driven so I mean you have to create that culture and that culture gets created from your personality and when you look at the team that you have and you look at the clients that you have, they’re an extension of your personality so who’s going to work best with you is someone who’s like you or enjoys the same things you like, same thing with the client.
It’s that personality and our services and each individual that works with me and our clients have made these relationships and it’s due to, again, food and conversations just to break the ice. I mean like you and I had a little conversation before we started. It’s an ice breaker and you get to know that person. In 15 or 20 minutes, a brand new client’s like, “hmm.”
Example, I had a cold call the other day, talked to the guy, started telling him a little about how I brought the business about and what we do and brought my personality into it more and the minute I brought my personality in it, he got very relaxed and he started telling me things, he’s like, what about this question? I didn’t think — he got all excited. He’s ready to come on board and he was ready to work with us because he was getting answers where you never got those before.
John: Right, right. Yeah, I mean that’s great. What makes you think that it’s okay to not have always billable time? That it’s okay to take your foot off the gas and have a little bit of interaction and talk amongst yourselves as the owner of a firm, most people would be like, no, no, work, work, work, work, make me more money.
Kay: The money’s great but basically, when I came into business to prove it to myself I could do it, the other thing is I love helping people and my whole team loves helping people so let’s say there’s an agreement and the client’s like well, can you just do this report for me? We’re not going to stop and say, well, that’s out of scope if it’s an hour or something like that.
I think taking the time to build those relationships and not always have billable time so to speak, really makes your company grow because if you’re all about work, work, work, your staff’s not happy, your clients may be happy but maybe they’re not happy with who they’re working with because they don’t really have a positive attitude. We’re very optimistic, we’re smiling, we’re laughing, we want to have fun, but we’re producing a nice product for our client at the same time and the client’s very appreciative of that.
John: Right, right, yeah. Because I mean that’s a huge thing is you’re fun to be around, you’re fun to talk to, you have a positive vibe and so clients like that. I mean because they can go to a lot of bookkeeping places and get that work done but not everyone is happy and positive and gets to know them on a personal level and so that’s what definitely makes it different.
Kay: I think, too, we’ve come a little bit more than just bookkeeping. We’re basically pointing things out to them and looking at a balance sheet, looking at a profit and loss, and making sure everything works and letting them know that it works and why.
John: Yeah, I know. That’s awesome. So you’re more of a partner in it as well and in forward thinking.
Kay: Yes, yes. That’s the other interesting thing. We’re passionate about other people’s books probably more than they are. It’s like, why don’t you understand? You should have this, this, and this, and this, and it should all be perfect and it should all line up and reconcile and balance and look neat. Whoops! No, it doesn’t.
John: And they’re like, is it a positive number at the bottom? Okay, great.
Kay: That’s yeah, exactly. Give me that positive number. But you know, some people, they want a negative number so you know.
John: Oh, yeah. Well, I guess that’s true. I guess that is true depending on what you’re going through. Yeah, and I guess is there anything specific? I mean I guess to the people listening and they’re like well, you know, I’ve never really talked to my staff about what they like to do. I guess do you have any tips for how to go about that?
Kay: What started it is we just did — since we’re all remote, I started a GoToMeeting, got my subscription and every Monday at 9:00 a.m., everybody had to be on that call, cameras on. They all met each other virtually before they met each other individually and then once a quarter, I decided well, you know what? Sometimes, you just got to pay to make things stronger or work as a team so even though we’re all in the Chicago land area, you find some place kind of in the middle and have a meeting and it was structured.
You came in it 9:00 and we sat down and we talked about corporate numbers, we talked about our clients and what each one’s going through maybe we had issues with QuickBooks or maybe a client had an issue with they didn’t understand a certain thing on payables or something, we would share that with each other. It brought the team to the point where when someone hires us, they’re hiring the whole team now. They’re not hiring just one person.
John: Oh, that’s so great.
Kay: To make it work, you have to try remotely bringing them together, have an agenda, even if it’s half an hour. Have the cameras on, they don’t have to look perfect. I mean they work in jeans and sometimes PJs or they want to make — a part of their hair will be wet or whatever. At Halloween, I started laughing because at Halloween, they all came on in some sort of character. One had this ugly mask on, one had a witch hat on and there was just a riot. You have to let them play and the more they play I think, the more they become a part of the company and a part of this team that is building something.
John: Yeah. That’s such a great line of you just have to let them play.
Kay: Yeah, it costs you money but in the long run, think about it. What does it really cost you? It could cost you a client.
John: Right, yeah, which is a lot more money than — yeah, yeah.
Kay: Right, and I think too, for an owner, they say this all the time. I’m technologically advanced. I don’t care about change. I’m moving forward. I had a lady tell me five or six years ago, if you don’t start going to these conferences, you’re going to be far behind in the dust. I’m like who wants to be in the dust? I would go out and I would find these different programs, QuickBooks Online Bill.com or some of these other ones and I was able to put my whole practice up in the cloud. So we’re basically all cloud-based.
If we do go to a client, I don’t have a problem of flying there. I think it’s part of you need to see that face to face even though you do it all remote because when you have that face to face, you sit down, you find out what kind of food they like. You find out that, oh, they have this whole other project they want to give you or they’ve been thinking about or they’re thinking about switching CPA firms, do you have any suggestions? There’s always something that comes up. I went into a client just recently and they gave us a project.
John: Yeah, and that’s awesome. That’s really cool. It’s just so great that you’re willing to let your guard down, be a little bit vulnerable. I mean in the research survey that I have out there, I found it’s pretty cool like about 91% of people say they have something they regularly do outside of work and yet rarely do people know what 91% of their co-workers are doing and so I think it’s great. You’re batting a thousand there and it’s open.
But some people are always concerned that well, if I talk something besides work, it makes it seem like I’m less dedicated with my job or maybe I’m not as good as my job because I should just be talking about accounting all the time. Do you have any words of wisdom for those people that why it’s okay to be a little bit vulnerable?
Kay: I think you have to be vulnerable when you’re in business in order to make it grow. It’s like that delegating thing. I chomped on that for two or three years before I finally let go and trusted someone. Think about if my whole staff was sitting in one office and we all had these little cubicles, they’re going to get up and talk to each other, they have to. You can sit at your desk all day and do accounting all day and not say a word to the person in the cubicle next to him.
I think we accomplished probably more work being remote than we do being in an office with each other because I could see what this team being in an office with each other, there would be situations where they take a chair and go off and be talking to each other about something. They do each know what each other’s passions are, they know what their skillset is as far as work goes, I think you need to let that go, let them talk to each other, let them learn because it’s only going to help you in the long run. It’ll help them too and they’ll let you know if it doesn’t.
John: Right. That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. I mean that’s so fantastic and so encouraging for people to hear and for myself even, I think it’s really awesome and kudos to you on building that and all the success that has come with it because imagine if you never delegated, imagine if you never shared, imagine if you were never a little bit vulnerable, you’d still be a one-person shop and probably wouldn’t have made it ten years.
Kay: Right, and I’d still be driving in a snowstorm to someone’s office to do their books.
John: Right, right. It’s amazing how just one little thing talking about food and a little bit of wine really blows the doors open and makes your business just go to another level which is just really awesome. Really, really awesome.
Kay: Thank you.
John: I’d love to come to Chicago, hang out, go get some good food that’s for sure but I do have my 17 rapid fire questions that I need to run you through before I do so. Now, I mean granted, in this case you’re talking about steaks, you don’t even have to get any of these answers well. So honestly, I’ll take any answer to be honest. Look, I’m coming. No pressure, but let me fire this thing up here, fire this thing up and all right I’ll start you out easy, start you easy. How about do you have a favorite color?
John: Blue, all right. How about a least favorite color?
Kay: In a car, it would be red.
John: Red, all right, all right. How about when it comes to computers, are you more PC or Mac?
Kay: Oh, PC.
John: PC, yeah, yeah, me too. Now on your mouse, are you more right-click or left-click?
Kay: Whoever asked that question before? Left.
John: There you go. You’re making decisions. Are you more pens or pencils?
Kay: Pens now because I can write faster.
John: Yeah, yeah. No, that’s true. That’s very true. How about more Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
John: Okay, all right. Do you have a favorite Disney character?
Kay: I guess Pluto.
John: Pluto, there you go. That’s a solid answer. That’s one you don’t get every day. That’s good. I like that one. That’s a great answer. How about do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Kay: Not really.
John: Not really, all right. We’ll skip that one, we’ll skip that one. How about do you have a favorite comedian?
John: Okay, you’re already on the show, come on now. But I’ll take it. That is the best answer. Would you say you’re more of an early bird or a night owl?
Kay: Oh, I used to be a night owl, love staying up late, sleep until noon. Now, I’m an early riser.
John: Yeah, early bird. Early bird it is. How about are you more Star Wars or Star Trek?
Kay: Star Wars.
John: Star Wars, all aright. Would you say more heels or flats?
John: Flats, all right. How about do you have a favorite adult beverage?
John: Wine. Of course, of course. Do you have a favorite number?
John: 3, and what is that?
Kay: I don’t really know. I like it.
John: Right. That makes sense. Yeah, yeah. How about when it comes to financials, are you more balance sheet or income statement?
Kay: I used to be income statement. Now, I’m balance sheet.
John: Look at you evolving. Look at this. How about a favorite movie of all time?
Kay: Risky Business.
John: Oh! Nice answer. There you go. There you go. All right. We got two more. Being from Chicago, I have to ask. Favorite toppings on a pizza?
Kay: Sausage, mushroom, and a lot of cheese with a good red sauce.
John: There you go and I’m assuming deep dish. We’re going Chicago style, yeah?
John: Okay, okay, all right, yeah. The last one. The favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Kay: My grandmother gave me this little blue vinyl coin purse that has a gold opening and it snaps. That was like my sacred thing my grandma gave me before she passed away. So that’s my most favoritist little thing.
John: That’s awesome. Yeah, that’s so cool. That’s really, really neat. Well, this has been so great, Kay. Thank you so much for being with me on the Green Apple Podcast.
Kay: Thank you. This has been a ride. I enjoyed it.
John: Wow! That was so great. I loved how Kay said you have to be vulnerable in business in order to grow. That’s absolutely true because it’s still a human to human interaction and trust is built when you’re able to be a little bit vulnerable.
If you’d like to see some pictures with Kay or connect with her on social media, be sure to go to greenapplepodcast.com and while you’re on the page, please click that big green button and do the anonymous research survey about firm culture. Thanks again for subscribing and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, which is to go out and be a green apple.