- When Meryl Johnston moved to the Gold Coast for lifestyle, she soon realised running her own business would be part of the mix
- She opted for bookkeeping, recognising that it offered a steady cash flow and scalable opportunities
- In just a few years, Johnston’s venture has expanded internationally and she believes focusing on a niche is essential
As founder and CEO of Bean Ninjas, Meryl Johnston CA is leading a successful business with a footprint that spans six nations. Yet it all began with just $500.
“My role in Bean Ninjas has transitioned,” says Johnston. “When I first started with only one co-founder, I was responsible for everything.” Johnston did it all – from the bookkeeping work to financial reporting, sales, marketing, HR, and managing risk. These days, her role has shifted. “Now my day-to-day is a lot more about thinking in terms of the strategy of the business and mentoring team members within the business.”
Johnston describes what she does as a “mix of looking into the future and thinking about where we need to be, and how we position the business to get there.” Along the way she also develops her team and gets to complete some internal accounting.
A natural entrepreneur, Johnston started her first venture – a tennis coaching business – while at university. On graduation, she began her professional career as part of BDO’s audit team. “The decision to go into audit was more around what I was going to learn rather than a passion for audit itself,” recalls Johnston. As a young auditor, she found herself talking to CFOs and people who she admits were vastly more experienced than herself. It provided a firm foundation of knowledge, and upon becoming a chartered accountant, Johnston took leave without pay and headed from Melbourne to the Gold Coast.
She found work in a busy commercial role at Queensland Airports. But she had to remind herself that she had moved to the Sunshine State for the lifestyle. “It was at that moment that I made the decision to start out on my own and build a consulting business.”
"In the accounting industry, small firms try to be everything to everyone and with technology changing, this is becoming a real challenge."
Keeping it scalable
“With Bean Ninjas, the service we offer is built on bookkeeping and financial reporting,” explains Johnston. “If you don't have clean data, how can you use that information to provide advice to clients? That's why I decided to focus on bookkeeping.”
Recognising that management accounting is similar in many countries, Johnston also saw the global possibilities of her fledgling business.
Building Bean Ninjas from scratch – with personal capital of just $500 is, understandably, one of Johnston’s proudest achievements, and she admits there was a lot of learning on the fly. “We really started from a base of not much without a network, and without a lot of experience in running businesses. Within three years we've grown to a global business with offices in the UK, US, and Serbia, and a team of 12,” she notes.
Solving pain points
Like many CAs, Johnston can see both the opportunities and threats offered by automation. But she believes other challenges lie ahead.
“In the accounting industry, historically, small firms, have been locally based. They try to be everything to everyone and with technology changing, this is becoming a real challenge,” Johnston observes. She sees the need to find a niche and become an expert in a particular field or industry, for example, accounting for cafes. “If you stay as a local firm and try to serve a whole range of different businesses with different needs, I think it'll be a real challenge to do that profitably in the future,” she cautions.
Having a niche also helps from a marketing perspective. Instead of trying to sell general accounting services or bookkeeping services, Johnston believes CAs can look at the pain points of the specific market segments they are working with. “In the case of e-commerce, as an example, we look at what are their challenges are and write marketing copy in our messages to directly address those pain points,” she explains.