Founder and CFO – Accounting Clients Accelerator
Recognising that accountants are the backbone of any economy, Justin Feldman launched a new venture in assisting accounting businesses not only to attract new clients but in many cases, double their income.
CIARAN RYAN: This is CFO Talks and what a pleasure it is to welcome Justin Feldman, who is a Chartered Accountant and former audit professional, who articled at Grant Thornton before venturing off to a midsized New York accounting firm. What he saw there changed his life, he turned his back on the audit profession, returning to South Africa and he launched Accounting Clients Accelerator, ACA, which assists accounting firms and accounting executives to properly market themselves using the power of social media and various other channels. Quite a fascinating area for accountants because they seem to be deficient in this. Would you agree with that? First of all, Justin, before jumping in there, welcome, how are you?
JUSTIN FELDMAN: Thanks so much for having me here. I’m great today. Thanks for having me onboard, I’m excited to chat to you guys.
CIARAN RYAN: Yes, it is an exciting topic because I preface there by saying that accountants are not the best at marketing themselves and their practices. But before we get there, just tell us a little bit about your time in the audit profession, what caused you to turn your back on it and start your own company, which does assist accountants, to market themselves and find new clients?
JUSTIN FELDMAN: So what got me started was that obviously with my experience at Grant Thornton I had a great experience there and I really loved the firm but one of the frustrations that I had there was working with clients who didn’t really appreciate us, and they were just disorganised.
I always felt like we all professionals here, why are we working with certain types of clients. The further I dug into it, the further I realised that like accounting firms. We tend to get ourselves into a situation where we actually don’t have access to other clients. So we land up working with people who don’t appreciate us. We also land up actually overextending ourselves. So accountants in general end up undercharging for services, overextending and actually a lot of the times we didn’t even make our budgets. There were a lot of clients there that I worked with that we just actually didn’t make profit on. It came down to came down to lot, when I dug deep and I spoke to a lot of the partners about it, it came down to the fact that we just didn’t have access to more clients. I think that was something for me that really frustrated me because I felt we all worked so hard to get to where we are and we wanted to be appreciated for the work we’ve done and respected in that manner. When I went to work in America, I realised that they had really good clients, they were on the ball, they were organised. Everything was just very organised and when we needed stuff it was given straight away and the more I dug deep into what they were doing, I realised that they just had the attitude where if the clients are not organised and they’re not treating us well, we’ll just move on and find new clients. I felt that that was really, really empowering. The more I learned about it, the more I felt like I really need to get this message out there and help other accounting practices and actually empower them, so they actually don’t land up like almost miserable in your job. If you’re working with somebody who doesn’t appreciate you and, you’re overworking and getting underpaid, it’s very demoralising, I must be honest.
CIARAN RYAN: Interesting that you cultivated that or that viewpoint was cultivated. I guess this was in New York, if the client is not organised and not giving us what we want, we’re going to fire the client, is that the viewpoint?
JUSTIN FELDMAN: Exactly, it was from the audit partner himself, he said to me – because I just asked him straight up – I said, most of the clients I have worked on here are really great, they’re organised, how do you have such good quality clients? He just said to me straight up, well, if they’re not good, we move on and we find new clients. So when I was back here that wasn’t really the case, I think it was a lot of word of mouth referrals, that’s how we got clients. Whereas there they had actual systems in place for getting new clients. So they weren’t too concerned like we need to hold on to every single client. They had the attitude of if it’s not a good client, that’s not a problem, they must either fix their stuff up, fix things up or we’ll move on and find other clients. So that was the attitude. So I really liked that and I felt that it put the power back in the hands of the accounting practice.
‘A lot of accountants are moving towards more of an outsourced CFO role or advisory role’
CIARAN RYAN: Wow, what a fantastic viewpoint, I’m taking that onboard as you’re speaking here. One of the points that I wanted to discuss with you because we’re talking to CFOs and finance executives for the most part, and you probably find now today that there are a lot of these former CFOs from the corporate world, who are freelance guns for hire, and they’re going out there and they’re marketing themselves and they bring a high level of experience and a high level of knowledge, and they’re really going into some of the medium and even the smaller sized businesses.
But I think they’re beginning to understand that they have to develop some brand value as a professional. Would you agree with that, and how could they improve that brand?
JUSTIN FELDMAN: What I would say is, first of all, what we’ve seen definitely is that a lot of accountants are moving towards more of an outsourced CFO role or advisory role because what’s happening now is that a lot of companies actually can’t afford to bring on a full-time accountant. It’s very expensive, especially when it comes to a CA, it’s very expensive and sometimes it may not even be necessary, sometimes maybe you just hire an outsourced CFO or consultant type of role to come in and look at your financials, do some analysis and give you feedback. I definitely see how that is becoming very, very popular in terms of a lot of accounting firms or practices are now offering an outsourced CFO role or advisory role to take away from the permanent hiring or a permanent finance person. I think what’s key here is like you said, brand is important and one of the ways you could start doing that is start posting on your LinkedIn, start giving value, whether it’s on LinkedIn, Facebook, start positioning yourself. CAs have got a lot of value to give and I think it’s time to start giving that, showing people your value on social media. Post on LinkedIn, don’t be scared to post what you know, post about your thoughts around tax implications or post your beliefs around what’s happening in the accounting profession, just to get people to see that, okay, this person knows what they’re talking about. You could do that on different platforms. A lot of accounts have this fear that you can’t really find clients on Facebook but the bottom line is that it’s a big platform to share your knowledge, share your experience, and what starts to happen is that people start thinking of you. So when something comes up with tax implications or people are at a braai or wherever and they start talking about certain things, you’ll pop up first in mind, Oh, I actually know someone, he shared some really good insights into accounting and tax, he knows what he’s talking about, why don’t you get in touch with him. That’s just a way to start building a brand, share value on LinkedIn, share knowledge, and people will start to see you as the expert in that field. As long as you’re providing good value, they will start to see you and think of you when it comes to those certain topics.
CIARAN RYAN: This now weaves into your company, which is Accounting Clients Accelerator, ACA. You obviously decided that the audit profession is not for me, I think I can do something better here. So just explain how that came about and we have spoken before, and there’s a couple of fascinating case studies that you’ve mentioned about…and I think it’s interesting to note that although you’re based in South Africa, your clients are predominantly overseas, UK, US and so on. Talk about that.
JUSTIN FELDMAN: So what I realised in the accounting profession is that accountants are really, really great at doing the actual work, that’s accountants’ strength, doing the actual work, whatever it is, bookkeeping, tax returns. Where accountants really tend to struggle is in sales and marketing.
So we realised that there was a big demand for that. So what I had done from a lot of the stuff I’ve learned from New York and what they were doing and the different systems, and the platforms they were using, I really wanted to get into that. So my business partner now had been in marketing for close to seven years at the time, so I said to him, look, there’s definitely a need here, can’t we just target accountants and service them at the highest level. The more you specialise in a certain industry, the more you learn about, the more you understand it and we really got a deep level understanding through working with accountants for a very long time on what was really going on at a core level. I think a lot of it had to do with accountants that would try different things, they would try pay for leads and they would try all sorts of different things and they actually weren’t closing a lot of the leads. So we realised they actually need sales training, they need help with sales. So we went out about prospecting in America and in the UK and Canada, and we definitely found that there’s a big demand for that sort of [service]. It’s almost bringing a whole new different skillset and that’s
fundamentally what we’re trying to do. A lot of accountants will look through business through one lens, and this is what I always say to my clients is when you are an accountant you can look through a business through one lens because that’s what you need to do, you’re an accountant. You could look through a finance lens but once you open up your own practice and you start your own accounting practice, you’re now an entrepreneur, so you’re no longer just an accountant, you’re now an entrepreneur. You now need to look at business through different lenses, you need to look through a marketing lens, you need to look through a sales lens, sometimes even through a legal lens, you just need to be able to wear multiple hats and have different skillsets. I, myself, have had to develop a lot of different skillsets, I had to learn and accept marketing, I had to learn sales, I had to learn copywriting. I think it’s just part of being an entrepreneur, if you want to be an entrepreneur you need to have different skillsets in order to be successful.
CIARAN RYAN: And I guess also that a lot of these finance executives who are putting themselves out there as freelance guns for hire, you need to show that you are an expert, you’re an opinion leader, that you have an opinion, you can stand behind it, you can argue your corner and don’t be afraid to express an opinion.
JUSTIN FELDMAN: Yes, and I think that’s going back to what I was saying earlier about expressing your opinions on a platform like LinkedIn. It’s a great way, it sounds very small and insignificant, but if you keep posting consistently your thoughts and your beliefs, people will really start to see you as an authority on the subject, and that separates you from everyone else. I think a lot of times you can’t really hide behind your designation in terms of especially if you’re trying to get someone to hire you for outsourced CFO services, you need to show some value first. So if you’ve got business owners on LinkedIn and they see what you’re saying and you’re posting good quality stuff about whatever it is, accounting or tax and how you’ve maybe helped other clients and what you’ve done, posting some wins, then that business owner will look at you and say, wow, this person actually really knows what they’re talking about. You can’t really just go up to the business owner and say, hey, I’m a CA, I’ve got an MBA, hire me. It just doesn’t work like that, you’ve got to post some value. People want to see that you know what you are talking about. Then once they’ve seen you and they are familiar with you and they know what you’re talking about, they’ll open up the conversation to say, okay, let’s have a conversation, let’s see what you’ve done and see how you can help us.
‘If you’ve got more client opportunities, you have the power to say no to certain clients’
CIARAN RYAN: Talk about some of those case studies, you mentioned one client in the UK who was signing up about two clients per month. You swooped in, did some magic and all of a sudden, he was signing up six. Basically, as part of your offering you say if we don’t achieve a certain target, you’re going to get your money back. So tell us about that case in particular.
JUSTIN FELDMAN: If we talk about that case, when we first started with that guy I think on average a month he was averaging around £2000 a month. He was really reliant on just word of mouth. He didn’t have any sales processes in place, he didn’t have any real systems in place.
So when we got in there we basically set up actual prospecting systems that were continuously generating new client opportunities. We helped him with sales, we gave him sales training, we implemented a CRM into his business. After three months he was at around £10,000 a month.
I think fundamentally what we did for him is it’s not just about the money, that’s a great thing, but fundamentally what we really did for him is we changed his outlook on business and we fundamentally changed his practice in terms of we’ve empowered him to actually go about getting new clients. So I think some marketers will go in and they’ll feed people leads, and they’ll say here are some leads, try to close them. It just, wasn’t working for a lot of accountants because they just didn’t have the sales in place and you’re not really…we go with the analogy that you can give someone fish and they eat for a day but teach them how to fish…that whole analogy. So that’s what we try to implement in people’s business, giving them the ability to fish for themselves. So giving them the ability to go out into the marketplace, get leads and get interest and actually close those deals and bring them on as clients. I think fundamentally we really shifted the way in which this guy saw business and he was able to really get just much better quality clients and you could be more picky. If you’ve got more client opportunities, you have the power to say no to certain clients.
Whereas if you’re just relying on word of mouth and someone refers you, you’re not in a position of power, you kind of have to be like, okay, well, I didn’t really have any other opportunities, I’m just going to roll with this person and take them onboard.
CIARAN RYAN: I think a lot of accountants get stuck into a silo of producing. So I’m producing the financial statements and making sure that the tax filings are done on time. Of course, there’s a lot more to business, you have to have your marketing division, you have to have your legal division, your treasury, all of those are separate functions, the multiple hats that you spoke about. I think a lot of accountants can get stuck in that and so they’re not really looking outside of that. I guess what you’ve been saying is you give the guy a little bit of sales training, smarten him up, put on a nice jacket, go and see the client and really convince them that the service you’re going to give him is of considerable value. You took this client from £2000 a month to £10,000 a month, that’s quite staggering.
JUSTIN FELDMAN: Yes, look, he was just one of them. Once you’ve got a system in place that’s going to generate you new client opportunities and you’ve got some form of sales training, you are going to do better, you’re going to get more clients onboard, you’re going to have more success. That’s just how it is. I think a lot of accountants want to sit there behind their desk and do the accounting work and stuff but unfortunately, if you’re going into your own practice and you’re starting your own practice, you have to do some form of marketing and sales, otherwise it’s just not going to happen. A lot of the stuff is all learnable, you don’t have to be…I hear from a lot of accountants all the time and they’ll say stuff like, I’m not a salesperson. I’m the same, I’m still an accountant, I don’t like sales, it’s not a passion of mine. But what I did learn because we basically got a mentor from America who mentored us and trained us how to do all this stuff, is that sales is not really about being outgoing and being crazy and loud. It’s really about finding out where someone is now, where they are wanting to go and positioning yourself as that bridge to getting them there. That’s all that it is. I’ll get on sales calls and our clients will get on sales calls, they’re not being fun and outgoing, it’s just a conversation between two people, trying to find out where they are now, trying to find out where they’re trying to go, and position themselves and showing how you’re going get them there. So that’s fundamentally all that it is. So these skills are all very, very learnable, they really are, they’re not skills that you need to inherently be born with, you can learn them and you don’t need to be the Jordan Belfort to get an accounting client. A lot of people think I need this straight line persuasion. It’s not at all, you could literally just have a conversation with someone with a bit of structure and you’re going to get deals. It’s just statistics, it’s numbers, if you speak to enough people, if you’re doing enough calls, you are going to get clients, there’s no two ways about it.
CIARAN RYAN: I agree with you, I think during this lockdown, a lot of people, businesses, accountants, everybody’s looking. They develop their plan B and their plan C and it’s like I’ve got to start changing the way I operate because my sources of income are under threat. A few weeks ago, I was talking to some former CFOs working out of Namibia, they have now gone into this freelance game. They went around to some of the lodges and these lodges were about to throw in the towel, and they said but hang on a second, you have a restaurant here. Yes, the international tourism market is dead because there’s no travel happening, but you could actually repurpose that for servicing the local community, which they did. So they were developing ways and forcing these businesses to look at ways that they could actually make the business survive, get through this period and then when the lockdown is lifted and the international tourists come back again, they’re presented with this opportunity of having a much bigger business.
JUSTIN FELDMAN: I think a lot of businesses in general have had to adapt and I think even one of the areas is just in terms of Zoom and doing calls over Zoom and having sales meetings over Zoom. I do feel that if a lot of companies don’t adapt with the technology and with the changing times, it’s going to be very hard to compete because you’ve got companies that are adapting with tech and they’re embracing tech and changing and looking at things through different lights. So it’s going to be hard to compete with them if you’re not prepared to give that a go.
A definite gap between what accountants are taught and the practicalities of the work
CIARAN RYAN: Let’s just talk about the academic side of being an accountant. You’re a CA, you left the audit profession, are you finding that there’s a training gap between what you studied to become a professional accountant or CA and the real world demands of being a finance executive? And if so, what are those gaps?
JUSTIN FELDMAN: I did find that it was a little bit different in practice. I did do some finance roles in terms of like a financial manager. Also, even when you’re looking at doing your actual articles, compared to what you were learning there’s definitely is a gap in terms of what you’re being taught and what’s in actual practice. I do definitely feel that CA does prepare you in many ways in terms of the way you’re thinking about things and understanding just basic accounting. But I do definitely feel that it does take a few years of actual practical experience to get up to a CFO kind of level. I definitely feel that a lot of places will hire CAs out the gate for these quite serious roles. I would definitely say that you do need two years or so financial manager experience, just in terms of…even what you do in articles compared to what you’re doing as a financial manager is still fundamentally quite different. You learn things in theory and then you do it in practice and there’s definitely a gap. I would say you do definitely need that kind of practical experience before you can jump into a CFO role, there’s definitely a gap between what you’re learning and the actual doing the role.
CIARAN RYAN: I refer a lot of people to a study, which was done by Queen’s University in Toronto, and it’s called From CA to CFO, where they identify about 34 different competencies. Now, it’s a very interesting study because you’ve touched on some of these things like sales and marketing, maybe some of the things that you would learn in an MBA. But a lot of people who are coming up through the accounting route end up in a CFO position where they’re managing teams. So straight away you’re into people management, you’re into personalities, there are legal issues involved, there are, of course, the regulatory issues involved. But a lot of those skills, I think a CFO learns by the seat of his or her pants as they go up the career ladder. The South African Institute of Business Accountants have fairly recently, within the last couple of years, launched this designation called Certified Financial Officer, which really is basically recognising a CFO for his experience. You have to have ten years on the go to qualify for that. But it’s those kinds of competencies and the skills that are not easily obtained and they come from experience. What do you feel about that? There is no substitute for experience at the end of the day. Anything that you can learn in an academy, in a school is good, but when you get to the challenges of the real world, it’s quite something else.
JUSTIN FELDMAN: Yes, I totally agree. If I just look at, I mean, even just from what I’m doing alone, I think what you learn in a marketing degree versus actually going out there and actually doing it in practice, it’s completely different. I think, like you said, there’s no replacement for experience and I think it’s key in all kinds of areas. I do definitely think that the one thing that the accounting industry can look at that I feel is lacking, is it looks at things just in terms of budgeting and cashflow and just maintaining that budget. I think the danger there is that sometimes you need to actually spend money to make money. So just as a small example, if you look at marketing, it’s on the profit and loss, it’s under the expense line item, so when it comes to accountants they think, or CFOs might even have the same approach of, okay, no, that’s something we need to keep training and marketing as low as possible, it’s on the expense line item. But they don’t realise that that will have an impact on the revenue line item and it actually can be a very asset generating thing. The same with training, sometimes accounts will be scared to invest in the employees, invest in their training, and sometimes that could actually be the best thing that you could do. Your employees, your people, are your greatest assets and you want to empower them and train them and have the best possible employees. That can be a revenue generating thing is assets and I think that’s something that’s definitely overlooked in finance.
‘There is a big distrust in terms of the profession at the moment’
CIARAN RYAN: Let’s talk now about the accounting profession in general, do you think there’s a crisis of trust in the profession in light of recent scandals, like Steinhoff and Tongaat Hulett? What’s your feeling about that?
JUSTIN FELDMAN: Yes, I definitely feel that the industry itself definitely took a big knock. There’s been a lot going on with other firms as well with crypto scandals, and I think it’s definitely taken a big knock and I think it will recover. At the end of the day there was the whole Enron scandal and I think everyone thought, oh, that’s the end of the accounting profession. But at the end of the day, accountants and finance are the backbone of the economy, they are the ones who keep the economy together. I’m just hoping that maybe with more tech involvement it will put that just relying on human error and human beings, I think that will sturdy that up in terms of involving a bit more tech in the process. So we’re not purely relying on just human beings and judgment and emotions and all that sort of thing. So I do believe that it will recover but I can definitely see that there is a big distrust in terms of the profession at the moment.
CIARAN RYAN: Yes, and I think it’s important to remember, and we do tend to forget this because we’ve read about so many of these scandals over the years, but the accounting profession in South Africa actually has historically a very good reputation, and by far the majority of people are very diligent, and they do abide by the principles of integrity and ethics that are at the core of the accounting profession. So I do agree that it will recover. But tell us a bit about yourself and your career path. I think you’re a Joburg boy originally, although you spent some time in the United States and then you came back, how did it all begin for you and how did you end up where you are now?
JUSTIN FELDMAN: I was always very passionate about business and entrepreneurship, and I was actually in my first year, in my first two years of studying, I actually had a basic sales job. So I was doing a bit of sales and I really liked it, I felt pretty good about it. I thought it was really interesting, I liked people, I liked interacting with people and I think it was something that I thought maybe at some point in time, I’ll be able to find my way to it. I wanted to be challenged, I wanted to do something that was really, really difficult and really challenge myself, which is why I went the CA route. Then after qualifying I decided with Grant Thornton first of all because it was a bit of a smaller firm and you get more client interaction, you get to meet the CEOs and CFOs, which is something I really enjoyed. What I used to do a lot in my articles is I’d actually go and sit with the CEOs of the businesses and speak to them, understand more about the business and learn more about the business. I think that’s key when you’re doing your articles is to actually learn from the CEOs. They and the business owners are really incredible in the way they look at business and look at different things. It’s very, very different to how an accountant would look and think. So I always enjoyed comparing the way the audit partners would think about certain things, and the audit managers versus the business owner. I think that was something I really enjoyed about my time there is I would always make sure that I spent at least a couple hours with the CEO and actually learn about the business and understand their thinking and their thought processes. I think that was part of what I really liked about it. Then I’d heard of a couple more sales related roles, which I really did look into, and I had also a financial manager role, which I took on for about a year, and in that I also learnt a lot and had a good experience. But I think at the end of the day, my passion was always in sales and more in marketing. I think after I had figured out what was going on in America and how they were doing things differently, I really felt that I could help an industry that’s changing dramatically, the industry itself and the way businesses are being run are really changing dramatically and I feel that the participants within that industry are just not moving along with that speed. I really feel like I want to just be able to get in there and help people, help them and really give them what they need to get to the next level in terms accountants and entrepreneurship. I think that is fundamentally my goal for the next couple of years is to really just empower accountants and really try and really change the industry if I can. That is ideally what I’d love to do is really fundamentally just get a mindset shift in the industry and get them thinking differently about business.
Failure is a great teacher
CIARAN RYAN: Was it quite rough starting up your business? You were really going into uncharted waters and I would imagine that it was quite nerve-racking for a period.
JUSTIN FELDMAN: Yes, there was a lot of rejection, which was hard, but I think that’s something that…I really did struggle through university, I had to repeat honours two or three times and I think failure is a great teacher. I think you learn more in failure than you do in success. So I think it really toughened me up in terms of accepting failure and learning from it, iterating and improving. In the beginning of starting a business, there was a ton of rejection, I think we pitched about 40 people in the beginning, each person said no. But I think we did believe that we had something that would work and by overcoming that it was similar to overcoming my failures in honours and whatever else. I think, for me, one of the biggest lessons in success that I’ve had, not that I’ve achieved incredible amounts of success, but what I have learned so far in this journey, even throughout my accounting journey I had started…I was in university rooms with students with six distinctions, often they were there, people had moved from chemical engineering, they had seven [distinctions]. Even through my articles, people would talk in the audit rooms and say, I’ve got seven distinctions, I’ve got six. I got zero distinctions through university, I was not the best.
CIARAN RYAN: [Laughing] That’s very honest, Justin.
JUSTIN FELDMAN: Yes, but that’s fundamentally the truth and I think at the end of the day, it’s some of those people that actually didn’t end up qualifying, some quitting honours. I feel like for me to qualify was a big teacher in terms of it’s not about how smart you are, it’s more about pushing yourself, going at it and making mistakes, and iterating and improving. I think that’s what business is about as well. It’s about going after it, making a mistakes, iterating, improving, and then you keep going forward.
CIARAN RYAN: I think that’s the Steve Jobs philosophy is it’s just perseverance, that the physical universe has no answer to absolute dedicated perseverance.
JUSTIN FELDMAN: One hundred percent, I am so onboard with that, it’s a big thing of mine to just keep on going and eventually you break down the wall and you’ll see success on the other side. I think that’s something that I really am appreciative of in terms of the CA degree and I think that’s really why, because I did think about it a lot, why is it that CAs are so revered and at the end of the day, it’s just technical knowledge. But I think what really makes CAs great, especially in South Africa versus the rest of the world, is just how difficult it is to qualify. I think you’ve got to develop other qualities that’s not just that you study this hard degree, it’s more about overcoming adversity because a lot of people, they deal with failure and I think it’s a really great teacher. I think you need so much commitment and persistence because just to qualify as a CA you need at least seven years, I needed ten, but I think most people need seven years. You need to do your four years of your undergrad or your three years undergrad, you need to do honours and you need three years of articles with two board exams. So that in itself is seven years. Most people will do it for eight, nine years. So to have that you need to develop certain traits of persistence and dedication. So I think from that, never mind just the practical, the knowledge that you’re going to learn, it’s more about the persistence and having to stick with something and also being in the deep end, you’re always in the deep end, throughout articles you’re thrown in there, you’re in the deep end. So I think all those skills bundled together is why South African CAs are so revered. I don’t think it’s just the knowledge, because I know that there’s a lot of stuff you learn that you’re actually not even using. But I do think that the fact that it’s so difficult gives us the edge over the rest of the world in terms of accountants.
Accountants are entrepreneurial and ambitious people
CIARAN RYAN: Yes, I mean the, the accounting field in South Africa is quite interesting. The South African Institute of Business Accountants as a professional organisation it really has positioned itself as a home for the entrepreneurial accountant. So a lot of the academies are training accountants to be employees, whereas SAIBA members, for the most part, are self-employed or they have their own practices. Some of them are CFOs and finance executives in the corporate world. So they’re very receptive to this message that you’re talking about like how do you build your brand, how do you grow your own business. You’re responsible for generating your own income, you’re not sitting there churning through somebody else’s work. Well, you are, let me correct that, you’re responsible for servicing that client, but also making sure that client stays on and finding new clients. It does require a shift and there’s a great deal more risk involved in that. So I do admire these accountants who go out there and make a go of it. There are some astonishing stories within the SAIBA community of people setting up franchises around the country and even outside of the country, I guess similar to what you’ve done. What’s your take on that, is there such a thing as the entrepreneurial accountant and is there no way to reach it other than just by doing it?
JUSTIN FELDMAN: I definitely think that through SAICA and SAIBA it’s a really great all-round business degree in terms of you really are learning a whole bunch of different things within business, which is great. So I definitely think it gives you a good platform and then I think the fact that you’re going about and doing articles, and you’re looking at all these different businesses and you’re getting so many different opinions, and you’re really surrounded by great people, very ambitious people. I do find that a lot of CAs go on, I know a ton of CAs who have gone on to start different businesses and they actually do tend to be entrepreneurial. I definitely think that the only thing that would be stopping a lot of accountants from being more entrepreneurial is just having a bit more of a sales and marketing background because I think it’s very hard to kick off your entrepreneurial venture without those skills. I was lucky enough to partner with the marketer and we had really good mentors, I think without those two…because I do know some CAs with really great ideas and really incredible potential but I think to get off the ground, there just needs to be some sort of sales and marketing skills, and then I think from there, you could really launch. But if you look at a lot of the CEOs on the listed of companies, and just in general, a lot of them are CAs, so I think CAs have got a great background. Like I said, I’ve worked with a lot of different CAs who have started businesses and done stuff in the Section 12J space and in property, and I do find that they are definitely very entrepreneurial and ambitious people.
CIARAN RYAN: We have spoken before, you and I, and I think I asked you about the United States and what did you find, what was the culture, the business culture. I’ve also worked in the States as an editor in California for a while, and I found the work ethic there quite fabulous, people took their work quite seriously. There’s a lot of emphasis on education, improving yourself, more so than I find in South Africa. There are great things about South Africa, but I think what I learned about the United States was the level of professionalism that is expected of you. What was your takeaway?
JUSTIN FELDMAN: I was blown away by the work ethic of the Americans. It was really incredible to see such hardworking people. I had a manager there who I was working under, I think he was 65 years old, the guy was working until nine o’clock most nights. He was working every single Saturday. I think that a lot of the Americans really take their jobs very, very seriously and I think there’s a lot to be said about that. It’s not just in the accounting space, even if you go into New York and you go into different shops there and the people [in the shops], if you’re going into something similar to like a Sportsman’s Warehouse, the person there is taking their job very seriously, the service is amazing, and they’re appreciative of their jobs and they take it very seriously and they work really, really hard. I think that was something that I really took away from my time in America is they’re not scared to work, if they need to work till seven, eight, nine o’clock at night they they’ll do it and they’ll get it done. I think that’s something that’s a habit, you keep doing it and you get used to it, and that becomes your standard, that becomes your level of what you expect from yourself, this is what you expect from people around you and working to those hours. It just becomes the norm. I really think it’s a positive thing, it’s a good work ethic.
CIARAN RYAN: I think there’s also a, not so much a worship, but they really do honour success. I was just watching something the other day, Grant Cardone, he’s a billionaire but he shares his insights and there was this presentation he was doing quite recently and he filled out a stadium, tens of thousands of people came to hear this message of how do you achieve success and his whole message is 10X. You don’t find that in many other places, I think in Europe or in South Africa, people tend to sort of turn their noses up at that kind of thing. But they don’t in the States, they really lap it up.
JUSTIN FELDMAN: I think inherently America is the birth of capitalism. So I think there everyone has this belief, and I think it’s real, that if you want something you can go after it and you can go and you can get it. I think that belief is pumped into everyone there, and I think everyone believes that if you want something, you can work hard, and you can go out and get it. I think that’s why someone like Grant Cardone, the message really resonates because he was someone who started – I actually do follow the guy – he started…he’s really from middle-lower class, he’s actually an accountant, funnily enough. But he started off and he was middle to lower class in terms of wealth and everything, and I think he stumbled upon some self-help stuff, and I think he really learned, and he really took himself basically out of the gutter. He’s now one of the wealthier marketers out there and that message really resonates. Whereas I think in other countries, I think there’s more of a socialist kind of aspect, where it’s like everyone should be the same, which is fine, I think that’s fine, it just depends on what you want. But I think in other countries, whether it’s South Africa or Europe, you feel that you’re entitled to this, you’re entitled to your job, you’re entitled to keep your job, you’re entitled to your annual bonus. Whereas in those countries it’s just so much more competitive, if you’re not pulling your weight, they just fire you. I’m not advocating for that, whether that’s right or wrong, that’s just the reality. If you are not performing, they will just say that you can leave. Whereas here you’ve got the unions, you’ve got your job, you’re entitled to a job, and I think that kind of mentality is what really drives Americans to really be the best and go at things harder.
‘The difference in income between a CA working there and someone selling jeans at Gap is not very big’
CIARAN RYAN: Yes, it is quite a force. I always remember, I was there last in 2016 and I was driving from Portland, Maine, which is on the east coast, all the way across to Minnesota, and I remember driving through Boston and New York and getting to Philadelphia, and it was just built up the whole way. It was 12 hours of driving and I was just staggered, this place had been built in the last 150, 200 years and it was so developed, and the infrastructure works and the country functions. I realised that it was off the back of that kind of work ethic and this adulation, if I can use that word, of success, they really do put a lot of emphasis on that.
JUSTIN FELDMAN: Yes, and I think that is what makes it great. I think if you look at some countries, which is slightly worrying, if you look at countries like Australia, which is a great country in itself, that’s moving more towards a more kind of socialist, I’m not going to call it a socialist country because it’s definitely not, it’s a capitalist country. I’ve got a lot of friends there who are CAs and they’re working there, the difference in income between a CA working there and someone selling jeans at Gap is not very big. They really try to close that gap, so they want to make sure that a bus driver and an actuary or whoever it is is in a similar pay grade. I think the reason for that is you want to raise the quality of living for everyone. So you want your bus driver to be able to travel and live a lifestyle, and you don’t want them to live in poverty. I do get that but the dangers of that and the other end of that is that where’s the incentive. If you’re a CA or you’re a doctor and you’re working these crazy hours and you’ve really pushed hard to get to where you are, and then someone who’s selling jeans at Gap is earning a similar salary to you, where’s the incentive because then you kind of want to be like, well, I want to go do that as well now. I think that’s the danger. I think there’s going be a lot of people who are going to listen to this and not like what I have to say but I think that is the reality is that if you want to build something great and you want a capitalist country, then you need to reward for that kind of effort. I think that’s the danger of where a lot of European countries are going and Australia. I think that is where America is really starting to move, if you look at the Democrats, they are moving towards more of a social kind of strategy but I think they still are fundamentally a very, very capitalist country, and I think that’s what’s getting them that level of success.
CIARAN RYAN: It’s very difficult to uproot that, in my opinion. I remember there was a journalist going around and canvassing opinions, this was during the Donald Trump era, and there’s a huge percentage of the American population who are self-employed, they can be a plumber, they run their own garden service. But when you have your own business you have a completely different outlook on life and what’s expected of governance, than you do if you are a public sector employee and that was my realisation at that time. I could see straight away that people were underestimating the force that was behind Donald Trump, and I predicted at the time he was going to get elected just on my limited survey of the thing. I spoke to hundreds of people in the course of that. But that’s not really the point here, let’s just wrap up this fascinating discussion, but I have one more question I want to ask you, Justin. First of all, where can people find you on the internet or on LinkedIn or Facebook?
JUSTIN FELDMAN: What we are giving away today is free training, we normally sell it for about R20 000 but if any of your listeners are interested in learning about how to get clients on LinkedIn, they can go to www.accountingclientsaccelerator.com/cpa and they can get free training there on how to get clients by using LinkedIn. So that’s number one, otherwise they can add me on LinkedIn, Justin Feldman, or just check out our website and that’s where they can find me.
CIARAN RYAN: That’s fantastic, beautiful, thank you so much for that. I’m going to take you up on that, I’m going to go and do your training course. A question that I ask everybody, what books would you recommend?
JUSTIN FELDMAN: So I would say that if you’re looking at marketing, I would say one of the best marketing books I have read is Cashvertising: How to Use More Than 100 Secrets of Ad-Agency Psychology to Make Big Money Selling Anything to Anyone by Drew E. Whitman. If you want to learn about sales, I would say How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
For self-help, I would say probably The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma. A business book, for me, is Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. I think those are my favourite four books.
CIARAN RYAN: Yes, I actually liked Rich Dad Poor Dad, I thought that he explained the difference between income and assets very well and put it very, very simply. It’s so simple, anybody can do it. So you have to start looking and saying are my assets actually earning me an income, are they generating something for the future. I think we better leave it at that, it’s been a fascinating discussion, Justin.
JUSTIN FELDMAN: Thanks so much for having me, I really appreciate it, it was great.