By Tewa Onasanya.
I pondered for months on if it was a good idea to have me on the cover of our anniversary special issue. The reason I kept going on about it, is because I wasn’t sure if telling the exquisite story would be appropriate for the 10th anniversary issue which also happens to be our entrepreneur issue.
I asked my husband, close friends, family and most said it was a great idea. “Sis, your aim has always been to empower and inspire people, tell your story” says Tosin Igbenoba, my sister and Talent Manager at Chocolate City. My other sister the CEO of World PR (they manage Karen Igho) also agreed with this.
So here it goes, the brief about how exquisite magazine, a tiny exciting seed grew to be 10 years old.
I want to start by saying if your only goal when you are about to start a business is to make money, forget it, it won’t last. You have to believe in yourself and be passionate enough about your product and services to the point that everyone is convinced about it. Don’t get me wrong, making money is very important and necessary.
The exquisite magazine journey has not been an easy ride. I’ve had my ups and downs, but the passion for what I do, the love for exquisite magazine kept us going through the years and will continue to keep us going as God lives.
Exquisite magazine started as an exciting idea I had, born out of the need for a magazine for women of color in the UK. I did my research and eventually pulled a lot of like minds together to release the pilot issue in September 2003 in Essex, England. This was the collective effort of my sisters, brother in law, husband and friends; some friends have now grown to be even closer friends.
The excitement of doing something I love overshadowed the need to make money, hence for the better part of exquisite, we ran on saved funds, with the focus on publishing a great magazine, with little attention to generating revenue. I would say this now, I’m wiser, if you are passionate about something and you decide to turn your passion into a career, it has to feed you, fulfill all your needs, not just the needs of your customers.
We published exciting issues of the magazine, was lucky enough to have worked with great people with excellent experience that didn’t have to be paid the going rate. Then again, that soon wore out as people do need to be paid for their expertise.
In the year 2006, we released just one issue of exquisite magazine. That was one of the worst years in exquisite magazine. We had used up all our funds to print exquisite without any tangible revenue coming in. This was when I knew and accepted that my BSC in Pharmacology was not sufficient to run a business. To run a business, one also needs some basic understanding of how a business should be run. Yes the passion was great and people where excited about the magazine. A lot of people wanted free advertising and because I wasn’t too focused on the money side of things, I obliged them. We did a lot of free advert placements for even companies like Estee Lauder, Sleek UK and more. A lot of people I know took advantage of this and also took free adverts. A friend that understood the rules of business is Nike Dada of Nikita Waffles who paid for her advertisement in exquisite. Believe me, if you have a good product and you let people walk over you, they will, until YOU decide to say no, this is the way I’d like to do this. I learnt that later in my business years.
We overcame the drought of not publishing in 2007 after I had my son. We went back to the drawing board, re-strategized, we put together our media kit and started business again. Part of the strategy was also to re-launch in Nigeria. I say re-launch, because we did launch in 2004 in Lagos, but had a bad experience with our event and PR manager (that’s another story).
In Nigeria, our challenges were different. From staffing issues to issues with vendors who didn’t like our small slightly bigger than A5 size, to finding out there was no distribution company in Nigeria, to advertisers. We found out the culture of advertising in magazines wasn’t that exciting and people and agencies who advertise don’t make a payment until the magazine is published. In a way, I do understand the rationale behind that, as a lot of magazines have started and stopped. We are still working with this procedure, whilst remaining relevant on the market and being consistent, and consistent is what we are at exquisite magazine. Despite all the challenges we have faced we remain consistent and we deliver on exactly what we say we will deliver on.
Tips to starting your own business or turning your passion into a career:
1. Believe in yourself. If you don’t, no one will and it will be seen when you are communicating with people.
2. Do something you love doing. Steve Jobs said “do what you love doing and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” very true words. If you do what you love doing, it won’t feel like work or a job anymore. You will be excited to get up every day and run with your dream.
3. Although money is required to start a business it should not be the focus. If you need funding to start your business, put a good business plan together and look to family and friends. You could also approach banks and micro finance banks for help. Some of the banks are now putting products together to benefit small businesses.
4. Start small. When I had the idea to start exquisite, I wanted to print 10000 copies of 200 pages and do huge advertising and PR. I had to be brought back to earth by my friend and graphics designer Kayode Olorunfemi, who said I couldn’t do that many pages and that many number of copies for a new title. Eventually, we tested the waters with 1000 copies of a 32 page magazine. That was our pilot issue with Tayo Afolabi on the cover.
5. Be well informed about your business. Do your research, go back to school if need be.
6. Be consistent
7. Keep good business accounts: receipts, invoices, terms of agreements (TOA) MOU’s are all important. When some write about Tewa Onasanya owing people, I say, please ask my side of the story. Did this people do their jobs to the best of their ability and to agreed terms? Did they meet the agreed target and so on? Keeping records of agreement will shield you, should you require proof. A good business account is also needed for proper accounting, I.e taxes and co.
8. Know and understand your business terrain
9. Network, very important in meeting people and contacts you might require in future.
10. Be people orientated.
Exquisite magazine spin off’s or Exquisite babies as we call them.
Whilst in England, we started something called the Exquisite life, which was an event where we celebrated fashion designers, (both established and new comers) and we have fun with the fashion shows and music performances. We did well with that as a tool to continue to promote the magazine as well as celebrate our subscribers, readers and advertisers.
In Nigeria, we started the exquisite tea parties. This was an exciting time for us in Nigeria as then we had a lovely tea room which was perfect for these tea parties. The aim of the tea parties was to bring business owners together for networking purposes. We also had people talk to us about different motivating techniques to keep us going through life.
We also started the exquisite fashion party which was aimed at celebrating fashion designers and using the event as a platform to increase the awareness for cervical cancer. We eventually stopped the tea parties and focused on the fashion parties. In 2009, we decided to add free screening session to the fashion parties and this was well received. In 2012, we decided to turn the fashion party into the exquisite magazine against cancer (EMAC) walk. We did this so we would be able to save more money and screen more and more people for cervical, breast and also prostate cancer in men over 40. This has been well received as we have huge turnout at the EMAC walk and we screen hundreds of people free.
In 2009, exquisite also had a new baby, it’s the most talked about awards for women in Nigeria and it’s called the ELOY (exquisite ladies of the year) awards. This award was birth out of the need to celebrate women of excellence in different fields and also to recognise the achievement of different women, to showcase them to the world, so as other people can be inspired and motivated by them. We also use the ELOY Awards as a platform to continue to increase the awareness for these cancers and screen people. ELOY is in its fifth year this year.
We decided to also add seminars to our list of babies. We had our first business seminar which was quite successful with great delegates. The seminar is now called the Exquisite Lifestyle seminar (ELS).
The full exquisite story and exciting stories of ladies excelling in their various fields will be featured in the ELOY coffee table book which will be released this year.