Meryl Johnston Joins Us On The Steve Jobs Inspired Join Up Dots Podcast
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Introducing Meryl Johnston
She is a lady who was recommended to me by Danny Flood who appeared on episode 293 of the show.
He said to me “I have a friend that you have to have on the show, as she has done something that all entrepreneurs want to achieve.”
I said to him “What’s that Danny…tell me more!”
How The Dots Joined Up For Bean Ninjas
During the show we discussed such weighty topics with such as:
How she came up with the idea of her business with her business partner Ben, and why they aimed to get their first customer within a week.
Why it is so important to get your business out to the world and then develop it afterwards. See what works before you spend a ton of time on it.
Why she thought that she needed to get certified to become a business owner instead of getting out there and getting real life experience. Big Mistake!
How she recalls her Parents giving her the greatest piece of advice that anyone could have “Be different in business and dont just follow the crowd.” Great advice.
How To Connect With Meryl Johnston
You can also check our extensive podcast archive by clicking here– enjoy
Full Transcription Of Meryl Johnston Interview
When we’re young, we have an amazing positive outlook about how great life is going to be. But somewhere along the line we forget to dream and end up settling. Join Up Dots features amazing people who refuse to give up and chose to go after their dreams. This is your blueprint for greatness. So here’s your host live from the back of his garden in the UK. David Ralph.
David Ralph [0:25]
Yes. Good morning to you good morning to you. This is David Ralph. This is Join Up Dots. This is hundred not 100 See, I’m all over the shop. I’m all over the shop today cuz Skype, bloody Skype as updated once more. Now I talk about this a lot. But if you’re going to update something to a new improved version, it should do what it did before. What’s the point in that he causes problems? I don’t understand it. If somebody is out there and they know Mr. Skype, let’s get him on the show so that I can pro him deeply about what’s going on because I got a good quality product, but it’s not doing what It says, need to do something about that. Right. Okay, right over, let’s bring on today’s guest because she is a lady who was recommended to me by Danny flood who appeared on episode 293 of the show. And he said to me, David, he said, I have a friend that you had to have on the show, but she’s done something that all entrepreneurs want to achieve. And I said to him, what’s that, Danny? What’s that? Tell me more. He said, I will do and this is what he told me. He said, The guest went from running a time sucking accounting consulting firm where she could never turn off from work to create a profitable, productive service based business. And best of all, this company has grown from nought to 15 grand monthly recurring revenue in 12 months. Yeah, just 12 months. Now, that sounds pretty good. But listen to this, while scaling herself out of the operations to serve and spend time with the family. Yep, she’s on a surfboard. She’s getting wet. She’s getting Sandy. And she’s earning money. That sounds good. Yeah. While so many entrepreneurs are finding themselves trapped by the business that they’ve created our guests. De has found the utopia that the world seeks. But it’s been a bit of a strange road to where she is today is it was clear to see even as a young lady that she had the entrepreneurial spirit and abundance evidence when she started Get a grip tennis or tennis coaching business way back when now over a period of two years, she grew the business to a customer base of 70 and employed for assistant coaches. So you can see that she had the ideas, the hustle, the persistence. So why I’ve been slipping to a quite conventional route of Accountancy and auditing and now that she gets chased by sharks through the waters of Australia, astride her surfboard. Does she have a blueprint that can work for anyone? Or is the lifestyle she’s achieved? Is that what anyone can achieve or 100% down to the decisions that an individual makes? Well, let’s find out as we bring onto the show to start joining up dots with the one and only Meryl Johnston. Good morning to you. Meryl. How are you?
Meryl Johnston [2:55]
I’m good. Thanks. Thanks for having me on the show.
David Ralph [2:57]
It is lovely to have you on the show. And you you’re holding My hand you you are helping me through the technical issues that we’re having at the moment because I’m all over the shop metal I might sound professional I might sound enthusiastic, but I’m on edge is is that good way to operate? Should you be on edge or should you just be relaxed? laying on your surfboard? paddling your feet?
Meryl Johnston [3:18]
I think I’d prefer the latter. Definitely the surfboard, the tropical islands, sipping some coconut juice.
David Ralph [3:27]
And can you do all that on your surfboard at the same time? Can you can you paddle out one handed holding that that drink?
Meryl Johnston [3:35]
I wish I could. I’m focused on peddling catching waves and avoiding the sharks. And
David Ralph [3:42]
I don’t understand the sharks. I really don’t understand the sharks and why you want to do but I was thinking about it is it is it wrong to say I was thinking about you in the shower this morning. And I was in the shower and I was thinking about the lady that I’m going to interview and all I could hear was this jaws music the jaws musics always in my head. How do you get a pastor? How do you realise that you’re not gonna get eaten because I I like a pool I don’t like to see it Sandy it’s it’s big it’s deep there’s things swimming in it and people are better when it as well so why why do you want to go out into the water?
Meryl Johnston [4:24]
Well begun accountant, I guess I weighed up the risks and the chances of being attacked by a shock compared to being in a car accident are actually very low. So, yes, there are sharks out there but fairly low risk. No Actually, I love being in the water. So I didn’t. I grew up in Melbourne in Australia, so I didn’t actually grow up surfing or living by the beach, but I always knew that I love the beach when we went on family holidays. So when I turned 18 I bought a car and bought a surfboard and then spent a lot of my uni days surfing and hanging out at the beach and it was only like During life that I now live on the Gold Coast in Australia, which is a surfing Mecca, and and has some of the best surf in the world. And I find it really relaxing, being out in the water. It’s an escape from work from the day to day, and just concentrating on catching lots of waves and enjoying the moment.
David Ralph [5:19]
And when when you’re out there and you’re paddling along, do you think to yourself, this is good? I’ve created a life that I can do this. Are you still in that moment where you kind of really focus in on the small things as well? Or are you just kind of Yeah, I’m a surfboard. This was what everyone does? Yeah, out the way Sharky ericom
Meryl Johnston [5:39]
No, I still appreciate it wasn’t that long ago, that I was working long hours doing doing a job that I didn’t enjoy. And the first six months of being ninjas, we were also working really hard getting the business off the ground. And it’s only now that we’re starting to reap the rewards and have more of that flexible lifestyle, which was my long term goal. So I think I feel like I’ve been working towards it. In fact, as you said, I had a tennis coaching business back in my uni days. So I’ve always had that dream of having a lifestyle business, and it’s taken me 1015 years to get there. So I’m definitely appreciative that I have the flexibility now to surf and to spend spend more time with friends and family and to go mountain biking and enjoy life.
David Ralph [6:22]
So when Yeah, I’m not going to talk about surfing anymore, but I do want to know this one thing when you’re seeing people swimming along Can you see if we’re having a week can you see By having a way I bet you got that look in their eyes where they look slightly distant and I can you tell?
Meryl Johnston [6:37]
I think there’s a particular expression some are better at hiding it than others.
David Ralph [6:41]
I’m terrible. I’m terrible. I suppose I should go into the water when I do it. That’s the thing. That’s that’s how people spot me a mile off. So yeah, so let’s talk about um, being ninjas because it’s a great name as well, and I didn’t understand what it was until I started reading into it and then I realised where the name came. But tell our listeners, what you do on a daily basis, how the name come about, and why you know is the business for you.
Meryl Johnston [7:09]
So bean ninjas sells bookkeeping services, but we sell them as a product or a product or service. So we came up with three pricing packages that include different levels of bookkeeping service, and we use zero accounting software. So we work with small business owners and usually online business owners or internet entrepreneurs and take care of their day to day bookkeeping and lodge their sales tax or their GST returns, depending on what country they’re in. And then we work with their accountant who then takes care of the Year End tax returns and more advisory sort of work like tax planning. So that’s what the business does. In terms of the name. That was an interesting story. So my business partner Ben, he lives in Sydney in Australia. So We would obviously live in different cities, and we met to launch the business together in one week. So he flew up to the Gold Coast, we’ve had the idea. And we agreed on where we thought this business could go. We had our founder agreement in place. And then we gave ourselves a week to come up with a business name, create a website, and try and find a paying customer. And so within that week, we gave ourselves a couple of hours to find a name that reflected bookkeeping, but also we didn’t want to be perceived as boring bookkeepers, we wanted something that was a little bit different. And so that’s how we came up with the name be ninjas. So been as as in bean counter, and the ninjas we thought reflected us being a good at what we do. bookkeeping gets done well in the background, and it’s kind of a modern internet term rather than your typical boring bookkeeping name. So that’s where the name came from.
David Ralph [8:56]
And do people grasp what it is because I didn’t grasp First of all, now, it’s Because as you say most accountancy firms are boring aren’t like they are. And it’s, it’s one of those business You may not believe is mirror. But you wouldn’t want me as an accountant, I would just basically go, oh, let’s put a number in there, no one will know. How do you how do you come up with a name that people actually understand when they see it?
Meryl Johnston [9:21]
Well, that was hard. And we I think you can spend months and months trying to try to come up with a good name. And we thought so we sometimes need to explain what how or what being ninjas means. But then once we explain it, it seems to stick because it’s a little bit different. I mean, my previous business was called MC j consulting. And my business partner was McCallum and CO and they’re your typical kind of account names. So even though we sometimes need to explain being somebody we’ll get about a lot of people we explain it and then it sticks and then people remember I have been injured. That’s right. They do bookkeeping using zero, I guess you must must give them a call.
David Ralph [9:58]
Now how did you do this? Because this is fascinating, right? Most people will think about creating a business. And certainly from the guys that I speak to they say they thought they were going to do it in a year, but it took them three years to sort of get it and in Join Up Dots land as well. You know, I’ve been doing this literally three years, and now it’s going like a rocket. But there was a bit of a period where I was thinking, is this worth it? You know, no one’s listening. Even the dogs have got their fingers in their ears. No one is listening to this show. What’s the point in it? So you decided that you were going to get a business customer within a week? Was that kind of hire thinking? Was that possible? Were you dreamers? How did you managed to pull that off?
Meryl Johnston [10:39]
Maybe we were dreamers. Wait, so I’ve been involved a little bit in the startup movement. And we’d also read a book by guy called Nan Dan Norris called the seven day startup. And his theory is all about launching within seven days, and then evolving your product or your service based on feedback from customers. So rather than asking everyone, you know, is this a good idea. And then you make it, you spend months creating it, and then no one buys it. His theory is go straight to market and see if you can get people to pay for something, and then get feedback about how you can improve it. And so we thought, Well, we’d give that a try. So we already had a bit of a being accountants, we already had a feel for common around about what we could charge for bookkeeping, and also with common complaints about bookkeeping. So we knew that frustrations with existing bookkeepers, when we were accountants, we heard these frustrations where the bookkeepers made errors, and then you had to pay a lot for the accountant to fix it. They sometimes would take weeks to reply to emails, the work turnaround times weren’t consistent. Sometimes I’d have something done in a week, sometimes it would take two months. So we looked at the frustrations in the industry. And then we came up with a product that addressed those frustrations, and we created the website and then we’d We launched and we didn’t really know whether anyone would go for it. We weren’t sure whether we had the price, right, we weren’t sure whether we had the right inclusions in the packages. But we launched and then we were lucky in that we posted in a couple of Facebook groups and people were quite excited that we’d launched a business within seven days, and jumped on board to help us. And so that’s how we found our first customer. And then through them, we reached out to friends and family and gradually built our customer base and kept getting feedback about what our customers liked about our service, what what products we all what inclusions we could drop off, and we gradually evolved into these the three fixed fee packages that we have now.
David Ralph [12:42]
And this this is brilliant. This is brilliant listeners. I hope you’re all scribbling down on your bits of paper because what Neville has done first of all, is not only has she come up with a service back people need but she’s learned from past experiences of the kind of failures of Historic kind of traditional accountants and I’ll be honest, Merrill, I’ve got an accountant. I’m not with him anymore. And if he’s listening to this show, I’m not gonna say your name, but you know who you are. And I paid my tax return. And he said, but tax people have put it in the wrong account. And so I had to redo it again, and it cost me another 300 pounds, even though I paid what was the right thing. And I think it was him. He said it was the tax people but I think it was him anyway. You get me ranting again. So what she’s done, she has created a business based around issues and problems we have another one, but she you bought into people’s passions, didn’t you but it was the key point you surrounded yourself with people that are willing to help because you were doing something different. You’re doing something that was unique, you were doing something that was authentic to yourself, and you were showing hustle. And when you do that, more often than not people do want to help don’t you is when you go the traditional route. People are I’ve seen this all before but when you stand up On your surfboard and go, I have a dream. I am going to create be ninjas within seven days and you people will be my followers. People do kind of just buy into that, don’t they? They like the passion. Do you think? No?
Meryl Johnston [14:13]
Yeah, absolutely. We were actually surprised when we told people what we’re up to, and that we’ve launched in the seven days, people were going out of their way to help us and thinking about friends or family that could use our service and trying to introduce us to accountants that might be able to recommend that service to their clients. It was actually it was really nice to see and unexpected. And in so we are participants in some online groups for entrepreneurs and we had always tried to help other people without an expectation of anything coming back and it was really nice to see that we weren’t we we just told people what we’re up to and people would would try to help us without us even asking.
David Ralph [14:54]
And which once again is the key thing because we see with Gary Vaynerchuk he is a classic one Gary Vee, he talks about Jab, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. Or maybe that was too many jabs. But he talks about building it up over a period of time before you try to get somebody to buy something. But you’ve done it totally different. You basically kind of did passion, passion, passion, passion, and then people wanted to help you would would that be the right way? Or was that just your way? Would you say to most people, don’t tell people what you’re doing but tell people what you want to achieve is, you know, is the I Have a Dream speech again, isn’t it?
Meryl Johnston [15:32]
Yeah, I think a little bit of both. I think that it worked well, for us just talking about our vision and what we were trying to achieve, and also doing it in an interesting way. And we weren’t necessarily asking for help, especially in the beginning, we were just talking about what we were doing. As we progressed. I guess, with being accountants, we’re not really marketers or salespeople. So initially, we were very focused on trying to solve problems for business owners, and then do it Do that really well. So that was always our initial focus. And we probably weren’t too comfortable asking things of people. I guess over time we’ve gotten a little better at that. So now we’ll we’ll ask our existing customers for testimonials or referrals if if they’re really happy, so I don’t think we follow exactly Gary Vee jab, jab, hook, but we do something. I think it’s important to put yourself out there. Because if people don’t know how they can help you, then they might, they might, they might want to, but they don’t know how. But we’re conscious of not trying to ask too much of people and and try and do our bit as well.
David Ralph [16:33]
If we tell you back in time, you you’re obviously a lady that had early entrepreneurial spirit. And I was fascinated and I’ll be honest, I went through your LinkedIn profile profile. There’s so much information on those LinkedIn pages. It’s untrue. And as I was reading it, I thought to myself, you had the early hustle you had the early ideas, why did you then kind of go into the conventional route of Accountancy and auditing it would have seemed to me in the early days, you would have seen You would have seen the promised land, and then you kind of went into the boring land do the boring land of Accountancy and auditing.
Meryl Johnston [17:10]
I did, and I think it was because I didn’t know any other way. So I always knew that I wanted to run a business. I loved it. But I felt like I needed to build business skills. And so first of all, I thought I needed to go to uni. So I spent time getting an accounting degree, then I thought I needed to become a chartered accountant. So I spent another three years working my guts out in a big accounting firm working till midnight studying for my chartered accountancy exams. Then I felt like I needed more experience. So I never felt like it was the right time. And I didn’t, I wasn’t exposed to online businesses, and I felt like I had to get all of this experience behind me before I could get started. And it was only when I started reading about the startup movement, reading Tim Ferriss four hour workweek that I realised Hang on, I should I should just start, I should just try something. And I could even do it while I was working full time. And but it was only later on that I realised that I could actually make a start. Initially, I felt like I had to get all of that 10 years of accounting experience and all those qualifications behind me to understand business and I realised now that you don’t actually need that.
David Ralph [18:21]
I had a guy on the show and I never forget him, Adam Urbanski and he came from Poland or something. I can’t quite remember what his story but he basically came from some Eastern European country came across to America. And by little by little, he created a multi million pound business. And the tipping point for him was when he said, I’m going to be a coach. And somebody said to him, No, well, you’ve got to go and get a certificate. You’ve got to be qualified. And he said, Why? Why do I need to do that? Why I just say that I’m a coach, and I went, No, no, you need to be certified. He said, No, that is somebody saying that I should be certified. But that’s not me saying I should be certified. So he just said I was a coach and YU when people just sort of bought into it, and as he was saying that I thought to myself, Jim, no gentlemen, oh, I might be able to say I’m a podcaster just because I’m podcasting. And somebody who is a driver who’s getting behind the wheel can say that their driver, it seems bizarre, as you say, but we feel that we need to be certified just because some in the past, somebody in a dusty room with a long beard said, I think that we need to get a certificate at the end of it. Now I kind of understand because there’s a load of shady people in the past, but also it kind of suppresses something doesn’t it have that get out and learn it and get out and create a business and now with the internet, we literally can create anything we want if we had that hustle so I would you would you go back now, would you go back now and do that same kind of certifying route, or would you just say now I’m gonna get out there and I’m gonna prove my worth.
Meryl Johnston [19:54]
That’s an interesting question. So the fact that I run a bookkeeping business, some of my Experience is useful to run this business. But now I feel like I have the business skills. And I probably could have learned them that I could be running another kind of business. And I probably didn’t need to put in all of those years of hard slog to get where I am. So, in hindsight, I mean, I don’t regret what I’ve done. I’m some of the work I did was interesting. And I learned great skills. But I think if I was to look back, there would be an easier way of getting to where I am now. If If my ultimate goal was to create a lifestyle where I’m comfortable, and I have the freedom to spend time doing what I love and to travel, which is what my my goal always was, I think there’s an easier way to get there. Then six years of study and and becoming a chartered accountant.
David Ralph [20:43]
Now, in the introduction, we were saying that you’ve got a life now that you can serve and spend more time with the family. That’s a bit bad and it’s sometimes sometimes you want to get away from the family don’t do and if you’ve got that kind of flexibility where your daughter says, Oh, do this today or your son says do Or whatever your husband God forbid your husband? And how do you sort of go? Yeah, no problem at all because I’ve got a lovely family. But there are times where I’m quite happy to say I’m busy to sort of escape from them. How do you do that?
Meryl Johnston [21:15]
So when I say family so I don’t actually have kids. So when I say family, I’m more referring to my partner and my brother lives nearby my parents and my cousins and close friends. So I didn’t have responsibilities in terms of kids although I would like to eventually so it’s more and I’m referring to by an immediate family members but also I can get to some friends family as well. You’ve got a perfect
David Ralph [21:39]
life then you’ve got a perfect life you’ve got no kids. That Delta lovely we all say all we want kids but God they bring you down sometimes they do they do. I I have said many times I think 90% of having kids is complete rubbish and then 10% is complete gold. I think that’s so I think stay with yourself, but Enjoy your life kpf bigger and grow old gracefully.
Meryl Johnston [22:10]
You said there about the 10 10% gold.
David Ralph [22:13]
And it is it’s like that with a business as well, isn’t it because when you are growing a business in the early days, and maybe it wasn’t like that with you because you found the right business partner, which we’re going to talk about in a moment how you found Ben. But so many people go through the slog, and they go through the slow just to get those little 10% of I think I’m making some progress. I’m moving on here. This is what I want to do in life. And then they go again, and it seems to be that the majority of people I speak to until they get to that tipping point, or in that 9010 when 90% of it is just hour upon hour connecting doing blog posts, recording podcasts and all that and I was in there. I was totally in bed and it literally killed me. So how Did you do that in your life, but you ticked it on its head, and it almost seems that you went for the 10% instead of the 90%, which is the conventional route.
Meryl Johnston [23:10]
I think it was when I was running my consulting business. So that was after I’d been done my hard slog as an accountant as an employee, my first net or my next business was a consulting business. And it was going well, but I was looking at what was I achieving my goal, my lifestyle goals, and I wasn’t, I was getting, I had my clients have my mobile phone number I was getting calls in the evening on the weekend, was really hard to switch off from work. And I had a lot of frustrations about scaling the business and trying to find the right staff and I had big projects and then no projects and then big projects and it was hard to manage the cash flow. I had all sorts of frustrations with that business model. And I thought about what my perfect business would look like in terms of having consistent cash flow, having cash Customers on subscriptions and maybe having a more simple service than the the complicated consulting that I was doing something where I could create a system and train a team. And so I thought about what I would like out of a business. And then realised, well actually, I could probably do that with bookkeeping and bookkeeping is related to my skill. So I don’t have to learn a whole new skill. And I already have a network in the industry. So maybe I should actually I do a little I did a little bit of bookkeeping, with my consulting business, not much. Maybe I should just cut out all of the complicated consulting and just concentrate just on this one scalable task. And, and maybe I should work on that with someone else. And so that was what that was. I think that was the tipping point, the frustrations I had with the consulting business and realising that I probably was never going to achieve my lifestyle goals with that business.
David Ralph [24:54]
Well, let’s play some words now and then we’re going to delve back into that because I think this is absolutely fundamental to your story. Don’t worry. But these are words that were said a couple of years ago by Oprah. So let’s listen to her again,
Oprah Winfrey [25:04]
the way through the challenge is to get still and ask yourself, what is the next right move? not think about, Oh, I got all of this stuff. But what is the next right move? And then from that space, make the next right move, and the next right move, and not to be overwhelmed by it. Because, you know, your life is bigger than that one moment, you know, you’re not defined by what somebody says, is a failure for you. Because failure is just there to point you in a different direction.
David Ralph [25:36]
Really good words. What do you think? No.
Meryl Johnston [25:39]
Yeah, I agree. And what she was what I was saying there about one moment and making the right decision. I think it’s easy to get overwhelmed with a task list and so many things that you you feel like you need to do, that you don’t step away and look at the bigger picture about completing all of these tasks. actually getting To the point that you want to get to
10 Yeah, very insightful.
David Ralph [26:05]
So how did you do that next step? Because it seems to me that the first big step was to find a band, your sexy business partner. And I know so many people that well, I’m talking about myself, really, but I have found business partners, and more of them or not, and I was talking about this to another podcaster last night. They don’t have the same work ethic, but I’ve got it but I seem to be really driven and they seem to just be sort of floating somehow. How did you find somebody but not only had different skills to you to compliment you, but you worked well, every minute, you’re spending all your time out on a surfboard, and he’s slogging slogging accountancy firm, how have you managed to find somebody that puts up with your, your disregard for responsibility and business?
Meryl Johnston [26:56]
So, Ben and I met each other by chance. So we’re both Have an online forum for lifestyle entrepreneurs called dynamite circle. And we were in a with a we were both Australian accountants. And we were in a mastermind group together with the focus of the idea of working on our businesses and improving our existing businesses. So I had my consulting firm, and Ben had a tax practice. And so we were both facing similar issues in our businesses and similar frustrations. And we were testing bookkeeping and other kinds of recurring revenue in our existing businesses. And we, we had a couple of mutual clients. So we’d referred work to each other. And we realised that we worked very well together and that we had similar similar long term goals and similar lifestyle goals as well as business goals. So it just evolved over time that in this mastermind, where we were working on our other businesses, we built respect for each other and realise that we could actually Make a creative, better business if we work together. Because a lot of the systems and the things that we were doing, we were duplicating in our other businesses, so why not try and do it together?
David Ralph [28:11]
What was it about Ben that you fall? Yeah, actually, he’s somebody that I think I could work with because it is it difficult to work when you’re in different towns and different cities or different countries? Or is that away now, but you think that most businesses are heading?
Meryl Johnston [28:27]
I think it is hard. It’s different to when you’re in the same room as someone and you can just bounce ideas off each other. And I think you need to have a lot more trust. If you’re not in the same location as someone, then you could have concerns about, are they actually doing any work? And so I felt like I could trust Ben from the start. So he’s been very honest, very trustworthy, and hardworking. And I’d seen from the work that he was doing with our mutual clients that he delivered Good work, he communicated well, so he, there was a lot of things about him that I respected I’ve assumed that he must have felt that something similar about me, otherwise he wouldn’t have agreed to go into business with me. Have you ever asked it was interesting. I asked him that, why he decided that I was a good fit. I will, oh, it will lead you to say what he says. And we’ll get
David Ralph [29:17]
him on the show. We’re getting him on the show. And we’re asked totally different questions and then edit it together. So it sounds like he’s screwing you over somehow. I don’t know.
Meryl Johnston [29:28]
So what’s interesting is often business partnerships work well, where you have different skill sets. And Ben and I have similar skill sets where both accountants and that was actually something that we needed to work through. When we first started the business. We both did everything. So we both wrote some blog posts. We both handled sales calls. We both did bookkeeping, and then we realised we needed to separate our roles. So Ben is now in charge of bookkeeping operations, and I’m in charge of marketing and over time, we’ve we’ve those roles have evolved and our responsibility areas have changed as we’ve worked out, where we where our strengths and weaknesses are. So we definitely do have a lot of overlap with our skills. But we also have some differences. So we’ve tried to play to those strengths,
David Ralph [30:16]
and our low strengths, the sexy strengths. I like the ones that sort of makes metal jump out of bed in the morning, or did you basically have you tailored your roles now that he does the stuff that he quite enjoys, and you do the stuff? And then subsequently, the quality is better?
Meryl Johnston [30:31]
Yes. So Ben, likes talking to Pete. He’s great on sales calls. So he handles the sales calls, and he’s also got very good attention to detail. So he is also great at reviewing work. And I love marketing. I didn’t know that I loved it. But now that that’s my role in the business, so I write a lot of content. I talk on podcasts I present, and I didn’t know that I love this area of business. But I actually do. And so I’ve been focused on the last year, I’ve been focused on building my skills in that area. So I enjoying the work that I do. And I’m probably more of a strict so Ben’s a strategic thinker as well. But that’s my other strength. So we’re both both involved in coming up with strategies, but that’s probably more my area as well.
David Ralph [31:20]
And does he ever come up with anything does He say in metal metal? I’ll tell you what I was thinking about last night, I was laying in bed thinking about being ninjas. And this idea is brilliant. And he tells you when you go, No, it’s totally rubbish. Or do you come? Wow, it seems All right. Let’s, let’s play it and see how it pans out. Because it seems like if you started your business within a week, boom, it would almost be like you’re blasting ideas out left, right and centre. How do you sort of pull them back? So it’s the right ideas.
Meryl Johnston [31:49]
So normally, that’s been pulling me back. So that’s normally me. I’ll say I’ve been for a surf and I just thought of this great other service we should offer. And then Ben will say Didn’t we decided last week that we We’re gonna stay focused and concentrate and on what we’re doing and do it well and then say, Oh, yes. Okay, I’ll put it on our ideas to our on hold list. So we’ve got a huge on the whole list of ideas that we’d love to do one day. But Ben’s very good at bringing me back to reality and saying, Let’s stay focused. we’ve, we’ve read that we’re going to focus on these things, and we need to ship this first before we do something else. Does he have a pen
David Ralph [32:25]
face and a pen voice when he says, Meryl? I think we discussed this last week, I imagine him with hands on hips, and you just wanting to punch him in the face? How do you sort of get past that when you’ve got an idea that you think is brilliant? This is brilliant, but there’s two of you that sort of got to make those decisions that doesn’t always turn out that your ideas actually are better because you hold them back and bring them out again later, or do you feel like I’m just gonna punch you in the face burn and jump on my surfboard? How do you sort of get past that when you’ve got a burning idea that’s going to be brilliant, and he doesn’t want Do it.
Meryl Johnston [33:02]
Well, we’re both pretty logical thinkers. So he won’t say something’s a bad idea just because it’s a bad idea to kill, give me a reason about why. And then I’ll think about what his said, and then weigh it up. And so normally, because we’re both quite logical thinkers, and I guess we’re accountants, so we put things into numbers, we can normally work out when normally agree on what the best thing to do is. There’s no I can’t think of many situations where we haven’t eventually agreed. Normally, if it’s was a marketing thing, we didn’t agree on that. That’s my area. So I would make that decision. Or if it was something related to Ben’s area, then he would get to make the final call. But normally, and normally, we’ll work through it logically, and then we’ll both agree. I might be disappointed that I wanted to do a call new marketing thing. And it’s been all say, well, we’re not focusing we’ve got to stay focused. And then I realised Yeah, okay. Probably should focus on what what we’ve agreed to For the next few months,
David Ralph [34:01]
while I’m going to tell you something, Meryl, this might come as a shock to you, and this is probably going to alienate 50% of my audience. I find that ladies are illogical, I find that they run on emotions. And I live in a house full of ladies. And I’ve never known one of them when I come up with an idea who go Okay, yeah, I can see that. Let’s put that on. It doesn’t operate. It doesn’t operate. How do you suppress your lady feelings in these things?
Meryl Johnston [34:30]
So I would agree, well, actually, probably women are gonna hate me for saying this. But I found women to be more illogical than men Normally, I think my family so my mom’s an accountant, and my dad and my brother engineers, so we’re very logical thinkers. So I think I’ve been trained from an early age not to make decisions based on emotion but to I mean, you can still factor that into, but to work through a process to make a decision.
David Ralph [35:00]
So you’re saying that you’re 80% man? Is that what we’re saying? No
Meryl Johnston [35:07]
no, we’re saying that I like logical thinking
David Ralph [35:11]
you like men that’s what you you want to come from outside. That’s what you this is where all the fun is. That’s what you that you want. You’re, you’re envious of the way that we operate. You’re envious and we can just get out of bed and put on the clothes laying crumpled on the floor next last night and just go again. Yeah, we have no effort. That’s what you want.
Meryl Johnston [35:31]
I’m not going to agree to that. But one of the benefits of working from home is that I can work in my pyjamas to be I have been caught out though some I had a client turn on video when I wasn’t expecting it. And then I had to explain that and I wasn’t ready for a video call that day.
David Ralph [35:49]
Well, you’re fortunately at least you were wearing something because in Australia, it’s very hard. I I always keep my webcam turned off because in the United Kingdom most of the time. It’s pretty Any rubbish weather and this year it’s been dreadful weather. But I’ve had a couple of times where I have I’ve recorded and I’ve literally been naked, not totally naked, which isn’t good, but I’ve literally been naked and that that would be a shock and a half of the guests wonder
Meryl Johnston [36:15]
what I hope you’ve got something on now.
David Ralph [36:18]
Would you like to know more? Would you like to know what I’m wearing at the moment? Is this what you’re leading up to?
Meryl Johnston [36:24]
We’re going back to that shower conversation from the beginning of the show. Well, it will have to change topic.
David Ralph [36:29]
I can’t escape it. I’m gonna I’m gonna have cold water on me tomorrow morning when I when I would call my next shows. So I’m interested with you and Ben, I’m interested with this relationship that you’ve created because it is so different because it works perfectly, but you’re in different towns, because I find that a lot of people feel certainly the ones that speak to me, but they haven’t got all the answers. And certainly at the beginning when I got this idea, it’s a step too far to be able to trust someone because there’s a boom strapping it and I don’t want to spend what they haven’t got. Do you have any advice for somebody who’s bear in a cubicle listening to these conversations thinking, yeah, I want to do this, but I don’t think I’ve got all the answers. I need somebody to help me How can they sort of go with the heart and actually trust somebody, especially when you’re not able to actually touch them and see them and hold them and hug them and love them closely.
Meryl Johnston [37:24]
I think it is hard, finding someone that you can trust enough to go into business with them. And I think it’s really important to make the right decision. So if you can’t find someone that you feel like if you trust 100%, I think it’s better to to do own the business on your own and then pay contractors. And I think it’s, it’s rare to find someone I think I was lucky finding Vince. And so I think it’s worth spending a lot of time with someone or establishing that trust in some way. And if you have any hesitations, then don’t go into business with someone But don’t let that stop you starting a business. I think, even if you’re working full time and you can’t afford to just quit your job and start a business, you can still do something on the side and develop your skills and eventually transition into consulting or freelancing. And then from there, again, develop your skills and go into something like a product or service or a product type business. So I think every bit of learning builds on itself. And the earlier you can get started, the better.
David Ralph [38:30]
Yeah, I agree with that. Totally. And it doesn’t have to be new and sexy, does it? That’s the thing. It took me a long time to realise but what I’m doing now is just the kind of advanced form of what I used to do. I used to stand up in front of crowds and basically do training courses. Be a little bit silly little bit fun. And that that was it. And for a period of my life from my last corporate gig to this I come into was holding back from that because I thought oh, no, that’s what I used to do. But now I realise What’s the point in gaining 15 years of experience if you just leave it behind user experience, and then something came in and with the globe, that there’s customers who want that thing? That’s a mindset shift, isn’t it when you realise that that little thing that you can do easily because you’ve been doing it for 15 years, either somebody can’t do it, or they can’t be bothered to do it, you know, I get a lot of people helping me with websites. Now, I can actually do that. I can’t be bothered anymore. I just look at it and I can’t be bothered, let’s get some person in the Filipinos to help me for $15 an hour. And that’s changed their life that $15 is making a big difference. But you’ve got to take that little thing and expand it. Haven’t you got to find that service within that idea. Once you think Meryl
Meryl Johnston [39:46]
I do and I think there’s a good point there. It doesn’t have to be sexy. So there’s lots of things that people need that are the next Uber and I went down that path when I had my consulting business. I wanted to Have a tech startup. And so for a short period of time, I was involved in a health tech startup called doctor know where we were trying to create automated health reminders and preventative health. And after about six months of that, I realised that I had no contacts in the industry didn’t know anything about building a software product. And it might be a fun, sexy project to work on. But probably if my main goal was a lifestyle business, I probably should go back to the skills that I had spent 10 years developing and that people were willing to pay for. Even though bookkeeping is not a sexy business.
David Ralph [40:38]
It really isn’t is it? It’s not have to be the title of the show. Do you realise accountant? Yeah, not sexy. Did you think that’s gonna win me friends.
Meryl Johnston [40:51]
You get all the candidates probably agree with you. It’s it’s not a sexy topic. What we’re trying to get
David Ralph [41:00]
Yeah, what is sexy to you now when when you look at business and obviously creating a business, you spend a lot of time looking around other things. If you could wipe the slate clean and go again, knowing that you will have instant success, but in a different environment, what would you do? What what would be the sexy business for you?
Meryl Johnston [41:21]
Probably software as a service. So developing a piece of software that has ongoing subscribers who were paying to use the product that you have developed. I think that’s kind of the ultimate business model.
David Ralph [41:35]
My favourite sexy business is and it’s bizarre. I can’t even remember who this is, but about three people told me about it. I think jack Canfield, your photo told me about this as well. And it is a guy or lady who is teaching dogs to surf so that their dogs and their owners can go out on a surfboard and take the dogs with them. Now that is, is a stupid business, but he’s doing really well. He’s doing really well because of these people. Who wants to have their dogs on the surfboard with them, so that when the shark comes along, they can love the doggy and then travel to safety. I’m sure that’s what he’s about.
Meryl Johnston [42:11]
I suppose there’s all sorts of business ideas, that you just would not even think of it like that one. But you miss me opportunities out there.
David Ralph [42:20]
Whether there is and that’s the thing, isn’t it? Every single thing it doesn’t matter how stupid an idea, I think you can make a business out of it. I really do. I think there’s, there’s an avenue because you don’t need thousands and thousands and thousands of listeners. You don’t need thousands and thousands of customers. You just need loyal customers that come back to you, which is what you’ve done really well. I love the fact we’ve been ninjas. You ask for feedback. I love the fact that you’re almost saying to your customers, you’re part of it. And that loyalty pays back big time, doesn’t it?
Meryl Johnston [42:51]
It does and a lot of our businesses come from recommendations of existing customers and part of our process once So we try and get ongoing feedback. So whenever we send an email to a customer, they have the opportunity to write the reply of the bookkeeper. So we know if they’re happy or not. But also, we have chicken calls so that we can ask for feedback. And also make sure that they’re understanding the reports that we’re sending them, too. We don’t want to send reports that don’t make any sense. Yeah, so I think asking for feedback, but also providing the opportunity and making it easy for customers to give you feedback really helps.
David Ralph [43:30]
So just before we play the words that created the whole show by Steve Jobs back in 2005, looking back over everything that you’ve done so far, what is the the one thing that you think? Yeah, that was a that was a stupid mistake. If I could go back in time, and I could raise that I would do or maybe you kind of think, no, it’s part of the journey. I’m happy with all our successes and failures because it’s led us to where we are.
Meryl Johnston [43:54]
Yeah, probably more of the second opinion. So I’ve had failures and things that I think are maybe Wish I didn’t do that, but all of those experiences you learn from and then that’s what shapes you for making future decisions. So, I mean, if I would change something is probably that I would not have been an employee for so long and and spent all those years working such long hours. So I might change that. But that was what gave me the drive to make a change because I was getting sick of it. And that’s what gave me the the accounting experience to run the business I run now. So I try not to have regrets and, and look at everything as a learning experience.
David Ralph [44:34]
I’m going to play the words of Steve Jobs now and we’re going to ask you your big dot question. Here is Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs [44:41]
Of course, it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college, but it was very, very clear looking backwards. 10 years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future You have to trust in something, your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever, because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path. And that will make all the difference.
David Ralph [45:15]
So powerful words No.
Meryl Johnston [45:17]
Yeah, absolutely. And it makes you believe in the future and that everything that you’re doing it’s even if it as you said it, if it leads you off a path that doesn’t it feels like taking you to the side it’s actually all shaping your future.
David Ralph [45:31]
But when you look back on your life, from from Little marrow to to Now, obviously where we’ll have to say this is probably your highlight and it’s all downhill from the from this point onward. But what is your big dog when you look back on everything? What is the moment the situation the conversation that you think? Yeah, yeah, I think that’s when everything started to come together. And I really started to believe I was onto something.
Meryl Johnston [45:55]
I think it was around the time that that we launched bandages was when I think felt like I was actually my life was on track and going in the direction that I wanted. And if I’m going back right back to when I was little, it would would be my parents telling me that it was okay to be different and to not follow the crowd. So. And I think that they’re the values that have helped me, leaders a different different life to some of my peers and the people that I have grown up with. So I don’t own a house at the moment. And that’s unusual for someone of my age. And that’s because it doesn’t feel right with what I’m trying to achieve in my life at the moment. And I’ll do that when the time is right. So that was something that my parents instilled in a young age was, don’t just follow the crowd, think about whether something is right for you.
David Ralph [46:45]
So when you went into accountancy, did they say Malmo? This is a crowd you you just walked into a big crowd, or did they just accept it?
Meryl Johnston [46:54]
They encouraged it so my mom is this isn’t the reason that I went into it, but My mom’s an accountant, my grandma’s an accountant, my aunt and accountant. There was no pressure for me to study that. But so I knew that I wanted to run a business. And I thought that was the best way of building those skills. And my parents would have thought that at the time, too, because I didn’t know any different. In hindsight, I could have built those skills differently. But at the time, ever, all of us thought that that was the best way for me to to build those business skills.
David Ralph [47:27]
And now you look at it and you just think hypocrites, hypocrites, you told me to be different. And you you pushed me into the same job that you’ve done. Yeah. Parents parents. Yes, you’re shocking, but it is. It’s hindsight, isn’t it? When you look back on it, you think, yeah, I could have done it differently. But parents give us that advice, but they want you to be safe and secure as well.
Meryl Johnston [47:46]
They do. So my my parents definitely wanted me to get a degree. And they were happy for me to go after having a lifestyle business, but they would have encouraged me to, I guess to follow some of that usual Half as well, in terms of working for a big accounting firm becoming a chartered accountant. I think I just didn’t even know there were any other options. At that time, if I’d known about startups and online businesses, I probably would have jumped straight into it. But I hadn’t even heard of anything like that. Back back then.
David Ralph [48:19]
Just before we send you back in time on the Sermon on the mic, do you do you look back on everything? And do you think to yourself, yeah, I am where I should be? Or do you just think it is getting going. Now, I really think that this is the start of something amazing.
Meryl Johnston [48:33]
A little bit of both. I’m really excited about how bean ninjas is going. And we I feel like we’ve just hit our stride now. It was we had a lot we did a lot of hard work, especially in that first six months and there was definitely no surfing every day during that first six months, but I feel now we’ve created something special. And we have scaled a team and we don’t need to work as much. And so I feel like life’s about well, you He’s already good. And it’s about to get bright.
David Ralph [49:02]
Oh, I love that. And and that’s how life should be, isn’t it? We should all wake up with that feeling of, yeah, I’m onto something. This is this is gonna be mine. And no one can take it away from me. Yeah, global domination is mine.
Meryl Johnston [49:17]
It’s a nice feeling, though when you wake up in the morning and you’re excited about going to work, but then you’re also excited about having time to do something else fun too.
David Ralph [49:27]
I wake up on a Thursday morning, which is Join Up Dots day and I basically think to myself, this is great a whole day of being an idiot and getting paid for it. You can’t want more than that, really. And a lot of people say to me, you know, ah, it’s just you having a chat. Well, it’s a little bit more difficult than that. But yes, it is basically and that’s that’s the kind of mindset thing again, it doesn’t have to be hard, does it? It doesn’t have to be, you know, real slog and I spent years slogging I spent years commuting. I spent years thinking that’s how you had to earn a And now I realise you don’t have to you just have to make different business decisions, and then follow them through. You need to find a Ben, you need to find a marrow and you need to find your thing.
Meryl Johnston [50:14]
Yeah, absolutely. And you’re so right. It doesn’t have to be hard.
David Ralph [50:17]
I thought it was gonna be more to that. I thought that was gonna be one of memos, passionate rants, but no, it doesn’t have to be hard. Now what we’re going to do with you say you for me, you threw me there was so much content and then that moment to deliver the gold you held back? No, I couldn’t believe it. This is the part of the show that we called a sermon on the mic when we send you back in time to have a one on one with your younger self. And if you could go back in time and speak to the young male, what age would you choose and what advice would you give? Well, we’re gonna find out because I’m going to play the theme tune and when it fade, you’re up. This is the Sermon on the mind.
Unknown Speaker [50:56]
We go with the best bit of the
Meryl Johnston [51:16]
Hello, little Merrill, this is big Merrill, and you’re 18 years old, and you’ve just finished your accounting degree, and you’re looking for your first job. And rather than deciding to work for one of the big accounting firms, where you’re going to be working 80 hours a week, why don’t you instead consider working for a smaller accounting firm and having time to start a business on the side when you’re 18 years old, rather than waiting until you’re 28 before you start your first accounting business,
David Ralph [51:50]
once again, very short. very precise. That’s what we like we like an accountant who doesn’t build by the hour. I think this is perfect. You have is showing the way forward Mero what is the number One best way that our audience can connect with you
Meryl Johnston [52:03]
on our website, so bean ninjas, which is B EA n, and then ninjas.com. And we also have a Facebook page with the same spelling, and I respond or Ben responds to every inquiry or message.
David Ralph [52:18]
Now, just just before we sort of say goodbye to the question that just popped into my head is, is this just a sort of an accountancy firm for Australians? Or does it work for anyone somebody in America? Can they work with you? Or is it different sort of tax advice and stuff you’ve got to give?
Meryl Johnston [52:34]
We’re lucky. So Ben’s background is international tax. So we’re actually in Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada and the UK. And we’re in the process of launching in Hong Kong and Singapore at the moment.
David Ralph [52:50]
So an answer is yes. Anybody who wants to work with you can come with come across.
Meryl Johnston [52:56]
Almost so we I mean, we’re not in some countries, so we’re not in Germany, or where There’s a lot of countries that we’re not in. But anyone that’s in one of those countries that I mentioned, or their business is registered in those countries, then we can, we can definitely lodge the sales tax and do the bookkeeping for those countries. And we weren’t actually planning to expand into many overseas markets, but we’ve had customers contact us. And once we have a couple of people contact us, then we look at setting it up. So if there is someone in Denmark that wants to be ninjas, bookkeeping, if, if there’s a couple of you, then we we can look at setting that up as well. So over time, we’re expanding into more countries just where we see demand for that.
David Ralph [53:39]
You are going to take over the world I can see it this is gonna be a global business that is gonna, it’s just gonna be rocking and rolling. You’re gonna love it and you
Meryl Johnston [53:49]
hope so. I’m loving it now. Hopefully that will continue our calls it will
David Ralph [53:55]
cause it well. Well, thank you so much for spending time with us today. joining up those dots metal please go Come back again, when you have more dots to join up, because I do believe that by joining up the dots and connecting our paths is the best way to build our futures. Merrill Johnston. Thank you so much.
Meryl Johnston [54:11]
Thanks a lot. I really enjoyed it.
David Ralph [54:15]
Yes, Merrill Johnston all the way from Australia. And that was that was a I love the show. I love the show. But all the sound clips, I couldn’t hear them totally blank. But it shows you that you can overcome anything you can overcome anything, you can create anything, you can just be flexible with your mindset. And it’s a real kind of key point to starting any business that you just take what you know already and be flexible. Look at it, see what’s going to work, see what doesn’t work, and then go for it. And if you can do like mammal did and set a week to sort of create your first business get your first customer in. Wow, what a positive that’s going to be and I think it’s unusual. I think it’s unusual what she’s done. But that was the reason I wanted her on the show. Not only glamorous, but she is somebody who is getting out there and trying different things. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Join Up Dots. Please connect with us. please tweet us, Facebook us, email us or whatever. And as Anna rended. Anna, thank you so much for connecting with us the other day on Twitter. Lovely to find out how you found out about the show and what you think about it. It just means that we’re delivering what you want. And that’s what it’s all about gaining customer feedback. Thank you so much for listening. This was David Ralph. And that was Episode 571. Up Join Up Dots.
See you again soon. Cheers. Demon doesn’t want you to become a faded version of the brilliant self you or wants to become. So he’s put together an amazing guide for you called the eight pieces of advice that every successful entrepreneur practices, including the two that changed his life. Head over to Join Up dots.com to download this amazing guide for free and we’ll see you tomorrow on Join Up Dots.