Being self-employed while being a mother is difficult. It may be tricky, but it’s possible. You’ll need to be adaptable and most certainly patient. You dream may take longer but remember your children are your most important work.
I am here to tell you running a small business with small children around your legs is possible!
I have been self employed all the time I have been a mother. For 7 years, I ran a wedding and family photography business. As my fourth maternity leave was drawing to a close, I decided I really didn’t have the energy for marketing in a new location (we’d recently moved from England to Northern Ireland) and couldn’t realistically leave four children aged 5 and under for full Saturdays on a regular basis. So I laid that aside temporarily. I’ll take it back up when they’re all in school, I thought.
However, what I didn’t anticipate was that I still had a need, desire and urge to be creative. I picked up my watercolour paints and began to paint. Mark making was relaxing and something I really enjoyed. It really helped my mental health.
Some of those painting became cards I sell today! We invested in an iPad and I began to think more seriously about starting a different form of self employment - a product based business instead of the former service based business I had been running. When the pandemic restrictions came in to place, this felt all the more right for this time.
Motherhood and self-employment will look different for every woman and every small business. But it is possible. Let me share 9 of my top tips for it to work as well as possible.
1. Involve them where you can
This will perhaps take a little thought, but it is so worthwhile. Including your children in your work will help in a variety of ways. They will learn that mums can work and be good mums. They will learn a good work ethic from a young age. They will see you working hard and watch as you have a high standard for your work - this will become second nature to them. They are less likely to be lazy in their own work when they have seen you work diligently.
The woman in Proverbs 31 is a great example of this. Here are just a few verses showing her excellent work ethic, and how well she cares for her children all in one.
13She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
Obviously, you’ll want to find ways your children can help without compromising on the quality of your products and work. It can be really simple. For instance, I take my children to the post office or the post box almost daily. It’s something we can do together, and they really love having their turn at putting the envelopes in to the post box.
My 3-year-old came in to my room last Sunday and asked, “Can you wrap your cards, so we can go to the post office?” He LOVES the walk, he loves the attention he gets from the ladies who work in the post office and he’s always excited to see if his “favourite lady” will be serving us that day. This has become a routine and a rhythm of our days. Sometimes, we even get a tasty snack on the way home!
A couple of other ideas would be to make a warm drink for them when you make your coffee and sit at the kitchen table together - them doing their “work” (which could be reading a book, colouring, drawing, practicing with scissors...) and you doing yours. I recommend starting out with things that aren’t that important, and that can easily be put down or you’ll get frustrated with the interruptions.
With older children, things like sorting products in to piles with you, counting items out, coming along to do deliveries etc may be possible ways to include your children in your small business.
2. Consider a locked space to protect your work.
I use the dining room (that isn’t used as a dining room yet) to store all my products and my desk is also in there. It is a tall desk that the toddlers can barely reach. We have added a lock to the door so that the children can’t sneak in and mess around with my things. It adds a bit of security to my paintings and avoids them messing around with my paints or tape when I’m occupied elsewhere.
3. Write down your ideas to implement later
This is actually a piece of advice I’d give every business owner, whether a mother or not.
Have a notebook beside your bed and write down the things that pop in to your head as you’re falling asleep (this seems to be the time when a lot of people’s minds just get going and writing it down to get it out of your mind is a good tip to help you sleep).
Have a draft email or word document and write down things that come to you while you’re looking after your children, making the lunch, pushing the buggy, whenever.
Then when you have a chunk of time to do some work, you have a list of ideas there to be getting on with, and it’ll help you be more productive and intentional in those times of work.
4. Put systems and processes in place
Start with the end in mind. Here you are looking to get things done without them taking your time. So work out what systems are your priority.
Create checklists, standard emails to reply to FAQs, an FAQ section on your website, templates for blog posts, product descriptions and forms to make sure everything is as it should be and you haven’t forgotten anything.
Automation and batch working are your friends! Use all “publish later” options so that your posts, blogs, marketing emails and pinterest pins go out at the right times without you having be there doing it at that specific time.
Bonus top tip here: I use flodesk to make my marketing emails and I love how simple it is, and how beautiful my emails are. If you’re interested in making emails with flodesk (which has honestly saved me hours over mailchimp and made me more keen to actually write emails, which has been beneficial to my business as well!) you can use my affiliate link and get 50% off flodesk FOREVER!
5. Think about adding a little leeway to your lead times
This relates to tip 4 - adding in leeway to your lead times is one system to put in place to make sure you meet your customers’ expectations on when they will receive their items.
Motherhood and life with children is full of unexpected interruptions - illnesses, things needing to be re-prioritised, school holidays, and 1001 reasons you suddenly need to be more present and focused on the children and their needs.
By making your lead times longer than necessary, most of the time, you will exceed your customers expectations for delivery of your products (the concept of under promising and over delivering is a great one!) and when you are needed elsewhere, you can be with your children when they particularly need you without disappointing anyone or getting stressed because you neeeeed to fulfil orders or get in touch with clients, or whatever it is you need to do in your business.
6. Plan times to do work.
My personal situation in this season of motherhood means that evenings are usually my work time. Two of my children are at school, but two are still at home. I usually get a little bit of time after the school drop off to pack up orders and then we take a trip to the post office. But evenings are my creative time.
You may have all your children at school, in which case daytime working is probably the best solution. Especially as your children get older, they’ll have more homework you’ll need to supervise and then they’ll be up later making evening work trickier.
Think about your day and when you could carve out time to focus on your business. Each season looks different, and reevaluating often will be necessary - I’d recommend reviewing each school year, at the very least!
7. Plan ahead.
Make a plan for your month, week and your day. Have a physical diary, a bullet journal or a digital diary - whatever works best for you and put in it your goals, what needs doing and plan ahead in time increments.
It is August as I write this, but I have been taking 5 to 10 minutes each day to paint a few Christmas baubles. I know this will be much harder and more stressful as orders for them come in. I have designed all my Christmas cards, ordered samples of them all, taken product photos of them and have written product descriptions for some of them already. So I am preparing for Q4 during Q3.
When you have quiet moments in the business, when the children are content, plan ahead and work ahead so that future you will thank you! Or opt for tip 9 if you’re feeling like that would benefit you more!
8. Flexibility is key.
Remember, our children are our most important work. Looking after them, showing them love, care, time and attention will affect them for the rest of their lives and will affect our relationships with them for the rest of our lives. Therefore, work comes second.
We are human, we can’t do it all, so something may have to be dropped.
It might be that the bathroom doesn’t get cleaned as often as you’d like it to.
In some seasons, training our children to help with the running of the house is possible, but it takes a lot longer to do everything. So in busy seasons like around Christmas time, maybe you just do things yourself, quickly, efficiently, once they’re in bed.
Perhaps you’ll only go to the post office every other day rather than every day, batching the work and being a little more efficient that way.
If you need a bit of extra time in the day, my kids love a “cinema afternoon”. I make popcorn, the littlest moves his high chair in to the living room, and they watch a dvd suitable for them all. It rarely gives me the full length of the film, the little two still get bored, but it gives me half an hour or so to get stuff done I really need to do.
Be flexible and cut yourself some slack.
9. Set time aside for yourself to rest and relax.
Burn out is real, and it will make everything so much worse in the long run. Know to rest regularly so that you don’t burn out or grow to resent your work and/or family.
As a Christian, I take Sundays as a sabbath day of rest. I do nothing business related and there are some things I try to avoid doing, like laundry. I often take a nap on Sunday afternoons, and read a book, watch a film, or listen to relaxing music sitting in the garden! Whatever it is that helps you to rest and relax, do those things often, especially in the lead up to Q4 which is crazy in the product business world!