A change of living

Yasmin Maassarani – Contemporary Living Magazine

IF YOU wanted to bring out a new glossy magazine dedicated to lifestyle, Cavan might not be the place to spring to mind. Hard headed, business-minded Cavan men and women wouldn’t be swayed by modern personal preoccupations, you would think.

Perhaps Dublin’s southside would be a better bet. You’d be wrong. For the past seven years Contemporary Living magazine has been plying its trade in the drumlins of Cavan and surrounding counties.

The magazine is the brainchild of Yasmin Maassarani. She conceived the idea while still working in publishing in England and moved to Cavan to make it happen. She did have a close connection to Cavan as her mother hails from near Cavan town, while her father is from Syria.

So what is ‘Contemporary Living’ magazine? “It’s a monthly lifestyle magazine, with 10 issues per year including two combined 10 issues at the middle and end of the the year,” says Yasmin.

“The magazine itself has lots of different editorial platforms, focusing on homes and gardens, fashion, food and drink, interiors and so on. Each month’s editorial tends to flow with the seasons.”
The magazine is a free distribution publication centred on Cavan but also covering parts of Fermanagh, Monaghan and Meath.

The idea for the magazine originated in the early years of the new millennium when on a visit to Cavan after a number of years Yasmin noticed how changed the county had become with the prosperity brought on by the ‘Celtic Tiger’ phenomenon.

“All of a sudden there were lots of interesting family-run businesses that were focused on the lifestyle aspects of living. I felt that there was an opportunity for a publication to tie in with the developments on the local main streets.”

Yasmin didn’t rush into the business and she had a good job in Liverpool to consider. She planned out her next moves. “I subscribed to the local paper here in Cavan, the Anglo Celt, and had it delivered to me so that I could get a look as what was happening and at the local advertising developments. I spoke to the Cavan Enterprise Board to see if there were any supports available.

“I was used to writing business plans from my work in launching niche publications with the Trinity Mirror group. So I put together a business plan and finally decided to take the plunge. I had already invested so much time and energy thinking about the idea that I thought I would regret it if I didn’t give it a go.”
That was in January 2002 and so ‘Contemporary Living’ was born. But while launching publications was already in her range of skills, one vital element was missing: sales experience.

Yasmin had worked with many salespeople in selling advertising in the publications that she had worked in. Indeed, she was in charge of many of the features and sections that are the bread and butter of local newspapers. But she hadn’t actually done the selling herself.

“In my old job it was a case of sitting down with the sales team to decide on what would work. We would have editorial that had integrity about it but that was also a platform for making money so that gave me a good business sense.

“And then when I decided to go ahead with the venture, I sat down with one of the sales executives and asked her to give me an intense sales session. She gave me advice on how to approach clients and so on. But a lot of the initial selling was seat-of-the-pants stuff -just going for it.”

Yasmin also did a course on typesetting so that she could do that aspect of the business as well in order to keep the overheads down.

When the magazine was launched, she found the going tough. Cavan was already well served by the Anglo Celt newspaper and the Northern Sound radio station and many of the local advertisers Yasmin spoke to didn’t see the need for anything different. She managed to persuade some of the more established businesses that they needed to differentiate themselves more in a crowded market place and that Contemporary Living would do that for them.

She used her own savings to fund the venture and she worked full time on it. She gave up her job in Liverpool and moved to Cavan. She also did a 10 week evening course with Cavan Enterprise Board in order to familiarise herself with Irish business and tax practices.

Yasmin suffered a bit of a culture shock dealing with Cavan business people. In London she was used to dealing with high-flying legal firms and her dress code and approach was very smart and formal. She took the same approach in Cavan which raised a few eyebrows.

“People here are just so much more relaxed, which is a joy. Particularly when you’re dealing with small businesses. A small kitchen fitting company, for example, might be based in a garage at the back of a house and they’re clearing a bit of a dusty table in order to talk about advertising. And then I show up in a suit with a briefcase! I don’t know what they must have thought of me?

“People here want to know a little bit about you and they want to tell you a little bit about themselves. It’s really nice, and has helped me to develop really close relationships with my clients.”
In fact, Yasmin sees this friendliness as the key to her business approach. She doesn’t believe that programmes like ‘The Apprentice’ reflect real business practice, where people jostle for position and back-stabbing is lauded.

“In real life, in order to be successful in business, you have to be a nice person,” she says with a laugh. “I think, to be successful, you have to be interested in your clients and show an interest in their business. If you do, people realise that you’re genuine, they warm to you and they’re more likely to do business with you.

Yasmin has some advice for young people thinking of setting up their own businesses.
“With all this talk of doom and gloom, and even talk again of emigration, young people should remember that small and medium sized enterprises employ most of the people in this country. If you set up your own business you are in charge of your own destiny and your own future.

“If you’re employed by a large multinational, you really have no long-term job security, as has been proven. If you’re working for someone else there are less opportunities to develop your ideas; they have to be approved by someone else and are likely to end up diluted.

“From a personal point of view you can expand and grow your business to suit yourself. If you have your own business you are in control, including control of your work-life balance.”