Marta Staudinger of LATELA Gallery shares with Start DC the top three lessons she’s learned as a founder.
In April, we checked out the “Collage” exhibit at LATELA, Marta Staudinger’s new Brookland art gallery and creative space. For part two of our LATELA feature, we have a chat with Staudinger herself.
As a quick recap on LATELA, the gallery first opened in November 2015, after Staudinger spent several months building her brand and services on the side. It as already hosted four exhibitions showcasing the work of local artists. The space was also voted DC’s best commercial art gallery by Washington City Paper in its 2016 reader poll. With these accolades abound, we were especially excited to catch up with Staudinger and hear her insights since starting her own (successful!) business. She shared three main lessons learned with us at Start DC:
#1: Learning to Say No
When starting a business, there is a phase when it’s good to say yes to everything that comes your way. This serves a great purpose, because I think when a person begins something creative, s/he really have to put him/herself out on the line to the public so that people understand the brand. However, you need to learn when the phase is over and you need to start saying no.
Many businesses—from banks to yoga studios—are focusing more and more on community involvement. So the best way to get yourself and your brand out there is by saying yes to potential collaborations. The first year of my brand, I did just that and it helped me network a lot. But it’s also exhausting; maybe 20-30% of the effort you exert actually comes back to be a productive or worthwhile collaboration.
When social networking reaches an overwhelming stage, it’s great to step back, re-evaluate, and start to be more selective about your engagements. Once I began saying no [to potential opportunities and collaborations], I felt less drowned in my work, I worked smarter with my time, and I felt more connected to my main goals and how I saw my company growing.
“You need to learn when the phase is over and you need to start saying no.”
How to Say No
I’ve now learned a few mechanisms to help me pass on the opportunities that I need to decline in order to stay on task.
- I have an email folder where I put all of the inquiries that really don’t fit my brand. Moving them out of my inbox allows me to reconnect to my daily tasks and not feel pressured by an idea that may not fit me or LATELA.
- I only do a coffee date if it’s beneficial to something I want to do in the near future.
- It’s fine to tell someone, “That’s a great idea, but doesn’t fit with my brand,” or to ask for more details. Don’t compromise your vision!
#2: Value Your Services and Your Time!- Nothing Can Be Free Forever
My first year of business, I spent so much time helping artists by providing free consultation services that when I finally made it part of the LATELA brand, these services had worth and notoriety.
In addition to offering free artist services on my own before starting LATELA, I curated the gallery’s first four exhibitions in various venues around Washington DC for free. Those exhibitions helped me grow the brand, and gave me social media content and organic engagement with a growing audience. I easily put in 60+ hour weeks working for free for months. As a result, when the LATELA gallery opened, it was easy to transition that work investment into artist consultation services and curatorial services.
Your time overall is also a hot commodity, so balancing your availability is key. When I first started networking with artists and venues that wanted to exhibit local art, a lot of my free time, energy, and knowledge went out into the world, even if I was “networking” rather than “working.” Every time you’re out networking or on a coffee date, that’s your free time, money, and knowledge, so value it as such! It can be difficult to look back at your weekly calendar on a Friday afternoon and see that you’ve survived a week full of meetings, but didn’t get anything on your to-do list done. This is still a struggle for me, but I’m learning to balance and protect my time.
For example, artists email me and visit the gallery all the time to pick my brain. They stop me walking on the street, ask me to wait as they pull up a picture of their recent work on their phone, and then ask me on the spot how to price the piece. I’ve learned that I need to step back and say politely that pricing is a professional service, and then give them my card or refer them to the website. As a business owner, you need to educate people and continuously remind them that your knowledge and services are not free.
“Every time you’re out networking or on a coffee date, that’s your free time, money, and knowledge, so value it!”
#3: Make sure that collaborations are beneficial to you
There is a huge power and respect between one business owner and another when both parties can benefit from collaboration and are willing to work hard for it. That’s the ideal scenario. Ideally, you meet another small business owner who does the hustle you know so well.
Unfortunately, sometimes people want to collaborate but aren’t willing to do the work. As a business owner I am a staff manager, project manager, accountant, promoter, event planner, and customer service provider—as well as an expert in my field. Make sure that you partner with people who are multi-faceted, too. Allow yourself to be mindful and selective when collaborating with fellow business owners, and allow time for evaluation so that you can step back if things aren’t going as planned.
LATELA is located on the Brookland Arts Walk—Studio #27, 716 Monroe St NE.