I started my legal practice when my son was six months old. That was nearly two years ago. The time between then and now has been a roller coaster of excitement, stress, joy, fear, exhilaration, frustration and absolute fulfilment. Whilst every day continues to hold new lessons for me, here’s what I have to share so far with those who are thinking about, or trying to, combine parenthood with running a business.
1. Be a proud parent
Setting up a new business with a breast-fed baby in tow meant that I didn’t really have a choice but to include my son in the planning process. This meant bringing him along to meetings with the likes of accountants, software providers and web designers. One such meeting was with four men, none of whom batted an eyelid when I chose to breast feed my son partway through.
When business kicked off, this translated into being upfront with clients about the fact that I was a mum and would not always be available during business hours. This opened a space to build a valuable rapport with both female and male clients. I received plenty of parenting advice (most of which was valuable), and a lot of positive reinforcement. It gave my clients the opportunity to relate to me, in turn establishing a foundation for respect and trust.
I make a point of communicating my schedule to my clients so that their expectations are in line with what I can deliver. If I am spending the day with my son and won’t be available until the evening, I say so. When I can’t make an early or late meeting because I am doing the day care run, I am upfront about why.
I believe it’s vital for both women and men in business to be honest about the way they prioritise their family responsibilities. Parents need realistic examples to follow so that eventually these practices are regarded as an unremarkable part of choosing to work with a talented person who also happens to be a parent.
2. Sleep is king
The effects of sleep deprivation are insidious: you don’t know the potential for damage until it’s done. Getting enough sleep is a particularly difficult task for parents of young children. It also happens to be vital for those at the helm of a business.
Control what you can, when you can: if you have an early riser, turn off the tv and get to bed at 9pm. Try to train yourself to nap. Half an hour in the afternoon is pure gold for a tired parent who needs to be up late working.
As important research continues to be done on the serious effects of insufficient sleep, there are some great resources out there to give you guidance and strategies. Just try to stay awake long enough to read them.
3. Get help (and fess up to it)
No, we cannot do it all. But we can all do some of it. A large part of the reason I can do what I do is the support that I have: a willing and available extended family; an incredible husband with the ability to be flexible when required; a smart and loyal team in the office.
Outsource what you can if you can. In the 21st century, no working mother should be responsible for cleaning the family home. If keeping a spotless home matters to you (and it shouldn’t), substitute a few take away coffees and bought lunches for the DIY kind and you’ll soon have enough in the piggy bank for a weekly cleaner. A bookkeeper will do a more efficient and accurate job than you ever will (unless you are one) and most are charging very competitive hourly rates. A nanny is a god-send, opening up hours at the beginning and end of the day which would otherwise be spent travelling to and from child care.
Work out what your time is worth to your business, which is an easy exercise for those charging an hourly rate. If paying someone else frees you up – either to do something valuable for your business, or to spend time with your family – then the answer should be obvious.
Always ask for help, ideally before you truly need it, and if you are one of the lucky ones who gets plenty of it, don’t hide the fact. None of us are super women. We just know where to source the right ingredients to create the lookalike.
4. Take time out
My best ideas have been brought to fruition after a break from the daily tasks of my business. Whether it’s an overseas trip, a long weekend, a 30 minute walk to the beach or 15 minutes on the bus in the morning, take the time to recharge and reflect. Assess where you’re at in your business. Are you achieving your goals? Do you even remember what your goals were? Certainly include the kids in some of this ‘time out’, but remember you still need your own time. Don’t forget how essential regular exercise is (I’m still working on this one!) and remember to savour the small pleasures of being in business for yourself. Long lunch? Why the hell not.
Amanda Farmer is a lawyer and the owner of Lawyers Chambers on Riley in Sydney’s Darlinghurst. Leading a team of women lawyers and law students, Amanda is passionate about inspiring women to reach the top of their game in their chosen profession.