By Tess McCabe and Emma Clark Gratton
Running a business when you have young children at home is a game not everyone has the muscle to play. If you’re reading this, we’ll assume you are multitasking; making enough product to fill up a Finders Keepers market table, preparing a school lunch, doing the kinder run, or wiping a snotty nose (or any or all of these simultaneously). Both of us run creative businesses (and have many side projects on the go), and we are also mums to four boys under 5 between us. Suffice to say we have learned in the trenches what works for us to really get stuff done, and we get lots of other tips and insights from fellow creative parents via our podcast The New Normal. We’re excited to share some of our top tips for running a creative business when you have kids at home.
- Let go of traditional gender roles
Is your business deemed less of a priority because you might work at home, put in only part-time/occasional hours, or you do it in addition to being a full-time carer? If so, it might be time for a conversation about your professional objectives, family priorities and everyone pulling more equal weight.
Talk about this stuff EARLY. Ideally, have the conversation about roles and responsibilities when it comes to childcare and family tasks before you even have kids. It is scarily easy to fall into old school 1950s gender roles of wives doing the bulk of the childcare and housework while the partner works full time and mows the lawns on the weekends. If this is what you (and your partner) want, great! If not, it’s important for your relationship and your career for you to both be upfront about your expectations around career, maternity leave and housework.
Have you heard about the exquisite solid Swiss chocolate trophy mums receive for doing it all? No? Probably because it doesn’t exist. So when you want and need time to work on your business and creative goals, don’t be afraid to ask for help, be it from family, friends, babysitters, childcare, food delivery services, cleaners, your iPad, or all of the above. We all need space (physical and mental) to do our best work, and even if you’re not making money in your business right now, consider any associated costs an investment rather than an expense to be immediately recouped.
- Factor parenting into a business plan
For better or worse, everyone changes when they become a parent – and it’s highly likely your productivity, focus and drive has really taken a step up now that you have less time to work in your business, and more incentive to make that time count. Factor your new-found productivity into your business plan and consider how it might change your rates/prices, improve your processes, and generally sort the wheat from the chaff in terms of what projects you want to take on or develop further.
Your ideas about how you want to run your business might also have changed since you introduced the next generation into the world. If your ideal work day sees you clock off in time to be waiting at the school gate, factor that into your business plan. A few of our guests run their businesses in term times only, leaving school holidays free of deadlines.
If you were planning an overseasmove, or any other huge life decision, you would factor it into your business planning, right? And having kids is no different. Many of our guests have switched gears in their businesses several times, from cutting back on clients during maternity leave, to taking on more work when the kids go to school. And having kids doesn’t necessarily mean you have to work less – just learn to work better. You might harness this new focus and diversify your product lines to include kid’s products, start blogging about parenting, or even bring a partner or fellow parent into the business to help keep things family-friendly.
- Maximise your work time by preparing ahead
Prepare yourself ahead of time to hit the ground running as soon as your ‘work hours’ begin. This might mean turning on the computer, getting out essential tools, or otherwise setting up your workspace a few minutes before your kid goes down for their daily nap or gets dropped off at childcare. Go over your to-do list in your head while you transition from kid-time to work-time, and try visualising what you’ll work on first, or how you’ll get stuck into a challenging or time-sensitive task. This preparation can make the transition to your desk quicker and make you feel even more productive if your work time is limited.
When you are faced with having to complete several hours of work during a kid’s single sleep cycle, you want to be as organised as possible! Embrace all the time-saving and organisational techniques you can; to-do lists that sync over several devices, a calendar that everyone from your partner, kids and grandparents or nanny can access, even ensuring you have a full tummy and a clear mind can work wonders for short-term productivity.
As one of our guests, Nicole Avery, commented: “dinner is not a surprise”. While meal planning for some might take the fun out of your ‘eat what I feel like at the time’ appetite, it does make for less headaches when everyone is hangry at 5pm. Planning ahead for the inevitable tasks of home management can minimise or eliminate stress so you can focus on doing your best creative work.
- Talk to your kid about what your work is, and what it means for them and your family
We all know the basic equation is: work = money = food and a roof. There is a lot more to running a business than that, but depending on the age of your kid, there’s never a bad time to explain how money doesn’t grow on trees and also this is not a restaurant – you can’t just order from a menu.
It is important for kids to know about their parent’s jobs, especially if they are self-employed. When you work for yourself, you will inevitably discuss work at home. You can include your kids in these chats; it helps them to already understand that we have to earn money so we can buy things, and our businesses are how we do that. Teach your kids about other people’s jobs too, not just the cool ones, like firemen and doctors, but the occupations of your friends and family. This can help kids understand that they can choose any job they like, and to focus on finding enjoyment from their career first and money second.
Many studies have shown that kids whose parents work (and enjoy their work) grow up to be much more well-adjusted and maybe even astronauts. Taking time away from them to work on something you’re passionate about will not be something you regret, and as they grow up and discover their own professional passions, they’ll be glad you followed yours.
- Aim for completion not perfection
It’s highly likely that since becoming a parent, many of your formerly high standards of dress/hygiene/diet/exercise/sleep quota have had to be renegotiated (sometimes hostage-style). And thus your standards for perfection in your work may also start to slip ever so. It’s admirable to continue to strive for perfection in every aspect of your business, but also no-one is going to blame you if you settle for pretty good in some areas.
Someone once said “perfect is the enemy of good”, which roughly translates as ‘replying to an email while pushing a kid on the swing is better than not replying at all.’ Lower your expectations of how much you can feasibly get done (then lower them some more) and adjust your business accordingly.
- Accept that sometimes the wheels fall off
Kids get sick, childcare falls through, plans change, cars break down, and some nights, no one sleeps a wink. You might have opted to run your own business because of the quote-unquote “flexibility”, but no one will blame you for forgetting this on those days when best laid work plans go awry under the weight of random kid stuff. When the wheels fall off, they tend to not just wobble off but crash spectacularly, destroying everything in their wake. If your kid is sick at childcare and you’re an hour away at a printmaking workshop and your partner’s car has broken down and your other kid has left his lunch at home and your credit card has been declined, take a deep breath, and call someone for help. Remember, most people are understanding, and there’s always wine.
All of us balanced parenting and our businesses seamlessly before we had kids: our unborn kids would only eat organic hand made food, never watch TV and would sleep 12 hours straight so your business ran smoothly and your strict yoga schedule could be maintained. Needless to say, this is not everyone’s reality when running a business with kids underfoot. But remember, when all is said and done, despite the choices and compromises you might make when you run a business while raising young kids, if your sprogs are happy, healthy and loved, and you are kicking even the smallest of personal/professional goals, you’re doing great.
Emma Clark Gratton and Tess McCabe are both creative small business owners, former Finders Keepers stallholders, and mums. Together they host The New Normal, a fortnightly podcast about parenthood, small business management, and the enduring (but sometimes futile) pursuit of balance of creative output and child wrangling. Listen in at www.thenewnormalpodcast.com.
Finders Keepers offer: Get 10% off your ticket to our special live panel event on Saturday 27 August 2016 with the code ‘finderskeep’. Details here.