Since 2002 Leslie Lounsbury, an educator by trade, has travelled all over the world in search of positive and inspiring stories for SAY Magazine. Through her travels she discovered stories of Indigenous people from all over the world, and found the opportunity and felt the responsibility to give a voice to those who might not otherwise be heard.
Originally from Wabowden, Manitoba, a semi-remote community south of Thompson, Manitoba (before Thompson even existed), Leslie has always called Manitoba home. As a youngster, she lived all over Manitoba, moving frequently due to her father’s career as a railroad worker and later on due to her own career ventures as both a farmer and a teacher.
Leslie spent 35 years working in education – teaching in the community college system in Brandon, Manitoba, and as an editor
of career and education tabloids. When asked why she chose to start a publication dedicated to Indigenous and Native American people, she said, “As a Métis person, I was always unhappy about the amount of attention that native people got in the education system. I also felt that in my day (and I’m not a young person) that the emphasis was on negative stories, not on positive. I knew I would retire at 55 and thought that I would like to write positive stories and make people more aware, and hopefully educate them, as to what really was happening.”
As Leslie began her journey in search of places that would publish good Indigenous news stories, she was disappointed to
find that there were very few. Additional requests for funding were turned down and Leslie began to get discouraged. “By now I’m getting cranky,” said Leslie. Recognizing the need for a publication like SAY Magazine, she looked beyond government funding and reached out to her network, and with the help of Aboriginal Business Canada, Leslie received the funding required to start her magazine. In 2002, and after seven years of research, work and planning, Leslie founded SAY Magazine and that summer the very first issue was published.
New SAY Magazine Co-Publishers Dominick Blais and Kent Brown were fortunate enough to sit down with Leslie for a candid interview to learn more about the publisher’s experiences as an entrepreneur in the magazine industry and how SAY Magazine came to be.
SAY Magazine: Why did you call the magazine SAY? What was the reason?
Leslie: At first, we could not figure out how to name this thing. SAY took a long time. We tried a couple of other names and when we checked them online they were not the kind of background that we wanted for our magazine. We wanted something about spirit and aboriginal and youth, and so one day a member of our team said, “well spirit, aboriginal and youth, if you look at the acronym, it’s SAY!” and that was it.
SAY Magazine: How did the first issue come together? How did you decide who to feature on the first cover?
Leslie: I was still working for the government in Brandon and Jordin Tootoo was playing hockey for the Brandon Wheat Kings at that time, and actually, I knew Jordin and his brother and knew he was a good spokesperson for young people. So we asked him to be the spokesperson for the magazine by being on the cover. That was a great choice. He was a very influential young man. Of course, even better all these years later, he’s matured into a fine young man.
SAY Magazine: Looking at your earliest magazine, the logo was really different. What initiated the change?
Leslie: Well, we were expanding into the United States, and we realized we needed to target a wide range of youth and we needed the [magazine] to be more native, so when we changed the ‘A’ to a teepee – we felt it better represented the spirit of American Indian Youth. It just all seemed to fit.
Starting a Business
SAY Magazine: What are some things young people should consider when thinking about starting a business?
Leslie: I have got to tell you, there are certainly some challenges that all entrepreneurs face, especially young entrepreneurs. The whole idea of just ‘going into business for yourself and you will be successful’ is not realistic. You need some business experience, some business background, and you better have some people who can help mentor you. We’ve all seen way too many people, not just young people, go and get a loan for a business start-up, and within two years they’re broke because they never learned what it really means to run a business. And part of the problem in our community, both on the American side of the border and on the Canadian side of the border, is that everyone gets pushed into things. I taught business for a while and spent a lot of time teaching young people what to look for. But they get preoccupied with the glamour of it. It’s important to develop yourself, develop your concept and develop your business.
SAY Magazine: Would you say that many entrepreneurs will experience failure several times before they really experience success?
Leslie: Unfortunately, yes. I remember one time, at an economic development conference in Saskatoon, a woman presenting at the event was saying, ‘I can get you up and start your own business in two weeks. You tell me what you want to do and in two weeks you’ll know your business name and you will have a corporation ready to go.’ I was really upset by that! The concept is not how quickly I can get a business set-up, it’s how long will it take me to understand what it is I’m supposed to be doing. And that’s the key. It’s not age. It’s not maturity. It’s thinking a little deeper – you’re not ready if you’re still asking a lot of questions. Some questions; however, are always a good thing.
I mean, it hurts me when I see these young people come out of a business course and attempt to start up a business on their reserve with very little help. And two years later they are broke and they haven’t been able to progress. It’s a shame for them and for the community, but people have to realize that it takes time to develop the person and the skills.
SAY Magazine: How important is it for a young entrepreneur to have a mentor and/or someone to help guide them?
Leslie: It is so important, especially for those coming from the reserve. Not all the reserves, but some of the reserves, don’t have the knowledge or support. It’s not that they’re unaware; it’s just that they haven’t been exposed to enough business education to support promising entrepreneurs. And yet we do find people in our community who have been very successful, but they spend their energy working on their business and often don’t have a lot of time or resources to help others. It’s really important to find someone with experience to bounce ideas off of.
SAY Magazine: Looking back, what are some of the mistakes you made along the way?
Leslie: I certainly thought, as an educator, I would be able to offer people an opportunity. One of my major errors at
the beginning (one of many) was thinking that I could start offering help early on. Experience now tells me that first you get
a successful business up and running and make sure everything is in order before you offer help and opportunities for other people. It takes a lot of time to nurture others, but as a business owner you need to keep that business going. It takes a lot of dedication, long hours and hard work.
SAY Magazine: When you started SAY Magazine, you already had quite a bit of experience. What words of advice can you offer to someone looking to gain experience?
Leslie: Well, I’m fortunate to have had a lot of experience, but I learned a lot through volunteering with many groups including the credit union system, and working with a variety of companies. I looked at countless business plans, learning from real businesses and how they failed or succeeded. There are always things to learn, and experience is really critical.
SAY Magazine: Did you ever feel like quitting? What was the motivation that kept you going?
Leslie: Yes, but maybe it was stubbornness. I’d invested so much in this, and it was something that my family and friends enjoyed as well. We were proud of it and the feedback we got was tremendous. It was just that the feedback wasn’t always from advertisers, and we needed to pay bills. It’s great if people love your product, but you have to be making money to pay your bills. This is something young entrepreneurs need to remember: know where your revenue is coming from because you can’t live a dream very long before you start getting quite hungry.
SAY Magazine: Were you surprised at how much work owning your own business would be?
Leslie: I was! I knew it was going to be a lot of work, but I was surprised at how much. I was thinking about this interview and thinking back about 4 years when this business overtook my life. I would wake up at 2 in the morning and just wake up and spend 2 hours writing a list of things that needed to be done. Having a start-up business is tough. When you start something, anything from scratch, it’s very difficult. At the beginning, there were times when I barely had enough money for groceries. I had to understand, it was not me; it was the creator telling me it was going to be ok.
This was something no one had done before and so it took a while for people to catch on, but after 4 or 5 years, we were still doing it and the response was really positive. It got easier.
Stay tuned for part two of Leslie’s story in SAY Magazine’s Economic Development issue.