Sapphire Bates is the perfect example of a self-made woman. She founded her first business – a florist – at the age of 20, creating flower art for fancy events like weddings. A few years down the line, Sapphire found her interest in her florist business winding down, and started looking around for a new project in which she could channel her energy.
At the same time, as a young female entrepreneur working by herself, Sapphire experienced loneliness, and felt like her friends couldn’t understand business life. That’s when the idea for the Coven struck. In only a year and a half, the Coven has grown into an online community with hundreds of members, over 25,000 followers on Instagram, and a full programme of offline events in some of London’s hippest locations.
Sapphire’s story is an inspiration for anyone who feels stuck in their current job and wants to reignite their passion for work again – we’ve all been there! Read on to learn about Sapphire’s business journey, and find out how she founded one business whilst still running another.
Can you start off by introducing yourself in a couple of sentences, explaining what you do?
I’m Sapphire, and I run a worldwide online membership platform for female founders and freelancers. I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and have been running businesses for nearly 6 years. That’s me!
How did you get started with your company?
I founded the Coven based on a pain point of my own. Before I founded the Coven, I was running and owned a flower studio which I started up by myself just before my 21st birthday. I had gone through a really intense period of loneliness and really struggled to balance these two contrasting feelings of loving running a business and the excitement of owning and growing something that was mine, alongside this feeling of being totally on my own, and the pure lack of human connection that I had during that period. I’d call my mum all the time, but other than that I didn’t have many people to talk to. I had friends that I didn’t really see anymore, because I didn’t have time – I didn’t want to sit at the pub and get drunk with my friends.
It was a really difficult period, and the times where it felt better was when I met other women that were also running businesses and doing something of their own and kind of understood that feeling of working by yourself, so it got me thinking about what I could do. I had been running the florist for a few years and was – if I’m honest – bored of it. I was quite lonely. Running a flower shop is difficult in a number of ways, and I didn’t feel like I was stretching myself anymore and flexing my business muscle. It felt like I’d done it. I was slowly starting to consciously look for the next thing and this feeling of loneliness and how I could cure it for other people led me to create an online platform that you could log into at any time and from any place in the world, and find that connection.
Super cool! So did you start the Coven when you were still running the flower company?
Yes, I only did both for a few months. I spent 8 months building the platform and doing market research and running a free Facebook group through my network while the Coven was being built and tweaked and perfected. I did that whilst running the flower studio. We launched, and then I had a really crazy 2 months where I was trying to do so many large installations and big weddings as well as growing the Coven. We got 250 members in the first 24 hours, and it was mental! That whole year was crazy. It felt like I mentally and emotionally hit rock bottom. I was working crazy long hours, and so decided just to focus on the Coven.
What’s one thing you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?
Ooh, good question! How much time it would take. We do now have a team – I’m the only full-time person but I have 4 girls who work part-time on different aspects. I don’t think I really realised when we launched how much time it would take and how much help I’d need. Originally, we started at £10 per month, and I had to put prices within a year. I wish that I’d known that originally and had the foresight that it would cost so much. We were covering costs from day 1 and making a profit, but only if I was doing everything by myself. But then I was back in that position where I was working crazy hours. I naively thought I’d have free time, but I didn’t.
Something that I’ve learnt is not tying your personal worth to your business. I love the Coven – it’s my baby and I’m really proud of it. But no matter how hard we work on it, and how much we perfect it, not everyone’s going to like it. There will still be people who sign up, and it’s not for them. It’s a unique platform, and for some people it’s going to be exactly what they need, and for others it won’t be. It’s taken me some time to take away the emotional aspects, and to see that someone has cancelled their membership without having that pang of sadness. Understanding that it’s part of the business, and it’s not to do with me.
What advice would you give to people in the position you were at when you ran the florist: a bit bored and wanting to try something new?
I guess it’s two things. I think firstly, if this is your first thing – if you’re in a job you’ve always had and it’s not a business that you own, it’s very much about being brave. It’s taking calculated risks. I always urge everyone to write a business plan, do your financial forecasting, do your market research, to make sure your business and idea have legs to make your money. Don’t leave something stable on a whim without making sure you have an actual business idea. As horrible as it is to consider, not every idea is a good idea! I’ve had shit ideas, and not everything I’ve wanted to do has worked. In fact, more stuff hasn’t worked than has. That’s just the way it goes. It’s being brave and taking that step in a calculated way. I’d also suggest doing it in a slow and steady way.
If you’re in a position where you’re running something of your own, or maybe you’re freelance and you’re bored of it, it’s about understanding that it isn’t a failure to leave something behind. Something doesn’t have to grow to humongous proportions, and you don’t need to have world-wide renowned success for you to leave something behind. If you’re running your own business and you don’t like it, it can be really hard to walk away.
Where do you get inspiration from when you want to host a new event or create a new product?
My inspiration always comes from everywhere except for work and the industry I’m in! My flowers were never inspired by other florists – I would always draw inspiration from elsewhere. It’s the same when I’m coming up with events. All my ideas come from outside work. I might be on holiday, and something strikes me. I might be reading a book that has nothing to do with business, or watching a documentary or series, or going for a walk. My best ideas come to me when I’m least expecting them. I can’t sit there and think “I need to come up with a good idea”. I have to take time off and do things other than work in order to be inspired. The times where I work every day and don’t have time off are the times where I have crap ideas!
I know you’re reading obsessed [Sapphire reads up to 8 books per month!], so the last question is the one I’m most excited to ask you… if you could recommend one book, which one would it be?
I’m actually looking at piles of my books right now… there are literally books everywhere. Honestly, there are so many. For me, a book I loved and found inspiring was Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight (the founder of Nike). It’s great for if you’re in business, but it’s inspiring even if business isn’t what you want to do. I wasn’t sure going into it if it was going to be a bit dry, but he came across so well and so genuine – I just think seeing Nike not work for so long, and seeing that he kept at it, is really inspiring. A lot of people would have been like “this is not working” and quit before they reached success. But to be honest, I could literally list so many books – this one, this one, this one…