Starting a business with 3 under 3
Setting achievable and rewarding objectives whilst battling twins, a toddler, and a brand-new business venture
Yes, you have read that correctly - I’m starting a business on my own, whilst looking after identical 11-month-old twin girls and a 2-and-a-half-year-old toddler. Maybe I’m bonkers, but I’m already feeling more fulfilled than I have in recent years. It’s hectic, realistically I won’t be earning enough to cover many bills for a while (hello cost of living crisis!), but it’s early days, I’ve set realistic goals and it’s so far – everything crossed – working.
I knew I needed to leave my job as soon as we found out I was having twins. It wasn’t sustainable commuting from Wakefield to York, paying for three kids to be in childcare, and putting myself into debt so that I could work a job that I wasn’t particularly enjoying. It just didn’t make sense. So, after nine months of maternity leave, when the statutory pay ran out, I quit my job and set up my brand and marketing strategy business ‘Content by Emily’.
The toddler is in childcare 3 days a week (nursery for 2 days, my parents for 1 day), but I have the twins every day at home until January when the free hours for my oldest kick in and I can use that money to pay for the twins to go to nursery. So, I’ve had to come up with a business plan that accommodates this.
Defining my business and services
Initially, I wasn’t sure exactly what services I wanted to provide. I’ve always been told by employers that I’m good at writing and as a result, I’ve been nudged into copywriting positions. I automatically set up my freelance business as a copywriting business, thinking it would be easy for me to fit copywriting jobs around the children.
I would write during naps, in the evening, whenever my husband wasn’t working, or the kids were asleep. After taking on my first copywriting job, I realised I hated it. I’m not about grammar and forming the best sentence structure, I certainly don’t have a passion for what clients were defining as copywriting.
I enjoy THINKING creatively. Looking at a problem, coming up with a solution. I did that in my previous role at the agency with brand and marketing strategies, and someone came to me asking to write a proposal for a brand strategy job. It gave me those excitement tingles. I really wanted the job; I knew exactly how I would approach it, and I had the confidence to put myself forward as the right person for it.
So, I changed everything I’d already put out there, removing any mention of copywriting from my website and marketing, and making it all about the stuff that made me happy – the strategy, the storytelling, the creative thinking stuff – the content creation. If I wasn’t going to be making mega bucks quickly, then I may as well enjoy myself and build up experience in the areas I love.
Setting objectives for the first six months
In order to measure your success and reflect on your progress, it’s important to set yourself goals when setting up. Otherwise, you try to be too much too fast, feeling like you must achieve everything immediately. Going freelance is a slow process unless you strike it lucky! You have to build a network, create a marketplace, expand your portfolio in the area you want to focus on, refine your services and ensure your knowledge is up to speed. I had had 3 years out of the game with 2 maternity leaves and furlough in between, so my goals for the first six months are:
1. Do some development & training to make sure I don’t have any knowledge gaps
Most of my knowledge is from reading and learning on the job. It’s not to be sniffed at, and I do know my stuff – but what I’ve realised is that I don’t necessarily know WHY I work that way, or if there are better models to be using in my auditing and strategy process. I signed up for the Chartered Institute of Marketing courses and I’m swatting up on my industry. It’s proving to be really reassuring, but it’s certainly giving me the confidence to know that when I do sell a strategy, I’m doing all the right things that I’ve learned both academically and in practice. I can fit learning in around the kids, doing a module during a nap, after bedtime, or before my husband starts work – and I have the flexibility to accept paid work and just delay the learning for a little bit until I get time again.
2. Grow my portfolio and explore which clients I want to work with
Most of my portfolio was done with my old employer, so I need more examples of my work that are me, totally on my own. I’ve cold emailed several organisations that I would LOVE to work with. One has already come back to me and I am working with them on a regular basis as an extension of their communications team, helping them with creating content and storytelling. I just happened to email the Head of Comms at the right time. If you don’t ask, you don’t get! And if it’s the time of work that will a) make you happy b) look great on your portfolio c) expand your network – then it’s OK to do it at a discounted rate or even on a volunteer basis. Just as long as you know what you’re getting out of it and don’t let them take the mick.
3. Expand my network and build my audience lists
These first six months are where I can really focus on my own marketing, developing my brand, and start building up my network of people that I will hopefully start to work with. I’ve been heavily focusing on:
· Guest blogging - tick!
· LinkedIn activity, posting daily and interacting with people on there.
· Instagram marketing
· Twitter activity, joining in with forums and discussions about freelancing, content marketing, and running small businesses
· Blogging for my own site and working on my SEO
4. Make enough money to qualify for 30 free hours of childcare
At the end of this initial 6 months, my oldest will be eligible for her childcare hours. I’m aiming to be earning enough to get the 30 hours and keep getting tax-free childcare for the twins. You do get a 12-month buffer when setting up your business before you have to start earning £120 a week, but my goal is to be doing this consistently within 6 months so I’m not panicking 11 months in.
Following the initial development phase, the primary focus then will of course turn to profit. However, it has absolutely helped my sanity and well-being knowing that I don't need to worry about that for the next 6 months.
I am aware that it’s a privileged place to come from. I had managed to save up enough money to live off during these 6 months as I’ve planned this for so long. All the freelancing podcasts and networks I’ve listened to suggest setting up whilst you’re still in paid employment so that you can do this first stint whilst not worrying about the bills – and I would absolutely agree with that if it’s an option.
How is it working with the kids?
I’m not going to lie; some days are harder than others – especially when the twins decide to have totally different nap times. Not helpful! But it’s not forever, and I know that every little bit of work or training I can do each day helps my business progress and it sets me in good stead for when I do have the luxury of childcare. If the work requires me to fully concentrate on it (e.g. paid work) then I do it either before or after my husband works, during his lunch break, or if the twins do match with their naps. I always have 2 days totally off work a week, and I do my own marketing whilst sitting on the floor with the twins playing around me. I find my own marketing comes naturally and it’s almost better when I’m relaxed and not overthinking it.
If you’re in the same position with no childcare and setting up your business and ever want to chat to someone else who has the same stresses as you – do let me know. It helps to not feel alone. Follow me and reach out via Instagram.
Are you setting goals and thinking about starting or growing your business during your pregnancy or maternity leave? Get your hands on a copy of The Expecting Entrepreneur: Growing Your Business While Growing Your Baby.
If you'd like to guest blog, email Lauren on firstname.lastname@example.org