Balancing motherhood and a freelance career: five lessons
One of the reasons that I decided to become a freelance social media manager three years ago, is because in the back of my mind I knew I wanted to have my first baby at some point, and thought that being a freelancer would give me more flexibility.
Once I’d built up my client portfolio and grew in confidence, I absolutely loved having my own small business, as well as control over who I worked with and how much income I generated. I was, and still am, one of those annoying people who genuinely loves their job most of the time. Freelancing was liberating; although I couldn’t have done it without the previous ten years of invaluable experience gained working for various marketing agencies.
When I became pregnant two years into my freelance venture, I soon realised that maintaining a freelance career may be slightly trickier than I’d anticipated. I had built up a strong portfolio of ongoing clients that I worked with daily managing their social media channels and had the dilemma of working out how to maintain these clients once my baby arrived, as I wouldn’t have someone automatically covering for me when I went on maternity leave. I’d worked with most of these clients from the beginning and loved working with them. It was so important to me that these relationships didn’t end.
Thankfully, I was able to organise temporary cover for the first three-months of motherhood but was still involved (I couldn’t help myself: I find it impossible to step away from my own business!), and once the three months had passed in a blur of sleepless nights, it has certainly been tricky at times balancing looking after a baby, answering work emails and managing multiple social media channels for a range of companies; but I’ve managed and I’m proud of that. I’ve even recently started to take on some more clients and it’s felt wonderful to nurture the ambitious side of me again.
With the number of people going freelance higher than ever - the number of self-employed workers increased from 3.3 million in 2001 to 4.8 million in 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) - I realised there must be many other new parents-to-be facing the same scenario. Therefore, I thought I’d share some important lessons that I’ve learnt along the way:
Before baby arrives:
Find maternity/paternity cover that you can trust
I set out to find another freelancer to cover my work for three months once the baby arrived and I started looking early. LinkedIn was such an awesome resource and I was quite easily able to collate a list of potential support after simply sharing a post asking for help. In the end, I decided to work with one of my friends and former colleagues, which I felt really lucky about as I trusted her and knew my clients would be in good hands.
Do as much work in advance
I did as much work in advance as I possibly could for ongoing clients, to reduce the workload during my maternity leave. This included scheduling as much social media content as I could beforehand. Of course, my maternity cover would still share timely, trending content on my clients’ social channels and switch around some of the already scheduled content; but scheduling the majority of content in advance really helped to lessen the workload for all.
Once the baby arrives:
Spend your free time wisely – and be mindful
Once I was able to get my baby into something close to a routine – including those precious day naps and a bedtime of 7pm – that then allowed me to organise my work around his naps, as well as catch-up in the evenings and some weekends. This type of schedule can lead to total burn-out, but I’ve found it helps if I try to be as mindful as possible with whatever I’m doing and focus only on that one task. So, if the baby is awake, my focus is on him and when we’re playing or I’m pushing him in the buggy, I try to avoid simultaneously checking my phone at the same time. But when he naps, it’s work time – which often means leaving mess – soggy rice cakes on the floor situations - that need tidying until later; and I’ve learnt to embrace that. If I don’t try to be mindful, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Oh, and I make sure to fit in some ‘me’ time too, such as COFFEE and reading the Mail Online showbiz section (guilty pleasure, sorry) or a quick yoga stretch. Because that helps me to stay sane.
Work with like-minded clients
Some of my long-term clients have been supportive of me needing to take time out when the baby arrived and embraced my flexible way of working (in fact, working at weekends benefits them because, social media is 24/7 and it means customers usually receive timely responses to their online messages). It’s those type of clients that I now want to work with more than ever. These days, when I take on a new client, I’m honest about my situation from the start so they know how I work. It’s refreshing, because there are so many other freelance mums also running businesses alongside looking after kids and there’s probably a lot of opportunities there to work together.
Utilise child-friendly co-working spaces
There's an increasing number of co-working spaces that provide childcare too and there are some great options popping up in London, where I’m based, such as Entreprenursery (I highly recommend reading this awesome guide by Doing it for the Kids). As my baby grows, needs more entertaining and naps get shorter, it’s going to become harder to continue to work in the way I am currently. Therefore, I’ve decided to use one of these spaces on a regular basis.
It's not been an easy process – this article, for example, has taken me about four months to finish! – but I wouldn’t have it any other way and love that I can combine being a mum and my freelance work in a way that suits me. Are you juggling freelancing with parenthood? Please share your experience or top tips.