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My daughter was two when I was divoced. Suddenly, I had a toddler, a mortgage, three employees and no family nearby. Not to mention no help and no clue what to do next. The first step was the decision: Will a “regular job” help me provide the life I want for my toddler and myself? If not, what would that mean for my next steps? And if you find yourself in a similar, what could it portend for yours?
Caring for your child(ren)
Many business-owning moms manage to work different hours than employees can manage, even in our increasingly remote-working world. If you want to be able to be there if your child gets sick, has a field trip or a ball game or takes a sudden interest in karate lessons, then working for yourself is a benefit.
My work required frequent travel from Los Angeles to New York to sell books to publishers. That meant I’d need to find a reliable, responsible nanny to watch her when I was away, which meant using money I really needed for other things to pay for child care.
Working out your child care needs in a way that helps you feel like you are doing the best you can as a mom is a critical first task. Ask yourself what kind of mom you are now and what kind you want to be as your children grow. Your kid will only get one childhood. How do you want to spend it?
Prepare to adjust your schedule
Being self-employed may mean you will need to work at night after the kids go to bed or in the morning before they wake up, especially if you want or need to be the one who picks them up after school. Are you willing to compensate for the time by swapping it for other times that may not be so fun or easy? If you have shared custody, can you work more to get ahead while the child is with the other parent?
If you want to spend a lot of time relaxing, watching TV or going out with friends, consider waiting until the child is in high school or college before you start your business. It may seem like that’s too late in life, but plenty of women have done it because, frankly, it’s easier. At 5:00 p.m., most people don’t have to think about work again until tomorrow.
Self-care is now mandatory
The first thing moms cut back on is self-care. Taking time to do things other than house or child duties can seem wasteful, but getting enough sleep is vital for your brain to function at its best. Your business needs your brain on full tilt as much as your child needs you to not be tired after school. Consider adjusting your sleep schedule to accomodate seven to eight hours and time to work when your child is asleep or at school.
Find time to do things you really enjoy. You already know motherhood takes a lot of time, but to restore your creativity, sense of fun and find a light-hearted way to connect with your child, find things you love to do together. We hiked in the mountains near our home three to five nights per week, and those are some of our best memories.
Don’t spend all your time, money or energy on fighting lawsuits with your ex. That’s a full-time job of itself that will gut you for parenting and business ownership.
Exercise and healthy eating not only help you and your child feel better right now, but they also provide a great role model for your children.
Try making a schedule and sticking to it for a month. Enlist your children and give yourself and them points or stars for sticking to the plan. After a month, see if it’s working, modify if necessary, and improve until you get into the flow of your current life. As you’ve likely learned, kids and their needs and interests change so quickly that today’s schedule could be obsolete in three months.
Make a date with your business
Set aside two hours a week when you will be all alone to work on your business instead of just in it. This means prepare to spend this time. Collect any notes or thoughts you’ve had about any business issues you’re working on, marketing ideas you admire and expansion plans you might want to consider.
When the two hours comes, set a timer and sit down to really focus on coming up with results, solutions, ideas and plans. Let your business have your undivided focus for those two hours and you will be setting yourself far ahead of 80% of small business owners of either gender who spend their entire lives on the hamster wheel, frantically trying to make money, without ever looking at what’s really going on and using their minds to make things easier on themselves.
Spend like the CEO that you are
Kids can be expensive. Once your business is covering your basic expenses, be judicious with how you spend your money. Think like a CEO and set a percentage of money aside for your kids’ future and a percentage aside for your own. This is extremely hard to do when you’re just starting out, but even if it is only a few dollars a month at first, it will build up a safety net and your confidence, too.
Expect that as your revenues increase, your operation costs will go up. I highly recommend the book Profit First. I could have had a much more stress-free first five years in business after I became a single mom if I’d read that book earlier and understood money better.
Hire help. If something’s going to exhaust you, take you three times as long as it would a pro, frazzle you, make you short tempered or overwhelmed, just hire for it. Whether it’s a housekeeper or a graphic designer, realize that as fabulous as you are, no one can do everything.
Accept help. Chances are, there are a lot of people and places out there where you can get business help or parenting help that you haven’t noticed yet. The SBA offers free and low-cost business mentors and even loans; your local library might have an afterschool homework club or reading time that would free you to catch up on some trade magazines or emails. Friends, other parents and maybe even family members may make offers — take them up on them! Being Wonder Woman is exhausting and unnecessary.
My baby girl is 30 now and a business owner herself. She will tell anyone who asks that she learned her business skills from her mom. Meanwhile, I spent her childhood worried that at any minute I was causing irreparable harm, neglecting her to take a client call, abandoning her when I went on a business trip, or wasting her childhood when I missed a high school volleyball game.
Every good mom you’ll ever meet secretly worries that she’s screwing up her kids in some terrible way. Your kids will see an example of strength and courage and one day look at you with respect and appreciation (maybe not while they are teenagers!). You’ll find your way, and so will they. Don’t let the fact that you’re a single parent keep you from your dream of launching and growing your own business. You can succeed with some flexibility, creativity and drive.