Garance Dore Altitude Summit

One of the highlights of Altitude Summit NYC 2013 was Garance Doré’s keynote presentation, “10 Things I Wish Had Known When I Started My Business.” The French self-taught illustrator, HTML coder, photographer, video presenter, and writer started her eponymous blog in 2006 while living in the South of France. June 19th then, as she told us, marked her seventh blog-iversary. She began blogging at the age of 30, as she put it, as “a not very successful illustrator.”

The rest is, shall we say, history. I found her “10 Things I Wish Had Known When I Started My Business” to be not only sage (like lesson number 07), but surprising (like lessons numbers 02 and 08), and extremely refreshing (like lesson number 03 – her rules attraction). This was my first time hearing Ms. Doré speak, and I was very impressed. In appreciation of her sharing, I want to share what she had to say, to pay it forward.

10 Things I Wish Had Known When I Started My Business, by Garance Doré

Lesson 01. You’re a business – even if you think you’re not. When Garance’s first illustration was published in a magazine, she received $200 for it. One illustration, however, took her a week. She immediately realized that the amount of money she needed would require her to do one illustration in, instead of one week: two hours. She started her blog as a daily sketchbook to catalog her efforts and growth as an illustrator. Lesson: figure out how much time you’re spending on whatever you’re doing and then figure out how much your time is worth, as in: how much you need to make. Now recalculate how much time you should be spending on your work. You’re a business – even if you think you’re not.

Garance Dore Altitude Summit

Lesson 02. You CAN’T do it on your own. Like many small business owners, Garance works from home. It was a hurdle for her at first, but she got over the conceptual weirdness of having someone come to her home at 9:00 in morning during the week. To transition toward NOT doing it on your own, rather than taking on someone full-time, she suggests considering having someone help you for two hours a week to start. Lesson: taking on an assistant changed her life and made her blog grow in leaps and bounds. You can’t do it all on your own.

Garance Dore Altitude Summit

Lesson 03. The Three Rules of Attraction are: 1) Arrive on time. 2) Arrive smiling. 3) Do what needs to get done. Arriving on time shows you value your time and the time of those you’re working with. Arrive smiling. Positivity and gracefulness are the core values of everything she does. Do what needs to get done. Know when something is needed. There are no lowly tasks. Here’s how you make sure the people you hire (see lesson number 02) have these three rules of attraction. Since it’s impossible to gauge these qualities in an interview when everyone is on their best behavior, ask a potential hire to come in and help you for an hour or two and see how it goes. Ask them to do crazy things – put them to the test. Ask them for a glass of vodka at 8:00 in the morning. Lesson: on time, smiling, get it done.

Garance Dore Altitude Summit

Lesson 04. Make it fit. Build your brand and your office lifestyle around your personal lifestyle. Ignore what should be. Instead of 9 to 6, make your office hours 11 to 8 if those hours are better suited to your success. Inviting people into your world  (see lesson number 02) will help you develop your brand culture and flesh out what works for you. Lesson: built your brand around your personal lifestyle – make it fit for you.

Garance Dore Altitude Summit

Lesson 05. Stay in touch with what’s going on but don’t jump on every trend. Think about how much time pursuing a new trend will cost you – whether it’s launching a new app or whatever the latest “new” new thing is. It’s important to observe what others in your sphere are doing, but it’s also important not to always react. When you do react and decide to launch something new, make it something big. Lesson: play it cool. If and when you decide to make a move, act from the heart and make a big move.

Garance Dore Altitude Summit

Lesson 06. Branch out, but stay on the same tree. Your creative freedom is what creates the link between you and your readers. With so much freedom, how do you stay focused and ensure consistent income? You have to build different streams of income. Garance sells her illustrations, takes on illustration commissions, and works with affiliates. Lesson: don’t be a slave to one source of income.

Garance Dore Altitude Summit

Lesson 07. Three things that sound like a Taylor Swift song but are important to remember: 1) Haters are gonna hate. 2) No is not a bad word. 3) Prove yourself every day for the rest of your life. Haters are gonna hate. So do what Doré calls “the Ostrich.” Put your head in the sand and wait for the “hater” storm to blow over. Don’t take it seriously. And no is not a bad word. The more successful you are, the more people will ask you to do things. What you say no to is as important as what you say yes to. And prove yourself every day for the rest of your life. Ask yourself every day, how can I be better and improve myself? Lesson: do the Ostrich, saying no is just as important as saying yes, and be better every day.

Garance Dore Altitude Summit

Lesson 08. Don’t network! Instead of networking (which is by definition fairly scattershot in nature), identify the people that really interest you. Follow their work and send them a really great email. This is not networking, this is focusing on three really interesting people. Really good connections come naturally – they don’t have to be forced. Most of the people Garance works with are connections that have come naturally. Lesson: seek selective, intentional connections.

Garance Dore Altitude Summit

Lesson 09. Don’t give lessons. Listening to yourself speak is not how you grow. The world is changing so much, you have to adapt and learn by observation and from others. Lesson: listen rather than speak.

Garance Dore Altitude Summit

Lesson 10. If you make a mistake, use tragedy. Embrace your mistake, disappear for awhile and learn from it, and make a great comeback. Lesson: embrace your imperfections and learn from them.

Garance Dore Altitude Summit

Thank you, Garance!

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Images /Photography by Justin Hackworth, sponsored by Atly. /

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Author: Sarah Sarna

Interior Designer and Editor helping intelligent women unlock their style and own it, à la: decorating, fashion, beauty, and beyond.

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  • Tina Ramchandani

    What a great recap, Sarah! You nailed every point!

  • No idea how your picture showed up for me below:)

  • Holly Phillips

    What a great and concise advise list. Thank you for sharing!

  • Hi Lesley, Thanks for saying hello! Garance’s tips are tremendous – I found her presentation to be excellent. So excited to be included in your lovely web links roundup!

  • Hi Lisa, Thanks for saying hello! So true, right? We really can’t!

  • Hi Lisa, Thanks for saying hello!

  • Lesley Myrick

    Great post Sarah! Garance’s tips are so inspiring. I’ll be sharing a link to your post on my Lovely Web Links roundup this Thursday! (

  • Well done, Sarah.

  • Hi Lisa, Thanks for saying hello! So true, right? We really can’t!

  • Hi Chantel, Thanks for stopping by! I loved Garance’s presentation – she was “fantastique” !

  • Home & Stone

    This is such a great read! Thanks for sharing.

  • Lisa Goulet

    This is so great. I love how she says that we should try to stay on the same tree and that you can’t do it all on your own. Very difficult to wear all the hats. Thanks for sharing Sarah.