“The Lancashire Forum helps businesses that are aiming to grow in order to manage change,” says Guy Cookson, Marketing Director and Partner at Hotfoot Design. “That caught my attention – because as well as being relevant to how we grow our own business, in many ways it’s also what we help our clients to do.”
He explains that his Lancaster-based creative agency specialises in providing branding. digital and marketing services to growing businesses. “We get approached by SMEs where something has happened: an acquisition, a buyout, the next generation taking over, a new product. We work with our clients to make everything consistent, coherent and clear – so the story they’ve got to tell is easily understood by their target audiences.”
Guy first heard about the Forum through Boost; Business Lancashire. The growth hub had previously introduced Michael Gibson, who went on to become a non-executive director of Hotfoot. Among the assistance he provided was an introduction to structured ways of thinking that would be greatly expanded upon during Lancaster University Management School’s Lancashire Forum.
“We were looking at how to achieve growth, but to do it mindfully, so as not to grow too fast or lose our soul,” Guy says. “What appealed to me about the Lancashire Forum was that it was offsite, away from the distraction of emails and meetings.”
A further attraction was the opportunity to sit down with other entrepreneurs in similar situations – and to learn from academics who could talk through examples of businesses facing similar challenges. “It was great to step away from the operational side and to be introduced to frameworks and concepts and ways of thinking about strategy,” he says, adding: “I didn’t study business at university, so some of these ideas were new to me.”
One workshop, in particular, had a lasting impact. “There was an exercise where we broke down how we add value to our customers, and how we charge. I realised there was an opportunity for us to carve out our more strategic advice as a distinct service, instead of giving it away in preliminary spitballing meetings - and that prospective clients would attach more value to that advice. So it became a new revenue stream. We now set aside time and help them define their value proposition, as an actual piece of work.”
Guy makes the point that the practical learning experience extends beyond the Forum itself. “We have three very busy directors and we wanted this to be worth our while. I’d go back to the office after each session and discuss the insights with my partners Charlie and Aidan – and with the senior team - so we could put some of the ideas into practice.”
“Another example of where the Forum definitely helped to crystallise our thinking would be our move to focus increasingly on certain sectors: hospitality, food and drink, and the broader experience economy. Partly that’s because of where we’re based – but it’s also when you step back and look at where your strengths are.” He adds that this has led to their first product, a platform for clients to sell gift vouchers to their own customers.
“Going on the Lancashire Forum helped give a focus to these moves,” he says. “It provided us with the rationale – and the confidence – to pursue them with more vigour. When you’re deep into the operational side, it’s difficult to pivot to something new, whereas if you take time out of the business, engage with academics, talk to peers and look at different ways of thinking strategically, it provides more focus and impetus.”
The Lancashire Forum, part of Boost; Lancashire’s business growth hub, is a four month programme designed to help owner-managers, MDs and senior decision makers of SMEs to grow their businesses. This programme is fully funded and available to European Regional Development Fund eligible businesses. Contact Jane Hunter on 01524 593712, email email@example.com or visit lancaster.ac.uk/lums/lancashireforum to find out more.
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