Who we work with

We're delighted that some of the brightest stars of the UK design industry choose to rely on our financial expertise. And, as you'll see from the client list below, we enjoy working with design businesses at every stage of their evolution, from ambitious start-ups onwards.

For a detailed account of the part Lightbox can play in building a financially successful business, take a few minutes to read the Hat-trick story below.

Helping Hat-trick take care of business

Today, Hat-trick are one of the biggest stars of the UK design industry, winners of multiple creative awards and equally successful commercially. But when Lightbox's Gary Baxter first sat down with three young designers back in 2000, all that was no more than a gleam in their collective eye . . .

September 2000: it all kicks off  

Gary meets Gareth Howat, Jim Sutherland and David Kimpton at a coffee bar on Waterloo Station. They're ready to set up on their own, and the good news is they have a name, some potential clients – and, most importantly, fantastic design skills.

Things they don't yet have include: a studio, equipment, actual clients (as opposed to potential ones), and a proper plan for setting up the business on a firm footing that will enable them to get off to a good start, and go on to achieve long term success.

"We aspired to have the same commitment The Partners had adopted in their business management and as Gary had been integral to that, we knew he was uniquely placed to help us."
Jim Sutherland

At this initial meeting, lots of questions come up:

What should the new business be...
Limited Company? Partnership? Limited Liability Partnership?
What are our respective roles...
and do we need to formally establish them?
How about some sort of agreement to cover potential issues, like death, illness, breaking up etc?
How does VAT work? And Tax...
and do we need to register somewhere?
What should we charge, and how do we make a profit?
Who's going to do the book-keeping...
and do we need some financial software?
What about employees...should we use freelancers?
Where can we take this business...will someone want to buy it one day?
Do we need a plan?

The answer to the last one is easy: yes. And Gary goes away to think about the rest...

"Getting the financial management building blocks in place from the outset creates a culture in which the right decisions are made when business development milestones come up"
Gary Baxter

Meanwhile, things start falling into place for the fledgling business. An opportunity comes up for shared space in a studio near London Bridge. Jim, Gareth and David hand in their notice to their current employers, and officially launch Hat-trick. Some of the potential clients show signs of turning into actual clients...

January 2001: first management meeting  

The first management meeting of Hat-trick Design takes place, attended by the three founders and Gary Baxter. Important decisions are made:

Yes, Hat-trick will register for VAT, since it's likely to reach the threshold.
To start with, the business will be a partnership. But they will also form a Limited Company, which will remain dormant for the time being (with a view to the partnership selling the business to the Company, at the right time in the future).

Lawyers will be briefed to draw up an agreement setting out clearly what will happen if the business should break up at any point in the future – taking into account different possible scenarios, which the partners and Gary discuss.

Accounting software will be bought, and Gary will train Gareth to use it.

The planned costs of the business are budgeted, profit targets are set, and charge-out rates calculated (and compared with those of Hat-trick's peer group).

"We were designers, not financial people, but Gary spent time with us, with patience, to train me to look after the day to day finances and the process he took us through to establish our budgets and justify our charge-rates gave us real confidence when negotiating with clients"
Gareth Howat

2000 - 2003: onward and upward  

Hat-trick goes from strength to strength, winning lots of new business and picking up numerous creative awards.

For the first 18 months all client work, from first concepts to artwork, is equally shared by the three partners.

From the outset, the financial performance of the business is monitored through financial management reports prepared by Gary and reviewed in regular management meetings.

Created specifically for design businesses, jargon-free and easy to understand, Gary's reporting framework covers:

Financial results measured against budgets
Profitability by client
Key performance indicators
Comparison to peer group
Forecasts of future results

Over time, the Hat-trick trio get accustomed to using the financial data provided by Gary as the basis for all key decisions relating to building
the business.

March 2002: Hat-trick are hiring  

Hat-trick continues to perform well financially. They haven't needed to borrow from the bank, and they have made enough profit to cover around three months' running costs. Can they afford to hire their first employee? Yes, they can...welcome aboard (Dan)!

Looking ahead, Gary develops a medium term planning framework to manage potential growth, over 36 months.

At this point, annual fee income is around £200k. But the Hat-trick founders' vision is clear: while managing all client work directly themselves, they want to reach £1m in fee income, to achieve a net profit of £200k, and win lots of awards along the way.

Over time, as Hat-trick grows, Gary develops a more sophisticated financial framework, to include:

A people plan (to evaluate the potential income of the client
services team)
A detailed budgetary costs plan
Cloud-based accounting
Project management systems

"Whether it related to hiring a new employee, shareholder insurances, bonuses, moving premises, fee rates, tax planning, or the clauses for our partnership agreement, we always consulted Gary"
Gareth Howat

January 2004: becoming a company  

As they planned at the outset, the Hat-trick partners sell the business to the Limited Company that Gary advised them to set up, to realize substantial tax advantages.

"The tax regime can be complicated, with the combination of personal tax and business taxes having a real impact on cash flow. Well managed design businesses ensure that the owners are fully aware of what taxes are coming up and when. It’s vital to check profitability and liquidity ratios (which take account of up to date tax liabilities) before taking decisions on dividends and bonuses"
Gary Baxter

March 2007: a place of their own  

Big decision: Hat-trick will buy a freehold property from which to run their business. Lightbox help put together a finance deal so that the Company and the Directors' pension scheme can buy the new place jointly.

2009: three become two  

David decides to leave Hat-trick, to pursue a solo career. Lightbox handled all the negotiations around the valuation and funding of David’s exit. (Lucky they planned for a situation like this right back at that first management meeting.)

The present day . . .  

Hat-trick continues to flourish, creatively and commercially. And Lightbox continues to play an on-going role in one of the UK design industry's greatest success stories.

"Gary has always been there to help us with our decision making, not only the big ones, but sometimes we have just needed an opinion…he is always available. He has always been our financial backbone and we will rely on his guidance as we move into the next phase of our business and personal development"
Jim Sutherland

Baxter and Bailey Testimonial  

"Gary knows design businesses from the inside out. Both Gary and his excellent team have been an integral and valued part of Baxter and Bailey since Day 1."
Dom Bailey

"Gary has been our business mentor from the day we started up in 1998. Advising us on every aspect. With his expansive knowledge of the design industry he has brilliantly guided us through all the scenarios that have been thrown at us, of which there have been many..."
Peter Carrow

"Gary's very clear financial reporting framework and business guidance have been key to helping us grow from 3 to 10 people over the last three years and improve our financial performance"
Mark McConnachie

"Gary and his team have been integral to the success and growth of Magpie Studio from day one. Gary's sage advice and knowledge of the creative industries beyond just the financial landscape has been invaluable to us."
Jamie Ellul

"Lightbox has opened our eyes. They have provided clarity and focus in an area that was uncomfortable for us as creatives to manage and get to grips with. In fact, we shudder every time we think back to the days before Lightbox. They are simply invaluable."
Kris & Vicky

"Bringing on Gary and Lightbox as consultants was a big step for Quinine. He was our first external consultant and we thought (at the begining) that he could potentially be one of our biggest expenses. How much time was he going to bill us for? How much of his time did we need? All our fears soon disappear. Our first invoice was far lower than expected. And every invoice since has been the same.

Working with Gary has changed the way we view our business. We no longer consider ourselves as a creative studio but rather as a design business. With the tools Gary has created for us we are able to understand our business today and go into the future with confidence that we are in control of our finances. Gary's work has enabled us to understand when best to take those 'big' steps, what the risks are and how to put it all into perspective."
Ian Johnston

"Gary is smart, sensible and sensitive.
He understands creative businesses."
Frith Kerr

"Gary has been a fundamental part of our business for a number of years. His wise words, future forecasting and financial analysis are delivered with patience, charm and easy-to-understand colourful graphs. We are glad to call him our friend."
Heidi Lightfoot and Katja Thielen