Hotfoot at 10: from a back bedroom in Lancaster to a growing creative agency

Posted on by Guy Cookson

Hotfoot Design turned ten last year. In a recent article column for Lancashire Business View Charlie told the story of how he started the company in his back bedroom. Below is a longer version of that story:

Established in 2006 by creative director Charlie Haywood, Hotfoot Design provides brand, digital and marketing services to growing businesses that want the attention and expertise of a big city agency, without the hefty price tag.

“We’ve always wanted to focus on where we can make a real difference” explains Charlie, “Our core clients are small or medium sized companies that are growing and recognise the need for professional help in achieving their goals. It could be a need for more sales enquiries or to increase the perceived value of their brand. We help them solve problems using tried and tested processes with lots of opportunities for collaboration.”

It is a strategy that has worked well for the agency. Hotfoot have spent the last decade growing steadily and organically through client retention and direct referrals, with clients such as Lancaster University, Fayre Inns, Silver Tree Jewellery and Mighty House on its books and recent new client wins including Lancaster Brewery, Atkinson Vos, Creative Lancashire, and the global software company QiSOFT. Hotfoot is on target to achieve record revenues with 35% growth projected this year and its retention rate has hovered around 95% over the last few years.

“We’re really proud of our client retention rate in particular,” continues Charlie. “We think it is the best reflection our work, especially as we do not tie clients into onerous contracts or proprietary technology. In other words, our clients work with us because they want to, not because they have to!”

“My goal when I started Hotfoot was to build the kind of company I would want to hire and work with long-term, rather than one that just did hit and run projects. We put a lot of time into learning about each of our clients, their market and their competitors, and as a result we essentially become an extension of their team. I love nothing more than working with our clients to help them grow.”

Soon after launching Hotfoot from his spare room, Charlie knew he needed to find suitable office space. “My wife Lucy and I had just started a family, so our house suddenly became filled with pushchairs, toys and noise. I found an office at what was then the newly renovated Storey in the centre of Lancaster. It’s a beautiful Grade II listed building with spectacular views across the city. We’ve been in there ever since, though we’ve upgraded to a larger space a couple of times over the years.”

The need for space has been driven by growth in the team. Charlie now runs Hotfoot with two partners, technical director Aidan Watt and marketing director Guy Cookson. Together they have over 45 years experience in the creative industries, spent at startups, agencies and corporates in Manchester, London and, in Charlie’s case, even Las Vegas, which helps gives clients a perspective they might not find elsewhere.

“One of the big differences with Hotfoot compared to other larger agencies is that the three partners work very closely with all our clients at every stage, rather than passing all the work on to juniors, as I know happens at some other agencies. We are also quite selective about who we work with, as there has to be a good fit in order to get the best results, and we are lucky not to have to work on projects we do not believe in.”

The three partners are joined by a team that includes designer Ruth Weston, web developer Niall Robertson and experienced PR consultant Stacey Waugh. The company has also forged relationships with a range of trusted specialists over the years that are brought in to deliver services when a project needs it, from photographers and animators through to copywriters and filmmakers, so clients get the best talent through a fully integrated and centrally managed service.

Charlie continues: “Over the last decade we’ve been in business there have been seismic changes in almost every industry. Spectacular growth in the use of smartphones and social networks, for example, means the internet is something we engage with continuously throughout the day. The next ten years promises to be equally disruptive with the rise of artificial intelligence and augmented reality.

“While technology and trends changes, there are some things that stay the same. People value great design and a brilliant user experience, they expect communications to be relevant, consistent and interesting. They care about the personal touch and they expect the companies they do business with to be present and responsive to their needs across different platforms, and to have some personality. Our job is to help our clients communicate all that makes them special and take advantage of innovations to get the outcomes they want.”

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