Not only is Eleanor Pendleton a pioneer of digital publishing – she created Australia’s first dedicated online beauty magazine, Gritty Pretty – but she’s an ardent champion of women in business. A natural-born entrepreneur and self-proclaimed human bullshit detector; she’s also one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet.
When we sit down to chat in a café on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, what strikes me about Eleanor is her beautiful energy, which is both genuine and calming. Quickly, I find that what you see is what you get. She’s a strong, smart, switched on leader who wants to make a difference, not only for the women who read her magazine, Gritty Pretty but for the wider community.
Eleanor’s sense of who her reader is – what “she” wants, her interests, and aspirations – is the very reason, I suspect, that Gritty Pretty has over 100,000 unique readers a month. It also boasts collaborations with some of the biggest brands in the beauty industry, Chanel and La Mer, to name but two. “The whole reason,” says Eleanor, “that the brand has grown or that the platform even has an audience is because we consider who ‘she’ is. I think some of the large corporations got to a point where it became so much about the bottom line, they really stopped knowing who the woman was who’d walk into the news agency and purchase.”
Taking the plunge
Eleanor’s story is well known. In the lead-up to becoming one of the youngest beauty editors in the country, Eleanor had the multi-talented Zoe Foster-Blake as a mentor. After cutting her teeth at Cosmopolitan, she had a stint as Beauty Editor at Famous, followed by another at InStyle magazine. Then, Eleanor says, “I guess I lost a little bit of the spark from my tone of voice.” It was at this point that she thought of becoming a freelance writer.
“I like writing in a conversational tone. It’s beauty, at the end of the day, so it should be light-hearted,” she says. “We’re not talking about a cure for cancer.” And so Eleanor decided to resurrect a much-loved blog she had started years earlier, Gritty Pretty; to write in her own tone and “purely as a creative outlet.’”
It was a tough decision to leave a full–time gig working on an international masthead, but Eleanor decided to freelance and work on Gritty Pretty as a side-hustle project. “Within four months, it started to pick up again. The audience returned, and the brands’ attention started moving back to Gritty Pretty. That is when I thought, ‘Okay. If I’m going to do it, now is the point.’”
Creating a business plan
Although it might appear to have come into the world fully hatched, creating the Gritty Pretty that we know and love today wasn’t exactly straightforward. While Eleanor had an entire vision for the business in her mind, it was her husband who insisted she sit and write a business plan. “At the time, I’m like, ‘No, no, it’s all in my head. I know what it’s going to be and how it’s going to work and how I will commercialise it so that I can get it off the ground.’ And he said, ‘No, you actually have to write one, babe.’ So, I followed his advice, and I’m so glad that I did.”
“Even though you might think you have a concept clear in your mind when you’re sitting there with a pen and paper writing a business plan, it forces you to consider a whole landscape. To analyse your competitors – I don’t like to use that word – or any platform that might be similar to yours. It forces you to really, really consider your point of difference objectively; and to consider any risks involved – financial ones in particular – and also what you can offer and how you offer it.”
Once Eleanor made the decision to start Gritty Pretty, there was no stopping her. “It was hard; really, really hard,” she recalls. “I was 25 at the time, so I had stamina and energy, and I think a level of naivety. I guess I just had the mentality: ‘Well, I’m just going to figure out how to do it.’”
The first step was finding the software that would house the digital publication that Eleanor envisioned. Once that was done, the next step was designing the templates for the magazine. “For every page you see, we probably designed maybe ten versions of it. My creative director and I spent a lot of time getting the aesthetic right.”
The other major challenge was – and sometimes still is – covers. “We’ve shot some amazing people. Even now, I’m not sure how we’ve managed to shoot these incredible women, but certainly, in the first four to six issues, it was quite difficult securing cover talent. For every person you see on a Gritty Pretty cover, probably, I don’t know, 20 or 30 said no.”
“At Gritty Pretty, an editorial is about celebrating beauty,” explains Eleanor. “Whether that person has created their own brand, believes in a certain beauty ethos, or is an ambassador for a brand, I’ve always really wanted the cover talent to feel that they are part of the collaborative process.”
Competing in the digital space and staying relevant
Gritty Pretty is technically still the only digital publication of its kind in Australia. We talk about the ever–changing nature of the digital landscape and the pressure to stay relevant. When I quiz Eleanor about how she deals with the constant threat of others jumping into the space, her answer is that of a true entrepreneur. “I’m very competitive with myself and have very high standards for my body of work. I don’t believe in competing with other platforms or other publishers; there is really have no time for it,” she adds. “I won’t look at other sites; I’m too busy running my own site.
But I’m always thinking, ‘How can I offer something different for my reader? She deserves something different.’ And that’s why I created the online magazine; why I later integrated the e-boutique; and why we created the salon directory. As a business owner, I like to adapt in response to the customer.”
Keeping the customer as the sole focus of the magazine can sometimes come at a cost, though. “Not every innovation works,” says Eleanor. “There have certainly been things you think, ‘That’s a good idea’, and then it turns out, no it’s not. And that’s all part of the learning.”
So where to next for Gritty Pretty?
“Right now, where we’re sitting, we’re definitely due for a redesign. I think when we launched the skin of the site, it was way ahead of its time. There was no other site that had a full–bleed image on the home page. Now, everyone has one, and it’s become a very standardised template.
“We’re going to look into resigning the site this year so we can launch next year. We want to improve the functionality of the site, the user experience, make things flow a little bit more. Integrate all of our beautiful videos in a much better way that does them justice, and just make it really nice and slick.”
And that’s one of the benefits of being a smaller, boutique business with a single owner. When the market calls for it, the Gritty Pretty team can be “really agile and really nimble”.
The right time to scale the business
When running a start-up, one of the hardest decisions is to know when – and how – to scale. Doing it too soon or too late can have dire consequences. Eleanor has been very deliberate about her decisions to grow Gritty Pretty. The focus, she explains, has been to make sure she not only could do so from a financial point of view but that the right people were being hired and her brand message was being shared from the start.
“I created a welcome deck essentially, and give it to anyone who joins our team,” Eleanor tells me. “It clearly states the values that we believe in.”
The values at the heart of Gritty Pretty are also Eleanor’s personal values, and they inform the business every day. “A brand will come to GP hoping to educate our reader on their product; technology and ingredients that they currently have as part of a product or a beauty range. Whenever we collaborate with a brand, it has to be a brand that our reader would definitely buy, so we frequently turn down work.”
“The second thing is obviously when working with a brand, it’s a partnership. Whatever we publish onsite has to be in our voice, our style. And I think, coming from an editorial background, that’s something you have to really hold on to.”
Eleanor’s journalistic integrity is admirable. Her business is a wonderful example of the importance of values and the role they play in knowing your ‘why’. “We decide – our journalists and our team decide – how we speak to ‘her’,” says Eleanor, referring to her readers. “If you’re going to work with us, you have to trust us on that.”
On being an influencer
As well as running her business, Eleanor is now considered an “influencer”. A role that increasing numbers of people, particularly young women, aspire to as a career choice. “That’s definitely a full-time job,” says Eleanor. Even though she could “very easily” give everything up and make a living that way, she assures me it’s something she would never want to pursue.
“It scares me because, at any given moment, it can change. Just as Instagram blew up in 2011 when it launched, something else can come along. The reason that scares me is that young girls are aspiring to have careers as influencers, but it’s not a certain career. There has to be something else, and I think as women, in particular, we have to empower ourselves.”
Eleanor offers this advice to anyone aspiring to be an influencer: “If you’re passionate about something, study it; if you’re interested in an industry, work in it. Have an employer, because what you can learn as an employee sets you up for the rest of your life!”
Think carefully before jumping into your side-hustle
“Don’t rush your business idea,” suggests Eleanor. “There’s a lot of pressure to get it out quickly before someone else does. Anything that’s a side hustle deserves time and attention. I also believe that you only get one opportunity to launch. You can always change and mould and adapt, but you do only get one instance where you kind of press ‘Go live’ and [your product or service] goes out to the world. So, take your time with it, be thorough with the plan. Writing a business plan is number one.”
Eleanor’s other suggestion would be to educate yourself on finance. “This is something I had to learn the hard way. I was always a words person; never a numbers person, ever. Numbers terrified me; they intimidated me.” She now recognises how limiting those beliefs were. “A lot of your childhood and your early years kind of set you up for how you approach money. But if you’re going to launch any business, you can’t be foolish enough to think that things are going to work out if you’re not across your finances.”
As far as Eleanor is concerned, “In business, you really have to know every dollar that comes in and every dollar that goes out. Platforms like Xero and MYOB are fantastic. There are so many amazing software programs that can help you manage your finances, do invoicing and so on. If you aren’t across all of that, your business will fail.”
On work/life balance
As a business owner, influencer, sought-after speaker, wife, daughter and now a mum, I wonder how Eleanor finds balance, or at least some “me time” in her life.
“I’m pretty good at taking my weekends off,” she says. “The ocean is a big part of my life. I grew up on the beaches, on the Central Coast [of New South Wales]. I have to go to the beach. If I don’t go every day, I go every second day, even in the winter. I’ll walk or sometimes just sit and get some ocean air. My husband surfs every day; I’ll occasionally surf and that, to me, is very, very grounding.”
Eleanor also prioritises exercise and will schedule it in her diary like any business meeting. Pilates and yoga classes are her “go-to”, and if it’s in the diary, then she knows she’s got to make that class. “Exercise helps me maintain some balance, but even with all of those different measures in place, it’s still really hard.”
Instagram and highlight reels
Our conversation has been free-flowing and I find myself full of admiration for someone who’s achieved so much in such a short time. So, it’s surprising – but also refreshing – to hear Eleanor’s admission that she’d never pretended to have it all together. “I certainly don’t,” she declares.
It’s also important for her to be honest when it comes to social media. How easy would it be for Eleanor to spruik the highlight reel! Let’s face it, for most people, Instagram is the highlight reel of life. But Eleanor owns up to having her fair share of frustrations and family issues. When people in her life get sick, or Eleanor needs to take time out and look after herself, she’ll take a break from social media. “I’ll generally probably fall back a little bit off Instagram. I definitely go through waves where I feel like I have to give my personal life more love and attention, and I will pull back.”
And the beauty indulgence we all need to try at least once?
It would be crazy to let this interview end without asking Eleanor this question. Rather than narrow it down to one, she generously suggested two.
“Everyone needs to try Omnilux once in their life. It’s an LED light therapy. It’s incredibly healing, amazing for jet lag or when your skin is very, very tired. It almost puts you to sleep because it’s very, very calming.
“The other one would probably have to be a four-hand massage: two therapists giving a full body massage. It’s super indulgent but pretty amazing.”
Eleanor gave birth to her first child, Banjo Wilde Wilson, in January 2020.
Spend another minute with Eleanor here
Check out the latest issue of Gritty Pretty
Follow Eleanor @eleanorpendleton