Ian Leaf is a professional fraud detective. Ian has spent the last 18 years in the fraud industry beginning with a short stint a large corporation investigating the company accounting department. After his first 6 months he was following leads and beginning to uncover fraud when he was abruptly fired. This knee jerk reaction caused his employers to continue his efforts and found a mid-level manager who had been embezzling company funds.
A semi-successful start to his career encouraged him to start his own business where he could be his own boss and not have the danger of being fired. Leaf quickly discovered that business isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. The are often clouds on the horizon that can’t be seen. Leaf’s business partner Stephen Andrews suggested they look into other areas of business and they’ve helped stop scams perpetrated on both American and international soil. They have also helped stop affiliate scammers online who were abusing the affiliate company in an effort to increase their monthly payouts.
These unique situations have led Ian Leaf to create 3 tenets of his business that he frequently explains to his clients.
1. Honest people may or may not actually be honest. This means that truly honest people don’t mind being investigated because they have nothing to hide in a business environment.
2. Some companies do not have a fraud problem. This one of the most difficult lessons for Ian Leaf and Andrews to learn, you can’t fix a problem that doesn’t exist.
3. When something fishy starts or stops abruptly, you should always investigate. When someone is scared of getting caught they immediately cease their fraudulent activity. These fraudsters leave evidence whether doing something or nothing. Learn more here.
Where did the idea for Ian Leaf, The Fraud Watcher come from?
I became increasingly aware of the fact that many small business owners were underestimating the damaging effects of fraud and fraudulent behavior. Knowing how extensive fraud is in all types of business, I wanted to offer services that could correct this issue and help these small business owners combat fraud.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My duties vary greatly from day to day, so I have found it helpful to keep a detailed calendar so I can review my schedule each evening and plan out the events of the following day accordingly. As a consultant I meet with clients frequently and I lead management training meetings teaching company employees how to identify fraudulent activity in their departments.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I try to approach everything from a pragmatic perspective and am always trying to make our services more practical. When I see an area in which we can operate more efficiently or where we could be more thorough, I simply meet with the relevant personnel and collaborate with them until we arrive at the best possible solution. Most of my ideas are brought to the forefront after seeing a problem and finding a way to meet a need.
For example, I had a client who believed he should have more profit than his company was taking in. His costs had increased 25% and his revenue decreased 5%. He started comparing invoices for his vendors and saw the costs were actually the same as the previous year. He set up cameras in the office and warehouse thinking someone was stealing from him. After 2 months he couldn’t see anything. We came in and identified 2 employees who were taking extra product out of the warehouse as they went out to install the products. They would install the product and keep a little extra for themselves to sell. In order to figure out what was happening, we started with a baseline and completed a full inventory which ultimately led to the problem.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I am excited that more businesses are starting to take a proactive approach to fraud and fraud prevention, as early intervention is the best way to keep fraudulent behavior from seriously harming revenue. Many businesses have full time fraud departments (not just credit card fraud departments anymore!) and others hire consultants like us to help on an annual basis.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I take notes constantly, so I keep an old raggedy notebook small enough to fit in my back pocket in case I have an idea or a thought I want to revisit later, or if someone says something I want to remember. Because I am always writing things down, I am able to constantly reevaluate certain ideas and discern what is worthwhile and what is not.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I worked in a pizzeria when I was a teenager. While I liked the job, I was the low man on the totem pole and always got saddled with the worst responsibilities. I always had to clean out the fryers or man the 650-degree ovens during the middle of the summer, so now that I am in a leadership position I make sure that everyone chips in equally and that I delegate responsibility according to who is best suited for the job, not just according to who has the most seniority.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would have done more promotion and advertising for our services. We struggled to attract clients at first and had to get more small business loans that I was comfortable with. A mentor suggested that if I believed in the business and could afford the debt, it might make sense. I’ll admit that there were months I had to figure out which bills went unpaid and was often at the brink of bankruptcy. Now we’ve paid off all of our debts and late fees and avoid taking on any other debt.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Nothing is ever as good as you think it is, so I always analyze and evaluate everything we do to ensure that we are always operating optimally. You hear that it might take years to turn a profit and for me, it was about 4 years. I didn’t have enough money saved and had to take on too much debt.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Most of our business comes through client referrals, and that is simply because our work is valuable to the clients we serve. We strive to save our clients as much revenue as possible through fraud prevention, and clients who are earning more than ever before tend to boast about it whenever they can. All we have had to do to stimulate growth is to ensure that our efforts consistently benefit our clients as much as possible. We’ve recently opened satellite offices in Dublin, Ireland and Zurich, Switzerland and a second headquarters in the United Kingdom – I owe a lot of the recent growth simply to referrals from satisfied clients.
We charge a flat fee as an initial consultation, but it is very small. That just gets us in the door. If we don’t find fraud, we don’t actually make a profit.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
A few of my partners would argue that the launch of this venture was an outright failure, as we struggled mightily to get the business off the ground when we first started. There are a lot of things we would do differently, and I have to admit that we are fortunate that we overcame those initial struggles.
I would always suggest that an entrepreneur have plenty of fallback resources and know when to call it quits. You can’t hemorrhage money every month indefinitely. That has to be stopped and that is difficult for a small startup.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think fraud prevention is a growing industry and I truly believe that there is a significant need for more businesses like mine. Of course, I benefit from the lack of competition, but there are so many businesses that are losing revenue through fraudulent behavior and are in need of fraud prevention services. A business based on consulting, auditing and prevention would do well in any area.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought my wife a beautiful magnolia tree and planted it in the backyard as a surprise. I put together two Adirondack chairs for us both to sit in beneath the tree, and the flowers are already starting to bloom. I don’t have much of a green thumb, but my wife has always wanted a magnolia and this has made her very happy. It brings up warm memories of a particularly lovely trip to Magnolia Grove in New Zealand we took a few years ago.
Professionally I joined a country club as a non-playing member. I think they call it a clubhouse member. That allows me to socialize with many wealthy business owners in a non-confrontational environment. The total cost is $150 per year.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I have a few proprietary programs that I developed myself specifically for analyzing the operations of our clients and identifying any areas in which they may be susceptible to fraud. It has made our processes much more efficient, but I am always tinkering with it to improve on its capabilities. We also use Namecheap.com to host our website and email accounts. We have a server through OVH.ca that allows us a secure connection when we’re on-site.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
One of my college courses included a text called Principles of Fraud Examination, and I believe that this is a beneficial text for anyone in the business industry, as fraud is much more prevalent than most realize. Being able to identify fraud early on is a necessary skill for preventing significant losses.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I was in India recently and was amazed by how it seemed like everything I picked up was somehow related to the Tata Group. The expansive influence of Ratan Tata is just incredible, so I have become very interested in his business philosophies.
Ian Leaf on LinkedIn:
Ian Leaf on Twitter: @ianleafstrategy
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.