What I learned during Aurélie’s Gallery’s first year

What I learned during Aurélie’s Gallery’s first year

November 9, 2022

I launched Aurélie’s Gallery a year ago with just 3 photographers – 3 amazing people who trusted me with their work and decided to support me in this new adventure.

The road had been bumpy with a lot of false starts, delayed launch dates and website bugs. I was banging my head against the wall and thought the day would never come… and then, our website designer sent me a message saying the site was up and running!

I remember the moment clearly: I was out treat-or-tricking with friends’ kids up in Harlem in New York. Not the best moment to deal with work but there you have it – the life of a small business entrepreneur!

After years in advertising and fashion, organizing photo shoots, searching and hiring photographers for ad campaigns, curating photography portfolios and working on a photography magazine I had launched with a friend, I had met many talented photographers. I was looking for something new to do, a new challenge, a new project, a new way to work in photography, and the idea of having a gallery came naturally.

I thought at first of having a physical space, and although having a spot to call my own and model the way I saw fit was enticing, I also knew I would quickly hate having to go to a white cube, waiting for someone to walk in. Besides, the cost of renting a space was prohibitive for the self-funded start-up I was. The next best thing was to go online. (The covid pandemic only reinforced the need to have a virtual gallery, accessible anywhere at any time, free from time and space restrictions.)

Early on a friend of mine told me my job would be both art, commerce AND technology – truer words were never spoken! I learned so much these last 2 years! From SEO to social media, from e-commerce platforms to newsletters, from print on demand to shipping and sale tax… the learning curve has been steep at times and some topics remain quite obtuse despite my best efforts (I’m looking at you, SEO).  Technology constantly changes and evolves so there’s always something new to learn and try, which I enjoy. Work is never boring when you keep on learning new things!

 

There are plenty of things I would do differently if I did them today. Insight is 20/20 and all that jazz… But I do believe I did the best throughout the process with the information I had at the time. Regrets are a waste of time: to learn and move on is a much better use of my time!

What did I learn? Here are the Cliff Notes:

  • When starting a business geared to the general public, don’t underestimate how long it will take said public to notice you. Be ready for the long haul, and don’t get discouraged when you hear only crickets. Keep at it – time takes time.
  • Write a business plan (or better yet, work with a business consultant on one). Putting your ideas on paper will help you clarify your vision. It also makes your business idea feel more concrete and real.
  • Financial projections are important but be prepared for slow growth (or little growth, or even no growth!). Overnight successes don’t happen that often (and organic reach on social media doesn’t happen at all anymore – stop dreaming!). You need to invest in your company for it to exist. Put money aside for it, have a part-time job somewhere else… do what’s needed to give time for your company to find its footing while still paying your bills.
Portrait of Aurélie
  • Before launching, spend time creating a proper workflow and structuring your company. It’s not when you’re in the thick of it that you have time to work on the legalese of your contracts or figure out how to schedule your social media posts. Set things up before you put your baby out into the world.
  • Create as much content in advance as possible: blog posts, newsletters (even if you only have 5 people to send them to), social media posts, website pages, product descriptions, … Have as much of them ready early on so you have a leg up and can schedule ahead of time.
  • Contact everyone you know and invite them to follow you on social, sign up for your newsletter, spread the word, etc… Let’s be real here: your first few sales will come from friends and family, and that’s OK (big shout out to my friends and family!).
Aurélie and photographer Andre Baranowski
Aurélie and photographer Jimmy Katz
Aurélie and photographer Jazzmine Beaulieu
Aurélie and photographer Edwin Jimenez

From the initial 3 photographers we started with, we grew to now show 10 online exhibits! They span genres and styles, from landscapes to portraits, from Black and White to color photography. I knew some of the photographers from my previous career, working with them on ad campaigns or on my magazine; others approached me to work together, while some were recommended by friends.

The artists we feature come from different horizons and have very different styles. Yet, one thing remains, I love their work. There’s not one image here I don’t care about.

Stay tuned for more!

If you missed it, read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of how the gallery came to be.

Follow the blog for more of my adventures in entrepreneurship land!

Aurélie’s Gallery is 6 month-old!

Aurélie’s Gallery is 6 month-old!

May 9, 2022

Today is more or less our sixth-month anniversary. I say “more or less” because we had so many false starts when it came to launching the website, so many delays, bugs and revised timelines, we ended up with the softest of soft launches.

When people ask what the best and worst things about launching my online photo gallery are, it’s easy to know the worst part: creating the website has been the most challenging part of the process. I am not a coder, nor particularly fluent in geek-speak, so I’ve felt very lost.

Finding myself so dependent on technology (and one I have very little understanding of) has been a huge adjustment. As a friend of mine told me early on, “Your business rests on both art and technology.” I didn’t fully hear her then, but I sure do now!

And now for the fun part of having this gallery: I love being able to share my love of photography! It’s as simple as that.

I’ve always loved photography (maybe because my childhood bedroom was covered in Sarah Moon’s images?). I love its immediacy and intimacy. It’s the most ubiquitous art form, one that speaks to most people. I feel photography has become a “lingua franca,” a universal language by which we all communicate.

I am also happy and honored to champion photographers whose work I love.

Coming from the advertising and fashion photo industry, I don’t recognize the usual barriers the art world sets up. There if you don’t have the right pedigree (read: education and/or connections), your work is devalued (or, at least, not as valued).

For me, what matters is my response to the images. The curation is personal – I love every image I am showing; it is not calculated according to the art world’s rules and expectations.

Aurélie at work

Lastly, I love the freedom I enjoy. It’s a huge privilege. Freedom to feature who I want, to work from anywhere in the world, to create this new business from scratch – making lots of mistakes along the way, for sure, but loving every second of it.

So, here’s to our first 6 months! I can’t wait to continue to grow and develop Aurélie’s Gallery. See you around!

 

If you missed it, read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of how the gallery came to be.

Follow the blog for more of my adventures in entrepreneurship land!

How Aurélie’s Gallery came to be (last part)

How Aurélie’s Gallery came to be (last part)

October 21, 2021

We’ve been busy rebuilding the website. As painful as it is and as frustrating the delay is, at least I’m getting to know WordPress quite well!

I have to say that, one of the things I enjoyed the most about putting this business together has been learning new things. I’ve never been a techie but I am starting to understand how it works and to be able to figure things on my own, and that’s immensely rewarding!

November 1, 2021

We’re live!! Woowoo… although, to be honest, it’s a very soft and subdued launch.

Between the website’s unpredictable hiccups and having still to contend with Covid, I didn’t feel like organizing an event. It’s not the launch I had envisioned, but at least we’re on!

We will have a party later, but now everything feels too tentative and complicated. Once things are more settled (and the health crisis is under control), I want to have a series of pop-up events, setting up a few days in NY, LA, Paris, etc… Wherever I can find a cheap space and I know people!

I already have a million ideas on how to run the events – fingers crossed I’ll be able to start them in the next few months.

A open bottle of champagne

December 1, 2021

The first results are in: we got a lot of positive feedback (and some orders!). I am very happy with the 3 exhibits we started with. I think it’s a great mix.

Lori’s images of horses are stunning and different from what you usually see in “animal portraiture” (is there such a thing? I’m sure there is!). Andre’s nature photography couldn’t be lovelier – just looking at it you can feel the touch of the sun on the flowers and the breeze in the leaves. And Martin’s minimalist images of suburban development around the world are intriguing. His work raises many interesting questions about globalization and uniformity.

I’m forever grateful to them for trusting me with their images and believing in my project.

January 2, 2022

It will be interesting to see how things develop. We launched so late we were not really able to benefit from a full holiday shopping season. Fine art prints take time to make so we cut it close for people to get theirs on time. Even the home & work accessories in the Gift Shop are made on-demand, which means it takes a couple of weeks to get them… Not ideal when you’re competing with businesses that promise next-day delivery!  

We also can’t compete with cheap companies. I don’t have $50 prints – that’s not what we do. We will diversify in the coming months to offer a wider price range, but I know I’ll never be able nor want to compete with the “cheap & fast” companies.

I believe there’s a place for the gallery and what we offer. There’s a place for quality and uniqueness. We just need to find not only our audience but also our customers. They’re out there, I know it. After all, I’m out there! 😉

Portrait of Aurélie in front of a wall of photographs

If you missed it, read Part 1 and Part 2.

Follow the blog for more of my aventures in entrepreneurshipland!

Aurélie’s Gallery video introduction

Aurélie’s Gallery video introduction

A funny thing happened when I decided to launch the gallery. I got super-crazy camera shy! Kind of a problem when you’re supposed to be the face of your company, isn’t it?

Here’s a little video I shot early on that I am finally releasing. Be kind – don’t forget, being in front of a camera petrifies me! 

Let’s not forget the wonderful artists who believe in me and the gallery.

I (obviously) couldn’t do this without them! 

Portrait of a white horse, photographed against a black background
Shaded and flowery spot in a park
White fireplace against a wall in construction
A woman dancing in a wheat field on a sunny summer day
Portrait of Ornette Coleman
Japanese temple reflected on a lake

How Aurélie’s Gallery came to be (part 2)

How Aurélie’s Gallery came to be (part 2)

February 1, 2021

Today, I announced on social media the upcoming launch of the gallery!

The response was wonderful – so many people congratulating me and making the jump to follow the gallery’s page. I am truly humbled by the outpouring of support.

I am also freaked out! I started to worry people were going to be disappointed and that I was not going to live up to their expectations. And putting out into the world made it all too real; I can’t just take my sweet time anymore – I said the gallery will launch in the spring so it needs to be!

I spent the last few months working on this, learning a ton about marketing, social media, entrepreneurship, sales tax and all that fun stuff. Except for my close friends, no one knew was I was doing, I was flying under the radar in my little bubble. That time is over: people now know, and I’d better deliver!

Although I had a freakout moment after making the announcement, I know I needed to take that step. I had to dive in, otherwise, I would have spent the next 6 months researching and tweaking things ad nauseam. At some point, you need to go into the world!

February 8, 2021

As soon as I made my big splashy announcement, I learned the website would take a lot more time than anticipated! We went from launching in the spring to launching whenever the site will be ready.

Pushing the launch creates a whole set of problems: from having to revise the exhibit calendar to cutting our yearly revenue (but not our expenses!), from having to sustain people’s interest during that extended gestation period to reassuring the photographers who already signed up…

The setback really crushed me. It felt like the rug got pulled from underneath me. I was so looking forward to launching, to making this dream a reality, and it was exciting to feel I was getting closer…

[2022 Insight: I now realize my expectations were completely unrealistic. I had no sense of how long building a custom site takes and didn’t do due diligence to really understand what I was getting into. Lesson #1: when venturing to new territories, like coding and websites are for me, ask questions. And then ask some more questions, and some more, until you feel you have a bit of a grasp of what’s happening.]

February 19, 2021

Onward and (hopefully) upward. I’m busy working on the non-fun part of the business – the business plan, financial planning and other fine print stuff. [2022 Insight: although I found financial projections utterly pointless since there’s no way to know or even guess how much sales you will do, listing all the expenses your new business will face is incredibly helpful. Sobering, but helpful.]

I looked for new online groups to join. As a producer, I was part of a few amazing groups who would freely share their knowledge and resources, no strings attached.

So imagine my disappointment when the female entrepreneurs’ groups I joined turned to anything but.

First, it felt like 99% of the people there were business/ marketing/ social media consultants. How many consultants does the world need? (no offense to consultants, some are incredibly helpful and insightful, particularly the one we worked with putting this business together, Stuart Goldstein!).

Secondly, most of the posts were either motivational a la, “you go, girl!” (empty words when you’re looking for concrete answers on how to launch and run your business), or sale pitches!

What was most disheartening though was how unprofessional and amateurish so many people sounded like. From cutesy avatars to bad selfies, from dated graphics and imagery to emoticons overload, most people did not know how to present themselves properly, even said consultants!

It’s a shame because online groups can be incredibly helpful and uplifting. I’ll just need to find the right ones! 

PS: If you know any good ones, leave them in the comment below! Thank you!

April 15, 2021

I’m busy working on gathering all the content we need for the website, the images, price lists, descriptions, and artists’ statements. All the while working on creating some ads on social media to reach more people.

It is very interesting to see the platforms through this new angle. I never ran an ad before so I have a lot to learn. Me being me, I much prefer the creative part of the job to the analytical one. It’s fun designing ads and writing copy. It’s much less fun (at least for me) to look at charts and try to decipher them to define my next step.

As much as advertising has evolved and improved since its early days, what David Ogilvy said 70 years ago still rings true today: “When you spend $1 on advertising, fifty cents go to waste – the problem is that we don’t know which fifty cents.”

That harsh truth used to make me laugh when I worked in advertising. Now that I’m an advertiser, not as much! Oh, how the table turned! 

Aurélie at her desk

May 25, 2021

Our developer works on a separate server, which got hacked yesterday. When she was able to finally go back in, the damage was extensive. A lot of her coding got messed up, images disappeared, links got broken. It’s a terrible setback and another delay.

I’m so upset, I don’t even know what to say.

I know in the long run it doesn’t matter if I launch in May or July or even in the fall. These are self-imposed deadlines no one is really holding me up to (I’m forever grateful to the photographers who said yes early and wait so patiently and graciously for me to get this website up and out). What matters is that people love (and buy) the photographs I’ll feature.

But it’s hard to not feel discouraged. When is this thing finally going to launch? Will it ever? Urgh…

June 3, 2021

Social media: the thing I enjoy and dread in equal measure!

I did a Story today on Instagram to announce a new post about a photographer I love, Gregory Crewdson. I felt sleek and smart… until hours later (hours!), when a friend sent me a screenshot of my Story, which was just a blank space. The image was not visible for whatever reason.

I was so embarrassed and upset. I know I’m not a digital native, but, come on! That was such a rookie mistake (but I’m after all still kinda new at Stories – I’m a late adopter, what can I say?). I felt so deflated, and thought I would never figure social media out… But then, something amazing happened!

Screenshot of my Instagram post about Gregory Crewdson

Gregory Crewdson liked my post about his work (!!!). [Granted, it might have only been someone from his studio, not him in person, but hey! That still counts!]

I was so thrilled and giddy, I was jumping up and down (in my head at least).

So, here was, in a nutshell, my relationship with social media: terrible and wonderful, all at the same time!

*For people unfamiliar with Gregory Crewdson, he’s a fine art photographer who stages eerie scenes in suburban locations. His work is strange, moody and melancholic – I love it! Read my post here.

June 10, 2021

Seeing the mockup of the website today. There’s still a lot to be finalized but I can (almost) see the launch!

On another note, I’m going through a bit of soul searching here. You see, I knew from the beginning I wanted the gallery to be very personal (that’s why I used my first name for it). This gallery is an extension of myself, of the years I spent working in the photo world, and of the many talented photographers I met along the way.

When putting the business together, it was clear to me I had to be the face of the business. It was not an ego trip. It was just this self-evident truth: I am Aurélie’s Gallery and Aurélie’s Gallery is me.

Aurélie as a smiling kid

But I now find myself fighting against doubts and stage fright. Granted, I’ve never been comfortable before a camera, but this is next level. As soon as I said I will be the face of the company, my old fears and shyness came rushing back and were like, “Ummm, are you sure?”

By the time you read this, I might have gotten over it. Or I might not. Only time will tell (so stay tuned!).

PS: this is a photo of me as a kid, before shyness and doubts settled in. I gotta go back to that kid!

July 22, 2021

What do you do when things are different from what you had envisioned? I had to undergo a major adjustment while working on starting the gallery.

You see, as a producer on photo shoots, I was used to being in control and having backup plans for all contingencies that came my way. I work with a tight-knit group of people who I know and trust. We all jump through crazy hoops to meet deadlines and budgets… no matter how impossible they are!

But with the gallery, I had to give some of that control to people who can do things I clearly cannot do, like our fine art printer who does beautiful prints, or our web developer who is painstakingly coding our site as we speak.

As a producer (and Capricorn), not being in control of all aspects of the gallery has been quite the adjustment! (read: I’m driving everyone crazy)

Am I the only one who has trouble giving away control? I can’t be, right?

August 20, 2021

Our server crashed, wiping out most of the site, the coding, images and text. The backup is buggy so we basically have to start from scratch. Our September launch date is now pushed to whenever.

To say this is devastating is an understatement.

Maybe I should give up.

[Spoiler alert: I didn’t]

 

Stay tuned for Part 3. Will I be able to launch? Won’t I? (well, we’re on the website so you know I did, but it was not without some more ups and downs!)

If you missed it, read Part 1 here.