Episode 13 – Stuart Hack


Stuart jokes his way to better networking

 

Stuart Hack recently stepped on stage at the Improv Comedy Club and was big hit with his clients.

In this episode, we talk about how Stuart’s radio host days and stand-up comedy hobby have allowed him to be much better at networking to generate more business for his Firm. He spent many years working for accounting firms before taking a leap of faith to start his own practice, Hack Tax and Accounting Services.

Stuart has a Bachelors in Mathematics and a Masters in Accounting, both from the State University of New York at Albany. He’s got over 27 years of experience providing individuals and small businesses with tax and accounting needs.

 

Other pictures of Stuart

(click to enlarge)

Stuart on stage at the Improv Comedy Club.

Stuart cuts the ribbon at his new office.

Stuart speaking at the Chamber of Commerce.

Stuart’s links

 

Transcript

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    John: Welcome to Episode 13 of the Green Apple Podcast. I’ve been interviewing accountants every Wednesday about how their hobbies and passions help them become more engaged at work. And after hearing how many consultants and lawyers and other professionals are listening, I’ve decided why should accountants be the only ones to get to be the superstar? So I’m going to open up my guest list to include any professional known for their hobby or passion. So if this is you or someone you know, please contact me at greenapplepodcast.com and we’ll get you on the show right away.

    Now, this week’s guest is Stuart Hack, an accountant who’s definitely unique, but first a little background about Stuart. He has a Bachelors in Mathematics and a Masters in Accounting both from the State University of New York at Albany and he’s got over 27 years of experience providing individuals and small businesses with tax and accounting needs. So Stuart, thank you so much for being on the show.

    Stuart: Thank you. Thanks for having me, John.

    John: And the interesting thing about your career is that after so many years working for other firms, you went out on your own and started Hack Tax and Accounting Services.

    Stuart: When I did it, I basically had zero clients. So I was taking a chance, but I figured I have all this experience, let me give it a shot. I’ve never had to do any sales. I’ve never had to bring in business. They basically just put me in a room for like 15 to 16 hours a day and say, “Do these tax returns,” and that’s what I did.

    John: Right, because they brought them to you and you were just a machine at that side of it, but yes, you had to learn the other side from scratch.

    Stuart: Yeah, pretty much. I started going at networking meetings and I didn’t even realize the first time I went to one is that I had to get up and do a commercial, and everyone is going around the room and I’m like okay, I have no clients. What am I going to say?

    John: “Be my first client!”

    Stuart: What am I looking for? Do you have a pulse? Come on over!

    John: Yeah, exactly. You’re like the Jerry Maguire of tax.

    Stuart: Right. Show me the —

    John: Exactly. You just need the one big name guy to do it, Trump or something. That’s awesome. So I guess one question that I love to ask everyone is just how did you get into accounting?

    Stuart: Well, I was always good with numbers and when I was a young kid growing up, my career aspiration was to play shortstop for the New York Mets.

    John: Sure.

    Stuart: After one year of Little League, I said you know what, I’m better off being a statistician.

    John: That’s great.

    Stuart: I was always interested in numbers. My dad was an accountant, so it was kind of in the genes so to speak.

    John: And you saw how happy he was and you were like, “I can do that, too.”

    Stuart: Sure. I got my Bachelors actually in mathematics. Part of the problem with a mathematics degree is when I was taking classes, you would go weeks without seeing an actual number. It was very theoretical.

    John: Oh, right.

    Stuart: And I thought it would be more number type things, but by the time I realized that — I want to graduate on time. I figured I’d always get a Masters anyway. I think my dad was pushing the accounting thing on me though I would never push it on my own kids, so I ended up doing it. There’ve been highs and lows over the years, but I’m still doing it after all these years and I’ve seen many of my peers, many of my friends who went through career changes and I’ve pretty much done the same thing whether I was working for someone or now doing it on my own.

    John: Yeah. Accounting is definitely the best degree to have from a business perspective because everyone needs to know the numbers no matter what part you’re in, and now you have your own place. You’re the king of the world.

    Stuart: I am.

    John: All your friends are jealous of you. You’re your own boss. You can do whatever you want. It’s great.

    Stuart: Yeah. I’m the king of my 10×10 place.

    John: Exactly. Obviously, this takes up a good amount of your time, but what are some of the hobbies or things that you’d like to do outside of work when you do leave your 10×10 castle?

    Stuart: I’m a big baseball fan, a big New York Mets fan, growing up —

    John: Big year this year for you, man.

    Stuart: It was, growing up near Shea Stadium. Everyone says, “Are you disappointed by the World Series?” and I’m like if in March you said they were going to be in the World Series and losing five games, I’ll sign for that.

    John: Right, exactly. This was amazing. The Mets just came out of nowhere. That’s for sure.

    Stuart: Yeah. They started off great. They dropped a little bit mid-season, but they made some moves at the trade deadline and they just took off.

    John: Yeah. They were on fire there at the end of the year. I’m a big Cardinals fan and the NL Central was getting all the attention because they had the Cubs and the Pirates as well.

    And the Mets were just sneaking along and then all of a sudden, they just pounced and it was over, so baseball obviously takes up a lot of time, but I know — I’ve seen a video that you sent me —

    Stuart: I’ve always felt I’ve always been a little different than an average accountant. One thing, when I was in college, I did radio, so I did play by play for football and basketball. I’ve always had some sort of background where I like to speak. I’ve spoken in front of groups business-wise from the Chamber of Commerce and other things, but I’ve always had what I thought was a good sense of humor and I decided a couple of months ago if I’m never going to do this — I have to do this now. So I took a comedy class and then the last class was performing at the Improv in Palm Beach and I got to do it. I had a great time. It went really well and then I actually did it again last Wednesday. They had a turkey contest.

    John: Oh, good for you!

    Stuart: So they brought people in like — many of them were professionals and I think it was rigged, not that I thought I was going to win anyway, but they announced the winner before all the people handed in the votes.

    John: Right, sure. That’s how comedy contests work, sorry. I’m glad you learned that on the second event that you’ve ever done, so the veil has been lifted. It’s all make-believe.

    Stuart: It was a lot of fun. I will likely do it again. I have friends who are up in New York up north who want me to come up and do it up there. I’ll go up and visit next summer. I’ll find an open mic someplace and I’m sure I could bring in some people.

    John: Yeah, man, that’s so cool. All of a sudden, just now you’re like, “This is it. I’m going to give it a shot,” and we’ll see what happens.

    Stuart: The biggest difference like when I’ve spoken before, the goal is to educate and inform. And if I tell a joke, that’s an advantage for an accountant because if you think of the sense of humor of accountants, I’m like way up on one level and then there’s the rest, but then if you throw me into the general population of comedians, I fall down a little bit, so I have to work.

    John: Right. I actually have a joke where I say that being the funniest accountant is like driving the fastest minivan because it’s still a minivan, I mean, really.

    Stuart: One line in my act — and the best part was writing it and tweaking it. I really had a ball doing that. I say this is my midlife crisis. By day, I’m an accountant and then I just look with a straight face and I go, “That’s exciting.”

    John: Right, exactly, because everyone does have the stereotype of us and who we are, and even within the industry. Even accountants, we perpetuated ourselves as a group and we’re not that way.

    Stuart: When I speak especially if I’m in a networking meeting and people don’t know me, if I say what I do, people will be asleep or on their phones. I have to make it interesting. I try and do something somewhat different every week depending on what’s going on in the news, the holiday or something like that. And this way, people who know me, they’re going to listen and they’re not going to daydream when I talk because that’s what you want to do. You want to get their attention and then hopefully at some point get their business.

    John: Right, exactly. That’s exactly what you’re trying to do. And by going up and doing stand-up, that’s in the belly of the beast, man. You’re jumping right into the fire, so that’s great.

    Stuart: Yeah. I went there. I was a little nervous at first, but once I got the first laugh, it was really such a rush. You probably know this, too. That was great. I’ve watched the video myself. At first, I watched it just to see what I could do better next time like some things with timing. I thought certain jokes might have gotten more of a response if I would’ve waited a second longer for the laughter to subside on the prior one.

    John: Right.

    Stuart: That’s what I use the video for, but it was also great to hear people laughing and it wasn’t just my friends and the people that I paid to come. That was pretty big.

    John: Right. It’s so surreal that you could say words and then random strangers will just laugh immediately in fractions of a second. The reaction is open-mouth laughter and that’s just the coolest thing. And so, congratulations! That’s so great. Those audiences on those graduation shows are probably the best audience you’re going to ever have in your life, which is a catch 22 because they get you hooked because it’s like, “Oh, they’re going to all be like this” and then I’m sure you found out the second time, it’s not always as —

    Stuart: The second time wasn’t bad. I didn’t get the reaction that I got the first time, but it was okay. My wife, who’s maybe a little biased, thought I was still better than a lot of the professionals that went on that night. The guy who taught my class was a professional, so the first time he went on, he just killed it. He did really well and he was great. And then he basically did the same act like maybe a week later and it bombed.

    John: Yeah. There’s no rhyme or reason to it honestly.

    Stuart: I found that even in different networking groups, there are different groups that all do the same thing. In one, they’ll be laughing hysterically and the other one, it’s like, okay.

    John: Right, exactly. It’s the same thing as being in a professional environment, which is so great that you’re able to see the correlation between the two and that this is a tool that you’re sharpening by doing the stand-up, by going to the comedy clubs. It’s a skill set. It’s just like going back and getting another degree or more CPE accreditation. They should actually have stand-up CPE. I know my friend, Greg Kyte, does funny CPE, but there should actually be a skill that they teach you for credit. I’m going to call somebody. They’re not going to answer, but it’ll be fun.

    Stuart: I had to do a traffic school for a ticket and it was supposed to be a funny guy. It was funny, but he wasn’t doing a routine or anything. I was disappointed because I was all excited. I’m like if I could pay for a ticket, let me get entertained here.

    John: Right, yeah, that’s exactly it. It’s like a lot of the conferences that I go to and whatever. I’m usually the soft skills, personal development, whatever side of it in between the boring sandwich, but that is so cool, man, that you went up again a second time. You just got to keep at it as long as it’s fun.

    Stuart: It’s actually a little bit like accounting if you think about it. I remember when I was starting out, I remember older people, some were really nice, but some were just bitter and would just go through four-letter words walking up and down the halls. And even a couple of years ago, I did some contracted work for a big firm and it was the smallest department, the smallest tax department, but they were young kids there that was there first through second tax season and I went ahead and helped them out whenever I could and they were so grateful. I said, “Look, in 20 or 30 years when you’re a CEO of a big company and I’m in my 80s, 90s, and I need a job, you’re going to remember this.”

    John: Yeah, exactly. You’re going to be the greeter at the door.

    Stuart: Even though you don’t want to because I figured I’m there first experiencing this. I’m their first memory. So years from now, I don’t want to drive them away. I don’t want to be the reason they said, “I hate accounting because this guy was so bitter.”

    John: That’s an excellent point and it’s something that I think a lot of people need to be cognizant of especially when you work for the bigger firms. When that kid comes out of college, you’re their first exposure. Make sure it’s a positive one that’s going to keep your profession moving forward because we need those good people to stick around and not the grumpy pants. Let them retire. So it seems like this hobby has definitely helped you develop some skills when it comes to networking that you’ve brought up before and things like that, so did you talk with some of your clients about, “Hey, come and see me do my stand-up”?

    Stuart: I did this to some of them. You have to be a little careful with that because there are a lot of people that feel their accountant should be out there telling jokes and I don’t think I lost any out of that. Some of them were really into it and a couple did come. They were okay with it. I made it very clear I’m not giving up on my first career and if I have a second, that’s great. As long as it doesn’t sabotage my first career then it’s all good.

    John: Yeah. They have hobbies, too, so what’s the difference between their hobby and yours? The funny thing is it makes you a little more three-dimensional to them where, “Hey, who knew Stuart likes to tell jokes? He’s always been funny, but that funny?”

    Stuart: I tell people in the network, I say, “When you see me go up there, it’s going to be different.”

    John: I think that that’s a cool thing and it’s great that clients came so you’re able to share with them that as well and I’m sure that it’s something that they’ll not forget. And when they’re talking to friends of theirs, “Hey, my accountant, he was at the comedy club,” and it’s like, “What? I’ve got to get that guy as my accountant.” That’s what I would say anyway, but that’s awesome. Is comedy the hobby that broke this open? I’m sure you were talking about Mets baseball and other things.

    Stuart: No. As I’ve said, I’ve done broadcasting before, so everything was just leading up to this. As I said, I’ve always considered myself not an average accountant in terms of personality. If I get people’s attention and once I get their attention, I could show them I have a clue of what I’m talking about in the accounting realm and then it’s all good.

    John: Yeah, so maybe early on in your career before you even thought of doing this, did you talk about your radio days or anything like that?

    Stuart: Yeah, I would to people. I would mention that I did it because I thought that was an interesting thing about me that they wouldn’t expect an accountant to get up. You might say, “Oh, I’m an accountant.” When I was in college, I was in the business fraternity and we sell donuts every Tuesday mornings in the campus center, but I felt I was a little different that way even when I was in college. And then just as time went on, there may have been a period of time that I didn’t do anything and I was just working and working and working and I got married. I started a family. Life happens. But now, my kids are older and you start thinking — I figured this midlife crisis is a lot cheaper than buying an expensive car.

    John: Right, definitely, until you go into therapy then it becomes more expensive.

    Stuart: That’s true.

    John: So you referred to yourself as being a little different. Do you feel that that was an asset when it came to your career as far as standing out?

    Stuart: I think so because I think also people like talking to me. I think I’m easy to talk to. I’m easy to get along with, so that helps because anytime you do business with anybody, you don’t want to dread calling them. “Oh, I’ve got to call my accountant today.” It’s more of, “At least I get to talk to him. I enjoy talking to him.” Sometimes it backfires especially during tax season when you have things that you have to get done and people just want to yap away about certain things.

    John: Right, yeah. That is certainly a problem where you don’t want to be rude because you’re this jovial, congenial guy that —

    Stuart: I don’t think I ever have been, but sometimes in the back of my mind, I’m thinking maybe speed it up a little bit, but —

    John: Yeah, exactly. Well, that’s the New York in you.

    Stuart: But honestly, I’ll tell you this, John. Before I went off on my own and the years I was down here — I was down here by myself. I was in the satellite office. I was in an office maybe just a little bit bigger than this by myself working 15 hours a day. I was new to the area. I was not meeting people. It’s just not a healthy atmosphere. Since I’ve gone off on my own, I’ve met so many great people whether they were business associates, clients, people in networking, Chamber of Commerce, just a whole bunch of great people that I’ve met and you can’t really put a price on that.

    John: That’s so great that it seems like at the time, it’s a scary, scary thing that you’re going out on your own because you don’t know where that next step is going to take you because there isn’t a straight path, but then now look, and not only your business but your life as well and how taking that risk really opened things up to another level on a couple of different things, so that’s so rewarding to hear. That’s very encouraging to others that may be, “Hey, I’m scared to take that next step” for whatever it is.

    Stuart: Definitely.

    John: But I think the accountant in us, I’m the same way. We’re so risk-averse. We’re just —

    Stuart: Even now, I’ve noticed bigger firms, they do encourage you to bring in business where they didn’t back in the 1980s. Networking wasn’t really a thing back then. Now, I’ve seen firms that really encourage you to bring in business. They want you to bring in business. However, I also find they don’t really give you the tools to do it because a lot of people just don’t know how and they panic like, “What am I supposed to do to bring it in?” I didn’t know how either and I made mistakes. It’s just like you learn as you go on and you just pick up things and hope you don’t make the same mistake too many times.

    John: Right, exactly. This isn’t the IRS coming to audit you. You’re allowed to make mistakes when it comes to your hobby and to things like this. It’s not a career-limiting move. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just “I learned and move on” type of a thing. One thing that I’ve always thought about is when it comes to creating an environment — obviously you work for yourself, so that’s super easy, but when it comes to firms early on in your career, is it more on the individual to share that you did radio in college and what have you or is it on the organization to create that culture where everyone —

    Stuart: I used to have it on my resume. I would put the radio station name and if it came up in an interview, I would tell them what I did.

    It clearly never hurt me. It may have helped me. I’ve worked for some people also that were big sports fans and that would almost be a beneficial thing. So for me, I don’t think it ever really hurt whatsoever. I had that background in broadcasting.

    John: Yeah. I think that that’s so cool that you had it on your resume because I also put that I had done professional stand-up, so that was something that at almost every single interview, “What’s this all about?” and no one wants to talk about your degree or where you worked last because we all know the drill.

    Stuart: I’ve also used to put on my resume — are you familiar with the game called Strat-O-Matic Baseball?

    John: Yes.

    Stuart: I used to play it a lot. I still play, but I used to have that on my resume and occasionally you get someone who says, “Oh wow!” and then they would start talking about it.

    John: That’s so fantastic. So for everyone else — I’ll let you explain the Strat-O-Matic Baseball I guess for all the listeners.

    Stuart: Well, I’m still in the Stone Age, so I still use the cards.

    John: Okay, great, because that’s how I remembered it.

    Stuart: They do have a computer version, so every player gets a card and it’s based on this last season and you could actually do replays of seasons. In a perfect world, the stat should be similar to what they actually are, but things happen and they don’t and you have different leagues. You could do all star leagues, things like that. But to me, being a big baseball fan, I really love that. I still love playing it.

    John: Yeah. It was like Madden but for baseball basically, not a videogame.

    Stuart: I know they do have a computer version now, but I just never —

    John: Well, no, no, it’s not as good. I can tell you. I haven’t seen it, but I can tell you it’s definitely not as good. I think that that’s great, that it is like you said really just on the individual that you came out right on your resume, right out of the gate, so it’s up to you to be like this is who I am and this is all the difference — because that’s a skill set that you bring to the table, but not everyone does.

    It’s been really cool getting to know you, Stuart, and everyone listening, but I feel like the only way that I can know whether or not we can really hang out is my 17 rapid fire questions, which is if you ever expand into a 15×15 castle and you need a new person, this is your interview question. This is your interview process.

    Stuart: All right.

    John: All right. This will be how it goes. So it’s just 17 really fast questions, so here we go. Star Wars or Star Trek?

    Stuart: Star Wars.

    John: Favorite animal?

    Stuart: You didn’t see my stand-up act, did you?

    John: I know your least favorite.

    Stuart: Goldfish.

    John: Goldfish, there you go! Sodoku or crossword puzzle?

    Stuart: Crossword puzzle because I’m old.

    John: Jeans or khakis?

    Stuart: Jeans.

    John: Balance sheet or income statement?

    Stuart: Income statement. That’s where the profit is.

    John: That’s where the profit is. Right click or left click?

    Stuart: Left click. I always mess up the right click.

    John: Right. Least favorite vegetable?

    Stuart: Cauliflower.

    John: Oh, that’s a good one. Mine too, man. That’s terrible. You can’t have enough cheese to put on cauliflower, right? Favorite number?

    Stuart: Nineteen.

    John: And why is that?

    Stuart: First letter of my name is S, which is 19. I’ve just always found that it’s always been a little bit of a lucky number for me.

    John: Nice, man! Wow! I never heard that. Favorite sports team?

    Stuart: New York Mets.

    John: There you go. That was an easy one. PC or Mac?

    Stuart: PC although I just won an iPad Mini, which I set up over the weekend.

    John: Oh boy, that probably took all weekend. I don’t even know — I’m not that guy, either.

    Stuart: I did it fairly quick ago. My son is watching me and he says, “Now, it’s going to be dangerous when old people get technology.”

    John: “Get out of my house!” Here’s one, movie that makes you cry.

    Stuart: Movie that makes me cry, that’s the tough one. I don’t know. I remember when I was a little child bawling to the Wizard of Oz.

    John: Oh, really?

    Stuart: My parents didn’t know what was wrong. They thought I had been killed or hit or severely injured or something.

    John: Maybe it was the flying monkeys.

    Stuart: If I’m killed, I wouldn’t be crying, but severely injured.

    John: Yeah, the flying monkeys maybe. They’re kind of scary to me now. Favorite color?

    Stuart: Blue.

    John: Least favorite color?

    Stuart: Yellow.

    John: Pens or pencils?

    Stuart: Pens. I don’t make mistakes.

    John: Yes, I like that, man! Good! Good one! Your favorite comedian?

    Stuart: I like Jerry Seinfeld. As far as the stand-ups, I like Frank Caliendo. I like his impersonations. Those are two.

    John: Sure. You have more because you’re somebody that would know. Favorite toppings on a pizza?

    Stuart: Mushrooms.

    John: And favorite thing you own?

    Stuart: You know what I have at home? A few years ago, I went to Comic-Con with my son. My son’s really into it, but they had the former wrestler Sergeant Slaughter, so I got a picture of him giving me the cobra clutch. It actually helped my neck a little bit, so I have that hanging on my wall at home, a picture of him in his Sergeant Slaughter uniform having me in a headlock.

    John: Giving you a chiropractic adjustment.

    Stuart: That’s right.

    John: That is so cool, man. Well, thank you so much, Stuart, for being on the show. I really appreciate it.

    Stuart: Well, thanks for having me, John. This was a lot of fun.

    John: I really hope you enjoyed what Stuart had to share about how he uses his radio host and comedy hobbies to develop a unique skill set for networking. Be sure to visit greenapplepodcast.com to see some pictures and links to Stuart as well as all the previous episodes. And if you’re enjoying what you’ve heard and find value in the message that we’re trying to spread then please share it with your friends. And if you’re listening on iTunes or Stitcher, just rate it and leave a quick review as a thank you. I’ll send you a download code for my comedy album heard on SiriusXM Radio. Now, I won’t keep you any longer so you can go out and be a green apple.


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