Chorley's Bespoke digital agency on growing with the internet, generating £1bn in leads, and coming out of Covid more profitable
The word Steve Brennan uses more than any other is 'exciting'.
The CEO of Bespoke, a digital agency based in Chorley, can't get enough of the industry he works in, thriving under the ever-changing conditions which have come to define the online world over the past two decades and which have made it one of the most fast-paced sectors imaginable.
For some, that changeability would be daunting. But not for Steve. "We're at the cutting edge, so it's just so exciting," he says simply.
Specialists in building websites, running marketing campaigns, and sourcing business leads for companies, particularly those in the service and manufacturing sectors, Bespoke was established over 20 years ago, now employing 15 members of staff across Bespoke offices in both Lancashire and London.
Most of their clients, for whom Bespoke has generated over £1bn in leads over the years, are based either in the North West or in the capital and boast turnovers in the £1-100m range. But, with its roots firmly implanted in Preston, the company was founded for one simple reason: to allow Steve and his co-founders to do things their way.
"We're one of the longest-running digital agencies around," says Steve, 46, who is himself from Preston. "When we founded the company, the internet was the new thing and our backgrounds were all in print design, but we decided we wanted to have a go at doing things ourselves, so we went for it.
"The overriding emotion when we founded Bespoke was excitement at being able to do genuinely exciting work," he says. "We were always doing things for the first time - building websites that had never been built before and adapting to the arrival of things like broadband, Facebook, Twitter - and every year there was a massive development in tech.
"To begin with, it was about us being able to be flexible, to run things differently, take more risks, and make faster decisions than corporate entities," adds Steve. "We've seen it all and have experience to lean on because we've watched things develop in front of our eyes: it feels like I've worked at five different businesses because of how fast-moving the industry is.
"The fact that the sector is constantly evolving is so exciting because it's forced us to be adaptable," he continues. "That's what makes it for me - the fact that you're always surrounded by ideas and opportunities and that there's always something going on. To this day, we're more agile, as demonstrated by how we've reacted to Covid."
Having transitioned into working from home quickly during the pandemic, the company - which is Investors in People-accredited - completed their first significant project carried out entirely over Zoom as early as April 2020 and started to fully grasp the benefits of flexible working.
As a result, they moved from their old HQ in Bamber Bridge to a new premises at Strawberry Fields Digital Hub in order to best prioritise staff well-being.
"Covid had an interesting impact on the business," says Steve. "I looked at it as a business boot camp on a really big scale: we had to go back to basics and we've been fully-booked ever since. The pandemic showed the importance of digital strategy for companies: businesses which embraced it and jumped at the chance are the ones which saw brilliant results.
"That's what we did: before the first official lockdown was announced, we transferred the entire company into working from home and we were actually pleased, and admittedly a little surprised, at how well that transition went," he adds. "But feedback from the team about the realities of working from home went through something of a curve.
"At first there was a distinct sense of ‘why haven’t we done this before?’ but, after a while, the general consensus was we were starting to miss some elements of the office," Steve explains. "It provides that extra level of stability that helps underpin, and even enhance, creative processes."
Safe to say these are exciting times indeed.
"The reset made all the noise drain away," says Steve. "It gave us focus and we're actually more profitable now."