3 Years at Bean Ninjas: Growth, Highlights, and Lessons

27 June, 2019
Meryl Johnston

Meryl Johnston

6 minutes
Celebrating 3 years at Bean Ninjas

Bean Ninjas is officially three years old!

If you’ve been a friend, fan, or client of Bean Ninjas, we thank you for your partnership, support, and advice. We couldn’t have made it this far without help!

To celebrate our birthday, we want to share a timeline of our history as well as the most important lessons we’ve learned along the way.

Related: In Episode 04 of The Bean Ninjas Podcast I talk through the highs and lows of our first 3 years.


Our first year

Read these posts about some of the most important moments in Bean Ninjas’ first year:

Thank you to our friends, fans, and clients! We appreciate your partnership, support, and advice. 🙂 Share on X

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The Timeline of Bean Ninjas’ Growth in Year 2 and 3

December 2016 – I bought out my business partner Ben and became the sole owner and CEO of Bean Ninjas.

December 2016 to 2017 – We focused on improving the business. We improved our monthly recurring revenue, reduced our churn, built a high performing team, and renewed our focus on quality and delivery.

Related reading: Bean Ninjas Growth Report March 2017

March 2017 – We moved into our first office in Burleigh Heads, Queensland, above Black Hops Brewery (just a few minutes from the beach and cafés).

September 2017 – We are awarded Xero Bookkeeping Partner of the Year 2017.

Bean Ninjas

Bean Ninjas

Colleen, Michael and Meryl pictured at Xerocon 2017


October 2017 – Tom meets us at DCBKK, a five-day conference hosted by the Dynamite Circle in Bangkok. DC is an exclusive community of entrepreneurs who focus on building online businesses. We were also a sponsor of the event. After the conference, Tom visited the team in Australia. Michael came for a month as well.

November 2017 – We have our first team Christmas party!

December 2017 – We raised capital by taking on our first passive investor, Simon.


Tom and Meryl pictured at the Bean Ninjas sponsorship booth at DCBKK

Tom and Meryl pictured at the Bean Ninjas sponsorship booth at DCBKK

January 2018 – I took some time off between Christmas and New Year without checking my email. This was the first time I’d taken more than a long weekend in a year.

March 2018 – Ran a DCx conference on the Gold Coast with Ben.

March 2018 – Attended the Keepers Collective retreat (mastermind for bookkeeping firm owners)

Workshop in progress at the Keepers Collective Retreat

Workshop in progress at the Keepers Collective Retreat

April 2018 – Our first Bean Ninjas baby! Our operations manager Fiona gave birth.

June 2018 – We were finalists in the Bookkeeping Firm of the Year category at the Australian accounting awards. We also opened our first office in Europe.


The 6 Biggest Lessons I Learned

So what have I learned over the last three years?


1. Choose the Right Niche

Choosing a niche to serve is an important decisions, but it’s actually not that difficult.

Who are you currently serving. Which of those customers are your most profitable? Who do you enjoy working with and which customers are raving fans of yours? What makes you unique?

By playing to your strengths and analysing what is already working I think a niche may become apparent. At Bean Ninjas we didn’t specialise in a niche at the beginning, as we didn’t have enough information to base a decision on. It was only once we had been operating for 6+ months that we could review what was working.

You don’t have to be an expert in marketing to get started, as long as you know how to serve your customers. That’s the most important part. You can figure out everything else along the way.


2. Reputation Matters

Business is built on trust.

This became apparent to me during our process of working with an investor. I realized you can only lock down so much in a contract. At some point, you need to trust other people to act in the best interest of your business. It was also interesting looking at this from the perspective of Simon our investor and realising he was putting a great deal of trust in me.

I have to trust other people (my investor, my clients, my team, etc.) and they have to trust me too. I use people’s reputations to predict whether our relationships will be successful, which means they do the same for me. So reputations matter a lot.

It’s important to protect your personal and brand reputation. Keep your word and do what you say you will.


3. Make Decisions Quickly

As an accountant, I’ve been trained to be careful and methodical. I have tendencies to over-research, over-consider, and avoid even the slightest mistakes. That style works well for my clients, but it’s not suited to entrepreneurship and team management.

As a CEO it is common to have to make decisions with incomplete information. Admittedly, that’s tough for me, but I know I need to make decisions quickly to take advantage of opportunities and move the business forward.

How do I overcome this? I use a few risk management strategies to minimize my potential losses. They help me feel more comfortable about making decisions that could be potentially costly.

In many cases, indecision is worse than making a bad decision.


4. Balance Short-Term Cash with Long-Term Growth

There is a fine line in maximising growth opportunities while balancing short term cash-flow and not taking unnecessary risks.

A few strategies that have helped me with this are:

  • Having a working capital buffer in the bank in case unexpected costs arise
  • Doing regular cash-flow forecasts
  • Thinking about the resources required to support revenue growth and planning for this

5. Invest in Yourself as CEO/Leader

Before Bean Ninjas, I had only led small teams. Now I manage 12 people. Maybe 12 doesn’t seem like a lot, but it can be a challenge if you aren’t prepared.

Leadership is not always intuitive. Even “born leaders” need to study leadership as a discipline.

How do I learn? I read about leadership voraciously, especially when it comes to remote teams. I regularly reflect on my decisions and consider how I can improve as a leader.

I’m also part of several mastermind groups. It’s great to be a part of a group of like-minded business owners who can help me see my problems from another angle.

One of our three Bean Ninjas values is ‘Always Growing’ which is about ongoing learning and development. I strive to live out this value and to continually improve my leadership and business skills.


6. Set Yourself up for Success in 2030

Charles Darwin is often misquoted as saying that the fittest species is the one that survives. His real point is more profound:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Survival as a business depends on one’s ability to learn and adapt. We shouldn’t build a rigid, unchanging business and expect our customers and the market to fit our model. Instead, we have to build our businesses in ways that leave them flexible.

The accounting industry is a great place to be right now, but that doesn’t mean it always will be. I need to embrace change, realise nothing is permanent and accept that we will need to keep reinventing Bean Ninjas to stay relevant in the next 10-20 years.

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What’s Next?

In our experience, growth happens in spurts. There’s a period of growth followed by a period of consolidation. I explain these two modes in this post.

Right now we’re in a growth mode. We’re acquiring and onboarding new clients as fast as we can. Eventually we’ll reach a point where our systems struggle to keep up, so we’ll drop into consolidation mode where we’ll literally reinvent ourselves. We hope to double our customer base in the next year before we have to begin reworking our processes.

Thanks for reading our 3 year review. I’ll be sure to write a yearly review and also whenever something big happens! 🙂

Posted By

Meryl Johnston

Meryl Johnston

Meryl is a Chartered Accountant, entrepreneur, and surfer! The Bean Ninjas mission: Creating freedom for entrepreneurs through stress-free business finances.

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