Questions for SUGA’s Queen of the Pacific 😉 Cecilia Sagote:
Cecilia Sagote, 37, is the Editor of Pacific’s answer to Cleo Magazine.
SUGA Magazine launched in 2012 and is now based in Melbourne Australia. The magazine covers beauty, fashion, men, sport entertainment, health, news and more. Cecilia started the print magazine in 2012 whilst studying for her business and journalism degree at a university in Auckland where she saw a gap in the market for a niche magazine catering to young Pacific women. As the years went by along with trials and errors, SUGA Magazine moved along with the rapidly growing digital times. Like many other media outlets, they extended the magazine to online to reach a wider audience.
Now based in Melboune, Australia, The solo- mum says that SUGA Magazine is still going strong with many of her online stories averaging about 30,000 hits a day.
I was a big fan of the mainstream magazines like Cleo, Cosmopolitian, Vogue etc growing up. I found them so fascinating, informative and educating. I was inspired by the stories in them. I think as a Pacific young girl growing up, I loved reading the stories and appreciated them too especially the sex education articles! For real! As a sheltered Samoan girl whose parents refused to talk to her about sex education, I learnt a lot of it from these magazines!
I would browse through magazines on Supermarket shelves and then thought to myself, wouldn’t it be cool to see a Polynesian young women’s magazine amongst those on the shelves? With stories about us and our perspectives (like those sheltered ones).
So that’s when SUGA was born. I believe we are unique in that I try to mix it Polynesian content in with mainstream content too. I think it’s important for people to know there are hundreds of thousands of Pacific Kiwis and Pacific Australians who are born outside of the Pacific – and they identify with their adopted countries as well as their country of origin.
Our mainstream audience appreciate the magazine too as they learn more about Polynesian perspectives – that it’s more than just coconut trees and beaches. But learning about their Pacific friends growing up the same country as them but yet with very unique outlook on life.
When we first started out, I had a small team of friends. We did the same as what other people do in start up businesses: We begged, we borrowed, we bribed lol. That phrase “It’s who you know” couldn’t be more true. Thankfully I had friends and family who were either writers, contributors, photographers, graphic designers so that was great team-work right there.
That is why it is so important to network and especially social network. Many of my writers today are actually people I have met on twitter and instagram. I don’t really hire staff, I’m not rich yet! lol But the great thing is that media are looking for writers, and writers are looking for any platform to showcase their stories. Many are looking for experience and extra credits for their CV. It’s a win win.
The beauty of media also is that you can really story-write from home. Many of the major media networks like Fairfax are cutting down on staff purely because a lot of staff is not needed especially when you can work from home and ESPECIALLY when Social media is such a revolutionary tool now that has changed the face of media. What used to be the norm before for many media outlets was to go out and meet subjects face to face but many stories can be written purely by facebook and email exchanges.
Another important point is that I find my writers/contributors can write better when they are in their ‘zone.’ So if that zone is not an office, then I wouldn’t want them to be in an office of mine. I want the best stories so if they have less writers block being on a beach then so be it.
In saying that I do want ppl on board who are self-starters, disciplined and professional – people I don’t have to direct much. I have had instances where I have given media passes to so-called reporters wanting work experience only to have them not deliver. Like they hadn’t taken any photos or reported back but went to an event for the free food and wine. Trial and error and fault on my part I suppose, but yeah I have no tolerance for unprofessionalism.
I would say “SMALL” team is key. I have a core team of only 2-3 ppl actually. People I REALLY trust. These are the type of people you need to have on your team. People who believe your vision and people who are your friends too. People who are really loyal. I think loyalty is really important. When you have a team of people you can trust, you feed ideas off each other and it makes you really excited.
What also helps our culture is keeping to our mission statement of empowering, celebrating and inspiring. This helps guide us in terms of writing enticing content to publish. It’s satisfying when your readers know that they can just refer to our website for inspiration for they know that there will be content and subjects on there that will inspire and motivate them and make them think, “Hey if she can do that, so can I”.
I understand that throughout SUGA’s growth, you work (or have previously worked) fulltime as well. Now, that’s a power woman! Many women think starting a business AND working fulltime is impossible. But you did it! How did you juggle both and what is the secret?
I think it’s really important to know that when many of us are wanting to start up a venture, that it’s very common that you do not quit your day job so soon. You need your day job to bring in income and capital for your business. It’s really important to be realistic. I think this is a challenge for budding new start up owners world wide.
I still work part-time actually! And on the upper-end too ie. 30 hours a week. I am a solo mum so I have to work, I have no other choice. I don’t have that luxury of being a stay-at-home mum while hubby brings in the cash, if I did I would be doing so much more with SUGA!
But passion outweighs everything else. I enjoy writing so I squeeze it in during lunchtimes and after work if I can but mainly weekends.
I am still trying to suss out how I can make more money with online media to be honest. I think other media companies are figuring that out too. When Print media was dominated by digital media, a lot of media companies were left in the lurch. We all have to put our marketing hats back on. Its the same with me. When I was printing magazines, most of the money came from the advertisments in the magazine. But with online media, it seems a lot more difficult to sell because in my opinion it doesn’t have the same effect as a tangible ad you would see in print.
I think people need to know SUGA is not a money-making machine at this stage. But it doesn’t mean it can’t be. The brand is strong to our audience and we have some pretty big goals for 2017 in terms of more visibility. And we don’t mean click-bait. Niche media is always going to have it’s challenges. That’s why your passion has to be stronger than profit. If you’re in it for the money, than you’re in it for the wrong reasons! I am not interested in receiving funding either as I believe funding means more red tape and less creativity because we would then have to adhere to funders requirements and that doesn’t sit well with me because I would rather write whatever I want.
It’s a challenge but I love writing and I love media. So money doesn’t always bother me. I will continue to work and brainstorm ideas on that side of things. That’s why it’s always good to keep your options open. I would encourage people to consider multiple businesses. After all I am sure we have multiple interests right? I have started another venture on the side, my management agency Cecilia Sagote Management which actually derived from SUGA Magazine. I was profiling subjects in my magazine such as Pacific Actresses and musicians and then realised that these ppl didnt have managers. So I’ve stepped in to represent them as their agent. One actress I manage, scored a key role in a NZ Film Commission feature film and I got the 10% cut from that haha. That was my first ever booking. So I’m looking forward to booking more.
My point is, you don’t have to limit yourself to one business venture. Sometimes the business you start off with can correlate with another interest of yours.
A very strict routine! Our days starts at 6.30am and it’s a 12 hour day. It is very strict and rigid. My son is used to his early morning starts – as long as he goes to bed early he has no trouble getting up. I drop him to his before school care in the morning which he loves as his best friends are all there. He has school, I have work. I finish work, go to the gym etc if I can, then pick him up from after school care at around 6.30pm.
We go home, wash up and I make his lunch for the next day, do some reading with him and he goes straight to bed. We don’t have time to watch any tv or catch up with news. When he’s asleep I will spend another hour browsing SUGA Messages and search potential story topics. But really what I try to do is prepare my stories in the weekends and then I post them throughout the week.
I just have to say a big thank you to my son’s before and after school care minders who are now good friends of mine. They help me out so much! They work from home and drop him and the other kids to school and then do an after school pick up run. They actually do his homework and give him dinner before I pick him up in the evenings! It allows me to go to the gym after work if I want to or allows me to take my time going home from work as I take the car and train to and from work. They say to me they want to make things easier when I get home and they love and care for my son and all the kids. I am so grateful to them!
The nature of your business combined with your circumstances will determine whether you need to keep your job or not. I have a lot of business friends who are fortunate enough that their partners can work and bring in income while they stay home working on their business. So they can afford to. But if you’re single like me, I would recommend staying with your day job until you know when it’s time to quit. If that money comes rolling in, then you know you’ll need to quit lol.
Oh and all the time! Many people outside the Polynesian circles will not know that the Polynesian audience can be a tough, critical and many times an unforgiving audience. It’s always going to be a challenge for a Pacific young woman who is gutsy enough to create her own media platform especially when it comes to reporting on controversial topics in our community. I get trolled and cyberbulled a lot on social media but as long as I am thick skinned and I know it comes with the territory then I’ll be fine. My stories on empowering and inspiring Pacific people are forever misconstrued by a privileged, powerful first-class Pacific audience especially. You are NOT going to please everybody.
I guess it’s safe to say that we are a “leftie” media organistaion too. So for example if we are writing articles for the underprivileged or trying to be fair in our reporting, there willl always be backlash from the far-right Pacific. But to me, well somebody has to do it.
My move to Melbourne last year has actually helped in giving me a fresh new perspective for SUGA. I am hoping to launch SUGA TV for online audiences. Something like The View panel in America but for audiences in this part of the world. Melbourne has some amazing tv and production studios and sets so that’s what I’ll be looking into next. I believe people now need to meet us live lol. There are so many topics in the Pacific world that need to be spoken about more openly and some controversial topics too! It’s a great plan to make the SUGA brand more visible and will enhance the way we deliver our content in addition to just being online stories. I’m excited for this, God willing and fingers and toes crossed!
To visit SUGA’S site, visit: www.sugamagazineonline.com. We absolutely loved interviewing Cecilia and hope you were just as inspired as we were!