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How to to manage your freelance business, when you become a parent

It sounds like a cliche but it was also true for me, especially in my freelance business: Having a kid changed everything. When I found out that I was pregnant, I was excited that my freelance work would give me more schedule flexibility once my son arrived. But I had no idea just how much the addition of a child would change the way I worked on a daily basis, too.

Today, my son is 1.5-years-old. And looking back, I can see a few clear through-lines of change in my freelance career post-kid. These themes show up in the careers of many of the parents I work with in my business coaching sessions, too, whether they’re new parents or they’ve been at this whole parenting thing for some time.

When you’re a parent, your time becomes much more limited.

Pre-baby, I worked about 30 hours per week and made over six figures each year as a freelance writer. I knew I’d need to take some time to slowly ease back into my work after my son arrived, but I didn’t expect my time to be so limited even months after my maternity leave ended. The reality is that parenting requires a lot of time and energy. You won’t have the capacity that you had pre-kid; that can be frustrating and it will force you to refine your business to make it more efficient.

Because you have less time, you need to up your rates.

Many freelance parents and caregivers make the mistake of charging their clients what they charged pre-kid, despite the huge changes that have occurred in their lives. Then, they find themselves frustrated by their diminished income -- to the point that they begin to wonder if it’s worth working at all. So here’s tip number one: You need to up your rates.

After my son was born, I only had 15 hours to work instead of my previous 30. This forced me to cut any clients who weren’t paying me over $100/ hour. If you’re realizing that you’re not making enough in the limited time you have, audit your clients. Ask yourself: Who’s paying me enough? Who’s keeping me locked into too many hours for not enough pay? (For reference, I never recommend charging under $50, especially if you have limited time.) Then, you’ll need to adjust or fire the clients who aren’t supporting your current financial goals. What got you here won’t get you there; it’s time to adapt.

Your services might change, too.

I’ve always been a prolific writer, but a combination of hormones and sleep deprivation made it tough for me to focus on my own writing work for the first 6 months of my son’s life. That meant a temporary pivot away from writing, toward editing and teaching. The reality is that parenting is really vulnerable and sometimes combining that vulnerability with high-risk work projects can send you over the edge of your bandwidth. It’s okay to shift away from vulnerable, high-risk or extra-taxing projects for a short time; you’ll shift back -- parenting is all about seasons.

And you’ll need to rethink your financial goals.

When you start paying for childcare, each hour you work can feel full of extra pressure. Are you making enough to turn a profit and pay that nanny? So many of the parents I work with ask me: Is it still worth it to work at all? There is no right answer to this question, but the majority of the folks I’ve worked with have found that working to some extent -- even if it’s just for 10 hours each week -- is psychologically positive because it allows them to retain some sense of independence and professionalism. 

I often think about what parent and writer Melinda Moyer said to me when I became a parent: If you make time, the clients will come. In other words: You can’t bring in new clients if you don’t have the time. So you’ll need to get some childcare coverage first; then, the work comes around chasing down more lucrative clients, or upping your rates with the clients you have right now. 

As your child adapts, so will you.

Throughout my parenting journey so far, my needs have changed just as often as my son has adapted. Some seasons of parenting will require a lot from you, and some seasons will be full of energy and space for exploring. These changes can feel unnerving, especially if you’re someone who’s always run your business in the same way. But the best thing I know to recommend is to honor these changes by labeling what you care about most, then choosing to spend your time in a way that aligns with those values. In three months, you can revisit those values and your set up -- and maybe you’ll need something new in the mix. But that check in process feels like the key to success for parents who are freelancers. If our kids are always changing, we’re also always changing.

But there’s room for experimentation.

My favorite way to think about parenting while freelancing -- which basically involves working two full time jobs -- is that all of this is an experiment. Try something and if it doesn’t work, switch it up. During my son’s first 1.5 years, we tried a nanny, daycare, no childcare help at all, babysitters, and bringing in family help. We finally landed on a hybrid solution that works best for all of us, but it took a while to get here -- and that’s okay. A failed experiment is information. 

Similarly, I’ve tried new things in my business to support my bandwidth throughout the past 1.5 years, including adding new services, ramping up things that are giving me joy, onboarding new clients, and firing clients. It’s hard to know what you want until you’re in it!

The bottom line is that the flexibility of freelancing is mostly a blessing for parents.

Yes, you’ll end up being the go-to parent when your child gets sick or the daycare closes last minute. But here’s an honest truth: I didn’t expect to love hanging out with my son so much. I always thought I’d be a “work is my first love” mom. And as it turned out, I’m happiest spending a few days with my son, then I also need to spend a few days working. Freelancing gives me the unique opportunity to create a hybrid solution that works for me, and that level of control feels like reason enough to choose this kind of career path.

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