With the school and nursery holidays about to begin, we offer some advice for juggling childcare and running your business.
The school and nursery summer holidays are looming, leaving working parents across the country facing the prospect of cobbling together childcare or taking periods of unpaid leave. Although many business owners do work or can work from home, the situation can be even more difficult, as studies show that many entrepreneurs don’t believe that they can afford to take a summer holiday. This is our guide to getting through the summer break with sanity and business venture still intact.
Try to roughly sketch out how much you think your business could suffer financially if you can’t devote your full attention to it. If the cost is more than the outlay for childcare, consider local nurseries and summer schemes. Government tips for choosing childcare are provided here. If you think you can manage with only a few dedicated hours a day, then a childminder or a babysitter may be a more affordable and flexible option. Even if the childminder looks after your children in your home, it means he or she can keep them entertained (and quiet) while you’re piling through paperwork or making phone calls.
Obviously if you’re lucky enough to have friends and family to help out then this can be an ideal solution. If other parents are in a similarly sticky childcare situation, then consider pooling resources and looking after their children alongside yours in return for them taking your children for a few hours to give you the chance to catch up. If you know any other entrepreneurs or parent business owners then this network could be a good place to start.
A recent solution designed specifically for parents of young children who work out of the office or manage their own business is working spaces with crèches. Starting to gain traction, these child-friendly work hubs include Officreche in Brighton and Third Door in South London, with payment options including pay-as-you-go and monthly contracts. Facilities typically include wireless internet access, printers, and meeting rooms, while the crèche rooms are staffed by nursery professionals. There is even a free scheme running in London as part of the entrepreneurship-encouraging Library Lab project.
Keeping the business ticking over
Running your business with no hands is almost possible. You can keep your social media sites up to date by using apps to schedule tweets, Facebook posts and blog posts to go live in the future. If you have lots of admin work to deal with and feel like it will be impossible with the children at home, consider enlisting the help of one of the legions of ‘virtual PAs’ now available. They can deal with everything from answering incoming calls to paying bills, and from conducting research to booking travel, and can be more flexible and inexpensive than hiring staff.
Simple measures such as setting an auto-response to emails and a specific answerphone message can also help to limit the volume of communication you have to deal with. Tell callers or email correspondents that you’re working limited hours during the school holidays and that you may take longer than usual to get back to them, and you’ll probably see your inbound contact drop.
Keeping the children entertained
Perhaps your children are at an age and stage when they can sit quietly in front of a film for a couple of hours, or even become absorbed in more old-fashioned fun such as solving a jigsaw puzzle or reading a book. This may give you the chance to get a few hours of work done, although it’s probably best if it’s something that can be interrupted if necessary – lengthy phone conferences are probably not ideal. You and your children will also need the chance to get out and about though. The array of child-friendly days out is vast, from the newly opened Harry Potter studio tour to animal sanctuaries, theme parks and indoor play centres. There is a good database of days out according to location and theme here.
It may work to tell your children that you will need to work quietly for some periods but that there will be days out to look forward to, hopefully allowing you to get on with work in dedicated segments. If they’re old enough, a brightly coloured calendar showing activities and upcoming fun days may be a good idea.
Whatever you decide, it takes strict regimes and obsessive organisation to manage your business and your children’s summer holiday at the same time. You may need to pick a working pattern that slots into the times when the children are sleeping, which could mean putting in early morning or after-dinner hauls. Putting in extra hours both before and after the summer holidays is probably also an unfortunate must. Plan work carefully, be realistic about what you can achieve, and try to avoid too much jelly or poster paint on the keyboard.