99% of people who work alone are craving for the same thing as you

London Terrariums’ Emma Sibley explores the difficulties of letting go when you’ve built a business from the ground up

“I’m not like one of these majorly driven people who wants to conquer the world. This has just happened really organically. I was sitting down with my accountant the other day going through hiring, pensions and my VAT return and I was like ‘Oh my God, if I had known that I was going to be doing all of this, I think would have been too scared.’”

Emma Sibley is the sole proprietor of London Terrariums, a business based in south London that runs workshops and sells products for the newly green-fingered, as well as creating bespoke commissions for individual clients across the capital. Her business began four-and-a-half years ago as a side project from her day job in commerce and merchandising at furniture retailer Heal’s. In the early days she had a business partner with whom she could share responsibilities, but having parted ways two years ago, Emma now manages all aspects of the business alone.

Emily Sibley
Emily Sibley at ANNA Money’s Worms for Breakfast event in 2018

“You just learn to take everything in your stride,” she says, “but it’s really important to make connections with people so you can actually share everything you learn.

“There’s some girls I met through a friend who run a supper club called Spread. We have Christmas parties together because when you work alone you obviously can’t have a Christmas party by yourself. Through networks like that you get to meet other people and you realise that 99% of people who work alone are craving for the same thing as you.”

For Emma, the transition from working alongside a large team to being alone in the studio took some getting used to. Dealing with the solitude and the fear that she’d made a bad decision took time to work out. “But you make sure that you discipline yourself and go to the studio each day, even if you don’t have much to do,” she says. “Then you go searching for other people in a similar situation as you and start making new connections and friends.”

Today, Emma has one employee to help manage the practical aspects of the business, but admits it can be hard to let go. “Even though I’ve got Iris helping me with the workshops and making terrariums, I still kind of have my fingers in all of the pies, and know every single email that comes in and every order that goes out. I feel like I really would struggle not to have that kind ofto detailed overview. Passing over control is really tricky.”

Nevertheless, expansion seems to be on the horizon, and Emma is gearing up to hire more staff to allow London Terrariums to take on more workshops and events. She’s approaching the next stage of the business with a mixture of eagerness and trepidation.

“I think I need to proactively make myself do it. I feel like up until now I’ve just been like riding this wave of opportunities and people coming my way. It’s really exciting and I’m really looking forward to making changes, but it’s that scary point where I’m starting to think ‘When did putting plants in little pots turn into all of this?’”