When I took the decision to go freelance as a copywriter, back in 2010, one of the draws was flexibility around family. And I have to say, as jobs go, it couldn’t be much more family friendly. I can work pretty much where and when I want, within reason. I can accept or refuse jobs and, to a large extent, fit my working hours around my availability.
Of course, there are challenges. Kids (and clients) don’t always stick to the plan, and I’ve had to find creative ways to work around them.
Here’s my experience, broken down into stages/themes. I hope it’s helpful.
I decided to treat maternity leave as a freelancer much as I might have done if I were employed as a permanent member of staff. I set a start date, and a provisional end date, to be reviewed closer to the time.
Three years into freelancing, I had a handful of valued clients that I didn’t want to lose. So I approached a fellow copywriter that I’d been in contact with about work overflow in the past, and asked if she’d be willing to provide maternity cover for me.
We met, discussed our clients, rates, and ways of working. Happy to work together, I drew up a very basic contract which she signed, agreeing to be the main point of contact for my regular and prospective clients while I was on maternity leave, and to return those clients to me once I went back to work.
I let my regular clients know that they could contact her while I was on maternity leave, and that I could vouch for her professionalism and the quality of her work. She emailed each client to introduce herself, and I knew I was leaving them in good hands.
I also contacted about ten other copywriters whose work I rated, to ask if they would be back-up cover and take on any work overflow. All of them were happy to help, and it strengthened an already developing copywriting network on social media.
My maternity cover and I kept in touch on a regular basis, and when I returned to work, she returned my clients as agreed. I returned the favour for her when she went on maternity leave a year or so later.
With my home office converted into a kid’s room, I needed a new work space.
A local business was advertising desk space for freelancers at a very reasonable rate, and I took it up. While family life is going on at home, I find it almost impossible to work there. Attention gets split and noise levels are a massive distraction – everyone loses.
Copywriting is one of those jobs that needs a bit of space and quiet thinking time. For me, that means either a kid-free house, or out of the house. If renting desk space isn’t an option and you don’t fancy a cafe, there are other public spaces to try. A fellow copywriter listed a few London venues in this handy blog post. There are lots of other places to be found online.
Emails and calls
Dealing with work emails while in charge of a young child is a challenge that I prefer to avoid, or keep to the barest minimum. I’ve learned this through trial and error.
So, on days when I’m looking after my kids, I make an effort to limit checking my work emails to a couple of times a day, during times when I know I have a quiet five minutes. I’ll either send a quick reply to let the client know I’m on the case, or flag the email for a longer response on a working day.
And when I’m working on a project, I let my client know my working days in advance. Phone calls, meetings, copywriting and editing work are scheduled for those days. I make sure that I take on projects that can handle this flexibility. With the kind of copywriting work I enjoy doing, I’ve found this works fine.
If I see a work call coming in while I’m unavailable, I let it go to voicemail and deal with the voicemail as I would an email – when I can guarantee a quiet five minutes. I’m checking in twice a day, so nothing urgent is going unattended.
Sick days and school holidays
Perhaps it’s luck, but it’s very rare that I’ve had to cancel a day of copywriting work because of a child getting sick. When it happens, the very worst case scenario is that I’ll need to extend a deadline by a day or two. To date, that hasn’t caused my clients any problems.
However, it’s always been useful to have a network of fellow copywriters that I can contact if I do have any projects that I can’t take on. I got in touch with several copywriters before I went on maternity leave, some of whom have picked up projects when I couldn’t. I’ve kept in touch with them as much as possible by email and on social media. It’s a valuable resource. I’d much rather recommend a trusted contact than turn a prospective client away without offering an alternative.
School holidays present their own challenge – particularly the long summer break. I’m getting better at handling that with experience. The first step is getting ahead of the game and making plans in advance, instead of being caught out at the last minute.
The second step is finding out about the good local summer workshops and activities, and combining them with any available childcare.
The third step is giving my regular clients forewarning of my availability during July and August – I find those months can tend to be quieter on the work front anyway.
These are just some of the challenges of combining freelance copywriting with parenting and childcare. What have I missed? Which tips and strategies would you recommend? I’d love to hear about them.