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Letter to my younger self: you're on the journey of your life

Dear Allie,

I’m writing to you from a beachside cafe in Dahab, Egypt. The sun’s setting over the mountains of Saudi Arabia, there’s a full moon rising in the luminous pink sky. Remember when you came here on holiday in 2007 and dreamed of being able to work flexibly from anywhere in the world? That day will come.

Allie Astell in 2008

Being made redundant during the 2008 recession was a blessing in disguise. After losing Mum two years before, you didn’t think life could get much worse, then came this new blow. I’m so proud of you for deciding to go it alone, although I know you were terrified. With your office career over, you relied on a trusty second-hand Mac, the kitchen table, gallons of coffee, a wing and a prayer.

You have very little in the bank and will earn just £250 in your first month of trading but, trust me, you’re embarking on the most exciting journey of your life. Believe it or not, I envy you.

The business name that you and your sister Jenny hastily came up with during a phone call one evening was inspired – Manage My Website. You’ll still be trading under it eight years later. But the niche that you originally found, project managing the build of websites and maintaining existing ones, will shift dramatically.

You’ll become adept at using a fairly new website building platform, learning about design as you go. Over the next few years, the platform will become popular with millions of people around the world and you will be recognised as an approved specialist, running training sessions and workshops.

At the moment I know you’ll find that information difficult to digest. You’re feeling chained to that old kitchen table, unable to afford to even go out for a coffee. But soon, as your venture develops, you’re going to wake up and realise the beauty of your business means you can travel the world. You’ll work and play in the US, China, north Africa, the Middle East, Cyprus, Croatia, Austria and more. As long as you have an internet connection, you’re good to go.

Please keep the faith, Allie. You’re going to develop an impressive collection of grey hairs. In the early days Dad will help you out with loans when times are at their very hardest. But business will flourish.

To help you get there, I’d like to give you some friendly advice. Keep your accounts in order. Sorting through 12 months’ worth of invoices and receipts to get your tax return off on time is a total nightmare.

Be choosy about who you work with. Trust your gut instinct when you know that a client has the potential to be very awkward. One will be so totally unreasonable that you’ll finally “sack” him, returning his deposit to make doubly sure you never hear from him again. There will be a few more clients like him.

Go above and beyond the call of duty to keep your clients happy, but don’t be too soft. You’ll lose a lot of money doing too many favours, so put a value on your skills. There’s one particular website you’ll build for a local business for a mere £250 that will take you three full, agonising months to finish. It will take your bank account a few months to recover from that one.

Believe in yourself. I know you sometimes feel like a fraud when talking to clients, but over the years you’ll build up a vast bank of knowledge and will become an authority in this sector.

Learn to delegate. You’re a total control freak so it will be a challenge. But in a few years’ time you’ll have an incredibly strong team to support you. Make use of them and try to maintain some kind of work-life balance.

Finally, savour every single second of your time in Syria in May 2010, when you return with your sister and cousin to trace your family history. Sadly, I very much doubt you’ll have a chance to go there again.

I’m signing off for now but I hope I’ve inspired you to keep working hard. I’m so glad I stuck at it.


Allie Astel is the founder of Manage My Website. Her family has created a cook book in support of Syrian refugees, based on her mother’s recipes.

Are you an entrepreneur who would like to write a letter to your younger self? Email us at smallbusinessnetwork@theguardian.com to take part in this series.

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