Interview with Sapna Pieroux, Founder and Creative Director of brand consultancy InnerVisions ID
In her 25-year career, graphic designer and marketer Sapna Pieroux has helped brands like Rimmel, Sony Ericsson and Mercedes engage their target audiences across national radio, TV, print, experiential and digital creative advertising campaigns.
But, after having her second son, Sapna was plunged into post-natal depression and had to retreat from her career.
After healing at home, and even retraining for a potential new career, a lucky accident saw Sapna’s skills being recognised again, and eventually led to Sapna relaunching her career.
Today Sapna is Founder and Creative Director of brand consultancy InnerVisions ID. She’s published in three best-selling Amazon business books and has written for the Huffington Post. She is also proud to be the Brand Mentor for the national programme, Shifts to Success, helping police officers and members of the NHS transition into a life of entrepreneurship.
Sapna’s new book on branding for entrepreneurs Let’s Get Visible! has been shortlisted for the Business Book of the Year Awards and is available to buy here.
What’s your career background?
I trained and worked as a graphic designer and marketer in advertising and sales. I was lucky enough to work at huge media companies like Emap, Chrysalis and the Telegraph Media Group for iconic brands such as Grazia, New Woman, FHM, The Face, Smash Hits!, Kiss 100, Magic 105.4, Empire magazine and many more.
I helped national brands like Sony Ericsson, Rimmel and Mercedes reach their audiences through exciting multimedia campaigns, and won a few awards along the way. Highlights included meeting Quentin Tarantino and Simon Pegg at the same party, seeing boy band Blue in their pants when I was looking after them at an event, film premieres and VIP partying at Glastonbury.
How did your career change after having children?
After my first son, Luc, was born, I decided to go freelance in order to spend more time with him. I negotiated to limit working to three days per week (despite them all saying they needed someone for five!) and worked as a media consultant for brands such as Trinity Mirror Group, ACHICA and O2 Media.
Things changed after my second son Leon was born when I was felled by post-natal depression. Everything stopped and I suddenly felt incapable. Getting showered and out of the house by midday was an achievement.
I had to retreat from media – the way I was feeling I just couldn’t understand how any woman with two children could hold down a job at all. I was broken, fragile, hated my post-baby body and I completely lost my confidence.
Luckily my husband Andy was setting up his own business so we decided I would stay at home, look after my little ones and heal myself (with a little help from CBT). I also started another degree in Interior Design with a view to a future career I could build around my boys – and because I figured Peppa Pig just wasn’t going to keep me stimulated enough!
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Whilst I was on my extended maternity leave other mummy friends, as well as my husband, were setting up their own businesses. Knowing my background, they would ask me to help them with their business in terms of naming the business, marketing and of course branding including logos, websites and brochures.
My big break happened somewhat by accident. My husband’s brochure got held up at an entrepreneurial event by the speaker as “the gold standard”. He said this was what everyone should be aiming for.
Andy came home that day – I had a baby on my hip, a toddler at my feet – and he handed me a bunch of business cards. Seven entrepreneurs, who had never met me, wanted to work with me!
It was, of course, a massive boost to my confidence but I also realised that I could start an interiors business with zero clients or go with the opportunity in my hand. My new business had been staring me in the face all along.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
I emailed those seven entrepreneurs, thanked them for their interest in working with me and that I was busy for the next six weeks as I was finishing my interiors degree (I was gunning for a First, and wanted to finish what I’d started!) but then I’d be free to work with them.
Four clients chose not to wait, but three of them did, so in October 2015 I started with three clients, word-of-mouth grew my client base quickly and I finally decided to incorporate the business in May 2016.
At the same time, I enrolled in a Business Accelerator course as although I knew what I was doing in terms of branding, I did not know how to scale this into a proper business.
What’s your USP?
With my degree in Graphic Design and a post-graduate diploma in Marketing, I have worked on both sides of the fence, as a designer within agencies and in marketing and commercial sales teams, managing and briefing designers and other creatives.
What that gives me is a unique 360-degree view of business rather than just focusing on making your company look good. I not only understand the client perspective and the put commercial growth at the heart of that I do, but I am also able to advise on business, marketing strategy and creative promotional ideas. This gives my clients a more fully-rounded strategic approach.
Who’s your target audience?
I now bring my big-brand experience to help ambitious impact entrepreneurs who are dedicated to growing their business so that can make a bigger difference.
Most are established businesses, typically 3-5 years old and are wanting to take their business to the next level. But I also now work with start-ups since I became Brand Mentor for a national programme called Shifts to Success, which helps police officers transition from a life in the force to that of entrepreneurship. Their ambition is the thing that unites my clients.
After a career of working with big companies and all the red-tape that can ensue, I love the immediacy and intimacy of working directly with the decision-maker and being able to make such an immediate and tangible difference to their businesses and themselves. I don’t just create branding, but confidence too.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
I have a fab social media manager, Jade, who has been with me two years now. She manages my company LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
It’s great because people I meet say “Hey! I can see you’ve been really busy!” and I have to admit it’s Jade who’s all over social on my behalf! She also looks after other opportunities – she found this interview opportunity with TLC for instance – and relevant awards that we might enter.
My new business development manager, Esme, has also been looking at other opportunities like speaking gigs to get my message out further. I’ve given a few talks for the likes of WeWork, Travel Forward and am now booked for a few more in 2020 on all things brand and branding. (If anyone would like me to talk at their event, do contact me via LinkedIn!)
I’ve spent a lot of 2019 writing my book Let’s Get Visible! to help entrepreneurs and business owners get brand clarity, stand out in their industry and supercharge their business growth. It’s due out January 2020.
In it, I detail my VISION branding process, a collaborative one between client and creative which is so powerful we can create a start-up branding package in just one day. So I think the book is going to be a big help in spreading the word about what I do going forward.
I have to admit, I’m terrified of being on video, but I’ve had to get over myself in order to promote the book, so me on video will be a focus for 2020.
What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?
In 2018 we ran a Christmas promotion to give away one of our One-Day Branding Workshops (worth £1,850+VAT) and it went as viral as anything we’ve ever done, got quite a few entries and ended up in at least four or five paying clients booking in work with us as a result. It was such a success we will probably run it again, but right now it’s all about the book launch!
What’s been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
Personally, beating postnatal depression was a big one for me, especially because I did it through just therapy and running.
I also had to battle septicaemia when my kids were only three and one. I lost a stone in a week, was in intensive care for eight days, missed my first-born’s first nativity and basically nearly died (the mortality rate, I found out afterwards is 66%).
After that experience, nothing in business seems that important or scary when I think I could have left my children motherless.
The biggest obstacle now I guess is time. I’ve tried to create more time by delegating. but it’s so hard to find the right people. I had to get rid of my VA when she messed up a few things and my clients started complaining. I also found an amazing designer to train up in the VISION method, but then she decided to focus on her illustration
Then I found another one and she’s just had a baby and then I found another one and now she’s about to have a baby, so I’m back to square one! Finding the right people would definitely free up my time, so if you or your readers know an amazing VA or a middle-weight freelance designer who is bright, has worked commercially and would like to learn the VISION process to work alongside me, please get in touch!
And your proudest moment so far?
Obviously, I’m going to say my two boys make me proud on an almost daily basis, but I’m particularly proud of building a successful business around them and still doing the school runs, being able to go to their plays etc and not have to ask permission!
I’m proud of giving those same working conditions to Jade and Esme. For me, family comes first – and I find that people really appreciate that as a manager, I care about their lives as a whole.
Obviously, I’m going to say my two boys make me proud on an almost daily basis, but I’m particularly proud of building a successful business around them and still doing the school runs, being able to go to their plays, etc and not have to ask anyone’s permission.
I’m proud of giving those same working conditions to those who work with me. For me, family comes first – and I find that people really appreciate that as a manager, I care about their lives as a whole.
I also recently won the Women in Business Rising Star 2019 award, which was a complete shock but also immensely reassuring that I was doing the right things. That was a lovely proud moment to share with my husband and my team. My kids were pretty thrilled too when they saw the award on the dining table the next day!
I’m also pretty chuffed that we’re now global, baby! This year we worked with clients in Australia, Europe and the US as well as all over the UK.
And I’m immensely proud of my book – it was a complete labour of love (I designed the cover and every page myself). Yes, there was pain and heartache and self-doubt and tears and moments of “I can’t do this! Why am I putting myself through this?” and very little sleep – my God, that sounds like having a baby!
But I had an amazing book coach in Lucy McCarraher and to come out the other side with an actual fully formed book? Mind-blowing.
Why is work so important to you?
It’s important to me to make a difference – to my clients, to the world, to my family and to myself. My work helps me achieve all of that. I get immense pleasure out of enabling my clients to fly once they have worked with me. The effect that great branding has on their confidence and business is so rewarding.
To make a bigger impact, we give a % of what we make to charity – in previous years we have supported CARE international, but this year it felt right to support CRISIS and Centrepoint. Thanks to our clients’ support, we were able to gift 32 meals and 10 beds for the homeless on their behalf this Christmas as well as other donations throughout the year to other charities.
Work is also important for my boys to see me as more than just their mum. That I provide a strong female role model and they can also see that with a bit of application you can do you love and live the life you want to lead.
Who inspires you?
My family is my inspiration, my big ‘why’ – and Andy, my husband inspires me. He built a global seven-figure business in the last six years. A part of me would love to do that too, but as the primary carer for our children I’ve decided to build a more ‘boutique’ business as a result.
Sheryl Sandberg inspired me at the start of my entrepreneurial journey. Lean In was the first businessey book I read after having the kids and it just resonated in so many ways.But any female entrepreneurs who are kicking it and making waves, having fun, making a difference inspire me. I’m proud that I have a lot of friends and clients I can count in that category.
Design-wise, I love Philippe Starck because he’s not tied to being a product designer or an architect or an interior designer or a designer of toothbrushes or furniture or kitchen equipment. His designs make people smile and they make life better too.
Inspirational – I love design in all its forms so one day I hope to bring my interiors degree into the mix so we can provide branding and interior design services for our clients’ businesses too.
How do you balance your work with your family?
Honestly?! By not sleeping enough!!! I need more sleep. But it’s all good, really. Andy and I have this life where we are both flexible and there for each other.
I was at home for three years whilst he started to build his business and now I’m getting busier and he’s got employees, he’s now able to pick up the slack with the boys if I can’t. We’re there for each other – I’m not really sure how I’d do it without him. We’re a good team. He’s my rock. I’m lucky to have him.
What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?
1) Get help
Don’t try and do it all on your own. Whatever you can delegate, do. That’s everything from cleaning to cooking (I got Andy to cook from Gousto meal-kits three times a week when I was finding all too much!), to getting the kids to tidy up and sort washing – and then getting professionals in to help with VAing, social media, accounting, etc.
2) Pay for training
If I don’t know how to do something (like run a business or do Facebook ads) I’ve found that if I pay to do a course then it puts a different kind of fire in my belly. I’m well aware that if I don’t do what the course advises I’m basically just p*ssing my money up the wall, so having some skin in the game helps me take action!
3) Get systems in place so things become automated
I started off with XERO for accounting, GoCardless has been a game-changer for client payments, and I am moving to OnePage for my CRM. I’m not very techy, so again, I’ve asked for help. Luckily my husband runs an IT consultancy so he’s also my in-house IT department!
You can find out more about InnerVisions ID on their website.
Sapna’s book on branding ‘Let’s Get Visible!’ is available HERE. It promises to help any business owner get brand clarity, stand out in your industry and supercharge your business growth.