There’s no doubt that combining work with parenthood is a challenging task, but the life of a self-employed parent is definitely more intense on every level.
Running a freelance translation/interpreting business is like running a marathon. And when you add family responsibilities, raising children, or dealing with a global pandemic, you can end up with an extreme ultramarathon—turbulent, ruthless, and unpredictable.
How do you stay calm and resourceful enough to make it safely to the next control point and enjoy your run? To adopt the right strategy and reach the finish line, you’ll first need to define your biggest hurdle. Every freelancing parent may be on a different phase on their quest for harmony, so let’s analyze three key common challenges to help you build your resourcefulness from the right components.
Challenge #1: Transitioning from a Freelancer to a Freelancing Parent
This might be the toughest transition in your freelance career. There’s no doubt that combining work with parenthood is a challenging task, but the life of a self-employed parent is definitely more intense on every level. Lack of security tied to full-time salaried employment, limited or almost nonexistent maternity leave, and doubts about how to keep both your clients and family happy may all be reasons for a constant headache and emotional rollercoaster long before your child is born.
These challenges only multiply when you try working at the same capacity as in your pre-parenthood days. Your energy, productivity, and ability to focus seem to shrink every time you sit at your desk. Your thoughts run to your sleeping baby or—if you’re lucky—to your childcare provider or family member who more or less willingly, and at a higher or lower cost, accepts the responsibility to entertain your offspring. Somewhat discouraged, you finally realize that going back to work isn’t going to be as smooth a process as you thought, which causes you to question your ability to combine parenthood with freelancing altogether. So, what’s the way out?
Prepare for the Change: When I was pregnant, I decided that once I survived the first year as a mother, I would share my story of juggling motherhood with freelancing and find other women with similar experiences. When my daughter turned 14 months, I contacted 15 women from six continents across nine industries with this question: “What is the best approach to balance motherhood with running a freelance business?” Through extensive interviews concerning their freelancing lives before, during, and after pregnancy, I learned about their struggles, rewards, plans, and strategies. Based on these stories and my experience, I wrote a book called You’ve Got This: How to Continue Your Freelance Career When You Become a Mother.1 During this process, I realized that although there’s no one-size-fits-all recipe for success, there are a few simple steps you can take to transition smoothly into the life of a freelancing parent. And the first one is to prepare for the change.
How? Well, if you’re planning to take a longer parental leave, you’ll need to prepare your freelance business for this absence. You can train an assistant to take over some of your tasks, or refer clients to a trusted colleague during the time you can’t work, or even hire a sitter for your business (yes, that’s a real thing!).
Whether or not you’re planning to take a parental break, you should always have a reasonable financial buffer. In the ideal scenario, your financial cushion should cover your expenses for at least six months. This buffer will help you through unexpected events, such as a sudden loss of clients, late payments, or health problems. You could also use this buffer to take a longer leave of absence or supplement the maternity allowance some governments offer to self-employed citizens.
Another approach is to make sure your business can generate passive income so you can make money even when you don’t work. (More on this in a bit.) It’s always great to diversify your income streams and find ways to make a profit without an active effort. Of course, this is a good strategy to apply any time, not just when you’re planning a parental leave.
Change Your Perspective: The second step to a smooth transition into your life as a parent and freelancer is to get ready to change your expectations. As a freelancing parent, you’ll often have to adapt your work to your baby’s routine. Starting each day in front of the computer and working for 12 hours without a break might not be an option anymore. But that’s a good thing. Working in small pockets of time will help you stay more productive and focus on what really matters. Your work time will finally be the time for work, not for mindless scrolling through social media or never-ending chats with friends.
If you decide to work only during your baby’s naptime, you’ll need to switch to a super productive mode. Forget about taking on every project, limit your networking time, or cut down on other activities you don’t consider profitable enough. Learn to take advantage of short, random moments during your day and get used to working in small chunks of time. For example, for the first six months of my daughter’s life, I worked only when she was sleeping. This often meant I had only about 40 minutes of work time before switching back to parenting mode. Or—because my baby could only sleep next to me—I had to type on my laptop and hold her at the same time. Of course, I missed the comfort of my office with two large screens and an ergonomic keyboard, but I didn’t want to abandon my daughter for too long when she was awake. There’s always something you can adapt or reorganize in your daily life to focus on what really matters.
But all these changes can’t be successful if you forget about two other essential steps: taking care of yourself and building a resilient business model, which is also crucial in the next two phases.
Challenge #2: From a Freelancing Parent to a Jack-of-All-Trades
The most surprising shift for nearly all parents came with the pandemic. Apart from being forced to work from home, both freelancers and in-office employees had to suddenly take on the roles of teacher, supervisor, non-stop entertainer, and professional multitasker. Due to the challenges created by the COVID-19 crisis, most self-employed parents experienced an income drop and had to reduce their working hours up to 30% to live up to the requirements of the new reality.2 How do you focus on work when you need to constantly check on your children? How do you avoid the burnout and keep clear boundaries between home and work when you’re constantly “on”? To regain your sanity, start with the following steps.
Prioritize Your Self-Care: Your business and family need the best version of you—as relaxed as possible, motivated, taken care of, and physically and mentally strong. It’s not easy, especially if your responsibilities seem to multiply and your to-do list never ends. No matter where you are on your adventure as a freelancing parent, you can’t be resourceful if you keep neglecting yourself.
When you take time to look after yourself on all levels, wonderful things happen. For example, you’re able to find answers to many questions such as: Why am I doing this today? Why do I want to continue running my business? Why is this task so important? Why do I feel I need more alone time? Prioritizing your well-being will help you show up for others, realign with your goals, and get ready to serve and help—whether it’s your clients, your family, or the people around you.
Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. Getting enough sleep, having a healthy diet, and surrounding yourself with positive people are very simple and powerful activities that will help you find energy and motivation for your business and family. And if you can complement these simple steps with physical exercise or meditation, you’ll reap even more benefits. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup, so make sure your self-care cup is always full to share your resources with others.
Care about Your Plan: To navigate through so many different challenges, you need a plan. Create a schedule for work and home-schooling activities, discuss it with your family members, and then stick to it. Once you divide your day into fixed chunks of work, household chores, and home-schooling responsibilities, everyone will be more likely to get their jobs done.3
Remember to encourage your children to be more independent by setting up routines and systems for simple tasks such as preparing healthy snacks or organizing study materials to limit the number of times family members call for your help. Freelancing gives you some degree of freedom and flexibility in this regard, so try to adapt your work time to your children’s home-schooling schedule. If you have a partner, communicate clearly with them to share the home-schooling and household responsibilities.
You can’t cope with everything alone, so don’t be afraid to delegate or ask for help. If possible, arrange for paid or unpaid support: a family member, neighbor, or babysitter who could spend some time with your children and give you an opportunity to work in silence without interruptions. Maybe there are other freelancing parents around you who also struggle with our new reality. What about organizing playdates or negotiating home-schooling swaps to create some kid-free time at least once a week? Little tweaks here and there may help you survive even the toughest marathon and let you stay in control when you feel you’re losing it.
Challenge #3: From a Jack-of-All-Trades to a Balanced Freelancer
No crisis or transition lasts forever. The challenges you experience as a freelancing parent right now may be less or more intense, but at some point your life will be balanced again. When the dust settles, take some time to reflect and equip yourself for other potential turbulences.
Redefine Your Strategy: Start by assessing your results. How did you and your freelance business cope with the hectic turmoil? What turned out to be the biggest pain point? Is there anything you could change to survive and thrive? For example, you may want to narrow your niche to attract more (or better) clients and achieve a higher earning potential. You could also focus on what’s in demand right now to ensure your clients receive what they need the most. Try to reach out to your network, engage with colleagues and clients, or research a new direction for your business. Sometimes pivoting will help you take the business to the next level and prepare for upcoming changes.
Strategize for the Future: Is your business model future-ready? Do you have enough long-term clients, or do you need to constantly chase small one-time projects? Maybe it’s time to refresh your portfolio by adding subscription-based products and services or creating passive income streams. In this way you’ll be able to earn money without the constant exchange of your time and skills, which can help you stay afloat.
For instance, as a translator or interpreter, you have excellent writing and language skills. Perhaps you could write an article that a publication would be willing to pay for. Think about writing an e-book you could sell. You could also offer a webinar or online course. Start an educational blog and sell ad space. Use affiliated marketing to promote other products or services by linking to them on your blog, social media platforms, or website in exchange for a commission when readers click the links. Develop a YouTube tutorial series to generate online traffic. The possibilities are endless. Obviously, some of these ideas will require an initial investment of time and/or money. The point is to create something that will continue to generate revenue.
There’s always something you can share with others, such as expert knowledge, invaluable experience, or amazing ideas. Figure out how to convert your ideas into a source of steady passive income and protect your business from unexpected storms.
Finding Harmony: A Difficult Balancing Act
It’s not easy to stay calm, focused, and resourceful when you have to constantly deal with new challenges and limitations. But if you plan ahead, prioritize your self-care, and learn to adapt quickly to new conditions, you’ll eventually turn your marathon into a light stroll and find harmony between freelancing and parenting.
Other Handy Resources for Freelancing Parents
Ridout, Annie. The Freelance Mum: A Flexible Career Guide for Better Work-Life Balance (Fourth Estate, 2019), http://bit.ly/freelance-mum.
Gilbert, Debbie. The Successful Mumpreneur: How to Work Flexibly Around Your Family Doing What You Love (Panoma Press, 2018), http://bit.ly/Gilbert-mumpreneur.
Gefsky, Jennifer. Your Turn: Careers, Kids, and Comebacks—A Working Mother’s Guide (Harper Business, 2019), http://bit.ly/Gefsky-mother.
Meers, Sharon. Getting to 50/50: How Working Parents Can Have It All (Bantam, 2013), http://bit.ly/Meers-working-parents.
- Pawlak, Dorota. You’ve Got This: How to Continue Your Freelance Career When You Become a Mother (September 2020), http://bit.ly/freelance-parent.
- Kalenkoski, Charlene, and Sabrina Pabilonia. Initial Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Employment and Hours of Self- Employed Coupled and Single Workers by Gender and Parental Status (IZA Institute of Labor Economics, July 2020), http://bit.ly/IZA-report.
- Rose, Tom, and Jack Pannett. “COVID-19 Homeschooling? Five Ways to Keep Your Kids Learning, Happy, and Healthy,” Sky News (January 4, 2021), http://bit.ly/5ways-healthy.
Dorota Pawlak is an English- and German-into-Polish translator specializing in localization, as well as a business mentor for freelancers. She teaches online localization courses and shares her tips for freelancers on her website at www.dorotapawlak.eu. She recently published You’ve Got This: How to Continue Your Freelance Career When You Become a Mother. She has an MA in translation and MSc in multilingual computing and localization. firstname.lastname@example.org