Letter To My Younger Self
31st October 2022
You’ve already done the hard part and taken that first leap of faith, leaving behind your graduate job with an FTSE 100 nationwide recruitment company to set up your own agency.
And you’ve done the right thing joining forces with Karen, as a former colleague you already know you working together is fun, you have complementary skills and you’ve become great friends.
As long as you agree on your areas of responsibility and parity on holidays, pay, and hours you’ll never have a big falling out. Compromise – it’s like a marriage! Understand what’s really important to each other, test and challenge it but respect each other’s motivation and values.
You are already used to working 14-hour days and it didn’t matter even when you were working for someone else, you loved getting up on a Monday and having the joy of telling someone they were successful and had got their dream job. That job satisfaction will continue to drive you in the future.
At the moment you’re spending your weekends partying and spending your hard-earned cash on holidays. Believe me when I say enjoy that while you can, having your own business is a big responsibility that stays with you 24/7 - even during your holidays!
Your livelihood depends on winning work so never forget your desire to beat the targets you set for yourselves and strive to be better.
Be different. It’s 1997 instead of faxing, you’ll hand deliver CVs to add a personal touch, and you’ll work on a Saturday morning because no one else does that. After all, if candidates are working 9-5 how can they get away to meet you in person for that initial interview? Choose a red logo when everyone else has chosen blue, and never say no to a PR opportunity.
You are learning and firefighting but you will love that responsibility. Remember all that your dad taught you about running a business. You’re independent and have autonomy, the freedom to learn and not be micro-managed will work well for you (even if it’s you who has to get up in the middle of the night and go down to the office when the alarm is going off and driving the neighbours crazy).
You’ll have to do your own accounts and payroll, no one else will do it for you. I know saying no to a party invitation seems like a waste of a Friday night right now but work will be your “baby”. And when you love work and are working for yourself staying in the office late isn’t so bad!
That’s not to say there won’t be challenges. You’ll encounter people who patronise you because you’re both in your 20s, from the banks who will refuse to lend you money – don’t worry, you’ll get your funding from the Enterprise Trust and the Prince's Trust – to the photocopier salesman who will walk right past you and think your dad is the boss!
Remember you have a track record, past success and you do know what you’re doing, even if no one else thinks you do!
Fake it ‘til you make it, isn’t that what they say? Put a brave face on it as you build a team. As you get older, you’ll become more excited about the people that work for you and Karen and what they can bring to the table.
Having to network is something new you will have to master as a 24-year-old director of a business but being backed by The Princes Trust will be an invaluable opportunity to meet lots of new and interesting people.
Say yes to being mentored. Learning from others who are successful in business and having trusted sounding boards is essential, but don’t be afraid to speak up if it’s not the right fit.
Listen to the advice to pay yourselves, otherwise, you don’t have a business. If you go out to tender, go to three people, and find out which grants you can apply for.
Be honest and tell people you don’t have all the answers – ask for advice when you can, there are lots of amazing people who are willing and keen to help you succeed. Entrepreneurial Scotland will be a huge support, with people who have done it before. Always ask – can you help me? It’s a warm network of people who want to help and a brilliant way of getting advice.
You’ll have so many opportunities you would not have otherwise had. You’ll go on to meet HRH Prince (now King) Charles, Her Majesty The Queen and you’ll attend a candlelit dinner at Holyrood. Yes, you!
In 2020, the world will be turned upside down by a global pandemic caused by Covid-19 and you’ll have to deal with something called furlough. You’ll make some tough decisions but you’ll stay profitable and you’ll come through it.
Inevitably after over 25 years in business you will become more of a realist and less emotional. In time, you’ll appreciate that people move on. To use the ‘get off the bus’ analogy, this isn’t the right bus for everyone.
Treat people fairly, as you would want to be treated, and show them they are valued. You may not always agree with people but it will serve you well to be both kind and fair. Celebrate success instead of always thinking ‘what’s next’?
My biggest piece of advice is to bring in a non-executive director early on in your business journey, as this will bring discipline and process. Listen when you are told to increase your profile by investing in front-facing offices and invest in the back office – get HR and marketing support and don’t try to do it all yourself.
Your chosen non-exec director will have a bird’s eye view if they are working with other businesses, so can benchmark your performance against others and reassure you that you are making the right decisions. Don’t worry and hold firm, you will be fine and you’re doing the right thing.
Oh, apart from that time you painted the office bright blue. What were you thinking?!