Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Interview with Sally Sephora, Entrepreneur & WeddingBox’s Founder

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1- Hello Sally, can you please tell us a bit about you?
I live and breathe weddings! My home and work life are kind of one and the same which suits me perfectly. Just before I moved to Italy with my family in 2007, I started reading books on self-improvement and autobiographies of wealthy, successful people. Once in Italy, I spent a lot of time planning my ideal life and thinking of what kind of business I would like to set up. I spent time thinking about my past experiences, skills and what kind of life I wanted to have. I wrote these all out as lists on a huge piece of paper. After a while, the idea of weddings popped into my head and as soon as it had I was instantly excited. The more I thought about it, the more certain I was that this was the perfect path for me. I set up my wedding planning business, WeddingBox Lake Como and although it’s not always been plain sailing, I’ve never looked back. I now own and manage three wedding businesses and I am never happier than when I’m thinking up ways to improve, starting new projects or mapping out my future plans.

2- What are your focus areas and why?
I focus on my goals and businesses above everything else. I am constantly bouncing ideas around in my head and when I can’t see the right way forward with something, my favorite trick is to talk it through with my husband, Luli with a nice glass of wine. We seem to have a knack for talking things through until the right answer presents itself. I’m happy with where I am now and I’m excited about where I’m heading to next. I love what I do. I think I’m very lucky to have found something that I am so passionate about.

3- Where do you think you are making an impact?
OK, here’s where I think (I hope) I’m making an impact… I want my children to see what I’m doing. When I say children, my eldest son is 20! Not so much that they see me working 24/7, I want them to see that ‘this is me’. My work and home life are one because this is where I’m happy and given the choice, this is what I’d do. I want my kids to understand that they don’t have to go to school, get a boring job and work hard until they retire. I want them to see that they can do anything they want to do. I’ve said to my son, Charlie many times “What would you like to do so much that you couldn’t believe your luck if you were paid a wage to do it?”. I’ve suggested scuba diving instructor, owning a Go-Kart track, becoming a stuntman… If they’re going to work for perhaps 40 or more years of their lives, I want them to love what they do!

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4- Can you tell us about your business “WeddingBox”?
WeddingBox Lake Como plans weddings for English speaking couples from all over the world. Around 80% of our couples are from the UK and then the rest are from the US, Australia, Dubai… all over the world. We very deliberately aim the business at ‘Jane and Joe Average’… a couple who want to get married on Lake Como, are worried about sending money abroad, don’t know where to start, want their budget to work well for them… but above all are just like us! This way we can build amazing relationships with them and we understand all their concerns and above all, we enjoy working with them! We build amazing bonds with our couples this way. I have friends now from all over the world and they pop back for their anniversaries sometimes and I find out they’ve had babies and I get to follow their stories. It’s amazing. From ‘inside’ WeddingBox, I have the most fantastic team who work alongside me. We all get along so well. My husband does all our accounts, the planners all do the planning and at the end of each summer season, we all get together to do something crazy like a hot air balloon ride or a Sky Dive to celebrate!

5- What were some of the biggest challenges you have encountered?
I take it you’re not asking how hard it is to get drunk people onto a bus at 2am? I think I’ve had my fair share of challenges thrown at me! When I first started planning I went to visit one of the ‘must have’ wedding villas on Lake Como only to be thrown out by the manager who was tired of new wedding planners stealing half a day of his time and never to be heard of again. We had huge financial struggles at the beginning so bad that we were thrown out of our apartment and I had to make excuses to a couple wanting to tour venues with me because I couldn’t afford to put petrol in the car. I’ve been taken advantage of by numerous ‘friends’ and colleagues who seem to think that they can take what I can teach them and use it for their own gain. I learned the hard way that money changes people and greed can easily outweigh friendship. It’s not been smooth sailing all the way but if it was, would it be as rewarding? I am so proud of where I have got to, but a good part of that is knowing the struggles and at each one, learning from them, growing stronger and preventing it from happening again! I did go back to that villa who refused me at the start but this time with a client ready to book. Now, we do more weddings at that venue than any other planners and I am great friends with the manager. It’s great fun to remind him of the time he threw me out!

6- What are your main services and what makes you unique?
We treat our clients exactly how we would like to be treated ourselves. Instead of hiding prices, we show them all the prices! We answer our emails faster than anyone else and instead of asking a couple’s budget and finding something to fit, we let couples see all the costs and choose something that they feel suits their budget and once they have an idea of what they would like, we help them plan how much the whole day might come to with timelines, costings and general plan before they go ahead. We understand their concerns and we make sure we answer them and that they feel we will always respond to their questions with an honest answer. We take them out on our boat to see the venues in person before booking and being a predominately native English-speaking team we break down the language barriers between us. Without our clients, we are nothing and nobody and I never want to forget that. We are constantly building up our reviews and testimonials online to build trust and show new clients that we really are as friendly and reliable as we say we are!

7- Where do you see the company in the next 5 years?
I have three wedding businesses at the moment and am franchising WeddingBox this year. I thought long and hard about my goals for the next five years and my great ‘Aha!” moment came when I decided to stop myself starting up any new businesses and to concentrate 100% of my efforts in making sure my existing businesses and the new franchise project are a great success. Knowing myself as well as I do, I’m not guaranteeing I won’t start something new up, but I’ll try. In five years I fully expect to have WeddingBox branches all over Europe and to be thinking of further afield. For Bride-Advisor, my wedding directory, and the International Wedding Awards which are both fairly new projects, I expect them to be flying in five years’ time and leading the way in their fields.

8- What can you tell young women entrepreneurs who are pursuing their dreams?
My advice would be to just keep moving forward. Even when it feels like people are telling you-you’re doing the wrong thing and when you have setbacks. Even if you’re juggling a full-time job with your dreams and don’t have the finances behind you yet… don’t stop! Know where you want to go and keep putting one foot in front of the other until you get there. Do something every day towards your ultimate goal. Taking action is everything. Without it, you can’t expect to get any further than where you are right now. If you don’t have support around you, surround yourself with the thousands of positive voices on YouTube, in Books, and with online courses. If you want to know how to flip properties, for example, find the books, courses, and videos of experts who have been doing exactly that for the last 10 or 20 years and soak up all you can learn from them.

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9- What are you most excited about at the moment?
At the moment it’s franchising! It’s amazing to think there will be WeddingBox branches all over the globe! I have spent so many years getting to learn my craft – learning how to talk to people, how to pull ideas together, how to organize everything, what works and what doesn’t. I can’t wait to pass on everything I have learned and see what happens next!

10- The last word or final thoughts?
My biggest struggle of all has been wondering what people think of me. It was almost crippling at the beginning – wondering what people would say or feeling bad if I ignored someone’s advice. If I was to pass on anything, I would say – Be careful who you take advice from. You can ask as many people what they think as you like and listen to just as many opinions that you hadn’t asked for. At the end of the day, you and no one else is in your shoes. Trust yourself. If you’re unsure, as a minimum, ask the advice of someone qualified to give it. Don’t go to the baker for advice on plumbing. Give yourself credit for pushing yourself forward. This is hard enough without beating yourself up too. I certainly didn’t get to where I am today by getting everything right and I don’t know a single person who has. It’s ok to flop every now and then. Just as long as you get up again, learn from it and become more fabulous as a result!

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Noelle Elia
Noelle Elia
is a Financial analyst at PSPC. Graduated from Telfer School of Management, Finance/Accounting with interest to Entrepreneurship and New Media.
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