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ASK US WEDNESDAY: “Advice on freelancing as a new parent?”

by Leo Wiles
30 January 2019

I’ll be returning to week when my maternity leave payment from Centrelink ends (after 18 weeks) and I was wondering if you have any tips for managing the transition? How do I balance having enough work for a healthy income without taking on too much? As she’s so little I’d prefer to start off by working when she is napping rather than putting her into daycare – is that realistic though? Any advice on freelancing as a new parent would be much appreciated. Jess

Congrats on your new bub! As you may know, Rach and I are tireless advocates for working smarter not harder, and we’ve swapped countless war-stories of balancing work and children (from newborns to tweens). Complete with tips on how to make it work with sick kids, nagging bosses, absent partners etc.

Which is my long-winded way of saying yes, Jess, if you are prepared to be as nimble and flexible as a gold-medal gymnast, you can totally make it work freelancing from home around your little one. Trust me: you’ll end up becoming very clever about snatching those pockets of time. Here are my tips.

Tire out your kid in the morning

Mornings for me as a new mum meant stimulating my then-baby daughter with endless community offerings: rhyme time at Balmain Library, Newtown’s Magic Yellow Bus, local parks, riding the Sydney ferries. All of which enthralled my darling girl and induced a longer deeper nap later in the day which I could use for working. But I will admit it can be a mental shift. Instead of maximising your peak times, you’re suddenly forced to work around a baby’s schedule – and if you’re tired, that can be hard.

Work out a loose routine

Getting into a routine can be your saviour as a freelancer and a parent. Start by mapping out your child’s needs through the day, block out those times and work out what’s left. If you can get solid nap times happening during typical office hours, that’s when you can confidently schedule interviews, pitch, chat about changes, send invoices and all the other glue that holds your freelancing business together. Just be prepared for the fact that babies can wake up and will try to insert themselves into your interviews. (Some interviewees are great about this. Others are not.)

Expect the new workload to be a LOT of trial and error

You’ll very quickly realise that you can’t work at the capacity you did before. It’s just impossible as a new parent, especially if you are working around your baby’s naps for now. So with the work you DO take on, start by being very honest about how long it will take you, and how efficient you can be in the blocks of time you do have. While it’s tempting to take on more, pushing an already tired brain isn’t worth it, especially if you run the risk of handing in sloppy copy that’s not up to your usual standard. It might be that you can manage 1 x 800 word feature a week. If that goes well, maybe you could add in a couple of client blog posts or some social media posts. Just know that overloading yourself when you have a young baby and need whatever sleep you can grab yourself is a false economy.

Plug the gaps with ‘bitsy’ tasks

If all of this has left you feeling a bit depressed and wondering how on earth you’ll cope before your kid goes to school, don’t despair. You WILL become a lot better at taking those small chunks of time and using them effectively. For example, does writing come easily and can you do it while your baby is entertained in the rocker? I quickly figured out that I could type for 20 mins while bouncing the rocker with my foot – score! (Tummy time added another five minutes onto that.) Can you respond to emails while spoon feeding your toddler? Are you able to write at night for a couple of hours? Having these insights about your workflow will allow you to match your freelance tasks with the required energy levels and hopefully some hours when editors and clients are about.

Consider your childcare options

There are so many and what you choose for childcare is really about what works for you and your family. I know some freelancers who’ve worked only around naps and school times. Despite the expense, others opt for part-time nannies because it’s easier to still work if your child has a cold (if they’re in daycare you have to pull them out for the day and still pay daycare while you’re not actually earning anything, so that might not make sense to you). Others use competent grandparents or other relatives who’ll offer up a day a week childcare while you work.

Be careful what you divulge to clients

Personally I believe that even though a client might make soothing noises about your screaming teething child not bothering them, it’s complete and utter bull shrimp. It’s up there with using parenthood as an excuse for missing a deadline (even if that means filing your story from hospital). So my advice would be to create that professional distance between baby and client at all times, if you can. Does that mean pretending you don’t HAVE a baby? Not necessarily. One freelancer I know has an email signature that mentions her 3am emailing is largely due to the amount of small people she is responsible for. It’s really up to you in how much you wish to divulge to clients, as some will be super understanding, and others not so much.

Listers: do you have any tips for Jess on freelancing as a new parent? How did you manage it?

Leo Wiles

Leo Wiles has worked as an editor, journalist and PR for over 20 years before recently retraining as a photographer. These days, she spends her time behind a lens, juggling her own clients with her work at Rachel's List, and her three gorgeous but lively kids.

3 responses on "ASK US WEDNESDAY: “Advice on freelancing as a new parent?”"

  1. Hey Jess,

    Totally agree with everything Leo says. I’ve got three kids who were all under four when I first started freelancing. The biggest tip I have is to start your day early (very early). Often I’ll kick off with the stories that I need to spend unbroken time on at about 3am (and no, I’m not a morning person by nature). With any luck I’ll have a feature article drafted or a couple of blogs written by the time the children get up at 6am.

    Then, for the next few hours, I’m all about being a mum, and because I feel I’ve actually accomplished something, I get to be a nice mum. Proofreading, interviewing and emailing is undertaken while the kids have afternoon quiet time, and often I’ll catch a quick kip if I can. Bedtime is early (within an hour of the kids) because early starts and little people can be exhausting.

    Oh, and it gets easier when you find the pattern that works for you. As of last year, all my kids were at school. These days I still start early to get some solid, fresh copy under my belt before packing lunches, doing breakfast and completing the school run. Then there’s the bonus of an extra four or five hours work time when they’re actually at school.

    All the best, be kind to yourself and be prepared to revise your self-expectations. Freelancing with little people is challenging, ever-evolving and rewarding in so, so many ways. Cass

  2. Rachel Smith says:

    I worked around Charlie for the first two years and I think often the easiest time is when they are really young and have 2 longish naps a day. Make the most of it! That said, totally agree about not overloading yourself. What you could achieve before will probably be radically different as babies are so unpredictable so just try to be chilled about that, go with the flow and take on less than you think you can feasibly do until you have more of a routine and an idea of how your ‘work week’ will operate. (Ie, without losing sleep / sanity.)

    Also really true what Leo says about plugging the gaps. You can definitely squeeze in writing time when your baby is in the bouncer, consumed with a toy and you can bounce it with your foot (or beg/borrow/steal an electric model). Ditto answering a heap of emails to keep on top of the admin side of things. I also tried to write at night but was often too tired.

    In terms of childcare when your bubba gets bigger, it’s a hard one. Even though it’s super expensive (hey, what form of childcare isn’t in this country) what worked for us was a nanny (2 days a week) because my husband and I are both freelancers/contractors and couldn’t afford to pay childcare if we didn’t work. On the rare times Charlie was sick with a cold or something not serious, the nanny could rug him up on the couch with movies and bottles while I ran to the library to finish a feature. If he’d been in daycare, I’d have to be begging editors for extensions and not working while he sat on the couch with me, AND I’d be paying daycare. Nope!

    It’s a bit of a juggle but totally doable and I’m about to put Charlie in preschool next week so I will have 3 full-ish days to work (well, 5-6 hours as Cass says above). So this stage isn’t forever and of course (at the risk of sounding like one of those eye-rolling memes about being #blessed etc) it is a pretty cool stage of your life that whizzes by and that you want to enjoy as much as possible. They are only little and pudgy for so long! 🙂

  3. Jess says:

    Hi Leo, Rach and Cass
    I was in Melbourne last week playing ‘meet the grandparents’ but I printed this out and took it with me! Thank you so much for these tips – they will be invaluable and they are both practical and wise! Maternity leave is really whizzing by and I am quite excited about returning to writing. This post will definitely help me get back into it with perhaps fewer muckups as I find the right routine. Thanks again, Jess

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