The challenges of balancing childcare and running a small business

The challenges of balancing childcare and running a small business

Posted: Wed 11th May 2022

Running a small business is relentless. Success brings more work and ambition pushes entrepreneurs to work long hours. It can feel like there are opportunities you're missing out on.

When you're a parent it can be difficult to find time to work on the business around childcare demands.

What happens when there's an emergency at home or in the office? Should you be answering emails when you're spending time with children? How can you find time for yourself while all this is going on?

There's an army of part and full-time entrepreneurs fitting business around the childcare. Writing proposals after bedtime. Going to child-friendly networking events and using nap time to catch up on emails.

Three parents share their advice about getting the right work-life balance and what's helped them.

It takes a village to raise a family

My own week's been filled with the highs and lows of parenting. A stomach bug left us struggling to cope with our seven-month-old.  
A scene in a coming-of-age rom-com had me sobbing on Sunday. It's easy to feel low when you don't have the energy to look after your child. It was impossible to drop out of hosting a panel on Monday and Tuesday came with deadlines.

But we got through it. A friend babysat for a couple of hours and we nanny shared another day. It takes a village to raise a family. This morning was back to glorious, soul recharging pre-work playtime.

The Enterprise Nation members we spoke to shared similar experiences of juggling childcare with work. Ruth Bradford started The Little Black & White Book Project in 2016. She's been working on the project full-time for the last six months.

"I work completely on my own at the moment," she said. "There's no one to pick up the business or childcare side of things. My husband's really supportive. It's more that the job doesn't allow him the flexibility, it has to be planned in advance. We rely on friends and family."

There's inherent flexibility in working for yourself and it's possible to drop things at short notice if you need too, Bradford added. Answering emails and using the Shopify App on her phone means she can keep the essentials going.

The benefits of networking

Meeting people in the same situation's helpful and there are lots of child-friendly meet-ups.

Bradford goes to Mama Tribe events, Bristol-based Freelance Mum and Enterprise Nation Bristol meet-ups. These are often open to dads too in-spite of their names. The events help build confidence, create value in the business and deal with the tougher times.

"When you're working at home the down days feel like the world is caving in. Just going and seeing some friendly faces and having a coffee helps you realise it's not that bad," Bradford said.

It marked a shift in her mindset, too. She was defining progress by completing action lists for things like sales and website updates. Bradford now sees more value in networking and building relationships.

Yarka Krajickova is a freelance accountant and director of Red Money Accounting. She's a big advocate of networking too and runs an event called Mums & Dads In Business.

"You have to get out there and network to grow your business and for your sanity," she said. "Go for a coffee and get out of the house. Different things work for different people. For me, as pathetic as it might sound, it's work that helps me deal with parenthood."

Krajickova added that it's not just about finding clients - you get to talk to other parents about how they work and function.

The need to make time for yourself

Parents we spoke to mentioned that they want to get better at making time for themselves.

Krajickova has two children, a newborn to look after full-time and a five-year-old. She works about 20 hours a week.

"I'm on it for an hour or two five days a week when the kids are asleep. Plus another five if you add up the all the minutes here and there," she said.

Asked how she puts in so many hours between childcare and the business she answers half-joking: "Coffee." The truth is the buzz of running her own business helps her power through.

Scented candles, watching mindless TV and "looking into my little boy's eyes, as cheesy as it sounds" help Krajickova relax.

"Admittedly, I do need to make more time for myself even if it's a bath. It would be amazing to go to a spa or hairdresser," she added.

The power of sharing your story

Small business brands are often built around the founder. Bradford's idea for The Little Black & White Book Project came from designing artwork for her son. This means it's natural for her to talk about being a parent.

"It goes hand in hand when working with retailers because they're buying into me. As soon as someone finds out more you connect on that level of being a parent or being in the creative industry," said Bradford.

Krajickova is not shy about talking about her situation with clients either. They're often in a similar situation and naming the business Red Monkey Accounting is a cheeky nod to her children.

Interviewees stressed the need to keep an open dialogue with business partners and family.

"Make sure you have the support of your partner," said Krajickova. "Talk, be open about it. If you don't you'll end up moaning to someone else. You have to look after your mental health if that goes down, everything goes down."

Create a business that's sustainable

Kiki-Sunshine Boonwaat founded Gather co. after eight years of running her own businesses took a toll on her physical and mental wellbeing.

"I was no stranger to putting in 12 hour days and still feeling no further forward. When we welcomed my daughter into the world that had to change. I'd also experienced an intense period of personal disconnection and what felt like a real lack of confidence postpartum.

"Burn out in any form isn't an option when you have children. You're in charge of their wellbeing as well as your own as they depend on and learn from you so much," said the wellbeing and business coach.

Creating a workplace that has wellbeing at its foundation's allowed Boonwaat to reduce her working week from around 35 hours to 22 and worry less. "When we're happier, feeling more energy and focus it also affects our bottom line," she added.

You can read the NHS's advice on postnatal depression or speak to a doctor if you're worried about mental health.

Building confidence and sharing experiences

Networks of family and friends, self-care and sharing your story helped the small business owners we talked to balance childcare with running a business. But it kept coming back to networking and the opportunity to build your experience.

"I've been reflecting since my Female Start-up of the Year win because I went from being a blubbering mess to being able to stand on that stage," said Bradford.

"For anyone that's struggling a bit, I'd recommend saying 'yes' more. Go to more events. You'll find the ones that make you feel good and build your confidence. Not just in business but in general wellbeing."


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