Member Spotlight: Meryl Johnston, Founder and CEO - Bean Ninjas

Vanhishikha Bhargava
September 13, 2021

Every week as more members join Partner League, we reflect back at how grateful we are to have such a vibrant community of Shopify Partners from across the globe.

Over time, we have come together to speak all about the changing eCommerce landscape and the Shopify ecosystem. In fact, some of the best ideas have been discussed, shared and brainstormed upon in this community.

So we decided it was time to start getting some of our members into the spotlight for their active contribution towards everything we learn together. We know, you already know this from our Member Spotlights series.

This time, we had a chance to speak with Meryl Johnston, the Founder and CEO of Bean Ninjas, a Xero Platinum Partner that offers online bookkeeping services for small to medium sized businesses.

Yes, they do a lot of number crunching and so we thought it was time to get to know them a little better.

Hey Meryl, welcome to Member Spotlights and thank you for agreeing to do this. You and your team are doing a lot of things out there. So can you tell us a little about yourself and your background, and what got you interested in helping Shopify merchants?  

It all started from my visit to the Startup Weekend in Australia, about seven years ago and I loved the idea of building a software company. After the weekend, I stayed on with my group and we worked on our tech startup. But very quickly, I realised that we had very little to go in the space we were wanting to enter - we did not have the funding and we did not have the kind of network either; this was the medical space. And at that time, I didn’t have much skills - I was a developer yes, but did not have the business skills.

So that got me thinking that it was time for me to first learn all about businesses and how to run one, before coming back and giving building a software a go again.

At that same time, I was working out of a co-working space and met Dan Norris, the author of the book 7-day Startup, which was all about productizing a service. And so I thought, okay, I’ll give this a go.

Now I am a trained Chartered Accountant. So I decided to productize a service related to that and that’s how we launched Bean Ninjas, a productized bookkeeping service. But we found our niche gradually.

We went with bookkeeping for everyone to eventually, working with online businesses, and then bookkeeping for eCommerce businesses. We changed our positioning from ‘bookkeeping for online businesses’ to ‘eCommerce Growth Accountants’. Right from managing budgets, KPIs to taxes, we handle it all.

So now we have come full circle, and we’ve now launched an eCommerce accounting SaaS. It’s exciting!

Wow, that sure is one interesting journey! But at least you got around to doing what you wanted to do as well as what you wanted to experiment with. We know number crunching - managing finances, spends, taxes, can be really overwhelming. But would you like to tell us a little about the challenge you are trying to solve in this space?

So, even if you’re great with numbers, the fact is that your time is better spent growing your business, not coding receipts and reconciling bank accounts.

Our mission is to create freedom for entrepreneurs through stress-free business finances, while their mission can remain focused on building a wildly successful business!

But from what we understand, most business owners tend to manage finances on their own. It’s harder to convince them to let go of it. How do you get the word out about your business? What are your top three sources to reach your ideal customers?

Well, we focus a lot on word of mouth marketing - referrals. We have always kept our focus on the product and providing a great customer experience. We also run a quarterly NPS process which helps gather feedback from clients about where they can improve as well as some nice compliments for the team.

Currently, we do get a lot of referrals but are yet to actively start seeking them from our customers.

The second is Content Marketing and SEO. We write regular articles and guides on our blog and have a podcast as well - Bean Ninjas podcast, which has over a hundred episodes. To reach more people, we have been co-hosting webinars and panels, and guest posting or speaking as guests on other podcasts as well. We also write 2-3 posts a week on LinkedIn.

The third is Partnerships and Communities. We spend a lot of time thinking about how we can add value to our partners and build long term relationships. So we’re very active, contributing members of various communities and that helps us also get the word out about Bean Ninjas.

You mentioned Partnerships and Communities, and well that’s what Partner League is all about too. But can you share a specific collaboration project you’ve worked on with another Shopify Partner?

Sure! We ran an event with Airwallex recently.

December last year, we had another accounting firm getting merged with Bean Ninjas. So a part of hosting this event was to show that we’re here in this eCommerce space. We wanted to be seen in the industry, inviting relevant people to the event.

The second goal was to get to meet people and build relationships. Because we knew that people don’t change their accountants overnight. We’d have to build some credibility first.

So one of the challenges that we faced during this collaboration was that we invited our existing clients on both sides, and about a third of the people in the room were our potential clients. It got harder to speak to these people and even take account of the numbers in the room. That’s when we also realised that cold calling or cold outreach wasn’t really our way of establishing connections with our audience.

But something that we did do right was a Panel Discussion. We came up with a common theme for the discussion beforehand based on our target audience and our goal from the event, and then I spent some time outlining the conversation.

After which, I held one on one calls with each of the panelists to understand their story and if they had specific questions or topics in mind that we could talk about at the event. There were actually tons of questions from the audience and we had a lot of questions coming from them, so the engagement was really good.

So next time round, I’m going to make my part in the panel shorter to allow more time for questions from the audience. And if there are none, I would then continue to stick to my outline and set of questions around the topic.

But one thing we’d like to improve, as the Bean Ninjas team, is following up with the people we meet or network with.

I would definitely say that the event and the collaboration was great. We got a ton of positive feedback as well. I plan on doing more events. But the next time, I would actually get into doing events in a more strategic manner - chalking out which parts I’d take up and which I’d let my team tackle, and also figure out who we can collaborate with to work more efficiently around hosting a successful event.

Those are definitely a lot of takeaways from a partnership. Both good and a learning experience, we would say. Can you highlight a valuable connection made within the Partner League, a resource or a pivotal insight that you learned from being a member?

Being a part of Partner League, we got a lot of detailed advice about Angel Investing from people who are investing themselves. We also got the chance to reconnect with Jon Kennedy after being in a Mastermind together 5 years ago.

We have also been able to find collaborators for Bean Ninjas Masterclasses such as Jill from Inventory Planner to cover a very specific topic.

We also connected with Brendan Rawsom from Andzen. We eventually invited him and his team to our in-person event as well, and met them at other events too.

Definitely a lot of connections then! Which other professional online communities are you part of and most engaged in?

Dynamite Circle - I met my Bean Ninjas co-founder here. I also met the first and only Bean Ninjas investor in this community. We’ve had 20+ clients come from this community over the last 5 years!  

MicroConf - The developer we are working with for our eCommerce SaaS app is also part of this community. We met via other channels, but as soon as we found that we were both a part of this community, we knew we had shared values.

Superfast Business - The only Australian based group here. I’ve met and stayed in touch with many other business owners from this group over the years. A number of Bean Ninjas clients come from this community.  

So you’re definitely very active when it comes to communities. Moving onto a more entrepreneurial question - What are the top three tools you use and can’t live without?

Loom for async communication.  

Then, Google Calendar for time blocking my day to ensure I’m focusing on the right things.

Notion - for our company internal knowledge base and SOPS and the personal area where I manage my personal productivity.  

A new tool I am loving is Zip Message, which is a tool like Loom but doesn’t require you to install anything. This makes it much easier to get a reply when doing things like customer support.

Interesting. We haven’t heard of Zip Message yet, but will surely be looking into it as well! What are you working on now to help your business get to the next level?

At Bean Ninjas I am focusing on building an Advisory Board. This will provide more support, structure and accountability for our three General Managers who each lead a region (US, Australia and UK).

Some of the things I am thinking about are:

- Who should be on the advisory board? I think we’ll start with the 3 x GM’s, plus me and our investor
- How do we use the quarterly meetings to add value to the GMs and provide them with a sounding board as well as some structured accountability?
- What kind of topics should we cover and how do we ensure we keep things at a strategic level rather than discussing operational matters?
- What kind of reporting should we review prior?

I’m not a big fan of meetings, so I want to make sure this is a valuable exercise and not a waste of everyone’s time.

Wow, then you have your hands full and we wouldn’t want to take you away from your thought process. But we’d love to hear your thoughts and learnings when you’re able to implement it all, because I think the one thing everyone here will agree with, is that meetings definitely need more structure.

Thank you Meryl for taking the time to do this with us. We loved talking to you!

Loved getting a peek into what Bean Ninjas has been upto and how they plan on continually growing in the eCommerce landscape?

Well, we suggest you keep an eye open for our next Member Spotlight too!

Joining Partner League gives you a platform to not just connect with others in the ecosystem, but also learn and collaborate with them to grow your business. If you’re not a part of Partner League yet, don’t forget to sign up here.

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