Jane Hales is the co-founder of the international multiple award-winning full-service agency Sapio Research. Keen to develop the next generation of curious leaders she is the Accelerator Chair (and graduate) of London’s Entrepreneurs Organisation and delivers market research training, mentoring and scaling up business support. She also advises on data collection and insight solutions in the UK and overseas.
As is not uncommon for market researchers I fell into it by accident. My heart was set on having a job in environmental sciences. I wanted to save the world and keep our rivers clean. Instead, I learnt how to forecast the weather in the Met Office and then got moved into a market research position as maternity leave cover. A temporary two-year stint in an agency quickly expanded to 20-plus years. Understanding what makes people, rather than rainclouds, tick suits me better as I’m a ‘why?’ child.
Founded in 2016, my agency, Sapio Research, is a consumer and B2B market research company. We deliver valuable evidence to clients using our ABC approach, to support them understand their audience, make vital business decisions relevant to their brand and market, and create extraordinary headlines and content.
Sapio has 15 employees (and growing) whose fast, friendly, flexible and forthright approach fuels our passion for using our skills for good. We have an international client list of top PR & Marketing agencies and household name brands too.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
A market research agency isn’t particularly ground-breaking. However, the idea of specialising in a service which understands the demands of PR and marketing agencies was unique. A team that understands the difference between the approaches needed to support headlines (content research) as opposed to deep exploratory (strategic) research was highly unusual when we started, and probably still is now.
I didn’t realise it was so unusual until our old agency was merged with another and it became very apparent my team were ‘quick & clean’ rather than ‘quick & dirty’. Eight months after the restructure I got to breaking point. So, my old boss and I had the good fortune to persuade two other brilliant colleagues (Jessica Bunce & Andrew White), both of whom I gave their first job out of university, to join us.
Today,we all bring different skills to the table which is why we’ve scaled up so quickly. That, and the fact that nobody believed that we could, so we rose to the challenge.
How did you achieve awareness?
We have word of mouth to thank. We are fortunate that clients stay with us as both they and we move on. People never tire of a friendly face. We’ve also managed to get a grip of SEO, appearing on the first page of Google for ‘market research agencies London’, for example.
More recently we have become the official research partner of the ICCO (International Communications Consultancy Organisation) which is an endorsement of our excellent relationship with the PR industry.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
We are bootstrapped, and fortunately things took off well. We’ve not needed any funding to grow.
What are the key successes?
- Clients staying with us when they have merged with other agencies.
- UKBA ’20 Professional Services Gold Award Winner’ in the middle of the pandemic.
- Being shortlisted for Lloyds Bank British Business Excellence scaleup Awards the year after in 2021
- Not needing to furlough staff during the pandemic, instead adding to our headcount and growing revenue 20% that year.
- Developing a fabulous team of people who continue to grow and support each other.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
Developing the hustle into reliable, repeatable services while maintaining the personal touch. Bespoke services aren’t easy to productise, particularly if they are reliant on knowledge workers rather than tech. We are achieving this through following a version of the EOS (Entrepreneurs’ Operating System) and codifying our regular activities. Team members then take it in turns to run Sapio Schools for their colleagues, sharing their key learnings and building the ‘Sapio Way’. This has enabled onboarding new staff to be much easier too.
All our projects are ad hoc; we don’t have any retained revenue. So, we never know what’s around the corner, and you’re only as good as your last job, which means we have to be really smart in managing the cash flow and balancing pitching with high quality project delivery.
What are your plans now/for the future?
We’re currently looking at new offices again. (I seem to do this every 2 to 3 years and could probably become an estate agent!). By committing to a place big enough for 30 desks, it certainly focuses the mind on growth.
This may seem a bit odd as many companies have offloaded their offices during the pandemic, but we want to continue to invest in young graduates and find that being in close physical proximity really helps speed up learning, creativity and adopting appropriate behaviours. It also fosters greater personal empathy and encourages friendships. I’m still in touch with many of the people I first started my research career with and I can see that some of the team are also doing this, developing great friendships with previous interns for example.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Don’t worry about wearing the badge of entrepreneur, it’s just a business. It doesn’t have to be a huge or unique idea, just something done better than the competition. Try to overcome your self-doubts. What have you got to lose?
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
- Embrace opportunities to learn from other business owners
- Surround yourself with people from different industries.
- – The peer-support network in EO London (and its global groups) has been fantastic for this. My team and I would definitely not be where we are today without the new processes and support from the people I’ve met there. This became particularly apparent at the beginning of the pandemic when you could see you weren’t on your own.
- Have co-founders with complementary skills
- Learn about yourself as well as business
- Try and achieve a good work-life balance, but don’t underestimate the effort it takes
- Don’t expect to ever know it all, just stay one step ahead
- Try to enjoy the journey, and don’t miss fantastic opportunities on the way
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
Natasha Miller: Had the good fortune to meet in-person an EO member while in San-Fransisco recently. We went for dinner to her favourite restaurant in Alameda and saved me from my first lonely night on my own after my family returned home. I was very grateful for her hospitality. Originally we would have met in Miami on a course but Covid thwarted that. It was no ordinary run up to the meet, as I’d listen to her podcast Fascinating Entrepreneurs for months and I was a pre-reader to her memoir, Relentless https://www.officialnatashamiller.com/book/.
She is an amazingly talented, high achiever who has overcome the kind of distressing family situations I can’t begin to imagine confronting. https://www.linkedin.com/in/natashamiller/
John Busy, the outgoing Chair of the EO London chapter. He has a fantastic air of calm and engenders collaboration. He led the London chapter in an admirable way throughout the pandemic. I first met him as my EO Accelerator coach, which was a great opportunity to learn about running your own business and be inspired. A big thinker who fosters the self-confidence of others. https://www.linkedin.com/in/busbyjohn/
My husband, Duncan Platt. Having completed the unpopular career of mopping up the woes of society as a police officer he’s decided to retrain as a secondary school science teacher. Having seen the negative impact of violence on family lives he decided to try to assist young people before they make the wrong life choices. Not an easy retirement choice!! He also picks up at least half of the household and parent chores when not running ultramarathons. He’s a very patient, strong, loving & forgiving man, with a different perspective on the business world.
Gina Millar. I must admit I wasn’t that aware of what she’d achieved until I went to an evening of ‘In conversation with Gina Millar’ about 18 months ago when she was launching her book, Rise. She has overcome a huge amount of adversity, fiercely standing by her principles and still keeps fighting. Even if you are not aligned to her politics, the fact that she is so passionate about civic responsibility and speaking up is rare and inspirational. She combines emotional messages with facts in a masterful way. @thatginamiller
Greta Thunberg. She is a great demonstration of the positives of what might be considered a special education need or character disadvantage – asperges. I also happen to agree with what she’s trying to achieve in regard to climate awareness and I’m in awe of what she’s achieved in such a short space of time. She’s making those of us with privilege feel uncomfortable, but we’re in the best position to do something about it. @GretaThunberg
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
“You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude
toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather
than allowing it to master you.” – Brian Tracy
What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?
LinkedIN company: https://www.linkedin.com/company/sapio-research/
Twitter Company: https://twitter.com/SapioResearch
Facebook Company: https://m.facebook.com/sapioresearch/