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Meet Kristy Clabaugh of Element CPA in Cabbagetown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kristy Clabaugh.

Kristy, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I am a mother, a wife, a partner and owner at Element CPA. As a kid, my friends loved to play house or school. I always had way more fun playing office. I remember having my dad sit across from me at the table or my desk and I would ask him questions and instruct him to fill out forms. At the age of 20, I was working in a warehouse, riding forklifts and organizing pallets. I took the advice of a co-worker and put an application in for an office manager position at a midtown Atlanta law firm. I clocked out of the warehouse, changed from my steel toed boots to a pair of heels and headed to an interview that led to a job that changed my life. I worked for a civil rights and first amendment lawyer and his law partner and wife, Alan and Cory Begner.

There I learned to keep books and manage the accounting records, build relationships with clients and supervise employees. I married, but we didn’t have children right away, so after about six years there, I decided to return to school and get my accounting degree and, ultimately my CPA license. For the following years, I worked at different public accounting firms, both large and small. After becoming a mother in 2013, I thought it would be better to cut my city commute and I found a small firm on the south side. It was there that I met John Thomas, a fellow CPA and co-worker. John and I worked together, specializing in the film and entertainment industry. After about six years there, we decided it was time to make a leap of faith and risk it all, pursue a longtime dream – start our own firm – ELEMENT. Last month we celebrated our one year anniversary!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The decision to start Element was a no-brainer. Heading into 2020, we thought our biggest obstacle would be our first tax busy season, which usually runs from January through April 15. Turns out COVID-19 was the real hurdle, pushing busy season out to July and ultimately our extension deadlines in October. This hasn’t been so bad, however. We are all here doing what we love, serving clients we love. There were countless hours on the phone with clients who were absolutely horrified at the prospect of their own businesses being destroyed by the pandemic. Hard calls with clients that had to make tough decisions to lay off employees. We spent several weeks applying triage to clients. Operations, as we knew them at our accounting firm, took a hard turn. Helping our clients during the pandemic was a hurdle, but it reminded us why we chose to do what we do. We are here to help in the good times and the unpredictable.

Element CPA – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Our company is an Element CPA. We are a public accounting firm in Cabbagetown, Atlanta. We offer the full circle of services that other public accounting firms offer: consulting, audit and assurance services, tax preparation and planning services for companies and individuals, bookkeeping services, CFO services – to all industries. What sets us apart is that we have a specialized niche – we have a very large client base of creatives and those in the film, TV, music and entertainment industry. Unlike other CPA firms, we do more than audits for state tax incentives. We provide consulting for projects from before development all the way to after wrap and post. We are the one-stop for most of our clients… waterfall projections, investor education/relations, entity structure consulting, production accounting and payroll, tax incentive audits, to tax reporting and compliance.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Walking into our office on the very first day and seeing John and our Practice Manager, Karin, there waiting for me.

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