A letter to my 2007 self: assorted advice

Rand recently wrote his 2007 self a letter and asked me and a bunch of other people to do the same.

I was struck, reading Rand’s letter, by the degree to which his advice to himself is useful and actionable right now (for himself - and, to a lesser degree, for me and others). I am hoping to re-read my advice to myself in that frame of mind afterwards. For now though, I am thinking purely in terms of advice I wish I could have imparted to myself two years ago.

When I read Rand’s invitation to contribute, I initially wasn’t sure what kind of advice I could give. I was bolstered, however, by an experience recently where I met up with a friend just striking out on her own into a new business venture. I realised that I have learnt a lot amount in the 4 years that Distilled has been going (possibly indicating how little I knew to start off with!).

It feels as though there are two main sources of advice from people who have “been there and done that”:

  1. there is a natural selection element- simply by still being here, running a business that employs people, I get to impart some bits of advice in the form of “here is what we did - seemed to work for us”
  2. more powerfully, there are some areas where you have tried working in more than one mode and discovered that one works significantly better. While this is still biased by our direct experience, it at least represents some element of what you might call ‘experience’ rather than just “well, it worked for us when we did it this way”

Anyway, without further ado, onto the letter.

June 2009

Dear 2007 Will,

I am writing from the future. When you get to this point and look back, you will be astounded by how much some things have changed and and simultaneously amazed by the degree to which some things remain the same.

Be that as it may, I now have a couple more years’ experience and, while I know there is a limited(!!?!) chance of you reading this, if you do, I hope you will have the humility to take the right bits to heart:

1. Embrace “Getting Things Done” more and sooner

I know you have already read the book, but I also know it will be a good 18 months before you realise the true power of “inbox to zero”. Remember that even if you don’t do any more as a result of being better organised (though you will) simply having the right systems in place will free your mind up to work on the right things much more of the time.

2. Hire smart people fast(er)

If we could take a joint trip back to 2005, I think this would be the single biggest thing we’d want to say to our 2005 self. You know all that time you spent slogging along with just you and Duncan? Imagine if you could have added some of the smart people you know now to the mix a couple of years sooner. That applies now. It may turn out, in the long-run that the single thing you are best at is delegating to smart people ;)

3. Define your role better

Again, you have read the e-myth by this point, but you have still only paid it lip-service. Think in terms of a business with 15-20 people in it (and the next level on from that) and define the roles you and Duncan will need to fill (and only then work out what hats you are each wearing now). Take ownership and responsibility. Butt out of each other’s space, but ask for help when you need it. [For more on where we are up to with this now, those of you reading this in 2009 can read Duncan’s recent post on his job role - it’s a while since both founders wrote a post in the same week so I should probably link to it!].

4. Get good at mobile email

You can still upgrade to the 3G iphone later, but first stop being scared that being ‘always connected’ means ‘always doing email’. It means you can do email when you’ve got nothing better to do and have to do email much less when you do have better things to do.

5. Get a great bank manager

You’ll work this one out for yourself, but still, you might as well get going asap. You don’t have to deal with a call centre.

6. Start doing PR

Most of your business over the coming years will come either from existing customers / referrals or from people who “get to know” you and Distilled. This “getting to know” part isn’t actually rocket science - it’s all part of PR in its broadest sense. Raise your profile and seek amplifiers - the mechanisms, individuals and publications that can help you become better known.

7. Related to #6: Write more

Your clients like to read what you write and it both brings in new prospects and helps people get more comfortable with hiring you.

8. Raise your prices

You’re not charging enough. Seriously. (And connected to this, start thinking bigger - you are mainly constrained by your own beliefs).

9. Remember the flywheel

You have no idea what I’m talking about. First read ‘Good to Great’. Then remember the flywheel concept. Pick your battles and then focus on them consistently and repeatedly. Success breeds success so amplify what you can.

10. Sell your flat in late 2007

Trust me.

11. Don’t take all this too seriously and remember to have fun...

Having written that all down, it feels a little tactical. All of the things above will help you, but I think that above all remember the people - someone (I have now forgotten who it was unfortunately) who I thought couldn’t possibly have time for me - not only replied to something I wrote to them, but signed off their email with a genuine “let me know if I can do anything for you”. Try asking people that more often. It can be enlightening.

Love, 2009 Will

Will Critchlow

Will Critchlow

Will founded Distilled with Duncan in 2005. Since then, he has consulted with some of the world’s largest organisations and most famous websites, spoken at most major industry events and regularly appeared in local and national press. Will is part...   read more

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6 Comments

  1. Nice post - very enlightening. It really is interesting how many of these are not just lessons to your 2007 self but things that can be applied to the current environment (apart from selling your flat, that is).

    By the way, I think my letter would go something like this:

    Dear 2007 Tom,

    ZOMGWTF!!1 I'm FROM THE FUTURE!!!! It looks like time travel is going to become more and more important. In case you find yourself stranded in the dark ages by accident - read this:

    http://www.topatoco.com/graphics/qw-cheatsheet-print-zoom.jpg

    Thanks,
    The future.

    PS - here's the winning lottery numbers for the whole of 2008.
    PPS - don't be a moron and win every single lottery.

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  2. @Tom

    Hahahah, I got to say your letter is probably more realistic and useful at the same time :)

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  3. @tom hahaha that cheat sheet is awesome! i'm printing it out now on the office printers to put up on my wall here! - yeah there'll be strange looks....

    @will - The rate at which you guys are growing, and the fact that you dont have to recommend anything drastic, reflects well on you! Tho the "sell the flat in late 2007" made me laugh :)

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  4. I love that cheatsheet. Nice letter, T.

    :)

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  5. I didn't realise you guys had only been going 4yrs! You have built good respect in that time I will give you that. Totally agree with systems and organisation - your head feels so much clearer when you do the small things that you keep putting off.

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  6. I very much enjoyed reading this. As a small business owner I have often asked myself how I might have done it differently and what advice I would have given myself - perhaps I will write a similar letter, just to see what comes out...

    Thanks

    Simon

    reply >

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