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10 tips for freelancing parents

A freelance life can suit many parents. There’s potentially more flexibility for childcare, the possibility of choosing work that interests you, and sometimes the option of working from home.

But there can also be worries of an uncertain salary, feeling like you’re constantly on-call or feeling isolated.

How can you get the best out of work and your home life when you’re a freelancing parent?

Annie Ridout, author of the Freelance Mum and Corinne Stuart, now full-time and head of sales at IPSE - both mums - have 10 tips to help you.

Corinne Stuart (L) and Annie Ridout (R)

Tips from Annie Ridout:

1. Swap skills

“When you’re starting out, you might not have the money to pay for everything that you need, but you might know someone, like a photographer, who can take photos of you and you can help them in return.

That’s what I did with my photographer friend. She took some headshots of me, and then she wanted help with her blog. I helped her looking into SEO.

We’ve continued this relationship where we swap skills. It’s mutually beneficial and we both get a lot out of it.”

2. Don’t isolate yourself

“[Freelancing] can feel quite lonely sometimes, especially if you’re working from home.

One way to deal with this is if you’re working on a laptop, go and work in a coffee shop or a library. Even if you don’t talk to anyone, you’re surrounded by people and you can feel less alone.

Another trend which is for freelance parents to meet up at one person’s house and to hire a babysitter to look after all the children, so that everyone else can work together around the kitchen table, or wherever works. It’s a way to keep conversations going and to network while you’re working.”

3. Your brand is important

“It’s really important that you look really professional because so much of what we do is online.
Have a proper website. You can build it for free, or at least really cheaply.

Have a logo designed. Again maybe a skill swap would work here. Get a proper designer to help you design one, because the visual identity of your brand really matters.

It’s your online presence, it crosses from your Instagram account to your Facebook, your website - it’s what people first see of you online.

So make sure it looks really good and get good head shots as well.”

4. Sort your childcare

“When you start up as a freelancer with kids, it can be quite difficult because if you’re not earning, you don’t want to commit to paying for nursery for four days a week.

At first it can help by getting some ad hoc babysitting...where you pay someone by the hour. They can come to your house and watch your child while you work.

When you start to earn more consistently, even if you just commit to one day a week with a childminder or sending your child to nursery, it can really help.

It means that you don’t have to rely on nap times and evenings and weekends. That might work at first, but it can become really tiring. You deserve some daylight hours to work.”

5. Embrace the flexibility

“You’ve probably gone freelance because you like the idea of having more flexibility - being able to choose your working hours, but also to be around your kids more. So make the most of that.

If you want to go to a networking event during the day, while your kid is at nursery, then do and don’t feel guilty about it.

Likewise, if you want to go to your child’s sports day, go, and don’t think ‘oh I should be checking my emails or working’. Make the most of the flexibility.”

Tips from Corinne Stuart:

6. Research your market before you go freelance

“You might already be working in that area, so it might be quite easy to switch over and do what you’re doing now, but just on a freelance basis.

But if you’re wanting to do something completely different, it might be an idea to just start off in a small way to begin with, whilst you’re still employed and see if it works for you.”

7. Set yourself up properly right from the start

“What I mean by that, is having a separate bank account for your business.

Decide whether it’s going to be sole trader or limited company. There are different ways of doing that and there are different obligations, so research that.

If you’re going to be working as a consultant or a contractor for instance, a lot of companies will expect you to be VAT registered too.

If this seems all a little bit too much, you can get an accountant to do all those things for you and advise you, but it’s quite simple to do it yourself too.”

8. Make sure you value your worth

“Ask for what you’re worth. Do a bit of research as well to find out what the market will bear, but don’t undercut yourself in the hope that that’s the way you’re going to win business.

My biggest mistake in one of my assignments was to undercut myself, and I didn’t even get the job! That was a huge learning lesson for me. I never did it again.”

9. Find a mentor

“[Find] someone who has gone there before you, someone who can help you not make the mistakes that they’ve made and everyone else has made.

Find someone who you can bounce ideas off, someone who could actually suggest ways of moving forward and someone who can give you some realistic advice, which at times, family and friends might be a little bit reluctant to do.”

10. Join an organisation

“Join an organisation, a trade organisation if you’re in a profession or in an organisation like ours, which is IPSE.

Often those organisations will give you benefits if you get called up for jury service or sickness benefits.

You’re joining a whole community, so you can go to events, you can mix, you can speak to other people. That’s really important too, so you don’t feel you’re on your own.”

You can listen to the BBC Woman's Hour parenting podcast here. Let us know your comments and thoughts on Twitter and Instagram @BBCWomansHour.