It’s the million-dollar question facing all parents – how best to balance work and family commitments.
While there’s no silver bullet, self-employment is an often-overlooked option, yet one that can provide flexibility when you need it most.
Not everyone starting up in business has ambitions to take over the world either. For some people, like me, the aim of the game is just to have a bit more control over their own little universe.
Laura White previously worked for a big PR firm but decided to set up her own business to give her more flexibility after her daughter was born
It’s okay if you don’t have a burning desire to make a million or employ a staff of hundreds – an ambition to provide for your family in a way that makes you happy is just as impressive.
I made the switch to self-employment (notice I didn’t say leap because it was more of a shuffle) after the birth of my daughter Nina.
Nina was a much longed-for baby. A baby we weren’t sure we’d be lucky enough to have and I was determined to find a way to spend as much time as possible at home with her.
My life before baby was centred on the PR job I loved at a big, city centre communications agency but I felt the hours and commitments were no longer compatible with my new role as mam (read mum if you’re not in my native North East)!
I was on maternity leave when I started getting offers of freelance work and I surprised myself by how much I wanted to give it a go.
Although I was loving my time with my daughter, work was still really important to me and pretty fundamental to helping keep a roof over my family’s head. Self-employment seemed to be a smart way of getting a balance of the two.
Laura White made the switch to self-employment after the birth of Nina
My only goal at first was to ‘buy’ myself out of employment to avoid having to rely on formal childcare.
I figured that every day I could spend at home with Nina was a bonus.
I went from week to week at first. Before I knew it, months had passed and then years – November 2018 marked my tenth year in business.
Interestingly, many of my clients have been involved in encouraging entrepreneurship and my own experience has been invaluable when communicating their work.
That’s especially true of the work that I have done with Transmit Start-Ups – the UK’s leading provider of Government-backed Start Up Loans. Transmit has backed more than 4,000 new businesses with £40.5million and I’ve loved helping to tell their stories.
This didn’t start as a career move but it’s certainly become one. It was done out of necessity yet it’s grown into a little business that’s made me proud and fulfilled. It’s given me an opportunity to discover a new side of myself and the chance to bring up two babies at the same time.
Most importantly, I’ve rarely missed a sports day, school nativity or dental appointment.
Thinking of self-employment as a way to flex around your family?
Here are seven lessons I learned along the way that might help you sidestep early obstacles…
Fast forward: Laura White and her daughter Nina today
1. Don’t pile on the pressure
Dip your toe in the water at first if you’re unsure. Turn a hobby into a business, try freelance life or hold on to other employed work while you give self-employment a go. I was careful not to talk up my decision to become my own boss to friends and family so I didn’t have too far to fall if it didn’t work out.
I also made a conscious effort to under promise and over deliver, meaning clients were happy and I was less pressured.
2. Flex around family and what takes your fancy
What suits you and your family one year might not work the next. I stay open-minded about working patterns and have occasionally even dipped back into employment if a nice opportunity has come my way. Essentially my business has grown as my daughter has grown. As she’s become older and more independent, I’ve taken on larger and more complex projects.
3. Set up on a shoestring if necessary
Don’t let a lack of equipment put you off. Get by with the basics at first if you have to and then invest in premium alternatives as you start to make some money.
Government-backed Start Up Loans, like those provided by Transmit Start-Ups, are designed to help entrepreneurs with cash to get started.
Whilst they lend up to £25,000 at a rate of 6 per cent, those just needing £500-£5,000 to ‘give it a go’ should find the process swift and straightforward.
Make it count: As a parent your time is utterly precious so value it accordingly
4. Value your precious time
As a parent your time is utterly precious so value it accordingly. Make every work minute count and enjoy the rewards.
The first cheque I paid into my business bank account was a major milestone in my life.
It was really empowering to know I didn’t need to rely on anyone else to pay me an income – I could do this myself.
5. Find a friend or meet a mentor
I cannot stress how important it’s been to have a couple of trusted friends on the end of the phone who are also business owners. I’ve returned to their advice time and again since starting up.
A formal mentor, the type provided for free by Transmit Start-ups, is an even better idea and many entrepreneurs we work with cite this support as being as crucial to their success as the start-up cash itself.
6. Honesty really is the best policy
Don’t try to hide your children from your clients! Having come from a slick agency background, I was initially really nervous that my home office might come across unprofessional.
I decided to be really upfront about the way I work and I was pleasantly surprised by supportive my clients were – especially when they saw the quality of my work was not affected.
Many are parents themselves and understand my motivation for wanting to work this way and they know I repay their understanding with loyalty and hard graft.
7. Don’t neglect yourself
Flexibility is great for your family but don’t let it come at the expense of your own mental and physical health. Where possible allocate times of the day and a space where you’ll work so home and business don’t blur.