I knew that having a child would mean life would be a little different, but there were a few things that I really wasn’t prepared for. I guess it’s the sort of stuff you can’t imagine beforehand because you need the lived experience to really understand.
I’ve seen loads of people talking about the run up to having a baby, preparing their business, maternity leave, and even setting up once you already have a child. But I don’t think I’ve seen any one talking about having to change the way they were running their business after having a baby.
I didn’t prepare my business for having a baby. I feel like those people that were able to do that are in another league of being organised. I had some vague plans about setting up a digital product shop before giving birth and that earning a little money, but then the pandemic happened while I was a few months pregnant and it was honestly hard to concentrate on anything else other than getting my client work finished off. There was also a grey area with what I could earn while claiming self-employed maternity allowance from the Government (UK) and it was easier to be not earning so I knew I could claim the allowance.
Although it occurred to me that life would be different, I guess I thought I’d just pick up work again once I was ready. My husband had a really good full time job and I knew we’d be ok for a while without an income on my side.
Then Kieron got made redundant the week that Logan was born and our whole world flipped on its head. He was a Manufacturing Engineer and we’d thought that those sort of jobs were always safe. Of course with manufacturing of everything slowing down to a halt, his company had to make redundancies to keep trading.
We had spoken about how his heart wasn’t in engineering any more though and the redundancy turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We decided Kieron would stay home with us so that I could focus on my business still as I was continuing to get enquiries for work through the pandemic and my short maternity leave.
I thought that with having Kieron home full time with us, it would be really easy to just slip back into work and it be the same as it was before.
My God, that was not true for me!
How I felt as I started back with work
It initially felt great starting back with work. It was something to pull me out of the fog of new Motherhood and it felt grounding to be doing creative work again.
With having an already established business that had been really active on Instagram and especially on Pinterest over the past 5 years or so, I already had built a bit of momentum for people finding my work and website, and enquiries.
With the pandemic, I’d had a spike in enquires through Pinterest because so many people were at home thinking about starting businesses on the side, or finally having time to dedicate to forgotten things like branding and marketing. I had bookings for work straight away and so that part was the easy bit.
It all felt almost too easy…
Where it all started to feel like too much
I soon realised that even with another parent at home, Logan would want me an awful lot, and that would mean I wouldn’t have the longer periods of focus I was used to.
I was surprised at how long it took me to get back my focus each time and would often end up having Logan in a sling sleeping on me while I worked. I have lovely memories of wearing him in the sling when he was small, and at least while I was wearing him, I didn’t have to think about what he was doing or whether he was ok all the time, so that part of my brain could focus too!
There was the added stress of me now being responsible for paying the bills when it had never been a sole responsibility before.
With work enquiries coming in thick and fast I booked people in as I had done before, sort of always on the verge of being overbooked, but thinking it would be ok. The thing is, it had always been ok in the past because I had the time to work longer sometimes if I needed to. I never did too much that I was burnt out, and I guess it was a bad habit that I didn’t realise would need to change.
It didn’t take long before I was feeling perpetually exhausted, was overbooked, stressed and crying in the middle of the night.
I honestly had no idea I wouldn’t be able to keep up the same sort of schedule and work in the same sort of way I’d worked before (overworked masquerading as well-organsied). I had Kieron at home full time, I felt like I was failing and I should be able to do this!
3 changes I made to my business
Needless to say, something had to give. And of course, it was work. Over the course of the next year or so I slowly made some changes to make the business work for me rather than it running me.
1. Moving to asynchronous communication
A big part of my new ethos for my business is making it fit around my life seamlessly, and leaning into what feels good rather than overthinking and doing things the way they’ve always been done because that’s what people expect.
I moved almost exclusively to communicating with my clients via voice notes, texts, and videos that are sent asynchronously. Asynchronous just means ‘not existing or occurring at the same time’. So we send voice notes when we can and we don’t have to be available for a call at the same time.
I’ve felt more anxious since having a child probably due to hormones, plus I’m a relatively shy person anyway, and I just found myself really getting wound up about Zoom calls during the time when everyone was zooming in the pandemic. So I decided to stop.
I still do the odd call when it feels necessary, like I sometimes do training with current and past clients on design software. But as a rule, even discovery calls before a client books can be done by voice note instead. If a person seems to have a problem with it, they probably aren’t going to be a great fit for working together.
I’ve built some structure into this for my different packages and have specific days where we chat and plan and specific days when I’m doing the design work. I’ll go into that more in next point.
The real benefit is that I have ultimate flexibility with communication – Having a baby or toddler means your schedule can change last minute if they didn’t sleep well the night before, or they’re poorly, or they’re just having a day where they want Mum. I wanted to be able to lean into this
An unexpected benefit is that this works so well for clients I have where there is a time difference! I get clients from all over the world thanks to Pinterest and Instagram, and it allows us to communicate in a personable but flexible way.
2. Shorter process with a stricter timeframe, still being mindful of having enough space and flexibility to work on the peoject.
As I mentioned I was accidentally overbooking myself and you might wonder why I would do this.
A few things were at play. Firstly, I’ve always had a very flexible process where there is a loose structure, but I don’t set dates because I found it hindered the creative process. Instead I’d keep the client in the loop along the way, giving an idea once I was into the design work when the draft would be ready to review etc but still keeping to any deadlines they had in place.
This is the hard way of doing things, and it was always a bit of a juggle to work different projects round each, but it felt right at the time. I had the extra head space to be agile with what I was working on day to day and switch between tasks.
Now I most certainly do not have that extra head space. That space is filled with toddler stuff! I can’t quickly switch between tasks and I have to give myself realistically just the one thing to work on each day, my attention span is much shorter. Just a quick note that this will probably change in the future too, but when talking about running a business during the baby and toddler years, this is definitely the case for me.
I am a recovering people pleaser and perfectionist, and so at first, even though I knew I was finding it harder to focus on multiple projects, I didn’t want to let people down. I thought that if I told people when they were booking in the process would be a bit slower, it would all be ok. It wasn’t and the work built up and it just added to the stress.
I found I didn’t want lots of projects going on all at once any more, I wanted to be able to finish a project in a smaller timeframe, with the process more clearly defined. But I did need to keep a lot of that flexibility.
I’d heard about Day Intensives, where you plan beforehand, and then get all the specified work done in one day. I liked the quick sound of this, but I wanted to have the balance of it being quick…without the stress of only having one day.
And so I came up with a 2 week Design Intensive package. Usually with a day intensive the research and exploration will be done during the days before the intensive, and you’ll kick off with a call. I didn’t want to do calls and I wanted everything to be contained and explained inside the process.
I developed a process where during week one we chat via the voice messaging app Voxer to plan what I’ll be designing during week two. The pacing is the key for this package. There is enough space during the two weeks to check in with the client each day and work through thoughts and ideas, but as long as I haven’t got a load of other things booked in at the same time, it leaves room for life to happen.
I priced it relatively low at the beginning and each one went so well and had great feedback. I’ve increased the pricing now so that I can almost block off the last 2 weeks of each month specifically for one of these projects. There is a really well defined timeframe, so it’s great for cashflow – I’ll often be booked a few months in advance for these, and I know that what I’m charging for that is enough to pay our bills.
Then I fit a larger branding package in, one starting every other month, and work it around the design intensive. I try to plan it so the two weeks of the design intensive are less intensive weeks of the full branding package, so the part when I’ll be doing refinements rather than the full on design work.
I’ll be creating a training all about my Design Intensive package soon!
3. Going ‘all in’ on my project management software, streamlining, and getting help.
I know it’s really important to be super organised with everything now. I use Notion as my project management software – it’s not the same as other project management tools because you can set it up however you want to. It has the balance between flexibility and rules that I seem to be craving 😂
Here’s a mini course I made about how I use it that you can access for free right now before I make some updates and turn it into a paid course.
As well as getting really organised with Notion, I have hired out for help on things like brand strategy for my own business and my end of year accounting!
All of this just means there’s less in my already full head and I can concentrate on what I do best. Previously I really hesitated spending money on things but I’ve now seen how much time and headspace it’s given me!