Updated: May 18, 2020
1. Say "yes" to clients who are the right fit. (And don't be afraid to say "no" to ones who aren't.)
Be transparent with your clients about your circumstances. If you're a stay at home mom with a business, any client you bring on will need to be understanding of your lifestyle and schedule. Explain that you're a mom first and your hours might not fall within traditional business hours. Maybe you're only available for phone calls at certain times. Maybe you'll have to be clear that your working hours are after your children have gone to sleep at night. Whatever your specifics, let your new client know upfront, so you can both decide if it will be a good fit. It is absolutely okay to say "no" if you don't get warm and fuzzies from the start. No amount of money is worth bumping heads with a client. Listen to your heart on this one.
2. Have a consistent yet flexible routine in place.
Time management is so vital to any business, but particularly if you have children. I'll tell you a secret: Kids love routine. It may take some time for them to adjust if it's a brand new concept for them, but over time, they will know what to expect at certain times of the day. For example, if Mommy always checks her e-mail in the mornings after breakfast, your kids will come to know this. They'll remember that it's their turn to play with their toys or do something independently (or whatever the expectation is that you've practiced with your family). The secret is to keep the routine flexible. Some days, my kids are just not feeling the routine and I can tell we need to get outside, snuggle and watch a movie, or switch things up. And you know what? It's okay because I'm a work from home mom. I have the flexibility to shuffle my schedule any way I want.
Another side note to consider here -- I have the flexibility to shuffle my schedule around during the day because I haven't over committed myself to client work during the day. You know your kids. You know what time you have during the day to commit to work. Start slow and be careful not to overextend yourself. If you think you have five hours a day, start with two or three. If those few hours are working well, increase by an hour or two. Remember, you want to provide quality work for your client, but also be a quality, present parent. For this reason, I schedule the bulk of my billable working hours for after my kids have gone to sleep at night.
3. Make every moment meaningful with your business.
Two words: time blocking. We've all heard freelancers and entrepreneurs use the term, but do you really know what it means? Time blocking is the practice of planning out every moment of your day in advance and dedicating specific time “blocks” for certain tasks and responsibilities. So, during the hours you've set aside for business, put some time blocking in place. This keeps you from wasting time or spending too much time on any one given task or project.
"But how do I know how much time to set aside for tasks? How do I get started?" A nice way to start with time blocking is to run your timer for each work-related task you do each day (Toggl is great for this). Conduct a "time audit" or sorts to see where you spend the most time. Then, put your time blocking in place with this in mind. As an example, if you see you're spending way too much time just clicking around on social media or responding to client e-mails, limit yourself to 30 minutes instead.
4. Make every moment meaningful with your family.
We are so incredibly blessed to live in Denver, Colorado. We are always thinking of new playgrounds, museums, and kids spots to try, mountain towns to visit, restaurants to stop by for brunch, and eventually, we might even try a bit of skiing (yikes! It would be new for all of us!). Since we started this period of social distancing, the list of things we'd like to do "when this is all over" has grown exponentially longer and we can't wait to create more lasting memories as a family.
When it comes to your business, one thing that helps me mute the mom guilt is to plan for meaningful experiences with my kids and husband on the weekends or when I'm not working. Maybe I had to take a couple hours the other day to respond to some e-mails or make a random phone call, but we made up for it (and then some) when we did all of these meaningful and memorable things together.
I should add that meaningful moments don't have to mean trips and spending tons of cash. Think outside the box and plan for family movie or board game nights, running through the sprinkler in the summer, or carving pumpkins and making pie in the fall... all still meaningful moments and without a crazy price tag.
5. Have a planner (or two)!
We are moms. At any one given time, I probably have 15,239 tabs open in my brain. I have a hard time turning off my thoughts and I know for a fact I wouldn't remember all the things we have going on without a planner: What are we having for dinner this week? When do the kids have their next doctors' appointments? What day does my husband have off next week? What does my social media calendar look like for the next two weeks? When did I schedule that discovery call again?
I have two favorite planners right now. The first is Golden Coil. What I love about this one is the ability to personalize so many of the pages. You can upload your contacts and dates from calendars. You can also choose which pages are included like goal setting, social media calendars, and meal planning. (Again, not an ad!)
My second favorite is one I fell in love with as a teacher. It's the Erin Condren Life Planner. With other planners, I have found myself complaining about not having enough space. That's absolutely not an issue with this planner. You'll have space for your business and family "to do"s. Also, the covers are so pretty and colorful!! (Oh, and ...still not an ad!)
6. Keep some tricks in your back pocket.
Oh, something just came up unexpectedly and you need to jump on the computer or take a phone call? No problem! There are a few things I keep in my back pocket for my little ones in case this happens:
-Sensory Bins: Pinterest is full of ideas! Just be sure to avoid anything with tiny pieces or anything that might go in a toddlers mouth, if your kids haven't moved past the "I need to see what that tastes like" phase.
-Coloring or Play Doh: Again, if your little ones want to chow down on crayons or take a nibble on the play doh, these won't be for you.
-Magnatiles or Puzzles: The idea here is anything that will likely keep your kids relatively quiet and engaged for a brief period of time. You know your kids and will likely know what activities to try.
-A smidge of screen time: Yup, I said it! If it's a quick call or typing up one e-mail while you have a few moments of quiet, it likely won't do any permanent brain damage. <wink>
7. Have a solid support system at home.
I absolutely, positively could not have a business without my husband. He is the rock to my roll right now. While we have been social distancing, he has offered (without me asking) to spend his lunch break watching the kids, so I can get some billable time in during the afternoon. He listens as I brainstorm some of my crazy business ideas. He gives me Mommy Time when I need it the most. He has been supportive from Day One. My point here is to be sure that you have a support system at home. Whether it's your roommates, your kids, or your other half-- be sure you have loved ones to keep you grounded and lift you up when you need it. Entrepreneurship is tough and I promise there will come a time, especially in those first few months, when you'll need someone in your corner.
8. Grow a business support network.
Jump on social media. Join local business groups. Attend networking events -- both virtual and in-person (when it's safe to do so, of course). Connect with other virtual assistants! And for cryin' out loud, don't be afraid they're going to "steal your clients". That's crazy talk. These people you connect with are other professionals who understand your lifestyle. They can be a listening ear or a future partner as you grow and scale your business. Reach out, lady!
9. Take time for YOU.
In the first year of my business, I absolutely did not do this. I was stressed out. I was on edge and snappy. There were sometimes tears and I even started thinking this wasn't for me. In hindsight, I am so glad I realized that I really just needed to start carving time out for ME. Your business is nothing without you. So, love on yourself as twice as much as you love on your new gig. Take out your planner right now, cross off an entire block of time (maybe even an entire couple days) and write "OFF" in permanent marker. That time is yours. Take a bath. Pour a glass of your favorite wine. Go get a mani-pedi. Whatever helps you unwind and forget about your business, do it. Oh!--and take two weeks of vacation each year, maybe even twice a year if you can swing it. Mute your e-mail notifications for the entire two weeks. Let your clients know you will be off the grid. That time is yours as well.
10. Learn (quickly) that work-life balance is a myth.
Unicorns, leprechauns, dragons...work-life balance: all mythical creatures! Even with all of the pieces we covered in place, it isn't going to be perfect. You'll need to switch up your routine from time to time. Your kids will go bananas while you're trying to focus on something business related. You'll have weeks when you feel you haven't taken enough time for yourself. Please don't think you should just power through or "make it work". Just take a bit of time (yes, more time, but this is important!) to reflect on what is working and what needs a little adjusting.
I hope you find all of these tips and tricks useful as you consider launching your business, or as you reflect on your existing one. I would love to hear what works for you!