How To Get Started As A Freelancer If You Have Children

Photographed by Nicolas Bloise
The following is an extract from Annie Ridout's book The Freelance Mum.
You’ve decided to take the plunge and go freelance. Perhaps you’ve left behind a salaried job and want to find work to fit around your kids. Maybe your contract ended when you gave birth, as it did for me. Either way, well done for making this decision. It won’t be easy but it will be fun, as long as you’re working in a field that excites you. So, how to decide on your freelance path?
An exercise I like to do every New Year’s Eve is to envisage the coming year. What would I like to achieve? I think about my career, my family, my social life, my hobbies — everything. And I spend an hour drawing and writing up a detailed plan of my dreams. One year, this list included having a second baby, writing articles for the Guardian and Stylist and continuing to spend lots of time with my daughter. All those things happened. As the next year came to a close, I created a visual representation of my dreams for that year, which included earning £100,000 ($177,000 AUD) and writing a book.
This exercise could help you to decide what you’d like your freelance life to look like. So ask yourself the questions below, then write a list, draw a picture, cut photos out of magazines and create a collage or write a story — whatever feels most natural to you. Committing your intentions to paper makes them much more likely to come to fruition. It’s about having a clear focus and knowing what you’re working towards.

In a dream world:

How many days a week are you working?
What are you doing?
How much are you earning?
Are you alone, or surrounded by people — a team, perhaps?
Where are you working from: your kitchen, a shared workspace, a snazzy office?
How much holiday will you take? Where will you go?
What will your weekends look like?
Remember, this exercise is about everything you’d like to happen. A common barrier for mothers in terms of establishing a new career path is confidence. Many of us find ourselves questioning our identity after giving birth. You look and feel different; people might suddenly treat you as if you’re less capable in the workplace. But you’re not. You have skills and experience, and now you’re going to put them to good use. So, envisage the lifestyle you’d like to lead, think about your skillset and start planning your dream freelance career.
Francesca McConchie (@cakeofdreams) was working as a PA before having her first baby but she wasn’t happy in her job, wanted to be around more for her children and was fed up with paying extortionate childcare fees. She’d been a passionate baker for years, and had always been complimented on the cakes she’d made for her kids’ birthday parties, so when she started getting enquiries from people who had attended the parties, she decided to start making cakes alongside working as a PA.
Once she’d realised how little she was making from her desk job after childcare costs, she decided it wasn’t such a terrifying leap to give cakes a go full-time, so she quit the day job and launched Cake of Dreams — her one-woman baking business. She works while her kids are at school — admin and emails on Mondays, then baking the sponges and making different aspects of the cakes towards the end of the week, usually for collection Friday to Sunday. "I do have to get up early on Saturday (and sometimes Sunday) mornings nine times out of ten to decorate them, which kind of sucks," she says. "But it’s easier now the kids are a bit older and hanging off my legs less!"
Lauren Davies (@thisisheka) trained as a designer at the prestigious Royal College of Art and worked part-time in studios before becoming pregnant with her son, Max. When he was three months old, she had her work exhibited but realised that the pressure of producing original designs while looking after a young child was too much. Instead, she began using her hard-earned knowledge of sustainable design and started to offer this out as a consultant. She was picked up by a forward-thinking agency and began to work two days a week from home — managing with a mixture of paid-for childcare and utilising Max’s nap times. With a high day-rate, this two-day working week enables her to lead a financially comfortable life, while being very much involved in her son’s early years.
For Dr Pragya Agarwal — designer, entrepreneur, journalist and TEDx speaker — it was a different set of circumstances that led to her embarking on her multi-skilled freelance career. "Becoming self-employed was not a decision that I took lightly," she says. "After a career at the top of academia, and facing workplace bullying, stress and burnout, I took a difficult decision to take a break and step away from something that I had worked very hard to achieve. I defined myself through that success and that position, and so this change brought about some loss of self-esteem, confidence and a sense of direction. But it also gave me an opportunity to evaluate what I really was passionate about and wanted from my life, and that was to make a positive change and impact and create a life filled with meaning and purpose that was flexible and gave me back control." She now has multiple income streams. "This kind of portfolio career suits me because it makes life really interesting and exciting. It has also been good for my mental wellbeing, as it helps me to keep thinking outside the box and more creatively."
Whether you turn a hobby into a career, like Francesca; use your experience and knowledge of your industry to offer consultancy, as Lauren does; set up your own shop or small business, like I have; transition into a new but connected phase of your career, like Anna — from chef to food stylist and writer; or find yourself needing a fresh start following an unbearable work situation, like Pragya; it’s about ensuring that you are honing in on everything you’ve learned up until now. You have valuable assets, whatever your previous line of work. So once you’ve worked out what they are, and what your work–life balance should be, you can start making this your reality. All the practical stuff, like childcare, can be considered later. This initial exercise is just about you and your dream freelance career.
Helen Thorn, one half of the Scummy Mummies comedy duo, says: "My number-one top tip is to be passionate and love what you do. Don’t just choose the style of working because you think you should or because your friends are doing it. Working freelance is wonderful for its flexibility, but you also face other challenges in terms of irregular income, hustling for work and rejection that you wouldn’t get in other 'normal' employment. If you REALLY love what you do, this will get you through those times.
"One of the most useful things we did a few years into the Scummy Mummies was write down a list of absolutely everything we wanted to do. And I mean everything. And then we chose five to focus on. In the beginning, you’ll be tempted to say yes to everything and be 'busy'. But while the money may be appealing, there are no prizes for exhaustion. Think about your business and brand in the long term and what you really want from it. Being successful is about what you say 'no' to, as well as what you say 'yes' to."
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