For our next feature segment of Women Watching Women, we sat down with Meryl Johnston who is endeavouring to change the way we think about bookkeeping and accounting.
Meryl is not your stereotypical accountant! She is young, she loves to surf and she is disrupting the traditional bookkeeping businesses model. The elbow patches and green pens of accountants past have been swapped for flexible working hours and the early start isn’t to beat the traffic, its to make sure she catches the great waves at Palm Beach on the Gold Coast.
Having been in finance and accounting for the past 15 years, as well as starting her first business while at university, Meryl has gained a wealth of knowledge and experience, but working 60+ hours a week didn’t provide for much of a work and personal life balance.
“With the consulting business I felt like I was on call – clients would call in the evenings, on the weekends, and I had to be available. It’s hard to switch off.” She wanted a life of freedom, both financially and in terms of her career, but “felt like I was on a mouse wheel trying to bring in enough work and also deliver projects at the same time – plus marketing, networking”.
So, Bean Ninjas was created with her lifestyle goals in mind, rather than following the traditional model of a bookkeeping business in which site locations visits are required for services that may not always be meeting client needs. Meryl says“ I wanted to build a global business that I could run from anywhere in the world,” while creating “financial freedom so that I have control over my time and choose the projects I want to work on because I am interested in them rather than for financial reasons.”
And business is growing fast! From a 2 person start up in 2015 Bean Ninjas now has reach across 6 countries and is staffed by 15 employees.
The 7-Day Launch
Bean Ninjas was launched in 7 days following Dan Norris’s 7 Day Start-up method. Meryl and then business partner Ben McAdams, achieved their first sale within that same week. (Check out Meryl on the Podcast here discussing the Bean Ninjas launch.) With $1,000 invested to get the
company off the ground including the purchase of the domain name and WordPress theme to get their website started, they were on their way!
Having experienced the flaws that a traditional consulting business can encounter including lumpy cash-flow and difficulties in scaling the business, Bean Ninjas was built with the goal of addressing these problem areas. Meryl also knew she wanted to be part of a team, and have the flexibility to do what she wanted with her time. Finding the right business model meant that she stripped back a lot of the specialty and often complex consulting services offered in her previous business MCJ Consulting, and steered Bean Ninjas towards delivering straight forward and no nonsense accounting and bookkeeping services, while utilising modern technology and cloud based software.
Bean Ninjas are experts in online businesses as they themselves are an online business. Currently services are offered across the UK, US, Australia and Hong Kong, so to understand local variations in relevant tax laws, a tax expert is geographically located where clients are based. This ensures the service being offered meet the requirements of clients statutory needs, while the internal structure of Bean Ninjas allows the business to be flexible utilising the global team to ensure clients individual business needs are met.
Meryl says “Our target market is online entrepreneurs. We try to place ourselves into the network of the market that we are trying to work with.” So rather than physically being on location at a client’s premises, Bean Ninjas uses technology such as Zoom, Slack, Helpscout and Wrike, and promotes the use of Xero to ensure the service offered is on demand and aligns with client expectations.
With 20% of small business failing in the first year, and 50% after 5 years, getting a start-up off the ground poses challenges to anyone, and being an accountant herself Meryl knows the stats and is no exception!
When discussing some of the struggles she has faced getting Bean Ninjas off the ground she states “I would say balancing growth and cash-flow has been the biggest challenge. Growth requires resources, either time or money or both. When there are opportunities in the market, then you want to act quickly and grow quickly to seize the opportunity. However, this growth takes resources and it is a challenge balancing risks with growth,” she continues, “The first 18 months were a struggle where I wasn’t able to pay myself much from Bean Ninjas and was basically working two jobs. Consulting work to pay the bills and then also working on Bean Ninjas which was the business where I saw the global potential. Everything was reinvested back into the business from hiring staff, building systems and marketing.”
Along with the continuous challenges of cash flow juggling, Meryl faced a partnership split. Having only launching Bean Ninja’s 12 month earlier, Meryl was looking at buying out her business Co-Founder, Ben Mc Adams, who had also been a driving force behind the initial success of the company. However, a difference in personal priorities meant both partners had competing growth vision for the business, and so approaching this challenge head on, Meryl had to have a number of difficult conversations. Eventually it was decided she would become the sole owner of Bean Ninjas, and with a high level of mutual respect for each other Meryl and Ben were able to negotiate an amicable split, while still maintaining a great friendship to this day. You can listen to their podcast about how they were able to chart this founder separation successfully here.
Inspired By Other
While having solid family support behind her and her own personal drive to achieve great things, Meryl has also been inspired by many others who have also achieved success in their chosen fields. A couple of those key inspirations are Tim Ferris and Dan Norris.
Tim Ferris and the 4-Hour Work Week started Meryl on her journey to a remotely flexible business model which eventuated with Bean Ninjas. So if you too want to ditch the 9-5 and have the freedom to work from anywhere in the world, check out Tim’s book and there may be some tips to also inspire you.
There was also Dan Norris and The 7-Day Start-up which was the methodology behind the launch of Bean Ninjas. Dan introduced Meryl to the networking group Dynamite Circle, a group of location independent entrepreneurs, where she feels she has “found her tribe.”
For support on the business front, Meryl found the Tropical MBA podcast hosted by Dan Andrews and Ian Schoen, “Dan and Ian from the TMBA are also a huge inspiration in the way they build businesses and also live life on their own terms” she says.
All of these resources are readily available at the click of a button, so if you need a bit of a push to get your idea up off the ground, consider looking into both Dan and Tim’s books to see if there is something in them that might just give you the nudge you need to go out and achieve your dreams.
Final Words To Motivate You!
“Better done than perfect” is some great advice Meryl received on her journey. She says “As an entrepreneur there are so many things to do and such little time. This quote perfectly sums up the importance of completing a project instead of having 3 projects that are part way through.”
Bean Ninjas is now into its third year, and achieving great things in the accounting and bookkeeping industry and giving traditional accounting firms something to think about in relation to the way they do business. Recently Meryl was selected as one of eight Chartered Accountants from a membership body of 120,000+ to be featured in a video series in which individuals discuss their careers and visions. A wonderful achievement, and a huge testament to Meryl’s wealth of knowledge and experience in the field.
So we asked Meryl what lesson she could pass on as advice to anyone looking to start out in business, she says “Save as much as you can while you are an employee and have some other source of regular income while you are building your first business. It takes time to build your business skills and you want to have a big enough cash-flow buffer to allow yourself time to learn.”
Finally, we would like to congratulate Meryl on her success to date, she is an inspiring woman and a great role model for anyone looking to start up a remote style business. If you need a bookkeeper and think your business fits into the criteria Bean Ninjas partners with, feel free to head over to their website and check it out here, alternatively send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be more than happy to pass on your details.
Read about another amazing woman’s achievements in business, checkout our chat with Iris Smit, founder of The Quick Flick, here!