When creativity and data collide: How Make Happy use Analytics Plus

Jonathan Bannister leading a workshop

While playing with Lego might seem like a dream job to many, for Jonathan Bannister and the rest of the Make Happy team, it’s simply business as usual.

Creativity is a concept not unfamiliar to the innovation veteran, who heads up the London-based innovation and strategy consultancy. So, the business has two sides: one, running workshops to help businesses improve their strategy, team-building and culture, and the second teaching other facilitators to do the same.

In unusual symbiosis to the concept of creativity, though, he cites the success of his teams’ innovative work as something decidedly less so – a maths equation.

“I’m passionate about helping people unleash their creativity, so they can put it to use within their work,” Jonathan told us. “And creativity as a skill can actually be learned and measured. In fact, we’ve built Make Happy around famous scholar Dr Ruth Noller’s equation for creativity: C = ƒa(KIE).

He explained: “‘K’ is your broad knowledge – the more curious you are about the world, the better – ‘I’ is your imagination, aka your divergent thinking skills, and the ‘E’ is evaluation, your convergent thinking skills. This is all to the function of ‘a’, your overall attitude. We believe that when you work to this equation, you literally can evolve your creative ability.

“I just love that light-bulb moment when people realise there is a process they can fall back to to approach any problem, be it personal or professional. It’s powerful stuff.”

Using insight to show and tell

It should be no surprise then that looking at the data is actually intuitive for a right-brain thinker like Jonathan. In particular, he keeps a close eye on the extra features that come with Analytics Plus for short-term cash flow projection, as well as an overall birds’ eye view of his agency’s performance.

Use Xero Analytics Plus to stay on top of your business finances

“Analytics Plus is so powerful for a small business like ours, because we get some really good insight,” he tells us. “In particular, we’ve been able to quantify with a personalised dashboard that the work we’ve put into the training side of things is more profitable than our facilitation clients.

“Plus, that same dashboard has shown us that this year we've dramatically dropped our consulting from last year. Not because we’ve done less workshops, though – it’s simply because we’ve been better at scheduling them. We now know that there’s actually capacity there – so if we want to grow the business further, we can take more on.”

He adds: “We’ve also gotten much better at tracking expenses against a job so we’re clear on what we make, and I can check this at a glance using business snapshot: What do we need to push? What’s lagging? How many draft invoices are sitting there?”

This is all thanks to the more detailed AI within Analytics Plus that surfaces and predicts patterns in business data, allowing business owners to make informed decisions and plan ahead.

Jonathan tells us: “I feel like I have an extraordinarily good grip on the finances in the business now, and in every currency. We do a lot of work in the U.S. so it’s good to see what our US, GBP and Euro accounts are doing, as well as how VAT is affecting our business’s cash position.”

With 72% of UK small businesses experiencing at least some cash flow issues in the past 12 months, understanding this without having to comb through multiple reports is a huge advantage for Jonathan.

“We try to sit on a good amount of cash, and take 50% of our workshop fees upfront,” he says. “So, using short-term cash flow, we can see how we’re going this year from last, and analyse quickly why say, this September was less profitable. From there, we can easily assess what it was around that period that was good for us and replicate it.”

Remember, with Analytics Plus, this cash flow position can be extended up to 60 and 90 days for even more foresight.

This was a good time for Make Happy’s operations manager, Fiona Fraser-Allen to weigh in: "I was reluctant to change our accounting software at first, but I’m a total convert after four years,” she said. “The intuitive interface allows us to record costs, see who has made entries, and prepare reports at the click of a button. I love the personalised visual dashboard to track day-to-day activity, and the project function enables me to monitor the P&L against jobs."

Turning clarity into goal-setting

If there’s one thing to strike fear in the heart of every small business owner – it’s not knowing what’s around the corner. So, being able to take some of the guesswork out of the uncertainty of the future can be a lifesaver for helping to mitigate risk.

Jonathan told us a bit about how he uses the tools to look forward. “Analytics Plus has given us the confidence to set goals, and I like that we can play with our data without needing a huge amount of skill. This year, for the first time, we’ve set a clear budget by month across all of our line items on what we wanted coming in and going out, and we’ve begun to track whether our in-person, hybrid or online workshops are more profitable by client.”

He told us that Xero’s help functions walked him and his team through it, easily speaking to them as “non-accountants”, and even allowed him to work with an advisor for extra insight.

“An idea I wanted to explore was whether we could move from doing one-off workshops to actually becoming more programmatic with our offering. So, our advisor fed in the data from Analytics Plus to build a comprehensive modelling tool to see what way cash flow might be impacted.”

Benefit from a full-suite toolkit

Managing your cash flow is always going to come with challenges, but Xero is committed to helping ease the burden. Xero Analytics Plus seamlessly rolls back up into various existing tools you might already be using, like eInvoicing, invoice reminders and bills.

With a simple upgrade from Xero Analytics, you can quickly access additional features that:

  • give you improved confidence to make cash flow decisions using AI-powered predictions
  • let you see and plan up to 90 days in the future
  • help with managing future events using basic scenario planning
  • provide deeper insights and customisation so you can make better, smarter decisions

You can learn more about Make Happy at their website makehappy.co.uk

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