Home Accounting and Auditing Meet the former Balalaika barman turned author and mentor to accountants

Meet the former Balalaika barman turned author and mentor to accountants


Rudi Jansen is a South African living in the UK with three successful accounting practices. Once he cracked the code in his own practices, he decided to share this secret sauce with other accountants. He is also author of The Highly Profitable Accountant, which can be downloaded for free here.

A former barman at the Balalaika Hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg, he decided the career prospects as a barman were limited, so he trained as an accountant and eventually qualified as a CA, then moved to the UK. Along the way he stumbled on some elemental truths that prevent accountants from achieving success.

Jansen is no arm chair philosopher. He has three functioning and successful practices and advises accounting firms around the world, from Australia to the UK, Ireland and South Africa. Most of his time is now spent travelling the world delivering seminars and coaching sessions to accountants.

“A common misconception among accountants is that to grow your business you need more clients,” says Jansen, speaking at the Practice Management Bootcamp for accountants, held at the Maslow Hotel in Pretoria this week. “That’s not true. A lot of professional accountants don’t want to grow, they want to stabilise their practices and live comfortably. Others who want to grow think they need to rush out and get more clients, when they can vastly improve their profitability by providing value-added services to their existing client base.”

If it’s more clients you need, that’s not difficult either. Jansen explains he started a LinkedIn page two and a half years ago and sends out fresh content every day. This has won him thousands of followers and brought him to the attention of an event organiser, who recently invited him to a US accounting event to create social media buzz – something he does with aplomb.

”South African accountants are behind in terms of IT,” he says. “Australians are ahead of everybody. I put out content every day through LinkedIn and just because of my social media presence I got invited to the US. How many South African accounting firms are doing this?”

The problems faced by accounting firms are the same the world over. Finding the right staff is a hot button issue for most practices. “You get the staff you deserve,” says Jansen, adding that his London practice has annual revenue of about R18 million with 12 staff. SA firms generally do much less turnover with more staff.

Why is this?  “I think because staff costs in SA are lower, people tend to hire more easily. As you grow you tend to attract a better calibre of staff. People are attracted to success.”

Jansen says he solves this by being harsh with new staff, who fit into either the “glass or metal” categories. “I am quite harsh with new staff. I push them hard and if they break, they leave. If they stay, they’re made of metal and then they know the standard and work ethic I expect.”

Many accountants have hit a successful patch in the past and cannot quite put their finger on it. It’s crucial to find out what created the success and systemise it. In other words, if you got a bunch of new clients through referrals because you were out networking one evening, then continue getting out there and networking. That’s what Jansen means by “systemising it”.

There are ways to promote yourself that are virtually free: a decent website that doesn’t look like it was designed in the 1930s, a LinkedIn and Facebook presence. All these cost very little. Content will eventually drive traffic to you. Keep putting out content that will attract eyeballs.

All practices go through various phases, from start-up to survival, stability, and then success and scale. In the start-up phase, the emphasis is on finding the first few clients. In the survival phase, the stress levels are through the roof as practitioners try to build up their client base to the make-break point. Stability is achieved when turnover is sufficient to comfortably feed a small team. Then you start tweaking system to improve profitability and overall efficiency. The Scale phase is when turnover is greater than £500K (about R9 million) and you have the team, systems and processes in place to scale up.

There is another stage in this growth path: Significance – this is when the machine has been built and is running smoothly. The owners are interested acquiring other businesses and investing.

It’s a comfort for practitioners to know that there is a well-worn path to success. Do these steps, avoid too many mistakes, and prosperity awaits. Jansen has mentored and consulted to hundreds of accounting firms around the world and the ingredients of success are simply stated and within reach for everyone.

The biggest mistake people make? “Success or failure comes down to staff. If you have the wrong people in place, this can slow you down tremendously. This is why I am so hard on my staff.”