It’s school holidays already… again. They seem to come around faster and faster. And school holidays can sometimes send the work-from-home carer into a tail spin! What do you do with the kids? How are you going to get all your work done? This is a common problem for lots of work-from-home parents including Virtual Assistants.
Instead of stressing out, remember why you chose to work from home in the first place. For a lot of you, wasn’t it to be available for your children?
Of course, there are some solopreneurs who work from home for reasons other than children: perhaps you’re a single parent; maybe you were retrenched; you need to work because you need the money; you have a disability; or elder care responsibilities. There are a thousand reasons why people choose to start their business and to do so from home. But common among them is flexibility – and the desire to control your own time and to be your own boss.
If you are a Virtual Assistant who started your practice primarily to be at home with young children it can be difficult to juggle client demands with parenting demands. Putting undue pressure on yourself helps no one. What’s commonly called ‘mother guilt’ (and maybe nowadays can more accurately be called ‘carer guilt’) kicks in and is hard to shake.
Remember: you’re the boss. That means you call the shots – not your clients. If you know there are school holidays coming up and you can afford to, take a few days off, letting your clients know so that they can schedule work around your breaks. If you have colleagues you can call on to help out in your absence, do so. Subcontract arrangements work brilliantly for those times.
If you can’t afford to go away, then at least schedule time during the holidays to spend time with the kids – remember, for some of you they were the reason you started this.
When I started my practice in 2000 my daughter was only 6 months old. By the time I had a full client load she was 18 months. I got used to working around her. And she got used to a mum who worked from home – learning how to answer the phone and knowing to play quietly in the office when I was working. Actually on the phone answering thing – I had to teach her how to do so properly because she LOVED the phone! Still does! I’d have to race her to it! I hadn’t heard it ring this one particular day and could hear her talking: “Hmm-mm. Yes. Okay. Sure.” As I realised she was actually on the phone and not playing I raced over, grabbed the phone from her and said “I’m so sorry – Lyn here. Can I help?” The caller replied “Oh sure, yeah sorry as I was just telling your receptionist ….” I did set the record straight, but it was then I realised it was time to teach her: “If you get to the phone first before mummy, you say ‘Hello, could you hold for Lyn please’ then come get me!”
I’ll admit it became harder for me when she went to school because I got so used to uninterrupted work time whilst she was at school that holidays were hard to juggle. Then I implemented a formula that worked for me – client work for a few hours in the morning, middle of the day exclusively doing stuff with her, late afternoon working for clients again. Every client was advised in advance of school holidays, was told this arrangement and every one of them was fine with it. Clients don’t care when you get the work done as long as it DOES get done (for those projects that aren’t time critical), and that it gets done to the usual standard.
Believe it or not clients are people too. Many have families and are probably jealous you get to spend so much of your time with the kids.
Be authentic – tell clients the truth. Trust is paramount to the success of a virtual working relationship. Do not pretend to be something you’re not.
For older kids get them involved in some of the work around the office: filing, shredding, mail outs. Even younger children can help with mail outs putting stamps on envelopes – if that’s something you still do! My daughter loved that job. You can pay them if that’s something you believe in, or barter for you taking some time off to do something with them that’s their choice.
Remember that you are in charge – you’re the boss – which means you call the shots. The minute you allow your clients to exclusively control your time, you’re an employee – and isn’t one of the reasons you started your business to get away from that? (Side note: Of course you need to complete tasks that fit with the commercial requirements of the client but these things can be negotiated.)
With the technology available today like tablet devices, smartphones and WiFi hotspots you can take your office with you. If you truly can’t escape the office for a couple of hours (and to be frank, I don’t believe there is any reason why you can’t), with these technologies you can check in on email or finish up a few things while Junior is playing in the ball pit. However – understand your child will know when you are not fully present – and here I’ll circle back to: remember why you started your business in the first place.
It’s also important to remember – every worker needs a break. Working from home makes that harder because you can never truly get away from work. I have a smartphone but notifications are turned off and my work email is not attached to it. If I’m away from the office for a short time, I’m away. Clients know and they make allowances. Everything will be there when you get back.
We could never afford to take annual trips away, but I did use school holidays as a time for getting out of the house – even if just for a few hours – to the park, the movies, taking her for lunch or shopping, really connecting with my daughter. Trips into the city to the museum and art gallery were always a favourite school holiday trip. And we used to take the train because she loved going by train. These excursions actually continued right into high school, and paid dividends – and we still get together regularly today when she has an RDO from work. Getting out is good for you, the kids – and certainly good for your ongoing positive relationship with your children.
Ultimately it will cement in your clients’ minds the fact that you control your time, which will make you a more productive partner in their business.