The phrase ‘working from home’ conjours up images of comfort, calm and freedom, but as this experienced MumBoss knows, the grass isn’t always greener on the self-employed side.
My early career involved roles where I oversaw my own schedule. As an account manager, for example, I had to work within a team, but ultimately the work got done only because I organised it. Working for myself was second nature. When redundancy loomed, I set up a proofreading business, editing CVs, books and dissertations as a backup plan. I enjoyed it so much and the business was rolling in so I eventually took the plunge and went full-time self-employed. That was 13 years ago.
In the main, I’ve loved it. I’ve been able to continue a career doing something I love while being there for my children and working around family commitments (and waiting in for millions of parcels). There’s been no one watching my clock, no pointless meetings, and no travel. But I realised early on that this self-employment lark was way more complicated than working in your pjs.
Back when I was still working in an office, I overheard a pregnant colleague daydream about how she planned to do her job from home once she’d had her baby, working around the baby’s naps and saving loads of money on childcare. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the truth, and even if I did, she wouldn’t believe me. You don’t, you see, until you get there.
At this point I had three young children, was working part-time and building my business. I didn’t want to lose the security of the income from the part-time job but also wanted to make the transition to being self-employed, so I worked day and night to keep things going. Yes, it was exhausting, but there’s nothing like determined enthusiasm to push you through!
In my line of work, which is essentially reading, it’s impossible to work with any noise. So, despite the impression that working from home enables an easygoing work/home life, we still had to pay for a childminder to look after our children. The only thing that changed was that I was home when my oldest two got home from school, but even still, on my working days they went to their grandparents for tea to give me a few more hours. I still need to organise places for my children to be, outside the home, so that I can work inside it!
This isn’t anything new, of course, and many women have this same juggle, but it’s always good to get the perspective of other MumBosses to know that you’re not alone.
Not dressed up, no place to go
There are days when I really miss having somewhere to go, a place to get up for, people to see. My husband goes out the door at 8am to his office job, my two eldest go to their schools, my little ones to the childminders, and I get to stay home with the unwashed breakfast things, the Weetabix blobs on the floor, the damp washing basket, and the toothpaste spit! I ignore it usually and go straight to my office, but it can feel a bit like a prison at times – whichever way I look there is work.
Tip: Find a co-working space if you can to work out of the home occasionally. There are a few good hot desk spots around Cheltenham, for example ‘The Workplace‘ is a new co-working hub in Cheltenham.
Party of one
I don’t see many people, and if you like the office banter then you might find the isolation of working at home a struggle. There’s a lot to be said for the benefits of having friends in the office who you can have a moan to about your sleepless nights or talk to about work stresses. It’s not until you’re out of the office environment that you realise how fundamental the people you worked with were to your day.
Tip: Find new ways to get your human contact! Join an evening class or book in regular coffee catch ups with friends.
No off switch
I hanker for the ability to switch off. Having my own business, I tend to be on alert all the time in case a job comes in – that means on my phone, answering emails late at night or at weekends, taking the laptop on holiday… The insecurity of income means if you switch off, your clients might too, and that will leave you out of pocket. Working for someone else usually means you can do your job, get paid, and go home and put the telly on.
Tip: Try to work in a defined space. At the end of the day, switch off. Leave the gadgets in another room.
One brain, a million open tabs
Working flexibly is great, it really is, but it can also suck you into a void of always working. Your mind, as a mum, will already be full of a billions things – what needs to be washed, what clubs they need to be at, what healthy balanced meal needs to be shopped for and cooked, what day can I book the car into the garage, what bill needs paying, what birthday present should I get for my son’s friend, what homework do they have… add to that all the admin from a business, chasing invoices, paying bills, replying to emails, meeting deadlines, networking, advertising, tax – in your spare time of course – and it is easy to feel overwhelmed and wonder where the Mum stops and the Boss begins.
Tip: Try bullet journaling, or download an app to help you keep track of your to-do list.
Being there, but where is ‘there’?!
Surely being there for my children is what makes it all worthwhile, and yes, it does. I’d much rather be at home after school with them, my brain turns off anyway between 4pm and 8pm. But ‘being there’ isn’t as easy as it sounds when you have clients who are in offices emailing you a job at 5pm to get back to them the next day. I need to sneak away to reply to emails while dinner’s cooking and children are demanding the random things they demand when you’re up to your eyeballs.
As a MumBoss, I find that when a job comes in I have to do it that day because my anxiety tells me that this will be the night that one of my children gets sick and I’ll be unable to do it tomorrow. If I’m late on my deadline, my client will see me as unreliable and use someone else. Children are unpredictable, work deadlines aren’t!
Tip: Have backup carers in place if you need extra help. During busy spells, if you can afford it buy in help such as cleaning or dog walking.
So, would I advocate working for yourself? Absolutely. Would I say it’s easier than being employed? Absolutely not. If you factor in good childcare and schedule your business as though you’re employed, with clear as possible rules about how you will divide your time, you’ll find things much easier. Alternatively, save the worry and stay employed while your little ones are little. There’s only one you remember. Good luck!
A Guest Blog from Kelly Owen
Kelly is 41 and runs her proofreading business from her home in Bishop’s Cleeve. She is married to Mark and they have five children. She also blogs about the loss of her eldest child at Chasing Dragonflies.
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