Can I freelance as a mum?

Being a mum and being a freelancer are two of the most rewarding and yet challenging roles you can EVER take on! And I should know, because I’m both, writes Faye Dicker, founder of child-friendly business network Freelance Mum.

But the question I often get asked is this – is it REALLY possible to do both freelancing and parenting at the SAME time, and do BOTH well!?

The short answer is, absolutely, YES! But – and it’s quite a big BUT -- get ready to juggle!

Meet me: a freelancer who became a mum, and who is still joyfully juggling today!

First though, a bit more about me. I’m a voiceover artist and mum to two gorgeous girls. I was already established as a freelance voiceover artist before I had my first daughter in 2012.

I’ll be honest, I thought that because I knew my trade, motherhood was something that could be ‘weaved in around’ voiceover recording sessions. I might have been an experienced voiceover artist, but I clearly knew very little when it came to adding a baby in the mix!

One of the biggest differences between raising a family and being a freelancer, compared with being full-time PAYE, is that it’s more a lifestyle choice. And like all lifestyle choices, it comes with its pros and cons -- yet that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. It’s just a case of preparing.

Let’s take sick pay as an example. Neither sick pay nor ‘team cover’ (by which I mean someone on the client’s team simply stepping in for you), is part of freelancing. This lack of provision if you’re poorly, as a mum with a freelance career, can make things tricky.

Here, exclusively for FreelanceUK, are my top tips to being both a fab freelancer and a fab mum:

1. Find good childcare!

So firstly, before you commit to being self-employed as parent, find good childcare. This is an ABSOLUTE NECESSITY. Whether you decide to go down the child-minder route or a nursery, it’s integral to you and your business, so you can plot your work accordingly.

Of course, you can’t plot when you might get sick, but at least you know you have someone on back-up, to look after your children when you do.

2. Factor in time-slippage, because ‘life just happens’!

Secondly, children get sick too and ‘life happens’.

In fact, ‘life seems to happen’ a lot more, when there’s another little human being about!

Being realistic with your workload/deadlines and commitments is therefore a must. That’s not to say you can’t take on exciting projects --you absolutely can!

But you might want to factor in that, as a mum juggling both self-employment and children, YOU WILL LIKELY NEED MORE TIME THAN YOU THINK to complete a project, or scope an assignment, due to time ‘slippage’ from life with your little one(s) just ‘happening.’

So freelance mums -- definitely give yourself an extra time buffer when you do look at contractually agreeing milestones or deliverables with clients.

Fun fact: I know of a website designer who runs their business around a family and looks to base their workload entirely around the school terms! So the freelance designer only takes on four new websites per term. 

3. Put a nifty ‘no-questions-asked’ network in place!

Thirdly, to be a parent who’s self-employed, you need a brilliant network!

As the saying goes ‘find your tribe and love them hard.’ One of the best things you can do is find a network who ‘gets you’, whereby you don’t have to explain yourself and they instantly understand. Ideally, there’s no questions of you asked when you turn up stressed, exhausted or late, because they know your drill.

Being a freelance mum was the driving force for me creating Freelance Mum, because quite simply I couldn’t relate to any other mums ‘on the circuit’. I was quite sure I couldn’t be the only freelance mum out there, and if it didn’t exist, then I’d have to create it! So Freelance Mum was born. I urge you to check it out!

The strength of this network is in both the online AND offline community -- The Mothership as it’s affectionately known, and the ‘netwalks’ I put on. These are basically a ramble that lets you ramble to other mums who are walking in your shoes every day! 

These offline events give hard-working self-employed people who have kids a ‘safe space’ where they can think out loud (no matter how odd it sounds); share their experience, ask for advice, and have a ‘sanity-checking’ chat.

Of course, you don’t have to do this via my Freelance Mum to be a success at being a parent who works for themself, but you do have to find a network that works for you, where there is a ‘safe space’ to talk, share, and simply hear yourself think! There’s a strength in sharing ideas and feelings, that makes you feel validated.

4. Know when it’s an outsourcing job, or simply time to collaborate!

Fourthly, outsource. There’s a saying ‘do what you do best and outsource the rest’ and there’s a lot of sense in it! I’d especially urge you to remember this phrase when it comes to trying to juggle the many things you need to juggle if you want to be a great freelancer and a great mum!

Outsourcing doesn’t have to cover every aspect of your business. But if there are elements of your independent venture you’re agonising over, or which are adding to that slippage (see section 2), can you outsource it? Can you export it to an expert to free up some headspace for yourself?

And if not at work – how about at home? For example, when I was a freelancer and mum to a toddler and baby, that was the only time I could mentally justify having a cleaner. What little free time I had, wasn’t going to be spent cleaning! At the time, having a cleaner wasn’t a luxury, so much as a necessity to keep our household going. Now, with both girls at school, the cleaner has gone. But I work with a PA to help manage my workload. It’s about keeping life simple -- and doing what gives you peace.

Similarly, is now the time you can team up with another freelancer and take on larger projects? There’s a safety in numbers, knowing you can halve workloads, while also allowing personal and professional development. You don’t have to ‘apologise’ for being a parent managing work around a family; simply own it! Look at what you do best, buddy up with another freelancer and look at what you can offer as a team together.

5. The other (ultimate) partner you need as a freelance mum!

Fifthly, your partner. It’s crucial to get your partner on board with your freelance career. Or, if you are a single parent, get another loved one to help support you. Even best laid plans like a Plan A and Plan B, plus a string of back-up child minders, can all suddenly implode!

You’ll also want that loved one (or another relative so you don’t overtax a single loved one!), to be there for you too, emotionally because even though they might not freelance themselves, they’ll understand that ‘tug of love’ feeling when you’re having to decide between going to the school nativity play or rearranging that client-event you put in the calendar months ago! I mean – who gives you less than 2 weeks for your child’s first nativity?! It happens unfortunately, and more than you’ll probably think.

I remember when my youngest was about to turn one, which is a milestone in every parent’s life. For some reason I’d decided that I HAD to make her birthday cake and NOBDOY else could possibly do it. I also had a 3-year-old to look after; was in the midst of a house-build, and suddenly became the voice for Great Western Railway.

It was a real feather in my cap as a voiceover artist, but also a huge volume of work to record the fleet of on-board station announcements. Not to mention, I was simultaneously trying to make the birthday cake while picking my moments when it came to recording, amid the renovation racket at home caused by the builders!

Quite simply, it all wasn’t possible without my husband taking time off work and looking after the girls, while my mum lovingly understood why ONLY I could possibly bake the first birthday cake. It was practical help, empathy, and will power that got me through that week. But we got there and somehow it ended up ‘Mission(s) Accomplished.’

6. Take a break, make room for downtime, go on holiday!

My sixth top tip to being self-employed and a parent, is go on holiday, take time out and be realistic!

By this I mean, we all want to say ‘yes’ to clients. But equally important to being accommodating as a freelancer is taking time out – physically look at new horizons and connecting with the people and places you love. That includes you! Burnout must be avoided. One of my favourite sayings is, ‘YOU CAN’T POUR FROM AN EMPTY CUP.’ It’s so true, and continually true if you’re self-employed and a parent. Just think about it -- it’s impossible to keep pouring your energy into your family; your children; your business, your client’s business; if you’re not putting anything back in for you. Remember, there’s more than one client, but there is only one you!

To help convince you to break before you feel broken, ask yourself this question – ‘Is there another freelancer you can send work to when you go away?’

It reflects far better on you professionally, to be able to refer work to another freelancer, than just giving your client a flat ‘no’. A good friend and fellow voiceover artist used to leave her ‘Out-of-Office’ auto-message redirecting enquirers of her services to my inbox, whenever she went on holiday. And then I reciprocated. It’s not a case of ‘giving away clients’, but keeping your clients happy, so they know they are in safe hands.

Not to mention, when you take and enjoy a proper break, you come back fresh and with renewed energy. Plus your brain does that lovely thing when you take time off -- it comes up with new ideas, for you, for your work; for your clients and for your business.

My final thoughts as a freelance mum (includes ‘there’s nothing quite like it’)

Lastly, being a creative industries freelancer who is a mum is ever-evolving. The flexibility you need to be good at self-employment is an absolute must when you combine being self-employed with being a full-time parent.

One thing I always think of to help me keep juggling, and not drop either the client’s skittles or my personal skittles, is this:

‘I am my most important asset – I have to look after myself.’

As a result, in my shoehorned free time, I can typically be found swimming in my local lido. I call it the ‘Lido Download’ because everything finds its right place afterwards. Quite simply, you never regret a swim.

It can be exasperating and amazing in equal measures, bringing human beings into this world, while trying to run your own sole trader business. Invariably chickenpox will strike at the wrong moment, swimming lessons will clash with client meetings and don’t get me started again on the infamous school nativity! But the rewards far outweigh the chaos. Not only are you doing the thing that you love, around the people you love, but you’re leading the way and setting an example to the next generation. And that, as they say, is priceless.