Technology correspondent Jon Wilcox discusses the latest attempt to bring benchmarking to a wider audience with MyCake founder Sarah Thelwall.
For some microbusinesses within the creative industry, taking control of finances and comparing their performance against contemporaries is an alien notion. Instead, many utilise a rudimentary understanding of Microsoft Excel and box files to piece together a picture of their business.
Creative industry veteran, Sarah Thelwall, launched MyCake in 2007 to transform attitudes, and in her own words: “change the way the creative industries handles finance”.
MyCake is a benchmarking system that lets subscribers organise their data, and chart their performance against others in the same sector. So far, more than 300 microbusinesses have signed up to the software as a service system, and Thelwall aims to increase that figure over the coming months.
For Thelwall, the need for a benchmarking solution in the creative industry comes from the lack in financial experience amongst artists, designers, and others. Pointing a finger towards art colleges across the country Thelwall said: “Nobody shows you an Excel spreadsheet the whole time you’re there, so you’re just not familiar with a spreadsheet-based approach to numbers. It’s not familiar; it’s not comfortable, and you just don’t like it.”
She added: “Plenty of creatives are perfectly capable of managing their own finances; it’s just that nobody’s shown them how.”
The MyCake founder acknowledged that part of the problem rests with finance itself: “It is not deemed to be a wildly exciting subject, and it’s often not taught in terribly interesting ways. It would be good if we could demonstrate to people just how much difference it would make once you manage the numbers better.”
The inability of micro-businesses to manage and track their finances properly means even fundamental markers, like rate cards, can be difficult to accurately gauge. Thelwall argues: “Without benchmarking, the only way you can [compare rates and business performance] is to sit in the pub with a bunch of mates, and talk about how business is going. Everybody will give the rosy picture.” Enter, MyCake.
The MyCake founder has struck several important partnerships over the past eighteen months, nurturing awareness and trust with potential clients through development agencies including CIDA, and the National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship. The company has also partnered with SaaS provider Kashflow as an accounting solution for their clients.
“We work with Kashflow because it’s a highly functional system; it’s fairly straightforward to use. That’s what matters to us most; it’s a finance system, but you don’t have to be an expert to drive it,” said Thelwall.
Partnering with a SaaS vendor was an important step for MyCake, as future integration with other online systems. “It wouldn’t be too much of a strain to add a CRM system, or a time management system, or whatever else,” said Thelwall. “Once it’s a web app, it’s all pretty much straightforward.”
MyCake and Sarah Thelwall’s vision for changing the way microbusinesses in the creative industry treat finance has attracted the support of Dennis Howlett, who brought the organisation to AccountingWEB.co.uk's attention.
The self-styled AccMan spoke with Thelwall about her venture, and confirmed his excitement at the possibilities. “MyCake represents a genuinely exciting development... [demonstrating] a feel for the industry segment that can only come from deep immersion in its ways,” he wrote.
“MyCake’s approach to accounting challenges many of the industry norms.”
For now, MyCake operates solely among the creative industries, although an expansion into other areas hasn’t been ruled out. Before that however, Thelwall is determined to focus on what she knows best.
“You could use MyCake benchmarking in any sector that’s highly fragmented and full of SMEs... We could do something fantastic to electricians and plumbers, because who do they compare themselves against? It’s just a question of how fast we grow or how thinly we spread ourselves,” said Thelwall.
“It’s not that I don’t want to talk to a wider community in the accounting world, but at the moment I have to go and get business!”