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On the face of it, freelancing and parenting should go together like ice cream and chocolate sprinkles. After all, how many jobs allow you to go to little Johnny’s school play without taking leave, guaranteed ‘tickle breaks’, and hours that fit in perfectly around the school day?
That’s what many parents-to-be naively imagine, anyway.
“When I first started working at home we were planning on having our first kid. I actually thought, ‘This’ll be perfect because I’ll work at home and can be around my kids.’ I had no idea how hard it would be!” says father-of-two writer Greg Scott.
What people without kids often don’t appreciate is that children are a full-time job in themselves. Trying to work on top of that can stretch you just too thin.
Mother-of-four writer and SEO Affiliate marketer Rachel McNaught agrees.
In 2013 parenting full-time and running a business are career options. Both need 110% of your time and energy and both require you to have a great team of people around you. The bigger your business and the more kids you have, the more help you need. Most people who launch into both without understanding this fail at one or the other. That may sound horribly cheesy and negative, but is the reality.
But for parents who make it work, freelancing really can offer a fantastic work-life balance. Exactly how you make it work for you will depend on your personal circumstances, but here are some solutions to the challenges facing freelancing parents.
Reliable childcare is obviously vital to freelancing success. New parents face the question of whether they are going to be able to afford childcare as an extra expense: not only do your fees need to cover childcare costs before you even begin to make a profit, but these costs are usually ongoing whether you are working or not, so you need to budget for down time.
UK-based photographer Jonathon Watkins of Photoglow balances his work and childcare by careful planning and making use of his government’s fifteen hours a week of free childcare for children over three years old. He schedules his photoshoot work around the time when he knows he has childcare, and often uses evenings and weekends for post-production. Jonathon works more than 60 hours a week when he has projects on but the flexibility of his post-production work means that he can have time with his two young children and work after they have gone to bed so they still have quality family time.
For him, scheduling is key to making his business work. Freelancing has given him greater flexibility than a regular job, plus it’s something that he loves. “You see a lot more of the kids as a freelancer. I work on large projects but you don’t know when the next one is going to be so I work long hours. Being organized is vital.”
A common theme for freelancers with children is the role of the entire family in making the lifestyle work. Working partners often provide the stability of a more regular income or else work part-time to juggle childcare. Jonathon Watkins’ wife had generous maternity leave and a job that allows flexible working so she could condense her hours over fewer days. As with any working family, grandparents may be on hand to look after pre-school children or help out if children are at home sick.
It isn’t just the material or physical support; many freelancers attribute their business success to the emotional and mental support of their partner. Rachel McNaught’s husband is critical to her business success: “He believes in me and my ability to make this work. He appreciates why I do what I do and cares about our business as much as I do.”
Freelancers need to be disciplined at the best of times, but when you have children it’s even more essential to your business. Nap time may be a chance to catch up on laundry or rest for many parents, but for freelancers it’s an opportunity to send emails, do research or phone a client. For Rachel, nap time was the only time she had to run her business.
When we had four preschoolers I only managed to snatch an hour in the afternoons – apparently you are supposed to sleep or something? Some moms do housework, some watch Tyra, I learned how to work online. Once the children dropped their afternoon sleep they stayed at daycare from 9am – 3pm, three days a week – and I had around 2 hours a day to write. I was in heaven!
For Greg Scott, the separation of his family and work life is essential.
I’ve found that you need to have stricter ‘at work’ times and ‘not at work’ times. Every freelancer should do this really, whether you have kids or not. But with kids especially, you shouldn’t try to multitask. When my kids need me, I stop work and I’m 100% with them. I don’t even bother trying to work unless they’re in the other room occupied. No half-watching kids and half-working. That destroys my productivity.
Many freelancers (with or without children) have strict ‘at work’ hours and they make sure their family and friends know when not to contact them. Jonathon Watkins makes sure that family time is kept clear too: each of his two children has one day set aside in the week for them to spend time with himself or his wife, as well as spending weekends together as a family.
Kids get sick, and when they do they need your undivided attention. When you have deadlines looming, this can make life hard for your business so flexible scheduling is important. Build in extra time to your schedule and keep more flexible tasks to one side so you can do these if you have time, or if not they can wait.
Greg Scot finds a more relaxed approach works for him.
You just can’t be too attached to your schedule or plan. I find myself making a schedule each day and then changing it as needed. You never know when a kid will get sick or there will be something come up, and then you just have to chuck your work and that’s all there is to it. If you try to ‘work through’ stuff, you’ll just go insane. I know because at first I tried that.
Even if your kids are at school, your work day might be considerably shorter than you were used to. The great thing about freelancing is that it can give you the opportunity to work around school hours to give you work satisfaction while still having time for your family. But doing this requires dedication, maybe even more than building up your business in the first place.
Some parents get up early, work after their children have gone to bed, or else just learn how to focus on their priorities. When you have kids, it’s more critical than ever to ‘work smart’ and I’m still learning how to do that. For example, you suddenly have a 4-hour instead of an 8-hour day. You sometimes have to prioritize and reschedule to work around the little surprises life throws you,” says Greg Scott.
Having children is a good reason to look at your hourly rate and see what you can outsource. This might not be work-related tasks, although hiring a virtual assistant can help you offload the day-to-day administration that takes up so much of your valuable time. Freelancers are usually good all-rounders, but that doesn’t mean you are also the best at everything.
Why spend your weekends painting the spare room when you can hire a decorator? A cleaner can also help free up time for work or your children. If someone charges a lower rate than you or can do the job in less time (or both) then it might be worth looking into outsourcing everyday tasks to someone else so you can concentrate on what’s important to you.
Children Can Help Your Freelancing Business
Many freelancing parents recognize the positive influence having children has had on their business. Some would say their children have helped them focus on what is important in their work, while others think their creativity has improved since having children because it has opened their minds to new ways of seeing things. Since having his own children, Jonathon Watkins has seen an improvement in the way he oversees family photo shoots, the way he composes shots and even in the way he handles post-production.
For other parents, having children has broadened their skills. “I’m now an expert at parenting,” says Greg.
It has given me lots to write about and living overseas makes it a pretty unique experience. It’s one of my favorite niches to write in, along with freelancing with kids, time management, and a whole bunch of other kid-related stuff that I otherwise wouldn’t know so much about.