Never do this, or so the saying goes – but it’s one of the big pluses of working as a Virtual Assistant isn’t it – the ability, as a parent, to work from home? 

If I had a pound for every time I told someone what I do at a networking event and then heard that their friend/cousin/niece/daughter has just had a baby and should really be a Virtual Assistant too then perhaps I wouldn’t need to do any more work again. Despite being a Mum myself, I’m still somewhat taken aback by an assumption that it might be possible to run a successful business whilst simultaneously breast feeding, doing a jigsaw and baking a cake!

When I started my VA business I was looking for that same dream job that could be done from home and allow me lots of family time too. My son was 4 years old and was about to start school. Circumstances were such that I hadn’t been able to give up my job when he was born and he’d been going to nursery full-time but I knew I didn’t want him to have to go to yet another childminder after school once he started.

After weeks of marketing and following up leads on websites that first magic call from a prospective client arrived and where was I? – in a dinosaur park in Devon… Promising that I could sort out this man’s monthly invoicing in a professional manner with the occasional roar from a mechanical Tyrannosaurus and the squeals of delighted children as it sprayed water was unlikely to give the best impression. Luckily for me he was either hard of hearing or took a punt and thankfully is still a great client 10 years later.

However, I soon learned that quiet working time is absolutely essential. If your children are younger than school age, you’re going to need childcare for at least a few hours each day when you can work uninterrupted and can take and make telephone calls. When that time’s done and you’re with your child then consider using a professional answering service so that you seem available but don’t have to risk speaking to a client at the precise moment your toddler has decided to throw bricks at you and your laptop. Even if your children are at school you still have holidays to contend with. You’re going to need a plan for working in those times too. It can be hard finding funds for childcare if you’re just starting out but there’s not many businesses that come with such low start-up costs and low risk as Virtual Assistance does – if you don’t have willing and available family then the investment in this is likely to be worth it.

All successful business owners usually have at least this one trait in common – focus – and it’s absolutely essential to be able to focus on the job in hand if your business is going to flourish.  Most clients are looking for professional and committed support. If you’re not able to fully concentrate on them for the time it takes to work with them each day then they are likely to be very disappointed in your service and will go elsewhere.

Just as your clients need focus, so do your children. When you’re with them try and be with them, not still multi-tasking on work at the same time. I have been guilty of this at times over the years and often wish I had been stricter with myself sooner and avoided a lot of disappointments to my family.

With careful planning it is possible to run your business and enjoy flexible working too but bear in mind that you also need to plan for growth. It’s virtually impossible to keep a business on an even keel – they are either growing or they will shrink and die away. You may be successful at starting out part-time but unlike a paid part-time job, if you’re good at what you do you’ll become more in demand and your time will become squeezed again. Right from the start you need to work out how much encroachment on the family time you want is acceptable before you need to start delegating to someone else.

Starting any business is not for the faint-hearted. I don’t think it’s possible to look after children and work at precisely the same time – but maybe you think differently. How do you cope? Please share your thoughts.

You might also want to look at a previous article for some other tips on juggling family life with your home business.

4 COMMENTS

  1. What a great article and one that had me nodding in agreement as I read through it. I was having a conversation today with another freelancer about how working from home with kids is difficult enough, but when they are ill it’s practically impossible. When you work in the ‘Corporate’ world, taking a day off to look after a sick child usually means exactly that – but if you work from home, it’s very difficult to concentrate on composing that email and respond to that query, when you have a poorly child crying out for cuddles.
    As a general rule, I try to shut the door of our home office if I’m working. The kids respect this most of the time and will knock if they want something, but for the most part if the kids are at home and awake, I’m in mum mode rather than work mode.
    It’s a difficult work/life balance – but it works most of the time.

    • Thanks Jessie, it’s always more difficult to look after sick children when you work for yourself as you can’t easily give yourself the time off and not everyone has backup cover they can use. Just another reason why setting up a business isn’t an easy option!

  2. Couldn’t agree more! Another thing I struggle to convey to people considering setting up as a VA after they’ve just become a new parent is that it is that it is hard enough being a new parent without the added pressure of setting up a new business at the same time. Moving from an employee mentality is crucial and I witness too many VAs who don’t make that mental adjustment and fail as a result. Being a VA isn’t a soft option. It is without doubt the hardest job I’ve ever done yet it is the most rewarding. I started just over 3 years ago and my boys are now 8 & 6. Working around their needs and my business is a delicate balancing act and I’m grateful for the support I get from my husband and the sports & holiday clubs my boys get to enjoy as a result. As with any job, if you concentrate on doing the things you love you manage to find the time to do everything you want to. I find it deeply offensive when people assume that it’s an easy option when it is anything but!

    • Thanks for your comments Sarah. It’s something I feel very strongly about. I think many get sold on this idea that being a VA is something to fit around a family and it’s so easy to get in a mess if we’re not fully focussed on our businesses. If clients have a bad experience because of this I also think it reflects on the industry as a whole.

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