How This Chartered Accountant Started a Digital Marketing Co Helping SMEs Make Thousands of Dollars

  • Hi! I am Brett Perlstein. A Chartered Accountant from SAICA (The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants) turned Google Ads and Digital Marketing Specialist.
  • I am the founder & CEO of SearchKings™ Africa, a Global Google Premier Partner. Our focus is simple - We build profitable and measurable 'digital advertising campaigns' for all kinds of businesses (local, small, SMEs, large) to generate more revenue and unleash their true potential online.
  • We have clients across Africa, the UK, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.
  • My background in finance and accounting allows us to give clients a more holistic strategy than some of our competitors. 
  • Here is my story about quitting my job in the US, returning to South Africa and starting my company from nothing!

From a Dropout Engineering Student to Qualified Accountant

I don’t think anyone’s story is clear cut and we all live in a different shade of grey – although, having said that I have always inserted as much colour and energy into everything I do, which gives you an indication of the positive and ambitious person that I am.

I am Brett Perlstein born and bred in Johannesburg where I now live with my wife Kerri and our furry child, Jake. I was fortunate to be born into an incredibly loving and supportive family, who raised me to believe I could be or do anything I put my mind to. I enjoyed both my schooling and university years.

How did I land into CA? It’s the story of a son inspired by his dad (literally!). My father is still a highly successful Chartered Accountant in his own right, spending 27 years in the profession and I wanted to emulate his success. (Who doesn’t?)

I studied engineering for 2 years (on a bursary) and I ultimately switched to a career in finance and accounting. (Today when I look back, I am so glad for those 2 years in engineering it gave me an edge over other Accountants...however back then it felt like a setback in my academic journey!)

Some might even say going the CA route was the safe and predictable decision (since my dad is a CA) but that became the stepping stone for this incredible journey on which I now find myself as an 'Entrepreneur'...and that made all the difference.

Quitting my Job and Making a Foray into Online Advertising

During both, my articles in Cape Town and while at the firm in New York City (in the US, I was an Audit Senior in financial services division specializing in Hedge Fund and Private Equity audits), I learnt so much – from team management to the art of negotiation to closing deals, etc.

Life was going great but I was definitely on the lookout for something more!

But with all journeys, there is certainly something to be said about being in the right place and at the right time. 

March 2012. After a Visa whoopsie during my stint in the USA, I made my way to Toronto Canada whilst an immigration lawyer worked on my American dream. It was there, at a dinner party I got chatting to, my current and now long-standing business partner, the founder of SearchKings Canada.

The guy I met was a maverick Canadian who had started his own company called SearchKings in 2008. (An agency to help Corporates, SMEs, entrepreneurs etc grow their businesses and unlock their business’s full potential by better understanding their inbound lead strategies online)

Despite being in limbo waiting for my future to be decided on, I went to visit his offices and immersed myself in this start-up experience. I realized how his digital company was helping tradespeople like plumbers and electricians, SMEs, entrepreneurs etc expand and grow their business exponentially through the power of technology and Advertising on Google...and that inspired me.

I immediately saw the opportunity and realized that this model could work back home (South Africa) where Entrepreneurs & SME’s were setting up shop...and here started another journey.

This entire situation made me realize two very important lessons:

  • Firstly, the importance of networking and relationships, what you know is important but who you know helps. So get out there, meet people and listen to their stories and see how you can collaborate.
  • And secondly, listen to your gut. Don't be scared to take a risk, especially early in your career!

From Idea to Execution

Darryl (The founder of SearchKings™ Canada) and I got chatting and the ideas began to percolate.

Could this solution work back home and how do we bring the technology to South Africa and test the waters given that the concept was still in its infancy?

The guys in Canada would support me with their brand and software...but eventually, I had to make it happen. Naturally, I needed to prove my mettle to the founders first before they would throw their weight behind me.

I returned to South Africa after that trip and changed my career trajectory...but it didn't just happen overnight! I started the business in my then cramped apartment to get to grips with what the local market needed.

The process of building a business is brutal (requires a thick skin and steadfast ambition) and there were moments we were so deep in the trenches that it felt like there was no way out. But I believed wholly in this value proposition and mission state.

July – Dec’12. I tapped my network and within five months I signed up enough customers for the business to be considered viable in our market.

Jan 2013. And from there, the team in Canada gave me the license and tools to ramp up SearchKings™ Africa was born...the rest from there, as they say, is history. 

Challenges and Expansion Along The Way

After securing 10 customers in the first few months, things got harder so I started to leverage my personal network. My first customer was my mother-in-law.

You gotta hit your family first and say, ‘Come on, guys, give me something. I need just like R5000 to work out if I can generate some business for you and, if it doesn’t work, I’m sorry because I can’t pay you back’. Luckily in my case, it worked out!

Then I hit 20 customers. SearchKings™ Africa was gathering momentum.

When we hit 25, I hired Darren Brick, who would become and remains an incredible asset to our business. We worked from my apartment before moving into an old rented garage in Highlands North.

25 clients became 40 and so the business grew.

Today we have 200-plus customers across the continent. We have 16 plus team members (known as our Kings and Queens) all with diverse backgrounds from engineers to graphic designers, from musos to golfers.

We are a motley crew, no doubt, who love getting up in the morning and helping business owners and entrepreneurs plan, build and execute their digital campaigns with remarkable success and that is priceless!

From the garage to our new offices in Illovo, it’s a whole different picture but in this current economic state there is no shortage of challenges and that’s what makes it so stressful but so exhilarating as well.

When the economy slumps, often marketing budgets are the first to go when corporates and businesses have to cut costs. This means that one of the greatest challenges we have (and any local start-up will face), is the 'art of staying relevant'.

Other challenges include hiring the right talent and retaining them. Taking care of your people is crucial. With great people you can do great things and harnessing a culture where everyone believes in the north star is something we spend a lot of time nurturing.

“I don’t have funds for my business. How should I start?”

I hadn’t planned to come home and push restart on my career, so no, the capital was not waiting at home (sadly) and finance was definitely one of the first hurdles. I had spent most of my savings travelling the world extensively that year so I worked with what I had in my spare room and the 'belief' I could do this.

At one stage, to manage cash-flow, I sold my car and opted for Uber for my daily commute (long before it became a trend). It’s really hard in the beginning because the only person who is going to make this thing happen is you, which means no consistent salary at first, less time with family and friends and sleepless nights.

EXTRA TIP: When starting on your own you must learn to cut your cloth to fit the table and of course you make changes to accommodate a dream.

Also Read

How This Chartered Accountant Switched from Finance to Brand Management (And Was It Worth It!)

"What is my Day Like?"

My days are busy, that’s for sure! I am a work-hard, live-full type of person. I believe in making time for your health, well-being, friends and family and of course your craft.

Putting our customer experience first is front and centre on what guides most of my days at SearchKings™ - I have instilled a culture where we are a little customer “obsessed”. So my day can go from the gym into back to back meetings, to lunch with a client and then dinner with friends at a new restaurant.

I do get to spend some of my time working with pro-bono clients and mentorship programmes as we also believe strongly in giving back to the communities in which we operate.

We are looking to set up the SeacrhKings™ Academy in the not too near future as well which aims to help gear up young talent with the right digital skills to take us into the Fourth Industrial Revolution - which is critical for the country and our business.

“Don’t Get stuck. Learn to think beyond accounting.”

My CA qualification has really helped in terms of how to run the business and help others run theirs from a consultative perspective.

Don't take for granted how your CA journey will develop your business acumen and open up doors for you. It's still to this day one of, if not the most respected professional designation.

Never stop learning. I learn that from my 90 plus grandmother every day. Never stop being inquisitive, wanting to learn and know more.

SearchKings™ Africa is a specialist inbound lead marketing agency that assists businesses to grow exponentially online. We do this by leveraging our expertise and custom-built technology to generate leads through Google Paid Networks. 

If you want your business to be ready for the Digital Age, my dynamic team and I can be found at The Wanderers Office Park on Corlett Drive in Illovo Johannesburg. The best way to get in touch with us via our website - Alternatively, go old school and give us a call on +27 10 140 1131

Now, It's Your Turn!

Do you have an idea that can become an amazing business? Yes? Then, what are we waiting for? Start, people. Now.

Let us know in the comments what inspires you the most from Brett's story.

(Image editing by Ankit Lodhi and Pic credit Theana Breugem)

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