The dire state of magazine publishing was no deterrent for 23-year old Claire Dunne, who started Graziher, a quarterly magazine dedicated to women in rural Australia, while living on her family's property in rural Queensland.
Claire grew up on Wooroona Station, a cattle property a couple of hours drive west of Rockhampton, near the small town of Duaringa. Like many country kids, she completed her secondary education at boarding school, The Cathedral College in Rockhampton, heading home for holidays and long weekends as often as she could.
On finishing her HSC, Claire enrolled in a Bachelor of Communication Design at the Queensland College of Art at Brisbane's South Bank. “It was essentially graphic design," she says. “I completed a year and a half of that, wasn't enjoying it and wanted to take time off so I put that on hold and moved home to work as a station hand on the family cattle property. I was only meant to stay for six months, but I ended up staying for three years."
While at QCA, one of her lecturers encouraged her to read widely rather than just focus on texts about design, colour and typography. She discovered Tim Ferris's book The Four Hour Work Week - which planted a seed in her mind, the concept of creating her own unique business. “Before that, I had no intention of starting anything like that, your own thing, but I liked his approach. I followed other blogs, and fed off the ideas of validating and bootstrapping philosophies - that's where it all started."
STARTING A BUSINESS WAS FRONT OF MIND
Her interest in entrepreneurship and goal to one day start her own business was still front-of-mind when Claire headed off to travel in Canada and New Zealand for eight months. “The three years I was at home I was always thinking of something I could start, how I could create something I could work on part time but still work on the farm. Then I went away to Canada and I was introduced to a lot of young women working on farms, which wasn't something you saw a lot of in Australia, especially not in Queensland."
Claire followed her partner, whom she met at the Calgary Stampede, back to his dairy farm in New Zealand and worked there for a while before going back to the family farm in Queensland.
She then started looking for a mentor and tried her hand at freelance journalism. She met a lot of women who were working in agriculture, which opened her eyes to the diversity of rural and regional women, but she but always struggled to find a place for the stories she wanted to write.
Though Claire says there was no single 'Eureka moment', eventually all the ideas around starting her own business and women in agriculture germinated into: "Why don't I just try and do some sort of publication, a magazine and community for [rural] women?"
Eschewing a formal business plan, Claire set out to validate her idea by starting a blog as a side project, interviewing and writing about women she connected with via social media.
“I didn't just start and invest a lot of money on a whim. I validated the idea by starting a blog for six months, just to see if there was interest in it, and there was."
From there she opened pre-orders for the first edition of Graziher, a magazine telling the stories of rural women across Australia.
“The idea of a pre-order is that if no one was interested I wouldn't go ahead with the idea but I got enough pre-orders and advertising to order the first print run," she says.
RESONATING WITH THE AUDIENCE
While Claire came close to giving up on the whole thing a few times, “I never can remember thinking, 'I shouldn't do a print magazine because print is dead,''" she says.
“I think that niche media, niche printing particularly, has its space and that's what Graziher is doing. [Once the first edition was done] I then said that I would do three editions and if it wasn't being successful, I probably would just stop it."
Although Claire's publishing experience amounts to half a graphic design degree, a 12-week journalism course and a stint in freelance journalism, right from the get-go Graziher had a polished feel to it; something she can only put down to “having always been a big reader of magazines."
And it resonated with her audience. After a low-key launch via social media on International Rural Women's Day in October 2015, the first print run of 3,000 sold out fast and Claire quickly started to expand. The first and second issue relied on volunteer freelancers to write many of the features; but by the third edition Claire could start paying freelance writers and photographers for their contributions.
Bringing in someone in to handle the advertising side of the business was the next priority and now Claire does the graphic design and writes a few stories each issue, with the bulk of the magazine commissioned to a large and growing stable of freelancers. Claire is now working on issue number seven and paying herself a full-time wage from the business.
“How could I create something I could work on part time but still work on the farm?"
SOMETHING TO GROW INTO
Since the success of Graziher, Claire has often been invited to talk at events, something she finds a real challenge.
“I'm very shy and I'm not great at networking but I get invited now to talk at a lot of ladies' events, which is a bit surreal because I think, 'What can I talk about? I'm not interesting.' That's something I've had to grow into a bit but I'm slowly getting better at it."
As entrepreneurial as she was when she started the magazine, Claire is looking to keep building the business, reach new people and new markets and says she'd love to start another niche magazine.
She may even do a New Zealand edition of Graziher so she can see more of her partner - and hasn't ruled out the possibility of going back to university. “I enjoy studying and learning and I think, maybe not the next two years, but maybe down the track I'd be really interested in studying something."