Working From HomeHelen very kindly asked me to guest post on her blog about how I cope running my business (Hoobynoo World) from home with two young children.

Like most things, it’s a challenge: but I’m lucky in that I have a good support network. If you are thinking of starting a business, particularly one that will be based in your home, then a major factor you need to consider is what help is available to you to for childcare when you really need to get on with your work.

I am by no means an expert on the subject, but these tips are based on how I personally cope with the challenge. So here is a little bit of background information about me and my family: I am married and I have two children, a boy who is 5 (and now at school) and a little girl who is 17 months old. I started running Hoobynoo World just before she was born, so the first few months were definitely a juggling act. Before this, I was a freelance Graphic and Web Designer, which is what I was doing when my son was small.

Tip 1: Enlist Help

I am very fortunate that my husband also works from home, so we split the childcare between us. That way, each of us gets a turn to work. We have also arranged for my little girl to spend one day each week with my Mother-in-Law.

Perhaps if you know other working mums you could have a childcare circle, taking it in turns to look after each other’s children so you all get a chance to work. Call on in-laws, parents, god parents, anyone who is likely to offer reliable and trusted help. My husband always hated asking our friends and family to help out with childcare, but – as I said to him – they enjoy spending time with the children, so don’t feel you are being a burden. School holidays can be very tricky, so being organised and arranging play dates and holiday clubs is essential.

Tip 2: Be Organised

Organise your days efficiently, and make the most of the time that is available to you. My daughter still sleeps for an hour or two each day. So, whilst she is asleep, I will pack my orders and get some updating work done. When she wakes up, it is usually time for lunch. To this end, I will sit with her at the table and either finish off some bits on the laptop or reply to emails on my phone whilst she is eating (she does take a very long time to eat her lunch so this may not work for everyone!).

On days when I have childcare arranged, I map out my working day very specifically to make a list of realistic tasks that I can complete: my full ‘To Do’ list would be as long as my arm, but if I wrote out all of these tasks I would feel overwhelmed and frustrated, and would end up getting nothing done. Therefore, I have a long list of things that will need to be done – say by the end of the month – and then a day list with 3-6 manageable things on it (depending on how long each will take). I then break my day up so that I have 30 minutes to reply to emails and around an hour to list new products. I also have a timer on my computer so that I can see how many ’work minutes’ I have remaining. When the timer runs down, a big ‘STOP’ sign appears on my screen! This helps me to manage my time effectively.

Tip 3: Don’t Feel Guilty

I suspect that all parents feel guilt: it comes with the job. Are we spending enough time with the children? Are we spending the time equally on them if we have more than one? Are we too distracted? Have we helped them enough with their homework? The list goes on. I suffer from this too: as I can pretty much run my business from my phone, it can be practically impossible to switch off. So I make sure that I take my little girl to at least one play group each week (my husband takes her to other groups when it’s his turn). I switch my phone off and focus on her for that time. I also give myself one other day off in the week: some of that time is for chores (shopping, etc), but I try to make it fun for her and the rest of that day we will spend together, either at a softplay centre or at home.

My son is quite independent, and likes to do his own thing when he gets home, but again I make sure I take him to one after school club a week, and that I put him to bed and read him stories on days when I haven’t had the chance to do much with him. At the weekends we do fun things together as a family: my son is allowed to stay up a little later, so we can watch a film together and enjoy some fun, quality time. I do feel the guilt, but I try not to let it get to me: I think that I am setting my children a good example by running my own business, and my son always likes to suggest new characters and takes a great interest in the way I do things. He’s always happy to help me model the products and I love how enthusiastic he is.

It also means that although I am sometimes distracted or working, at least I am at home and around if needed. I am also able to attend functions at his school that I missed when I was out working part-time.

Tip 4: Stay SANE

This is the most important step! If you burn out, you are no good to anyone. Make sure that you put aside time for yourself, whether that is sitting down with a book and a cuppa for half an hour, having a soak in a bubble or even going for a run. I quite often have to carry on with my work once the children are in bed, but I make sure that this is not every night and that my hubby and I  do get some downtime watching TV or having friends round for dinner. I am slowly going to reclaim my evenings, as I think it is important to switch off from your work: when you’re running a business from home that is so much harder as everything is right there at your fingertips. So, if I am spending quality time with my family, the phone goes off and the laptop is shut down. As much as I love what I do, it is a relief to close everything down for the day.