This post is also features on Selfish Mother and Honest Mum's Brilliant Blog Posts.
Careers and kids - no denying it is a huge learning curve. After my first son, I returned to my marketing manager job part-time and struggled with not being in the office every day. I was lucky to have a fantastic job-share partner and work in an environment that supported part time working - but it still came with a stigma. Having to make meetings at one end of the week and manage a team who were in different days to me was do-able, but not quite what I hoped for. And just to make sure I definitely couldn’t be happy, I really enjoyed my two days off with Noah, so full-time work wasn’t an option I wanted to take.
In September 2014 I dabbled in a bit of freelance copywriting and really enjoyed it. Fast forward two years and I was off on maternity leave again with my second son. Having built up a bit of a portfolio I tussled with the idea of not returning to work and going ‘full-time freelance’. After much deliberation I took the plunge in May this year.
Six months on and I couldn’t be happier with the decision I made - but its not been easy. Here are 8 things I’ve learned so far which might ring true if you are also a freelancer / parent / human being:
1. You will repeatedly at various intervals think you’ve made a huge mistake - don’t worry you (probably) haven’t
I’ve had several WTF am I doing moments, when finishing a project up with nothing on the horizon I start to frantically think about having to get a ‘real’ job, and go into a frenzied panic about changing nursery hours and having to sign up to S1jobs. In my experience this panic is resolved when three projects land on my desk at the same time - one with a deadline of the next day. The rise and fall of work, busy and quiet times - is something that happens in most workplaces - you just feel it a bit more dramatically when working for yourself. Use the quiet times to plan, look for new business and indulge in some CPD. Or, you know, look after kids who will inevitably get sick and just be grateful you didn’t also have a deadline looming.
2. Calm the f•ck down
Its unlikely you are going to become overrun with work in the first couple of months of going out on your own. I started freelancing with very limited childcare which I'm increasing as the business grows.
I’ve found it important not to feel rushed - especially with young children in the mix. The temptation to panic, to think ‘if I don’t get this done right now…’ is counterproductive. Trust that as long as you are going in the right direction, slow and steady growth is a sustained one. This is something I struggle with regularly and have to remind myself that writing a new idea down on my to do list means I WILL get to it - just maybe not this week.
3. Big up your flaws
What a good mantra for all aspects of life. Having two kids under 4 makes working (or doing anything actually) more difficult than when you have no dependants begging you for Pom Bears etc. Thankfully, I am a mere one of millions of mums trying to make #workthatworks and introduce #flexappeal into their working lives. So if you are one too, jump on that bandwagon. The spotlight is getting dragged towards the fact that women who have kids often return to work in lower grade positions, lose out on potential promotions and so on - so there’s no better time to hashtag the sh*t out of the #mumboss social media madness and celebrate that you are able to do work as well as keep alive small humans.
4. Pick your space and time
I wrote this blog at my dining room table because no one was in. And I like to hot desk between here and my office - it makes me feel like Cram Communication is going regional. In my experience it is so important, no matter what business you are in, to have a dedicated physical place for work. Even if your work, as mine does, means you can take the laptop to a cafe, there will be times when you need to work at home and it really can’t be on the sofa while Paw Patrol is on.
My office is very small, has the laundry in it too and still has nursery art work on the wall. But it has four plants (more than anywhere else in the house), a lovely desk from Ikea, candles and a shut-able door. The end.
Working freelance whilst balancing kids tends to also mean grafting in the evenings and at weekends is required. I personally prefer working early in the morning and late into the night to preserve the weekend for the family - I didn’t start this journey to work every Saturday and Sunday and never see my husband - so whilst weekend work is an essential, I exhaust all other avenues (6am starts - midnight finishes) first.
5. Instasham and other dangerous pastimes
Eeek! Social media is amazing. It inspires, supports, makes you laugh, makes you cry… It is also an amazingly easy way to waste time. I do marketing, so therefore have to do social media, for myself and many businesses. Its potential is amazing, but for the regular online socialiser it can as we all know; produce feelings of inadequacy, panic, stress, failure… This is easily magnified if you work solo. On the one hand you can communicate with hundreds of others just like you - on the other you can compare yourself with others too.
My advice is just get a grip of it. Enjoy it for what it is - a quick scroll through pictures of people’s lovely homes and cute kids, or links to funny videos and interesting articles. You have to have self discipline here so simply do not worry about what others are doing, how many followers you have, how many likes you get…. Enjoy it and use it for the best for your business then shut it down and concentrate on the real work.
6. Find your tribe (make sure they’re not the scalping kind)*
It's so important as a freelancer to have support - for childcare and also for your mental health. Your best friends will be there to build you up, praise everything you’re doing (even if its not that great) and encourage you - they are priceless so never forget where you left them last. Your family will do the same and also if you are lucky enough, be able to help out with the kids if you need it. Build up good relationships with your kids’ nurseries or childminder - you never know when you might need to beg for a wee extra afternoon one week. Find support in other mums and freelancers just like you that you didn’t even know existed - go to networking events, reach out and be sociable. These are your replacement colleagues - except you kind of get to pick them - its a win win!
*Note if you have kids they are most definitely not in this camp. They are out to destroy you, my one year old is undertaking a serious campaign just now and regularly de-networks my printer meaning I have to undergo long involved ‘printer set-ups’ whenever I want to use it. ‘He won't break me’ Repeat x 10.
7. Become that annoying person
I’ve never been great at ‘showing off’ - I think its a north east Scotland thing, nobody wants to be seen to be loving themselves too much. Well I’ve tried to beat that out of myself, because as a freelancer you have to be your own biggest fan and shout about your achievements when you can.
When I started copywriting on the side, I concentrated on building up a bit of a portfolio of my own work and decided not to include any projects or work I’d undertaken in my ten years as an employed marketer as I wanted to do this solely on my own merit. To be honest, I’m not sure if that was right decision, I’d say it makes it harder to look impressive from the get-go but avoids faff and long term makes sense. Portfolio is important and it does feel good to look at what I’ve achieved under my name only - but its not everything; experience and quality output are key.
8. Shut up and enjoy it
As we all know, nothing is perfect. The pay off of working freelance as a mum of young children is whilst you might need to work late on a Tuesday night, you get to walk your kids home from nursery the next day. Having three weeks of full on work might follow two quiet weeks Spending a pre-nursery morning watching movies is followed by two hours of MEGA FOCUS to progress a job.
For me this is now; the kids won’t always be this young, so I’m embracing every second of the opportunities I’m working for - late nights, early mornings, extra Paw Patrol viewing time and all.