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While sat drinking coffee one morning, my husband and I were discussing our careers, as we often do after an early awakening from the kids.
We’re two of the 4.8 million self-employed workers in the UK and enjoy the flexibility this gives us but also find it means regularly addressing what’s working and what’s not – self-appraisals, if you like.
Rich is a documentary filmmaker and builder/property developer but is approaching the end of two projects and was deciding what to do next.
“I just want to work from home and be around for the kids,” he said. “I don’t want to leave at 7am and get back late. It puts more pressure on you and doesn’t allow me to be the father I want to be.”
We’re expecting a third baby and he knows that taking on another building project will mean long hours – leaving me to navigate three kids, a busy career and the majority of the domestic duties.
His documentary films can be made at the weekends and edited in the evenings.
“Why don’t you come and help me with my business?” I said, half-joking. “The online courses are really taking off and I could do with marketing help as well as more films for the course content.”
I recently launched two online courses, putting everything I’ve learned about building a freelance business into tips, exercises and advice for other women who’d like to become self-employed, or to grow their business.
One teaches freelancers and business owners how to do their own PR. I’m a trained journalist and know what editors are looking for, so I figured I could teach others how to secure good press coverage rather than outsourcing their PR. The first month sold out in two days.
The other is called ‘Becoming Your Own Boss’ and helps women who feel stuck in a job they don’t like how to decide on their freelance career path or business idea, muster the confidence to make the leap, ensure it will pay and take the first steps.
And it turns out these online courses are lucrative. If all the spaces are full, they top up my freelance income with an additional £4000 each month. With video content and marketing help, I could sell twice as many spaces and double that sum again.
My husband spent the morning mulling it over before deciding it made sense to help me grow the business. And so in the next month or so he’ll finish his building project, tie up the edit on his latest documentary and start working with me.
This will allow us to both work part-time, from home, while spending plenty of time with the kids. It means if one of them is ill, we can take it in turns to work and care for them. The load – childcare, career, domestic – will be truly shared.
It seems we’re not the only ones making this move. Meet the couples, with kids, where the dad has quit his career to help grow the mother’s business…
Sarah Akwisombe and Jason Akwisombe – interior design and business strategy
When Sarah and Jason’s daughter was four, Jason was working a three-day week so he could take on more of the childcare, allowing Sarah to grow her business. They decided it made sense for him to invest his working hours into her business rather than being employed elsewhere.
“We’d always dreamt of working together, as we wanted freedom and the lifestyle that goes along with it – basically, just making our own decisions and not being obligated to be in certain places at certain times,” explains Sarah. “It’s an outdated system that doesn’t lend itself to people with kids.”
Jason had been working as a legal administrator in an insurance company. “He’s super organised and logical, whereas I’m all over the place with creativity and big picture thinking,” says Sarah. “He’s low risk whereas I jump straight in. Our skill sets match perfectly – he’s about detail and execution, and I’m not.”
“He’s also incredibly good at customer service and he’s more extroverted than me (I would rather be on my laptop than at an event) and so he encourages me and I encourage him. We work across everything together – it’s been amazing to see how much things like his eye for design has improved.”
Since they started working together, Sarah has found she has more time for focusing on the parts of the business she loves, and is good at. “I was having to set aside so much of my week to deal with paperwork, bookkeeping, admin, legal stuff, contracts, tech issues… it wasn’t allowing me to be the visionary.”
With Jason taking on this side of the work, Sarah has been freed up to “be the face of the brand and deliver the actual ‘product’”.
It has been hard, at times, letting go of the control: “I’m no longer 100% in control of the decision-making,” says Sarah. But other than that, this way of working gives them exactly the work-life balance they hoped for.
Fritha Quinn and Tom Quinn, content creation
Fritha was working freelance from home when she and Tom had their first baby. She managed to work around the baby for the first six months but it began to get tricky and she needed help with childcare. At the time, she was running an online shop and blogging.
“We broached the idea of Tom dropping down to a four-day week so he could look after our son for one day, helping out with my workload,” she says. “His job at the university thankfully offered flexible hours, although this was a drop in wage and felt like quite a big leap.”
Two years later, they were expecting their second child and by now, Shared Parental Leave had come into play. The retail side of Fritha’s work had slowed down but the content had ramped up so Tom requested six months’ paternity leave – and it was granted.
This meant Fritha didn’t need to take maternity leave herself, which would have slowed down the business growth. “I felt like this was such a pivotal moment for us,” says Fritha, “as it gave us a taste of what life would be like working and parenting at home together.”
A year later, they decided Tom would quit his job entirely so that Fritha could grow her business. “One of the biggest factors for us was childcare,” she says. “We realised that we would be only slightly worse off financially with the loss of his wage after what we were paying in childcare fees.”
But also, the thought of their children being looked after by their father rather than paid-for childcare felt right.
Tom supports Fritha with every aspect of the business. “Whether it’s bouncing ideas around, his help with photography or that he has taken over all the accounts, it’s just great to be part of a team now.”
Fritha can also rely on Tom for childcare if she needs to go on work trips at the last minute, meaning she’s been able to take on much more. This has enabled them to triple their income in the past two years.
At first Fritha struggled with having Tom around as she was used to a silent house when the kids were in childcare. And they both struggled with the lack of routine. But they’ve found ways to work around both challenges.
“Thankfully, two years in we haven’t yet got sick of being around each other so much,” she says.
Lucy Werner and Hadrien Chatelet, communications consultancy for startups
Lucy and Hadrien met through work. “We used to sit opposite each other in an office that incubated my business when I started out,” she says “And we’d chat about our obvious crossover and the things we could do if we collaborated.”’
They got together and had their first baby, as Hadrien’s career was taking off. He wanted to progress but once he returned to work full-time after paternity leave, “cracks began to appear,” says Lucy, “from the long commute, no flexibility for home working and the panic dash from nursery to work.”
When Lucy became pregnant for the second time, she was worried about him working long hours, “particularly as I struggled in my first trimester and he just couldn’t physically help and wouldn’t see our son for most of the week because he’d leave before he was up and get home after he’d gone to bed.”
Then at the beginning of the year, Hadrien was summoned for two weeks’ jury service and was working much shorter days.
“We both really enjoyed the extra time we were having together as a family and the seed was planted that perhaps his current role, whilst brilliant for his career, wasn’t brilliant for our current home situation,” says Lucy. “The universe then saw it fit to make him redundant.”
Now unable to qualify for paternity leave in any new job he took, they decided to try working together, as they’d discussed all those years ago. So while Hadrien was on gardening leave, Lucy scaled up to five days a week to save up for her maternity leave and Tom took on the childcare.
Since then, they’ve started to split everything 50/50.
Previously a creative director, Hadrien contributes to Lucy’s PR business with a focus on the creative elements – branding, design. He built her a new website, refreshed the branding and overhauled her Instagram feed.
“It’s completely turned the business around,” she says. “The new brand look and feel has helped me to elevate my personal profile and led to me securing bookings for one-to-one coaching, teaching, podcast invites and being paid for speaking opportunities.”
Together, they’ve launched their first product – ’52 PR tips’ – which Lucy wrote and Hadrien designed “as a tool to help spark PR ideas for startups and entrepreneurs.” And they’re planning for the publication of Lucy’s first PR book, which is out next January.
To keep work and life separate, they have a day date once a week – going out for breakfast or lunch, locally, without talking about work.
And Lucy is looking forward to a different experience when her second baby’s born in June. “Not only will he be able to take paternity leave but he’ll be so much more present for our second child,” she says. “I’m due to have a c-section and was genuinely worried about how I would manage the nursery run with a toddler. All that pressure has now gone.”
May 12, 2019 at 11:24AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs