For the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at some of the ways in which you can set up your business to give you the freedom, flexibility and fulfilment that you’re after. We kicked off the series with my belief that running your own business really is the best way to get that freedom, flexibility and fulfilment– whatever that looks like for you. Whether you want to be location independent so that you can travel the world with only a backpack on your shoulders, or so that you can plan your work and time off around your children. With that in mind, we’re shifting our attention now to the specific scenario of having a young family – and why you should start a business.
What’s wrong with the corporate 9 to 5?
On the surface, it may seem like a full-time job is the safest option when it comes to having children: you receive a steady salary, you’ll get paid maternity leave, and you have the security of having a guaranteed role to come back to once you’re ready to start working again.
On the other hand, there is the stereotypical image of start-ups and entrepreneurs made up of young 20-somethings with no children and no real obligations to anyone but themselves, either working late into the night in a co-working space and lacking any personal life, or else swanning about on a beach with not a care in the world. You have the Elon Musks and Gary Vaynerchuks who don’t sleep and make millions from ‘the hustle’ – or the struggling freelancer who is faced with the eternal rollercoaster of ups and downs in their business.
However, none of these images are particularly accurate.
When it comes to actually working once you have your child(ren), that ‘9 to 5’ of a full-time job is never just 9 to 5; large corporations especially will have rigid rules and a long-established culture, and even if lip service is being paid to “flexible working” and “work-life balance”, there will often be pressure to come back early or go back up to full time; and there will always be the fear that you might be replaced or relegated to a less interesting role. Not to mention the fact that your old-school boss may well frown at leaving the office early to go home to your sick child.
When it comes to running your own business, there are many shades of grey (and colours of the rainbow!) in between that millionaire hustler at the one end of the spectrum and the struggling freelancer at the other. It’s perfectly possible, and reasonable, to earn a good living in your own business while running it on your own terms, with the work-life balance (or work-life integration) that you’re after.
I’m always talking about creating ‘freedom, flexibility and fulfilment’ in your life – so let’s look at each of these in turn, and how running your business is the best way to create and apply these concepts when you’re planning to have children…
‘Freedom’ can mean different things to different people: freedom to make your own decisions, freedom to take time off without asking for permission, freedom to live your life on your own terms. In this case, freedom can mean deciding exactly how and when you want to work around your young family.
Since this is your definition of ‘freedom’ – and of ‘success’ more broadly – you can tailor it to what you want as a parent.
- How much parental leave will you want to take?
- How much work will you take on once you do decide to come back again?
- Will you want to spend as much time as you can at home with your children, with your business running at a steady level without your direct involvement – or will you want to get robust childcare in place so that you can focus on driving your ambitious business plans?
- Will you want your children to be part of your business (the ‘mumpreneur’ phenomenon) or do you want to keep them completely out of the picture?
- What kind of work will you want to, and not want to, be doing once you have children, and with which types of clients?
When you start your own business, you get to design your business model so that it fits with your individual criteria, saying “no” to the projects and clients that don’t work for you. It really gives you the freedom you want and need to be the parent, and business owner, that you want to be.
Aside from the ‘big picture’ notion of freedom in your business, there is also the more practical aspect of flexibility. Like freedom, flexibility can mean different things, for example, working part-time and choosing your own hours, working from anywhere, or taking on more or less work as you go.
Again, you can define your own criteria for what ‘flexibility’ looks like for you:
- Do you want to be able to work from home, or would you enjoy travelling to a client’s office or to a co-working space so that you get out of the house?
- How many clients do you want to take on, and how many days do you want to be working each week?
- What are the hours that you absolutely want to keep free, for example, so that you can do the school run in the morning and afternoon, be home for bedtime, and never miss a football/dance/theatre performance?
- Are there certain times of the year when you want to take a bigger chunk of time off to be with your family, say, during the long summer holidays?
- Do you want a certain structure and routine in your working week, or do you want it to be super flexible so that you can make last-minute decisions on what you do with your time?
Clearly, the answers to these questions will evolve over time as your children grow older and your situation changes – working around a baby’s schedule is very different to working when you have school-age children! But, again, the point is that you get to decide, and to adjust your parameters as you go.
A lot of the people I’ve spoken to over the years – let’s be honest, they have all been women – have cited having children as one of the primary drivers for wanting to set up their own business.
Many mums don’t want to lose their professional identity and want to continue doing challenging and stimulating work. However, it can be hard to find part-time work with the freedom and flexibility they’re after on the one hand, and the intellectual stimulation they still crave on the other.
Designing and building your own business means that you can keep doing the work that you’re good at, and that you love to do, while also building in that freedom and flexibility that will allow you to spend time with your little ones. If you build a business that’s bigger than just you as a solopreneur, it also means that you can create a ‘family-first’ company culture for your team, where all your employees can benefit from that same freedom and flexibility without any discrimination because of their personal choices to have children.
So, what next?
At a theoretical level, the ideal would be to start a business now, when you’re thinking about maybe having children in the next few years. The early days of a new business (or, rather, months and years!) will see you working hard, trying and learning new things, and building up your business – and you want to be able to do that without the inevitable sleep deprivation and distractions that come with keeping a new-born baby alive.
If you start now, you’ll have time to work out what business you want to run, build an established online presence, and create a pipeline of clients. This means that you can build your business in such a way that it will survive when you take time off, and that you will have the finances to be able to do so.
In practice, however, it may not always work that way and there’s no need to think in those black-and-white terms: if you already have children, it’s not too late! I’ve worked with plenty of people who ended up starting a business while on maternity leave; sometimes even with a toddler in tow as well! It will be hard work but, if anything, it’s all the more urgent to get this working for you when you already have children. (Check out, for example, Ruth Kudzi’s, Charlotte Bruun-Christensen’sand Christina Lister’s stories about building up their businesses to work around their children.)
And, next week, we’ll be getting more concrete in terms of how to physically set up your business so that it will work for starting a family in the future (or for managing a family in the present!).
If you’re interested in getting started with building a business that will work for when you have a young family, join the One Step Outside Facebook group to get inspiration and concrete tips around how to do just that!