By Miles Burke

Five Lessons, 10 Years On …

By Miles Burke

I started my current business 10 years ago next month. That’s a pretty amazing achievement — to last a decade in any business, let alone in a fast-moving industry such as website development.

You’ve heard about the idea of time capsules, where you bury a letter to your future self and open it a decade or two in the future? Well, a decade ago, I was more focused on just making ends meet that month to be so visionary, so I don’t have one to share with you today.

Instead, here’s the reverse: a letter to my former self, the starry-eyed freelancer who was starting his web design business in October 2002. I hope you can take something away from these five points.

Hi Miles

It’s your future Miles here, all the way from 2012. I want to share five thoughts with you, to help you out in the early days of your business.

Don’t try to do it all yourself. I know times are tight starting a business — however, there’s no point in spending the entire weekend sorting out the accounts or building that new web server when there are plenty of people who can do it in a tenth of the time for a lot less than you think.

Understand opportunity loss. Sure, it’s great to get any money through the doors, but when you land a project and end up spending twice as long as you should on it, you lose those precious billable hours in the process.

Focus on building profit, not turnover. Sure, having a six or seven-figure turnover is great, but if you are only making 2% in profit, there’s no big paycheck at the end of the year. Do the math; there’s more money to be made at 10% of $100,000 than 2% of a quarter million.

Talk benefits, not features. Nobody wants a website, they want a solution to a marketing or business problem. Stop talking databases and web-safe colors (who is old enough to remember those?), and start talking improved communications, cheaper marketing and inventory control.

Remember to enjoy life too. I know you’re focused on growing a successful business, but don’t burn yourself out by never taking a break (I didn’t take a holiday for the first three years). There are many good reasons to have a few days off now and then, such as your productivity and your health.

I hope these help you Miles; I know from experience you’ll learn these along the way, but having a head start will certainly place your new enterprise in a better position.


Future Miles

PS: Now that the first 10 years are down, I look forward to showing you even more lessons in another 10 years from now! Perhaps you already have them from my future self?

You may only have been in business for six months, or perhaps you are lucky enough to have been in business for two decades or more, yet I’m positive you’ve also got some lessons for your former self. Write them down, perhaps share them with us as a comment below, and take stock of what you’ve learnt along your business journey.

  • Great article! Remembering to talk benefits, not features is crucial. Also, the last point “remember to enjoy life too” is one you have to follow or you will burn out way too soon.

  • This is a great little article – I have also been running my web business for 10 years this year and what you have written back to yourself, it could have been me writing to my former self 10 years ago :)

    All so true and wise words, take note anyone just starting out in any business!

  • Congratulations on the anniversary Miles!

    My tip would be to think about investing some time/effort into learning more about running a business as well as all the technical stuff you need to know to get by in web development.

    I did a business training course late last year and saw some good improvements in my business afterwards. If you’re working as a freelancer you’re often not in a position to discuss business matters that often with others, so doing the course I did was also useful for exposing you to other small business owners, in different industries, but also facing similar challenges, and hearing about how they approach them.

  • Nệm Giá Sốc

    Great Post! We need more posts like this.
    All so true and wise words, take note anyone just starting out in any business!

  • Thanks Miles for sharing this article. It really goes a long way hearing from someone who’s already been down the road that I’m traveling. Your first 2 points hit me good. Trying to be a superhero and doing everything can really take all of your time. Also, choosing the right clients to partner with goes a long way.

  • M.Pathma

    Hi, Miles,

    I was pondering my head what to do, code myself or look for 3rd party, when my programmer left me mid-way thru a web-apps project….

    Reading your posting suggest the best is look for 3rd party, I have two issue on that approach;
    1. My deadline with my customer expired and now I am running on “red”, external developer need time to learn thru the final apps needs and then code, whereas I know the apps well and can start code immediately

    2. this apps have next phases, hiring external programmer will put me into a position I can not continue afterwards….

    How you or others will approach this type of issue.


  • Thanks for a great article Miles. I have tried going the freelance route a couple of times but rather got depressed and chose the 9 to 5 route. Major points I can relate to are trying to be a superhero, understanding opportunity loss and talk benefits not features. I can see clearly now. I think once I head on down to Freelance land again, I’ll be well prepared. You guys really do inspire us. Thanks once again!

  • 10 years on my own this earlier year as well (there should be an exclusive club with unmarked doors and whisky as old as our businesses!).

    A few I would add:
    It’s OK to say no.
    Trust your gut.
    Find a niche.
    Share everything you know.

  • I’m celebrating 10 years this month too.
    Only one addition to your stellar list.
    “Do what makes money first”
    – sounds simple, but in practice is sometimes very difficult

  • Letter to miself: Focus on what you love to do. That’s where you are better than the rest. Having a social network will help you find your customers, and they will find you. They need you too, and if you take care of them and help them when they need it, they will stay with you longer.
    As a final note to my former self (nine years in my own company), this letter prove that you made it this far. Good work and relax a little bit. Things always work out somehow.

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