I was recently invited to take part in a webinar about running a business and raising kids. The idea for this webinar was from the wonderful Izzy Wisniewska. From creatos media in Birmingham. Alongside other entrepreneurial mums and dads. We discussed the highs and lows of running a business whilst raising children at the same time.
If you want to catch the replay you can watch it on YouTube here. Some of the highlights from our hour together covered the questions below.
Why did you start your own business?
Steph – The idea to start my own business came around 11 years ago. I had always been creative. Even building websites when I was 13 years old! Making flyers and logos for local bands when a teenager. This entrepreneurial side of my life was put to one side until I was pregnant. Then I had a slight epiphany. I was writing a letter from my husband and myself explaining to my son everything that we have achieved in our life. It felt like something was missing. That I had spent the whole of my life in employment and it wasn’t right for me. I felt like I wasn’t putting my full potential out there. I wanted to do something that would make my son proud! I wanted to show him something that he could aspire to. I wanted to show him that you can do anything that you want to if you put your mind to it. Don’t let anybody put you down. I started small on the graphic design side of things. Freelancing whilst remaining part time employed for around eight years. In 2019 Dear Charlie became my full-time role.
Amanda – My business is new and in its infancy still. I was working full time in an employed role whilst I was pregnant. When I went onto maternity leave things weren’t great on maternity pay. I started to do a little bit of freelance on the side. Working during nap times, evenings and weekends to make the books work. But then during 2020 the pandemic happened and then it all kind of change perspective on life. I was put onto furlough from my employed job. This gave me the brain space to think. Do I want to go back to employed work or do I want to run my own business?
Filip – I’ve always wanted to run a business even before I went to university. I’ve designed websites, I’ve done graphics stuff and eventually fell into marketing. I’ve been freelancing since I left university in 2014, who I am now also employed by. I met Izzy and decided it would be a good time to join forces and run a business together. It was always an idea in the back of my head to do something for myself. Then with Covid, with the ability to work from home helped us quite a lot.
Izzy – For me it was when I was pregnant that my full time running a business started. It was when creators media was registered as a business and became a company. I started working in digital marketing when I was at my first year of university. I was trying to find ways to earn extra money and was introduced to freelancing. I was fortunate enough when I was employed, all my employers were very happy for me to freelance on the side. As long as I completed my requirements for my employer. What I did in my free time was up to me. In October 2018 it felt the right time to go full time. But that is also the same time that we found out that I was pregnant. I remember some of my family and friends advising me not to do that now. Telling me going self-employed was a really bad idea. But I felt that it was a really good time and a really good move. I don’t think that being pregnant should be something that stops you.
How do you find being a self-employed parent?
Steph – No, no, no, I would not go back to being employed! I’ve said this a few times to people that I don’t think that I am employable anymore. I don’t think that I could work for anybody again. I love the freedom it brings me, both financially and the time with my son, which you can’t put a price on. Especially within the industry that I am in. Design and web etc. It’s very competitive for females due to the gender pay gap. I can’t see myself going back to that any time soon. If my son is poorly I can take the time off work, if I need to work in the evenings I can do it. I also work with people that understand that. I definitely don’t think that I would go back. If I did, I would definitely go back kicking and screaming!
The other advantage would be that I get paid a lot better. You set your prices. You’re not taking a share of the same money where the employer is pocketing some and you’re getting some. You are getting it all! minus taxes and expenses of course.
A major advantage of working for yourself is that you vet your clients and you can pick who you want to work with. You can find the industry that you want to work in. Whereas if you’re working for somebody else, you’re kind of stuck with what you’re given. When you work for yourself. If you get a lead that is particularly difficult from the offset, you can choose not to work with them.
Amanda – Steph has answered me in a nutshell! I don’t want to go back to being employed. Having that freedom. If your children are poorly, you’re not worrying that you’re letting somebody else down. It’s your clients and you manage them. If that means that you’re working in the evenings and weekends to make it up, it’s your decision. It’s so empowering to be able to pick and choose when you work, who you work with and how you work. As a mum now, looking back, it’s something that I had never even thought about two years ago. Now having this little person. He is my priority and the work fits in around him and having that flexibility is amazing.
You also have more billable hours and can be more profitable. You’re not commuting, you are not taking enforced lunch breaks on other peoples schedules. You can work the hours you want, when you want and you can be more profitable for doing that.
Filip – Running my own business is great. Although I am still employed, so juggling both jobs, family and a little boy. It’s fun! Trying to find time is fun. I think everybody wants to do something for themselves. As it opens up more opportunities for yourself and the business. If you want to get something more out of your life, it’s great to try running something by yourself. If you are going to work for someone else, you’re always going to work for someone else. You might get stuck in the position that you are in and there’s a roof. If you are working for somebody else, there is always a roof. You might never be able to break through that roof unless there is an opportunity to become a director. And you can’t be a founder of the company because somebody’s already found that company.
Izzy – Although I mainly agree with Philip, not everybody is happy running their own business. I think there are going to be people that feel better when they are running their own thing. And there will be people that are happier working for somebody else. And that’s okay. I prefer running my own business. It was always a plan and I always liked it. Even when I was freelance and employed. I loved managing my own clients and managing my own thing. Being able to spend time with my child when they’re sick or when they’re settling into a new nursery. Having the ability to take him home a bit earlier. It’s something that I know that not everyone that is employed will have that luxury to do. For many employed roles it is not possible to give employees that flexibility. This is the biggest advantage for me. One that I wouldn’t give up.
One of the things that really hit me when I was out shopping. Was wanting to buy something and thinking. Well that’s fine, I can take on another client to pay for it. Whereas being employed. I’d either need to save up for some time. Or hope for a pay rise to afford it. It’s having that freedom to try to make things grow if you want them to grow. If you want to earn more money as a freelancer you can work evenings and weekends on top of your regular hours. Whereas when you’re employed, there’s rarely the opportunity to earn extra on the side.
What is working life like before having children compared to after having children?
Steph – I had my son when my business first started. When I was employed, I definitely had more time. When you’re first starting out you have a lot more worries. About finance and whether the work is definitely going to come in. Time is the biggest factor. When I was employed, I spent my time going out socialising and catching up with friends. Now it’s about time with your child. It’s important to have processes in place to make sure that you don’t get overwhelmed. That you prioritise time with your children. Having a child whilst employed adds an extra pressure. When they are poorly. If your child is poorly whilst you’re self-employed. You can move things around. With employment you tend to start feeling guilt. My son did have epilepsy when he was young and he was in hospital. Sometimes twice a week. I would have to ring up my employer and say I can’t come in again. We’re in hospital. Eventually, you could hear the tone in your employers voice. You would end up feeling that there is a pressure on you that you’re going to get a written warning. I didn’t want to feel guilty for looking after my poorly son. That was another reason to push me further into my self-employed career.
Amanda – Time is the biggest thing. I look back before having my son and think, what did I do with my time? I went to work, came home from work and that was it! Now I’ve got a child to learn how to look after. You don’t get a manual. Explaining this is what they do here and this is what they do here. You have to learn everything. You spend your evenings learning what their next developmental stage is. Then you’re running a business too. You’re doing all these different things that you didn’t used to. Like invoicing, prospecting, putting pitches together. There’s all these different elements and you think, how on Earth am I squeezing all of this in! Perhaps in part time hours, evenings, weekends. And looking after and raising a child. Learning how they function. You think, what on earth did I do with my time before having a child?
I think you can be more relaxed about things because you’ve got that flexibility. If something happens, you can open up your calendar. See what work you’ve got where. Reschedule your work if you have an issue with childcare. Then you can concentrate on looking after your child that’s poorly. Without any dramas around missing work.
Filip – Once you have a baby. Using project management tools like Asana becomes even more important. Use it for work, use it for real life. Connect your calendars. I schedule when my son is going to nursery. When Izzy is on her treadmill. Client meetings. I can use it to find the best times to fit everything in for everyone. Having full visibility means that I can see what I’m moving when things need to be changed. Especially when having a little baby. Having colour-coded visibility of everything that is going on in my life. Including school pick up and drop off is vital. Especially when it pulls in calendar links with client meetings and other events.
Izzy – It’s definitely time! But more time management skills. I’ve said this many times but you can plan something and then the child doesn’t go to sleep. Time management here is the key. You have to always have this little bit of extra time somewhere just in case something doesn’t go to plan. I’ve stopped relying on nap times! Nap times is my time for me to watch a movie, drink a hot coffee. Which rarely happens since having a child. If I plan to do some work during a nap time I can guarantee 100% there’s not gonna be a nap time. Before having my son even when I was employed, doing my freelance role and studying. I could juggle so many things, running and fitness classes, piano lessons. I was getting so much done. Now I can’t even find time to drink a hot coffee. Time management skills and flexibility and adapting them to work around your toddler is key. I am now obsessed with my Google calendar.
How did you find working during the pandemic versus before the pandemic?
Filip – I was fortunate enough to be able to work from home during the pandemic. The only difference now is that there was a screaming baby in the background. I will turn up to video meetings and have to caveat the beginning with the possibility there is going to be a screaming baby in the background. At the beginning, it felt a bit stressful having to explain why there is a sound of a crying baby or dog barking whilst on a meeting. My tip, is to utilise the mute button whilst on video calls. Unmute when you need to speak and pop mute back on once finished. Because you know that your child will be making noise during the meeting.
Amanda – Since the pandemic, I think it’s a lot more acceptable now. Pre-pandemic, if you are having a professional phone call and somebody had the audacity to make a noise in the background. It was definitely frowned upon. Whereas now, it’s entertainment value if there is a child making noises in the background. The amount of times I’ve been on a live zoom call and my doorbell has rung. You feel hugely embarrassed but it’s the new normal now.
Steph – We could ring up a call centre during Covid and we could hear people with their children in the background. So why shouldn’t it be accepted for a self-employed person. For me the biggest difference during the pandemic was homeschooling. My sons laptop from school wasn’t very good. Sometimes he’d have to use mine. Sometimes he really struggled with the work and I can only teach him so much. I found myself spending time relearning things to help him. Repeatedly asking the Google Home to help me with his homework. I found the clients are really understanding. Even working with clients who have children that have grown up and left home. They still get it. They still understand it and they’re happy to be flexible around the work that we were delivering during Covid. I think there was a lot more compassion during Covid.
Izzy – I was already working from home before Covid. But it has helped to normalise things. Before, people looked at me and they saw that I was working from home. Whereas now it’s very normal to see people working from home. There is no stigma if you are not in an office during a call. There were struggles during the height of the pandemic when we couldn’t get childcare. Trying to juggle your work meant many late nights and early mornings.
Looking back, what mistakes have you made running your business whilst raising a child?
Amanda – Booking out too much of your time. You need to build in wiggle room for ‘just in case’ moments. You will get clients phoning up asking for extra bits of work in the month. If you book out 100% of your time you don’t have the capacity to do little extra bits. That can become stressful. Underselling your time each month and having that wiggle room can be a lifesaver.
Izzy – With children, you do need to factor in extra time. Especially in the mornings when your child thinks it’s a good idea to go out of the house still in their pyjamas! When relying on other people, take into consideration that something might come up. They might get sick too. I’ve booked client meetings and then my mum phoned saying that she’s sick and she can’t have my son. You have to have back up in case something goes wrong with your regular network of support. One of the biggest things that we need to remember when you’re thinking about growth plans for your business. Is to remember time for yourself. It’s a mistake I am guilty of making. Whether you run a business or not. Making time to go for a run or read a book or just lie down and relax. Because we don’t get much of this time to ourselves so it’s important to factor it into your schedule.
Steph – One of my key mistakes was not vetting clients. You don’t have to work with everybody. At the start I was trying to be a people pleaser. I would work with everybody and anybody. And okay, whilst I am versatile. It didn’t make me happy. It caused a lot of stress and overwhelm and I ended up working with some people that I didn’t want to work with. It wasn’t my clients fault. Just that our values weren’t aligning. It’s vital to have that same outlook on life and that same outlook on business. It’s a great idea to put together who you want to work with. Why you want to work with them. What do you want them to think and feel when they interact with you. It makes it so much more enjoyable when you have clients that love and adore what you do for them. It will also help you with getting more referrals because you aligning with one another.
Filip – Time Management, I think, for me in the beginning I would leave things too late in the day. Assuming that my son would go to sleep and I would then be able to do the work later but often this would not happen. Also picking the right clients is important. But I spent a lot of time pushing for a client that wasn’t right for my brand as the communication was bad. Partnership works both ways and so it’s important you can communicate well together. Even if you really want to work with a particular brand. If someones not right, sometimes is not worth pursuing.
Tips for anyone thinking of starting a business whilst being a parent?
Steph – Put together a business plan. This doesn’t need to be in-depth but just put a bit of an outline out there of what you want to do. Who you want to serve. You don’t need to have a full brand strategy but looking at who your ideal client would be, what brand values do you have. Where you can find these ideal clients and what social media platforms they’ll be hanging out on. If you’re worried financially, start putting money aside, set a date to go full time freelancing. Start part time, even if it’s only 1 or 2 evenings a week. If you’re really passionate about starting your own business. Don’t let any negative thoughts stop you from exploring the idea and running with it.
Amanda – I’m the biggest worrier in the world. I worry about everything under the sun. Even having the thought to set up my own business. I thought, that’s ridiculous. I can’t do that! But why can’t I? Just having that confidence and support. Having other people believe in you and having other people to talk to about it is vital. At the beginning I was petrified to start my own business. But there is no harm in starting small. Start with 1 client. Maybe a couple of evenings a week. Test the water, see if you enjoy it. See how you get on, then maybe creep up to 2 evenings or 2 clients. Run it alongside your employed role as long as you are allowed to do so.
Izzy – When I was having conversations with friends and family about setting up my own business. Many people came back to me and said, ‘what about money’ ‘What if I don’t get any clients’ especially whilst you have a child to support. Putting money aside to cover my wages for at least six months has been huge for me. Even if you don’t get a client in the first month. You can use the quiet time to promote yourself and work on outreach and it’s fine as you have your salary covered. It will make the experience much more enjoyable and make the experience a lot less stressful. If you feel like you can’t do it. And things are getting too much remember the positives. Being able to go to your child’s football matches, nativity and school plays. Your child’s life goes so quickly so it’s important not to miss milestones by always being at work.
Filip – My advice would be to set milestones. If you’re still employed, set some targets. i.e I want to create a logo – How long will it take? Have an aim for how long it will take to complete it and try and complete it.
Manage your time? Work out how long you spend watching TV, or running or cooking. Can you reduce or drop one of those elements and use it for your new business? Work out what’s the best use of your time is. Having children, work and family makes managing time a struggle. Use your family to help out with chores or shopping to free up time for each other. Always create a back up plan. And then have a backup plan for a backup plan! With children, plans need to be flexible. Try swapping out listening to music to listening to podcasts and conferences to learn whilst you’re commuting. Or swap commuting via Car to commuting via train and use the time on the train to learn something new.
The session was great discussing ideas between other business owning parents. Knowing that even if you set up a new business and go it alone. You’re not alone. There’s a community of other tired mummies and daddies out there doing awesome things for their clients. But most importantly also being there for their children first.
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