Career Center: Newly Self-Employed
Eric Feldman, CFE
Core Integrity Group
Redondo Beach, Calif., USA
When Eric Feldman, CFE, decided to retire from the federal government and begin his own ethics and compliance consulting firm, Core Integrity Group, in 2010, his son, Josh, said, "Dad, you gotta get on LinkedIn." Josh, 26, is the chief of technology for an Internet media company in Beverly Hills, Calif. A self-proclaimed "technophobe," Feldman cautiously created a user account listing his past work experience, his contact information and his new company's website. After testing the social waters, he decided to take the plunge and extend invitations to connect with other known professionals, joined several relevant discussion groups and even began to prospect for new clients. Social media is one of the many ways Feldman is working to make his transition from federal employee to business owner a smooth one.
What made you decide to become a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)?
I got my CFE in 1991 when I was the assistant inspector general for audit at the Defense Intelligence Agency. My boss, Franklin J. Howatt, was a member of the ACFE Board of Regents. He was a regular speaker and led training courses. I was an auditor and had never even heard of the ACFE. Jim Ratley and Dr. Joe Wells were wonderful. When I asked the ACFE to come and do training for my auditors, Jim Ratley came from Austin to Washington, D.C. and gave the training class. He was so knowledgeable and dynamic, and had such an influence on the staff. I knew at that point I needed to join the organization and expand my own horizons. I needed to find a way to better integrate the investigative aspect into my auditing practice.
How did you know that making the move to self-employment was the right one?
I had 32 years of federal service. I had a choice. I am too young to not work. I could both get a new job and work for another company, trading one 80 hour a week job for another, or I could forge my own path and make my own destiny. I wanted to be my own boss, to choose the kind of work and engagement that excites me. You have to have a passion for this kind of work. The most successful CFEs are the ones who have a passion for the work. My passion over the last few years has developed in the area of how we can get businesses to better self police and make ethical decisions. Federal law enforcement is only part of the answer. In spite of all the enforcement and all the prosecutions, people are still going to make bad decisions. They are still going to be driven by personal finances or anger, and they will rationalize it. I help businesses maintain a competitive advantage by being ethical and having the right procedures and programs in place.
In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes made when starting your own business?
One thing I have learned is that a lack of confidence in yourself is your greatest enemy. People coming out of jobs where they have gotten biweekly paychecks question their value at first. They wonder, "Will people really pay me?" Because of that lack of confidence, you tend to undervalue your services. I have come up with pricing and presented it to people and they told me I was crazy. It is important to remember that when you are marketing to companies, you are not selling an hourly service. You are selling them value and a project/package. For example, I might be selling an ethics and compliance program versus asking them to pay me $200 an hour; that cheapens what you are offering. You have to provide value, especially at a time when they are competing for other resources.
How did you build up your client base?
It is just plain networking. Talk to everyone about what you are doing, and don't be shy. You don't want to be a car salesman, but you have to tell people what you do. I met a consultant in communications on a flight to Chicago, and we might be doing business now. He is mentoring me. He gave me a book by Allan Weiss called Million Dollar Consulting, Fourth Edition and the Million Dollar Consultant Toolkit. There is a template that goes with it that tells you how to set a price for your services, etc. It is a fabulous book, and I never would have known about it if not for this guy I networked with on an airplane. I would also speak at conferences. I am speaking at the 22nd Annual ACFE Fraud Conference. I love the contacts and the feedback I get. I like people who challenge what I'm saying because it gets me to think about what I'm teaching in a different way. It helps you develop professionally and you get great networking opportunities.
What advice would you give to someone just starting their career as a CFE?
First of all, go to the conferences. I have been to every conference since 1992. The networking, the quality of the presentations, the variety of the information all contribute to there being something for everybody. You can get out of your comfort zone and see what other people are doing with like skills. It is such a broad array of occupations that people work in. You are dealing with every kind of auditor, investigator and analyst. It is just amazing. You can take your basic skills, and you can translate those into a completely new profession if you want to. You have got to understand the other side of the occupation. If you are an investigator, you have to understand what makes auditors tick. If you are an auditor, you have to understand how your work affects investigations. I was able to create a very powerful force multiplier and create synergy between auditors and investigators at the Inspector General's office. That is critical in federal or corporate settings.
What role does networking play in your professional life?
One of the things I learned after 32 years of federal service is you will bump into these same people again. Five or 10 years down the road, you are going to remember someone you met at an ACFE conference. It will really pay off later on.
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