Going from Bean Ninjas CEO to Executive Advisor

23 November, 2021
Meryl Johnston

Meryl Johnston

4 minutes
meryl johnston CEO

How I successfully removed myself from 95% of my role

At the end of 2021, I plan to step down as CEO and move to an advisory role at Bean Ninjas. 

This wasn’t my original goal when I started Bean Ninjas.

Let me explain. When I started Bean Ninjas almost 7 years ago, my goal was to build a 7-figure business and work less than 20 hours per week. 

But starting a business from scratch with no audience and a limited network made for 60 hour weeks rather than 20 hour weeks in the early years.

It wasn’t until 2019 with the upcoming birth of my baby daughter that I made progress towards reducing my work hours. In the 9 months leading up to her birth I worked hard to hire team members and delegate my responsibilities. 

It worked and Bean Ninjas continued to flourish while I was away on parental leave. Partway through 2019 I returned to work part-time.

Then in early 2020 the pandemic hit and it was all hands on deck to help Bean Ninjas survive and adapt. I was back working full-time.

The pandemic forced us to review our business and we made the hard decision to transform ourselves from a productized service doing online bookkeeping to eCommerce growth accountants.

It was only when things settled down at the beginning of 2021 that I started to think about stepping down as CEO.

There were two major drivers. First, I have another baby girl due in January and I want to focus on my family. Secondly, I want to create space for the talented leaders in our company, like Wayne, Tracey, Michael, and Tom to shine.

In this post, I’m going to share a behind-the-scenes look at what this transition entailed. 

What my advisor role will look like? 

Before I dive into the details about the transition, I thought I’d share what my transition to an advisor role will look like.

The end goal is to ramp down to about 4 hours a week by the end of 2022. 

  • In Q1 2022 I will be taking parental leave and then returning to work three days a week.
  • In Q2 2022, I intend to ramp down to 2 days per week in an advisory and mentoring capacity and overseeing marketing. 
  • In Q3, I will ramp down to 1 day per week (adivsory + marketing)
  • And, by Q4, that will drop down to 4 hours per week (advisory + marketing)

Building the systems and processes to make this transition happen 

Now, this transition wouldn’t be possible without acknowledging some early wins that had to happen to get to this point, including:

While I’ve been actively preparing for this transition for most of 2021, you could say I have been building the business to run without me from the early days (2015).

In preparation for my transition, we’ve put in place a quarterly advisory board and monthly mastermind sessions for country leaders to discuss topics like pricing, leadership and business development.

I will also still be available for monthly 1:1 mentoring calls with country leaders and adhoc calls as needed. 

I also haven’t fully delegated marketing, so I’ll spend a few hours a week there on marketing strategy and execution and still write the occasional blog post, like this one.

This was the agenda for our first Quarterly Advisor Board meeting which we’re looking to iterate and improve upon.

bean ninjas agenda

Switching to a four-day workweek 

A key part of this transition was switching to a 4-day workweek in July 2022.

It took me about 6 weeks in Q3 to settle into my 4-day workweek and to stop feeling strange about it. Despite the fact, I had previously worked part-time in 2019. 

Delegating 95% of my role as CEO 

My original goal was to delegate 100% of my role as a CEO, but the final 5% of my role proved the most difficult to delegate. This final 5% involved big picture decision making, financial stuff, and executive mentoring. 

In talking to different mentors over the last year, I came to the conclusion it is very expensive to hire someone for the last 5% of the founder / CEO role, and it may require multiple people. 

For now, I’m happy to continue to spend a few hours every week working “in” the business.  

I’ve also added some fail saves to ensure the company stays on track, including:

  • The quarterly board meeting and reporting process (that I brought up earlier in this post).
  • Monthly masterminds with our country leaders
  • Reviewing our annual and quarterly strategy and plans 
  • In the early stages, I will review our weekly scorecard (and then gradually reduce that frequency.) This gives me a feel for cash balance, MRR, sales pipeline, and client retention.  

I’m also planning to attend our team retreats once everyone can travel again.

Meryl & Team
Bean Ninjas Team Retreat (2019)

Communicating with the Bean Ninjas team 

The final piece of the puzzle was also the most important. That’s communicating this transition with the team. 

My goal was to make sure that the entire team felt supported and enthusiastic for the future, from the country leaders to individual contributors. 

Communicating the 2022 bean ninjas strategy with the team
Communicating the 2022 strategy including my change of role

I started by sharing my plan with the leadership team early on, including being transparent about all the potential risks and working with them to ensure they were set up for success.  Then, I had 1:1 conversations with all of my remaining direct reports. Finally, I shared my plan with the entire company.

Going through this process made me realize how talented our leadership team is. I’m excited to support and see them grow as leaders.

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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