Of all the life-changing reasons that women say prompted them to start a business, having a family regularly comes up top.
And let’s be clear – that’s not because anyone wants to have an easier life! As all women who have ever tried to juggle running a business with parenting will tell you – it’s anything but child’s play.
Like many major milestones in our lives, becoming a parent can be a trigger for us to evaluate our priorities and ambitions. We might want to change the amount of time we spend working away from home or commuting; we might contemplate our career ambitions and current or future prospects; we might want to increase the flexibility in our working hours.
Becoming your own boss can give you more direct control over all of these factors without compromising on bringing up a family – but, like any business ambition, it has more chance of success with careful and realistic planning.
Here are some strategies to make sense of juggling family and business.
- Be realistic about your business ambitions and the available time you have to work on the business. That amount of time may change as your family gets older or your business develops – it may also fluctuate on a day to day basis. The good news is, as your own boss, you’re in control. Pace yourself – both at home and with your business – these are marathon undertakings, not sprints.
- Try to budget for some support – in your caring or domestic responsibilities as well as your business. Plan to use your skills where possible and where you can best apply your time, but consider paying for extra support (for example business bookkeeping, or a few hours of childcare)
- Take advantage of your entitlement to free childcare. If your child is three or four, funded childcare may be available. In Scotland this is currently 600 hours a year but with a commitment to increase to 1140 hours (the original date of August 2020 has been delayed due to the impact on local authorities of managing the COVID-19 crisis). For more information check the Parent Club website.
- If you have older children, optimise your business time within school hours. This could be the best time to plan for meetings or business commitments away from home, or to do your most focused work, leaving those less intense tasks for other times of day when it’s less of a problem to be interrupted. The blended approach to schooling, which has come into effect in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, means continuing challenges for women juggling business or work commitments with school-age children. In fact one study has found that during lockdown, on average, women have only been able to do one hour of uninterrupted work, compared to three hours for men working at home. You are there for your child by way of emotional support and to help them develop resilience – but unless you have the necessary skills and qualifications, you’re not their teacher. So try to remember that it is the responsibility of the school, and your child’s teacher, to provide the necessary support to engage your child in learning remotely. Feed back to the school when there are issues, which allows them to adapt their remote teaching strategies accordingly. And accept that you simply cannot work with the pace and focus you might have been able to do when the children are in school, so your priorities and planning should take that into account.
- Learn to say ‘no’ (or at least, ‘not now’). Similarly, there may be business opportunities that from time to time, you just know you can’t fulfil. Saying a graceful ‘no’ doesn’t necessarily affect your business prospects (and depending on how you choose to manage your customer communications, it can have the effect of positioning your business, services or products as much in demand!)
- Don’t wrack yourself with guilt. This is easier said than done, we know! Women can be very hard on themselves for not being all things at all times. Compromise doesn’t mean you care less about your business; not being there 24/7 for your child doesn’t make you a bad parent. On the other hand, a self-employed parent is a great role model for young people; and sharing caring responsibilities with others enriches your child’s learning by increasing language, communication and social skills.
- Create boundaries between business and home life. And try to stick to them. Switch off from your business as much as you can, when it’s family time. This helps you balance your time and avoid burnout. Try to identify a dedicated area in your home for working on your business; using a calendar or timetable to be clear on the times of day you’re available for your business.
- Manage the expectations of your customers. Minimise the risk of tipping the balance by setting informative out of office autoresponses on your email and a professional voicemail on your phone – allowing you to get back to customers at a time which suits you and your caring responsibilities. You can delay the ‘send’ function on email so that you can write them when it’s your working time but they won’t be sent until later – could be a handy trick if you find your best working time is after children are in bed! You may even consider a paid telephone answering service, which can give the impression of a full time, staffed operation even when you’re not available.
- If you’re on maternity leave – look after your health and try to take proper time off. Plan ahead. Assign responsibilities to staff and reassure customers that there is someone looking after their work. Project likely sales or contracts while you’re off. Work out how and when you will check in on your business while you’re on leave, and how essentials like taxes and financial reporting will be managed. All of these will help you to keep your business ticking over at whatever level works for you, while you’re on leave.
- Prioritise. You have not one baby but two – your child and your business. Both of them will thrive with care and dedication. But at this time it simply may not be possible to take on even more – so that big home renovation project might have to wait; heck, it might even be a challenge to keep a reasonably tidy house! And that’s fine. Don’t be too hard on yourself. A happy child makes for a happy parent – who in turn can bring their best to their business.