Want to learn how we’ve evolved as a company? Listen to our 5-year business growth report.
In this episode of the Bean Ninjas Podcast, Meryl and Wayne exchange stories, experiences, and reflect on how the Bean Ninjas story unfolded in the last 5 years. They share their successes, plans, and learnings with us. They compare the here and now with their early days, giving us examples of projects and talking about the important things which enabled the business to grow. They talk through this growth, and it’s not all about revenue which got them where they are today.
It’s a very interesting look back at the humble beginnings of the company to see how it has expanded to the global business that it is now. Join us as we reflect on our awesome journey.
In this episode, we discuss:
[02:57] 2 words that Meryl used to describe the theme of the first 5 years of Bean Ninjas and the reason for these choices and their importance to the business.
[05:45] Wayne’s take on the theme from the early days and his experience working with Bean Ninjas.
[07:45] Bean Ninjas values that they practice and how Wayne experienced these values while working with Bean Ninjas and the benefits it had to not just his professional life.
[09:15] The story of Bean Ninjas from pre-launch to launch. What they relied upon to start when they didn’t have the conventional tools at hand.
[14:57] Wayne talks about where he was at before he joined Bean Ninjas, how that materialised and discusses the changes that have evolved since he joined.
[25:46] Creating an inspiring vision for the team, doing something unique and the importance of input.
[27:55] The global expansion of clients of the company and how this benefits the business.
[32:08] Their marketing strategy and how it evolved. Insight into their core marketing belief, core channel and what’s really working for them now.
[39:57] Key projects for Bean Ninjas internally.
[42:58] Future plans for the company and their end goal.
Business Growth: Bean Ninjas 5 Year Review
Announcer Welcome to the Bean Ninjas Podcast, where you get an all-access pass to see what happens behind the closed doors of a fast-growing global bookkeeping and financial reporting business.
Hey Wayne. It’s great to be jumping on the mic with you again. We were chatting last week recording Episode 100 and today we’re jumping on to do an early recording reflecting on five years at Bean Ninjas.
Amazing progress and success. Congratulations, too, Meryl. Five years of business; not many startups get to this spot. So it’s nice to get in a position where we had two moments to celebrate back-to-back.
Absolutely. And before we jump into today’s topic, how have you been? What’s been happening in your world and in Arizona?
So we’re still here June 2020. So we’re in the midst of COVID isolation in place, which really means, for me, an amazing sense of calm, as I shared before, and less pressure in terms of my five kiddos’ extracurricular schedules. They did wind down the school year a little bit easier so we’re now in the midst of summer vacation. So trying to keep them busy while staying cool here in the high temperatures of the desert of Arizona. How about yourself?
Well, things are just started to open up here in Queensland. So I was able to go on my first holiday, which was within our state. We took a little trip last weekend, and it was amazing spending some family time together and with some other friends with kids, too.
And I find I do something like this thinking when I’m either driving long distances or just in a different location. And so, again, I came back with a notebook full of ideas. So ready to get back to work and put things into action again.
That would share. I think it could also, for me, those times to step away provides for an amazing time for reflection. And often is; we chatted about before we started recording is you often get wrapped up in growth, and moving forward, and the next best thing to do, and that next step and evolution of business.
But it’s important; it’s like a marathon – you celebrate when crossing the finish line. Unfortunately in business, there’s no real finish line. So you have to take moments like this five-year anniversary is to spend time in that reflection and really celebrate the work effort that’s been put forth to get you there.
Yeah. Absolutely. And I quite enjoyed taking the time to write up my notes on the first five years at Bean Ninjas and reflect on some of those memories. And it just reminded me of some of the early years, some of the highs and lows. So I wanted to start by describing a theme for me over the last five years.
And there’s two words that describe it, and for me, it was momentum and focus. And the reason that I picked those two words; momentum, I think, it’s really important in business. And the best way to describe how that impacted Bean Ninjas was in the early days, it was really hard to do everything.
So we had to work so hard to get our first five customers. There was so much effort that went into that. To get our first five podcast interviews, again, the same thing. Because we didn’t have a reputation, I wasn’t known; we really had to work hard for that.
Whereas in year five, when we do have a brand behind us, we built a network and we built these relationships; all of these things are much easier. And I think that comes with momentum and time and building a trusted reputation.
And I’m excited to see how that; I like to think of it as a snowball that’s getting bigger and gradually gaining momentum. And I’m excited to see what the next five years may hold there.
The other or the second word that I picked was focus. And when we first started Bean Ninjas, we weren’t focused, it was unclear what our niche was, we were trying all different kinds of marketing strategies, sales strategies.
And it really took a long time to figure out what works, what didn’t. And then, it was when we started to double down and focus on less things and doing those things well that we started to get results. And I’ll give a few examples of that.
So in the first couple of years of Bean Ninjas, we were trying all kinds of tactics to build relationships and get sales. I used to guide to BNI, which some of you may have heard of that as a face-to-face weekly networking event; people from all kinds of industries. I used to do a lot of one-on-one coffee meetings, lots of other face-to-face networking event.
And none of these really paid dividends. The relationships weren’t in that particular industry and it was all quite broad. And it was only down the track when we figured out the online businesses were a niche and then we got into content and SEO that we started to get some results from our marketing efforts.
So there’s just a couple of examples. But to me, momentum and focus have been instrumental, and for me, sum up the first five years in Bean Ninjas. What about you, Wayne? What’s your theme?
Well, you stated it as momentum, I call it growth. And really, the second would be balance. I was looking back in my reflection to 2015 and I’d written, after 16 years with HP, I’ve learned that world-class accounting solutions are built upon operational excellence, great people and innovation.
As a father to five children and a dedicated husband, I learned that a world-class family is built upon presence, communication and living a life according to strong values. Now, entrepreneurship will provide for me the platform to balance and share my knowledge skills and experience across both these areas.
And in looking across the time spent with Bean Ninjas, I’ve had the amazing opportunity because of the nature which we operate and run our business to experience my young children’s first day at kindergarten.
So I was there each first day of school to see them on their way. I was able to see those moments of joy when they lose their first teeth, I’ve heard their first words and have really been able to provide myself a balance between my professional life and my personal life that I wouldn’t have had, had I stayed in corporate.
In addition to that, on the growth side, I’ve just seen amazing opportunities that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I’ve travelled outside of North America, I’ve been in a position to speak at industry conferences and have actually become published on certain blogs that I as an accountant would not have considered being authoring anything, to have an opportunity to have a buy line and to be looked at as subject matter expert in a certain industry vertical, and particularly, across accounting has been amazing for me.
I’m interested now, Meryl, since I wasn’t a part of Bean Ninjas during the genesis story, can you take us through a little bit of the business stages from pre-launch to launch?
Sure. And before I do that, I wanted to quickly touch on the two words that you had picked, which were balance and growth. And they tie so nicely into our Bean Ninjas values. One of our values is always growing.
And that’s not about growing revenue, that’s about the personal growth and continuous learning that we all believe in and try and encourage throughout the business. And to me, balance also tied in with our core value of freedom. So it’s great to hear that the theme for you really tied in with our values.
I think you’ll hear a bit later. It’s not unique because I have that amazing opportunity to have a seat at the table and really have a voice in our creating those values. I know we’ll touch upon them a little bit later. But absolutely, I think you need to not only create values as an enterprise, as a company, but they need to be things that you live in and that you walk towards every day.
So I know in the same way that I’ve had a hand in living this out, in helping to create these for our company. We also walk the walk, and as leaders in the company, we do live in freedom and provide those same freedoms to our teammates.
The Early Stages of Business Growth
So I’ll circle back to the initial question you asked me, which was talking through the early stages of Bean Ninjas. I’ll break it into a couple of questions. I’ll start with pre-launch. And I often hear stories about other people launching businesses and they’ll say, “Well, I emailed my list and pre-sold and offered and off we went.” And off they went and built that product or that service.
When Bean Ninjas started, we didn’t have an email list. We didn’t really have an audience or much of a network. I’d recently moved to the Gold Coast; didn’t know that many people. So our pre-launch, there wasn’t really a lot we could do and we didn’t have at least or anything like that to rely upon.
So I moved straight into the launch phase and many of you will have heard the 7-Day Startup Launch; you will have heard about that previously and you can go back and listen to Episode 1 of the Bean Ninjas Podcast to get the full rundown of how we launched in seven days and went from nothing, really, an idea to having a website, a logo and our first paying customer.
And during the launch stage of the business up until when we hit product-market fit, which was probably, I’d say, about eight months into the business, I was still running my consulting business and that was paying all of my bills. I wasn’t really taking any money out of Bean Ninjas and neither was Ben, who was my co-founder at the time.
About eight months into Bean Ninjas, we got to $8,000 of monthly recurring revenue, which is roughly $100,000 a year. And to me, that was enough evidence that we had found there were people out there that were willing to buy our product.
We hadn’t niched down to serving online businesses at this stage and we definitely hadn’t found the scalable marketing channel, but we had found the ability to sell bookkeeping services at a price point that we were offering.
This was also about when we started to hire contract bookkeepers and put a lot of effort into documenting procedures so that our bookkeepers could perform consistently and provide the same high-quality of bookkeeping that Ben and I were providing when we were doing that work ourselves.
At the eighth month mark, again, my consulting business outside Bean Ninjas was still paying the bills, and that would continue, and that was actually an ongoing struggle for Ben and I, in that, we both run businesses outside of Bean Ninjas, which were paying our bills.
But we could both see that Bean Ninjas have a much brighter at being a future, but it just wasn’t paying us an income, really, because we were re-investing the money we were earning into growing. We were investing that into marketing, we were investing that into hiring people and building processes.
About a year and a half into Bean Ninjas, this challenge that Ben and I were facing with, trying to grow the business and balancing our personal finances came to ahead. And, again, you can go back and listen to one of our early episodes about this talking through the breakdown of the partnership between Ben and I, and me, eventually buying Ben’s share at Bean Ninjas.
And it was only at this time when there was one founder, me, instead of two, working in the business, that I was able to pay myself a full-time wage and really cut back the consulting work. And that was instrumental in the growth of Bean Ninjas because I could focus all of my efforts into running and growing the business rather than splitting my time between multiple businesses.
So, yes, I was paying myself a full-time wage at the one and a half year mark, but it definitely wasn’t the kind of salary I could have been earning as a corporate accountant. And that actually took a number of years; three years and three months to be precise, until I was earning what I would deem closer to a market wage.
And, I mean, that was partly choice, in that, I chose to take a lower salary so that I could re-invest in the business. But as regular listeners will know, I wanted to take time off, have a family and buy a house. And so, there was also pressure to gradually increase my wages there.
And that’s always a challenge, I think, for new business owners or in those early years of business to balance growth of your business as well as managing personal finances and making sure you’re taking enough out of the business.
And, Wayne, I think you had raised a point here about the Tropical MBA’s 1000 Day Principle. And did you want to just quickly jump in and explain that? I think it aligns quite closely with when I replaced my full-time wages.
Yeah. I think it’s just generally a principle that traditionally, it takes about 1000 days within a new venture to get to a place to replace your former income or your full-time wage. So it is interesting that your story sits very well into their principle. We’ve had our journey documented quite routinely within this forum and it’s glad to see some of those principles vetted out in our story.
I was going to continue the growth story and talk about finding a scalable marketing channel, which I would argue that we only really hit on about four and a half years in. But I actually have some more comments around marketing, which I’m going to talk about later.
So I’m going to pass it back over to you, Wayne. So I’ve done a bit of an overview of those early years in Bean Ninjas and some of the challenges. And while you weren’t around at day zero, you did come into the Bean Ninjas journey fairly early on.
So I wanted to pass it over to you to talk a little bit about how you joined Bean Ninjas. And then I know you’ve got some other things you wanted to talk through around the strategic direction, business model, pricing and some of the other things that have evolved from when you first joined to where we are now at the five-year mark.
Yeah. It was about the one and a half year mark since Bean Ninjas was founded that I came across the Grow Your Firm Podcast. So with few Xero firms in the US at the time, I dug into looking for other firms that were like mine. I had been in a position leaving corporate to start my own cloud-based accounting firm that was very similar to Bean Ninjas.
And in finding, in trying to network and find resources, I leaned upon podcasts. And I remember listening to you on this podcast and I researched a blog and I shared a comment. And I’ll share it here. So this was posted roughly three years ago.
“Amazed at the honesty and full disclosure of your post. As someone walking the same path, facing the same struggles, these insights are most helpful. As a call to action, I’ll be on the lookout for an accountability partner and mastermind group to support my firm throughout its growth.”
And little did I know that my accountability partner would, in fact, be you. I have reached out and asked for, I think, like a 15-minute meeting to talk about how you are going about marketing in building up your customer base.
And that 15-minute conversation ended up being a two-hour call and we just shared so many similarities and where we felt the industry was heading and how we were very untraditional in our approach. And the methods we would love to build a business were really future-focused and not your grandpa’s accounting firm. So it’s just great to find someone that was so well aligned.
And Bean Ninjas shared a job opening within the website and I’ve applied. And I remember that call where it basically was received as, “Really?” Like, “What are you doing?” We’ve chatted and I understand. And I’m just so fortunate that you had taken the risk to bring me on knowing that I was, at the same time, building my own firm.
And I just simply thought there’s no better way for me to learn how to build a firm than to be a part of a firm that I’m looking to build. And it just worked out that within our conversations, we are always so transparent and open with what our goals were and striving towards a model that would get us aligned in partnership to where we would build it together.
So along the way, my customer base was acquired into Bean Ninjas and I took an equity position in Bean Ninjas and really just worked 100% towards supporting its growth. So I’ll chat a bit about the strategic direction and our business model.
We started very broad and really doing bookkeeping for everyone. And then, we stumbled upon a fate niche noticed online businesses. And really, what that meant to us where opportunities to support SaaS products and info products, online business coaches, and digital marketing agencies and eCommerce businesses selling on Amazon and Shopify.
And it wasn’t really too defined. It was left real general. Now, we’re turning our sites into creating industry experts. So I’ve selected and I’ll be focusing my attention on building a unique niche within eCommerce. And we have other leaders within the company focused on supporting agencies and professional services companies.
So it’s interesting to see where we’ve adjusted, too, in terms of pricing. I know at launch, I’m looking back at some of our long-term customers and we had plans starting at $99 per month. Now, nowadays, our cheapest package is more like $600 per month. So it’s interesting, in that, we always wrestle with the question – are we still a productized service?
And in saying that, our back end systems and delivery is very systemized. Our front end advisory calls and really the insights that are gleaned through the unique skills, knowledge and education that we have are quite customized. So I’d say we’re in a position now where if you look at the 80/20, we’re 80% productized and 20% custom, which really allows for us to charge as much higher prices.
So to kind of expand on the eCommerce niche and how we came about identify specifically a niche to focus on, in preparation for the Leaders’ Retreat, we’ve shared about numerous times on the podcast, in our blog; I remember doing a customer analysis.
Related: eCommerce Accounting Guide
I collected data from our account managers around both key financial metrics – the cost, the service and the gross margin made across each customer with happiness metrics. So do these customers pay on time, are they enjoyable to work with, are they ambassadors for Bean Ninjas? And just a yes or no question; are they good people?
And during the Leaders’ Retreat, we spent a lot of time discussing what problems are we at Bean Ninjas uniquely positioned to solve for others? So matching these two led us to a decision to niche down further than the general support of online businesses and focused my attention specifically as well as the team’s marketing efforts and Meryl’s role within helping set strategy and build partnerships toward building out and scaling and offering tailored to those pain points of six and seven-figure plus eCommerce sellers.
Now, I don’t necessarily want to simply be better than the eCommerce accountants out there, I want to be a bit different. So what that means is moving our offering more into growth coaching through insights and advisory services alongside our traditional bookkeeping offer. So adding this extreme value has allowed us to really price appropriately and double our legacy prices.
Now, I’ll move on to touch a little bit upon our team and how that’s evolved. We originally began hiring freelancers and contractors, which made it difficult to have team members that really committed to our culture, really stood behind and understood our core values.
Now, as we stand in June of 2020, our team is made up of ten full-time accountants in the Philippines including two supervisors and one in-country manager supported by five full-time staff doing management tasks and onboarding and quality assurance. We also have two part-time support team members that are delivering customer experience and working in our internal ops team.
So the biggest shift, really, was moving from a team of contractors to a team of full-time and some part-time employees. So we’re really in it for the long-term and invested in the business. So having managers and people responsible for functional areas really has helped us support the growth that we’re looking at achieving in the future.
Within my own journey, I just remember starting at Bean Ninjas, and, really, Meryl, there was just you and Ben, and the rest of us, accountants. So in addition to growing the team, we’ve also begun to develop a true org chart and established key functional areas aligned with the functions they serve.
So we have now sales function, delivery function, internal operations. And within each, we have leadership that really is held responsible to key metrics in driving the growth and also the roles and responsibilities within those teams.
I think for us, we’re in a position now where our leadership team is solid. Now, it’s about maximizing our delivery and hiring ahead of the growth that we have and ensuring that we have sufficient support to really deliver the world-class experience that we’re out there selling.
So I also think in looking at what our positioning is in the market, looking to the different rather than just simply better, we’ll be in a position to find higher-level accountants to support kind of the increased demands for that trusted advisor role that we’re stepping into.
Moving into vision, mission, purpose; we really didn’t have a clear vision or purpose in the early days. And it was really only a year and a half into the business where we came up with a vision and did a unique thing. We really did a refresh when we were able to pull all our leadership team together in December of 2019.
I spoke a bit earlier that, man, I’m just so grateful for finding Bean Ninjas early in their growth as I have been fortunate to participate in those sessions and also be a part of sharing and developing the core foundations of our company and culture. Those of us that were in leadership positions really earned a seat at the table and I am just so thankful that you allowed for us to have a voice in that conversation as well.
Oftentimes, you hear of this visionary leader that really has their own thoughts around what the culture should look like and what the mission needs to be and really just dictates it to their team. So it’s unique that we really came together and had input from all the leaders that were involved with us at that time to share.
And I’ll come in quickly later. I’ll tell the story of Bean Ninjas launching with the vision of me being able to work a 20-hour work week so I could surf and travel the rest of the year. And then figuring out that that was not an inspiring vision for the rest of the team. It was quite a selfish motivation.
And so, thinking about, well, what would be inspiring for every team member to contribute, too, and what do they want personally, and how can we help our clients, and how can we help other people so that we’re having a bigger impact.
And it was really important to me that we did get everyone’s input. I thought that if we did get the team’s input, then they would have more buy-in and feel like they were actually part of forming that vision.
And when we did the refresh at our team retreat, which was just at the end of 2019, it was interesting to hear how some of those thoughts around things like values had evolved, but the core of what we’re about, which is providing freedom for our team and for our clients as well as that mindset around continual growth was, it was still there.
And it’s amazing, too, that that freedom that you had looked for is also something that brings a lot of our team together. And really, it’s become a great motivational or a great benefit that we’ve been able to offer our team members.
We’ve had a number of team members that have worked remotely in Bali and others that have had opportunities, like myself, to work while on the road in a camper trailer with my family. So it’s just a unique opportunity.
We also hear; we filmed an amazing culture video within this Leaders’ Retreat. And, really, the theme was built around freedom. And for many of us, because we’re working parents, we’re trying to balance the demands of growing a successful business while also being intently engaged in our family’s activities, that freedom piece was really well documented in that video.
So I’ll move on to chat a little bit about our clients, and really, our client avatar has shifted. And I’m not certain, Meryl, if it was always your intent when launching Bean Ninjas to be a global firm. But in the time of then, I’m board, the split of customers has heavily slanted toward Bean Ninjas becoming a US cloud accounting firm that just simply happens to be headquartered in Australia.
Yeah, that’s right. We originally only had Australian clients. We’re 100% Australian. But when we were picking a business name, we were looking for a domain where we could get the dot-com as well as the dot-com-dot-au.
So we always had the intention of going global one day, but we just weren’t expecting it to happen so soon. And as you said, now that split has gone from a 100% Australian, to when you joined, I think it was still more Australian clients to US. And now, it’s the other way around.
Yeah. I think it’s completely flapped. I think when I joined, the split sat roughly at two-thirds Australian customers and maybe just less than a third US customers. And now, we sit at roughly the same split. But 65% of our customers are in the US and 35% are in Australia.
With the US dollar outperforming the Australian dollar, this puts us in a beneficial position, too, concerning our cash flow. And as our largest spend is across salaries and wages, with our earlier investment and our leadership team and move to bringing our service delivery team to the Philippines, we’re just seeing amazing increases as well in our net profits and available cash flow.
I think the next best topic to chat a little bit about are some leadership decisions and a little bit about the culture we’ve looked to build here at the team. And then, I’ll let you take the listeners into a little bit of our thoughts around marketing.
So we’ve always been a firm based around the principle of people over profits. A lot of our hiring decisions mimic this and, really, they’ve based on the availability of amazing people and great resources and really not tied to a true business plan or available budget that said, “Now is the time to go find an amazing customer experience manager.”
We’ve been so fortunate along the way to have available to us a great team and a great pool of resources that once we identified great people, we tend to find a role for them in the company.
We’ve also focused on customer experience and investments in building clear expectations and touchpoints with our customers. We’re looking at investments a little bit further into this as we move along in our journey and began to build products really based on surveys and conversations.
I think the best customers that we have, we tend to find that they’re also the folks that we’re at the bar with at the industry events and meeting for jogs or workouts in the mornings after those industry get-togethers. So it’s not surprising that in those conversations, we often learn the most.
So I think we had that aha moment this year where it’s, “Hey, instead of building products or service offerings that we think people want, let’s go out and ask.” And then based on what they tell us, we’ll build to solve that pain point for them.
And then, lastly, really, our decision to be a premier employer in the Philippines. There’s just so much excitement that I have now in terms of the progress we’ve made in growing the team there, but also in our recent move in putting on ground in the Philippines our first manager. So we have our first boots-on-the-ground manager.
So I’m just excited to see and be kind of front row to understanding how our culture develops and how our team grows there. So as promised, Meryl, I’ll hand it over to you to chat a little bit about our marketing strategy.
Sure. And I couldn’t help myself but comment on one of the points you had raised about how we hired people not necessarily to a plan. But if we came across someone great, and we’ve done this multiple times in the business; I can think of at least two, possible three where we created a role.
And that may not be the traditional method of hiring where you think through what role you need and then figure out your cash flow forecast and gradually do that in a logical fashion. For me, when we’ve come across great people, then we want them at Bean Ninjas and we find a way to make that work even if we don’t have a role available immediately.
And then, we’ve done that multiple times where these great people started off as contractors or in some kind of more flexible role. And then over time, we’ve been able to better understand their strengths and then create a role for them.
And as we grow, I think our organizational chart is getting more structured. And so, it’s maybe harder to do that and we may have more defined roles that we’re hiring for. But in the early days, I think that was instrumental in us building a leadership team of great people.
So now, I’m going to jump into marketing. And before I worked or started Bean Ninjas, I haven’t really spent much time on marketing; doing marketing, thinking about marketing. And in the early days when Ben and I were figuring out who was going to do what, it turned out that I spent more time writing blog posts, thinking about content, and generally working on our marketing strategy.
And it turned out that it was something I really enjoyed. And I’ve continued to lead marketing at Bean Ninjas. And I wanted to share a couple of thoughts about our strategy with marketing and some of the things that have been working for us.
So our core marketing belief is that we’re marketing through education. We’re not trying to use any sort of sleazy sales techniques. Really, we want to educate business owners and their teams about finances and help them to make great decisions. And a lot of our marketing strategy is based around education.
There was a Tropical MBA episode recently. I can’t remember what episode number but we’ll link it up in the show notes here. And there was a comment there from a founder that really resonated with me.
And he was talking about the fact that he’d built his seven-figure business through one marketing channel and was talking about the risks of spreading yourself over ten different marketing channels and not really understanding them.
And he had talked about how; I think their main channel is SEO. And then they tried PPCs, Facebook Ads and Google Ads, but they tried to outsource the whole thing to an agency and hadn’t really gone deep into understanding it themselves. And it was something that caused a lot of problems for them in their business and with cash flow as well.
And that resonated with me, in that, I think having a core channel that we really understand internally even if we are using a team of contractors or consultants as well is super important. And for us, that channel is SEO and content, and we know that in year one or year two or year three.
We did start blogging from day one, but we didn’t really have a strategy, we didn’t have keyword research. It was just something that I saw other people doing and getting results from. And so, we kept on tripping away at it.
It was only more recently, in the last couple of years that we’ve been a lot more strategic with keyword research and the articles that we’re writing; how they all linked together and the way that they educate our audience.
And now, the strategy that’s been working for us is partnerships and attending live events. And we’re a remote team, which means that we work with our team-mates remotely and occasionally meet up through things like team retreats. But also, we work with our clients and our partners remotely.
Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t value face-to-face time. And with that in mind, we try and attend industry events, conferences where we can get to know our clients in-person and the same with partnerships.
And when I think of partnerships, again, this is something we did from the early days of Bean Ninjas where we were looking to create relationships with people that had a similar client-base or similar audience to us.
And it was all about long-term relationships, thinking about, well, where do we, as the Bean Ninjas team, where can we add value? And really thinking about we kind of give more than we’re taking and have these long-term relationships.
And a bit like SEO and content, this is a long game strategy. This kind of relationships may not pay dividends for years. That’s similar to SEO and content; we’re starting to see the benefits of these relationships and the time and effort that we’ve invested as Bean Ninjas grows and as the business gets older.
Something else that I wanted to mention around events and relationships was that once we kicked our first industry niche to focus on, which is eCommerce, decisions around what events to attend, who to build partnership, relationships with and even what content to write became so much clearer.
Should we attend an event for affiliate marketers? Well, is that eCommerce? No. So maybe that’s not the right event for us. Whereas an event for Amazon sellers, that’s our target market. So it makes those kind of decisions much, much clearer.
The last thing I wanted to talk about was education courses and community. And we really believe; I talked about the importance of education and not being the fundamental concept that only depends on marketing strategy. The other side of that is community.
So we don’t only want to educate our clients and potential clients and partners, but we also want to bring people together and facilitate interaction between them. This year, we’ve been running masterclasses and Facebook lives where we’re trying to get our clients and others in our community interacting.
We’ve got a Slack group where, again, we can answer questions and, again, trying to facilitate that community. And it’s only early days with the Bean Ninjas community but it’s something that we really believe in, again, as a long-term strategy.
One other final thought I’ve had; I’ve heard a couple of people say recently, “Oh, Bean Ninjas has great brand awareness for a small-ish bookkeeping business.” And on the one hand, I’m really proud of that; the fact that a lot of people know the brand and know who we are.
But I also think that it can be dangerous for small businesses to be spending time and resources on brand awareness because there’s a lot of steps between someone being aware of your brand and actually buying your product. And in the early days of business, what’s really important is how many customers you have and people that are buying your product, not how many people know about what you do.
So while I’m proud that we’ve built a brand that people are aware of, I would caution business owners, especially in the early days of business; I think brand awareness or things like number of followers can be vanity metrics and something that they’re nice to have but aren’t necessarily going to drive the business forward or they’re not straight the most important metrics.
I also wanted to talk about just a couple of key projects. We’re always running projects at Bean Ninjas and there’s been many that I could talk about over the last five years. There’s just a few that I wanted to mention.
The first that comes to mind is the team retreat and we’ve mentioned that a couple of times already. And we have a blog post that describes the thought process of why we run the retreat, how we run it, lessons learned and what we’d do differently next time.
But for me, that really was a levelling up moment. The fact that we could fly in team members from around Australia to meet me at Gold Coast and also fly Wayne up and have that time together was super productive not just from the work and the meetings that we had, but just from a relationship perspective; getting to know each other on a deeper level.
And we haven’t been able to continue retreats with the lockdowns that have happened this year, but it’s something that we want to pick up again. And even though they are expensive, especially for new or smaller business, I think the value is definitely there.
The next project I wanted to talk about is traction. Traction is a book by Gino Wickman and it talks about a framework called the Entrepreneur’s Operating System. And this was actually the theme of our last team retreat. And we were looking at how do we bring the framework, the Entrepreneur’s Operating System, into Bean Ninjas.
And some of the things that we’ve implemented, we try to think of creative results, are having a weekly, having a cadence around reviewing weekly metrics. And so, we have an internal dashboard that is prepared every week and we review that in a weekly management meeting.
And in that same weekly management meeting, we’re also compiling a list of issues, problems, challenges, things that we want to discuss until we’re in that nice weekly cadence of driving the business forward by solving these problems.
Another aspect of EOS is a 90 Day Rocks. And we tried that the first quarter of this year. A rock is basically like a big project or a smart goal. And each team member would pick a couple of this and the intention is that 90 days is good length of time to be able to complete that project.
We didn’t do a great job of that. I think we may have been too ambitious with what everyone could complete given that everyone have operational roles, too. And so, trying to carve out time to complete projects as well as complete their operational responsibilities, we didn’t hit the targets that we’ve set.
We’re trying something different now, which is, it’s based on a Basecamp methodology using six-week cycles or six-week sprints instead of 90 Day Rocks. And down the track, I’ll record a separate episode around what we’re learning there.
So, Wayne, I’m going to pass back to you now to talk about what’s next for Bean Ninjas?
I think we’ve shared a little bit already and kind of ruined the surprise. But for Bean Ninjas, really, we want to be the premier eCommerce accounting firm for seven-figure sellers. We’ve been in a position across the last four months now to really make large investments and deeply understanding the pain points that eCommerce operators face, but also building relationships and putting ourselves in positions within key partnerships to grow that portfolio tremendously across the next year.
I think this will be an interesting learning experiment for us. We’ll be able to document the outcomes and share the results of going deep into a niche. And then looking towards other areas to build and replicate the process.
So I can see us being the premier health and wellness accounting firm for seven-figure blue tick fitness franchises and kicking digital marketing agencies. So I see us using the lessons learned to building the key partnerships, generating the successful SEO content and legacy, marketing tools that really are built for marketing to the long game, but also the experience in sharing; you talk about the customer’s success and the onboarding process.
Once we build unique journeys that our customers go through with templated email sequences and touchpoints where we’re interacting and having conversations and scheduling calls, once we can really 100% nail that down, I see us being in a position where we can then just pick other niches and duplicate that same effort.
Really, the next for me is we need to travel. So as a team, you did mention the amazing experiences that we’ve had in building team camaraderie and learning a lot about each other, but also spending time with our customers and really getting an understanding, not just about their business and what their pain points are within their Xero file or their cash flow forecast.
But just spending time understanding what their goals are, what their interests are outside of business and learning a little bit about them. So I see in the future a Philippines’ retreat where we’re able to bring our team together and really celebrate this five-year anniversary and really spend that time together.
I also see us making a larger investment in events and building out key partnerships. We have had amazing success in the past in certain communities at industry events that the opportunity and I feel like it’s a natural fit for many of our team members’ personalities to just meet people in an environment as low pressure.
We’ve had success in the Dynamite Circle at events in Bangkok, Thailand and in Austin where it’s just an opportunity for entrepreneurs to play for a little while. It’s like spring break. So to be in environments where you can socialize and there’s just a natural conversation that ends up becoming, “So, hey. I didn’t quite ask; what do you do?”
And if that response is met by, “Hey. I was looking for someone to help me with that in my business,” then that unique opportunity to work together as a natural fit. And if not, there’s always opportunities to say, “But you know what? I know someone so that may be a better fit for you.”
So I see us investing more when the events do begin to open up to be a larger part of those and looking to use those events in key partnerships and building out our eCommerce offering a bit further. What do you see is what’s next for us, Meryl?
Well, I think you’ve nailed it. You’ve talked about events to bring the team together as well. I think a lot of it is relationships where we’re wanting to scale it. It feels like the last five years, we’ve spent a lot of time building our internal systems, creating a leadership team and building out our team in the Philippines.
We’ve been working on partnerships, we’re focused on eCommerce, and I think that we’ve laid the foundations. And now, it’s about, yeah, building those relationships, getting out to events, speaking, creating content and taking Bean Ninjas to the next level.
I’m excited to be along for the ride with you. So, thanks, again. I just want to really have my parting words be that I’m just so grateful for the experiences and the opportunity to work with such amazing folks. It becomes where you almost look forward to the chance to catch up with the team members each week. And it seems very little like work and it’s just been great to see the success that we’ve been able to achieve while having so much fun along the way.
Well, thanks so much, Wayne. It’s been so much fun recording this episode, definitely, on our first five years together. And let’s jump off and chat about where and when this next team retreat is having.
Sounds great. I’ll chat with you in a little bit.
Want to better understand your business, make better financial decisions and also drive more profit? If yes, then understanding your numbers is key to achieving these goals.
If you’re like most business owners, you’ve never studied accounting and you’ve never been taught how to really understand the critical numbers in your business or how to use them to make effective decisions, grow revenue, improve profitability and increase cash. That’s why we created the Bean Ninjas Know Your Numbers Course.
And here’s what business coach, Justin Cox, shared about her experience with the training:
Probably the biggest impact for me, I found the course amazing. One, it was a bit of a refresher. I’ve been using Xero for a while but it really helped me to know the pieces of Xero that I should focus on and how that can help me in my business.
The first thing I was able to do is hand over a lot of the data entry and the processing tasks to the VAs so that saved me probably two to three hours a week. So that’s the first win for us.
But really, what I wanted to focus on was the financial reporting. I wasn’t doing a lot of that, and now, I am. And the one thing that we’ve implemented that has made a huge difference for me understanding where the numbers are at in my business is the Profit First principles and that cash flow management.
And so, setting up an extra business account, I was kind of halfway there, but it has been amazing. One, I can stop worrying about money because now I know exactly what I’ve got to spend where. And two, I am proud of the fact that I’ve actually started to put away some profit. So that’s been amazing.
So if you’re someone who might be getting overwhelmed with the idea of going into your Xero file and not really knowing what’s going on money-wise with your business, or you just want a simple way to understand Xero and finances for your own peace of mind, our Know Your Numbers Course can help.
You’ll have a rare chance to work closely with an accountant and also have the support of other like-minded business owners who are going through the program.
Head to beanninjas.com/KnowYourNumbers to learn more about our course. And register to receive updates about our next enrollment period.
References and Links Mentioned:
- Tropical MBA Episode
- What we learned organizing our first team retreat
- Traction by Gino Wickman
- Know Your Numbers Course
- How To Do Your Bookkeeping in Xero
- Bean Ninjas Profit First Program
- Free Xero Toolkit for Small Businesses
- Bean Ninjas Turns 5: Our Top Growth Highlights and Lessons Learned