Sally Sephora is a British weddingpreneur who currently resides and runs her businesses in Italy. She has founded and managed several businesses all in the wedding industry. So let’s have a chat with her.
When did you start thinking about becoming an entrepreneur?
It must have been as I was leaving the UK to move to Italy, back in 2007. I found a copy of Richard Branson’s book “Screw it, let’s do it” on a friend’s bookshelf. I borrowed it and just fell in love with the idea of such an amazing, full life… So, I read that book, and then Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker and then I started searching for more books on wealth, self-improvement and biographies of successful people. I just found them all so inspiring! The more I read, the more they sparked ideas in my head. I haven’t stopped reading and learning since, it’s so addictive!
How did you come up with your ideas?
My first business I planned out before I knew what I wanted to do. I looked at my skills, my past experience, what I wanted my day to be like…. Everything seemed to point towards organising weddings and WeddingBox Lake Como was the result. My other businesses, Bride-Advisor and the International Wedding Awards came along later, more as a solution to problems that I had faced as a (now) professional in the wedding industry.
Bride-Advisor came to me as a solution to the hideous prices we were being quoted for online advertising. I wanted to create a hub for wedding professionals to come together, show how great we are, and make it super easy for potential wedding couples to find us. I teamed up with some amazing tech and design guys. I love the look of our site and I can’t wait to see how large we can grow it!
The International Wedding Awards came about as there were awards in the US, some in the UK and although I was a British wedding planner, I wasn’t able to enter as I lived in Italy. The only international awards at the time was won with Facebook votes so it was more of a popularity contest than anything. If your cat had a Facebook page, he could vote for you. So again, I gathered a great team together and I created my own global awards with the very best of the professionals I work with daily to create a judging panel with decades of experience in the wedding industry.
Where did you get the money to start your business?
I didn’t! I was absolutely broke when I set up my first business. It was set up entirely with an old computer, a pay-as-you-go phone, a lot of time and hard work. I was so broke that I made an excuse to let down a couple who had flown all the way out from the UK to tour venues with me because I couldn’t afford the petrol money to reach them. As a family we were pinching fruit and vegetables from allotments to eat. We made and ate a lot of apple crumbles! If you don’t find work in Italy, there is no help like back home. Our banger of a car died and we couldn’t afford to fix it so we sold it broken for peanuts. We had our electric reduced to 10% emergency electric so only the fridge and lights worked and we were eventually thrown out of our apartment with a small baby and a child to look after… things were very scary for quite a long time! Slowly, slowly, we got some wedding bookings and after what felt like an eternity, we managed to turn things around.
What are the risks and rewards of being an entrepreneur?
This question reminds me of something one of my planners once said to me while we were driving in my car. She said “I don’t think it’s fair that the owner of a business gets all the money and we just get a wage”. I didn’t even reply as I wasn’t sure how to respond. Afterwards, I thought long and hard about what she’d said and I thought to myself… where were you when I got thrown out of my apartment because the business didn’t make any money yet? Would you work for nothing to keep us afloat if we hit hard times? It was nonsense. The risks are obvious and the road you have to travel to get to the top is not a floral-scented, diamond-encrusted unicorn ride. I put everything into this. I struggled, I grafted, I gave up my social life and my weekends. The self-satisfaction and rewards once you break through are amazing. I have a life now that other people can only dream of but that’s the point… I lived my life like few others would to enjoy my life later like few others can. I’m not saying that I’m super rich and swanning about on a million Euro yacht, but I have a great life, a beautiful house on the lake edge which I enjoy with my family and if I work it’s because I choose to.
What talents do you possess that have helped you in your business?
I think more than anything, I just get on and do things. I have never struggled with the taking action part. If I have an idea and I’m excited about it, I don’t stop to talk myself out of it wondering if the time is right or what obstacles I might face. I typically jump in with both feet and then see how things go from there. I’m absolutely not right all the time, far from it. Many ideas I have to let go after realising that it wasn’t right after all, but that’s ok. I love the excitement and the buzz of new projects.
What are the biggest challenges of being an entrepreneur?
At the beginning I struggled with running a team and having staff to manage all of a sudden. I found it hard to pull them up if they were late or scruffy… I am a people-pleaser at heart and found it very difficult to have to have tough conversations with my little gang. I was so conscious I might make things uncomfortable or lose their respect. I was given a lot of advice on handling the staff in the early days from people genuinely trying to help me but the advice didn’t suit me. They would tell me I was doing it wrong and I should be harder and lay down the law, show them who’s boss… I felt like everyone was watching me and judging me and I got more and more frustrated. In in the end it just took time (years!) to find the confidence, respect and value in myself to become the kind of mentor and leader that I want to be. Since I started to give myself a break and try to do things in my own way, it instantly got easier.
What kind of response you have received from your clients?
It’s been hugely positive! I was a bride myself in 2007 just before I set up WeddingBox Lake Como so I very deliberately set up my business thinking from the client’s point of view. So many wedding marketing gurus are saying “avoid giving clients your prices until you have explained your value first” and “avoid the price question” but I know first-hand that a couple’s most important need is to understand the costs. Although I understand why these gurus are saying what they do, as a client I would immediately sense that I was being ‘sold’ to and back off. If I asked someone a straight question such as “How much does this cost” if they then replied to tell me about their benefits, I’d soon move on. I like to be given all the facts, given the freedom to do some window shopping and if I want to buy, I will. With that in mind, that’s exactly how we run the business. We give as much help and information as we can, we allow couples to come out on our boat to see the venues in person and meet us before they make a decision and the response has been fantastic! So often we are thanked for being the only planners who answer quickly and give out prices freely. I hope my competition keep following the bad advice because the longer they’re avoiding answering their clients’ questions, the better it is for me.
Have you set some goals to achieve?
Always! I’ve got 5-year goals on a big colourful chart and I’ve broken these down into annual and monthly goals which I tick off as I go along. Failing to set yourself goals is like driving a car randomly without a map and hoping to end up in the right place!
If you could start over, what would you do differently in starting and/or running your business?
I think everyone would do something differently. If you didn’t learn anything on the journey, you may as well have stayed at home! If I could change one thing, I would have built my businesses to be more passive, so I would own and manage them but not need to be there physically day to day. This is what I’m working on at the moment, stepping away a little so I can see straight and steer my life where I want it to go. I’m building my new businesses with a team in place so they run them for me so my job is to make decisions and come up with ideas for us to improve.
So, what’s next in the pipeline?
There’s always something in the pipeline! I’m having to learn to slow myself down a little at the moment just to finish up the projects I’m currently working on and commitments I have made. Come the end of the summer, I’m free and will be working on my plan of action to expand WeddingBox. I’m also setting up a collaboration with fellow wedding professionals from all around the world. We’re working together on an exciting new book project that I hope to launch towards the end of the year. Watch this space!
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