5 stories of freelance parent success

Mums and dads share their highs, lows and greatest achievements

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Last week I sent out a tweet asking for help in finding parents who went freelance after having children and changed their career. The response was HUGE and I was inundated with stories from mums and dads who have done all kinds of amazing things - from starting big businesses from the ground up, to creating inspiring charities and smaller freelance setups.

This proved to me something I already knew (but it was nice to be reminded) that going freelance really can be the making - not the breaking - of your career. The Twitter thread of responses was inspiring in itself, but I wanted to profile a series of inspirational stories that prove that going freelance can be just what working parents need to make a positive and manageable change in their life.

I also think it’s important to mention, I’m in no way trying to idealise freelance parenting and every single person featured below speaks of their challenges as well as their successes. But by and large, freelancing and self-employment works well for the people featured today, and their families, while allowing them to feel fulfilled professionally.

And so here it is - the first of a two-part series of success stories. I may make it a regular monthly item in my newsletter so let me know if you enjoy this (and want more) by replying to this email.

So sit back, grab a brew and enjoy five stories of incredible freelance parenting.

Greg Knight, Freelance Digital Content Designer

“I went fully freelance/self-employed in December 2017. Before that I was the manager of a specialist Border Force team responsible for searching ships for drugs. I also trained people to search ships and that took me all around the world”.

“I'm now a freelance user-centred digital content designer. Content Design is using data and evidence through research to deliver digital content to whoever needs it, at the time they need it, in the format they expect. Organisations will call content designers in when they're having problems with the content on the website or the services they provide. I work with other disciplines within software development like researchers, designers, developers and product managers to help solve those problems”.

“I could have taken permanent content roles but in my position, it made more sense to go freelance. That way I could decide what contracts to go for and get a wide range of experience, quickly, by doing shorter contracts involving lots of different types of content work. I also had more say on my working patterns”.

“I'm most proud of the reputation I've managed to build within that time. Some people who I greatly respect within the industry have vouched for me and offered me contracts so I must've got something right!”

“I think becoming a parent did make me more courageous. I'm not sure I would have made the change if I didn't have kids. They were and are my primary motivation in life and I'm grateful to be able to spend as much as time as possible with them. The thought of being around for big milestones and being able to afford to offer them a wide range of experiences gave me the courage to make the change”.

“Now I am able to set my own working patterns and hours. I can do school pick-ups and drop-offs and I haven't missed a birthday party, school play, or sports match since becoming freelance. I think the biggest challenge is making sure I have work. It was really worrying at the beginning as I often work on short contracts and you're never sure where the next one is coming from. That's got easier as I've developed a good portfolio of work and made contacts in the industry”.

“My advice for fellow parents thinking about going freelance? Firstly, go for it. Secondly, it's hard at first and you'll have doubts and setbacks but stick at it as it gets easier. Don't be scared to ask for help and say you don't know something”.

Nena Foster, qualified Natural Chef, cookery and fermentation teacher, recipe developer, food stylist and writer

“I went freelance not long after completing my chef training in July 2017. I wasn’t really sure if I would be self-employed initially, as I wasn’t wholly sure what I would or could do. But rather than shopping around for an ideal role, I decided to create my own. I knew when I left full-time employment that I didn’t want a job that forced me to fit time with my kids around it. Instead I wanted a job with more flexibility and more space to work and be a mum. Before going freelance in food and nutrition, I worked as a public sector policy and research consultant and now I work as a nutritional chef”.

“My business has so many strands, and it can feel quite chaotic, but it suits me. I write and develop recipes for brands, magazines, cookbooks and other chefs. I also teach nutrition-focused cookery and fermentation classes. I work one-to-one with people who want to improve their diet and gut health, teaching them how to cook and ferment healthy, but delicious food. I also deliver food education programmes for charities and am currently working with a local primary school to embed food education and cookery into the curriculum. I also work as a food and drink stylist”. 

“Forging a new career in a completely new field with no clear trajectory or blueprint and starting at the bottom has been tough, but I’ve stuck with it and worked hard to stay true to creating the career that I want”.

Becoming a parent definitely made me more courageous - it made me think about what I wanted for me and ultimately help me decide what kind of parent I wanted to be.  I think as a woman and mother you can easily allow your own hopes and dreams to get lost in the shuffle of raising a family. But ultimately, I want to show my children that their dreams and careers don’t have to fit a mould, and that they can make their own way. I also think raising a daughter has made me even more courageous - athough she can still teach me a thing or two. I don’t want her to ever feel held back or allow others to hold her back.  And I need to, of course, lead by example and show her how to have courage and how to break down the societal and industry barriers that might stand in her way”.

“My youngest is settling into her first year at school and I have been able to have time to help her do that. Sure, when you’re freelance, working at reduced capacity can mean earning less, very little or nothing at all, but this time with her is so important.  I won’t get this time with her back, so I am pleased that I can put work on hold or fit it around this time with her. I know it sounds like a rosy freelance cliché, but knowing I didn’t have to stress about putting in the hours and having reduced school days meant she got the best out of me and I didn’t have that double guilt/stress combination looming over me. I also like doing what ever I want on a Monday, that can be something or nothing at all. I have always hated Mondays and now, if I don’t have anything booked, I decide how to spend my Mondays. Not having to be ON unless I want to, or absolutely have to, saves my sanity”.

“Everyone’s circumstances are different so your freelance journey will most likely look very different to someone else’s, so spend less time comparing your own to someone else’s and get on with being you and doing work that you are proud of.  Find a friend or a network that you can turn to when you have questions - even ones that you think are too niche to answer. Chances are someone has been there before and can help”.

Valeria Bullo, founder of Cinemamas - an online platform for mothers working in film

“When I had my daughter, I had been working as a film production executive. I was not ready to return to the industry as I felt that I was no longer willing to sacrifice everything for my job, so I took a leap and went freelance as a production consultant. I was terrified of leaving full-time employment with a young baby but I really craved being part of community instead of going back into a highly stressful and super competitive industry”.

“I set up Cinemamas, an online platform for parents working in the film industry, because I had really felt unsupported during my transition back into the working world. I wanted to find a way to get parents to connect and create a positive community built around mutual support. During lockdown the website and Facebook group exploded with parents needing some much needed support - whether it was freelancers who were out of work or mums stuck at home with their kids. Some were simply looking for help while suffering from huge anxiety caused by the fact that we were (and still are) experiencing a global pandemic”.

“I am so proud to have created a place where it was possible to offer that kind of support. We run free webinars regularly that include topics such as improving your negotiation skills, career changes, confidence, imposter syndrome etc. We also have people from different industries join our sessions (we are all freelancers after all!) and some members are not even parents so we pride ourselves on promoting a fully inclusive culture”.

“Prior to being a parent, I found it difficult to say no and did whatever was needed to make a project work. However, since having my daughter I have certainly learned how to prioritise what's really important. So in a sense I have definitely become more courageous. It has definitely made me want to do more for parents working in the film industry who have to endure long working hours alongside a lack of flexibility and childcare.

“What I love most about working freelance is the freedom and flexibility that it gives me. I am so happy that I get to spend time with my daughter during these really important years and still manage to have my career. It doesn't always work perfectly and often I have to get back to work after I put her to bed, but at least I get to spend some quality time with her”.

“Maintaining a good work/life balance has been really difficult, especially during these strange times. Working from home is wonderful, and working for yourself is even better, but I certainly have a tendency to keep working and not really ever switch off. Both my partner and I have tried to introduce more structure to the way that we work and we are trying to be fully present when we are not working. This means less screen time and not trying to frantically answer emails on our phones while pushing our daughter on a swing”.

“Something that really helped me was creating a life budget. Working out your finances really helps to give you a full understanding of what risks you can afford to take. It also makes you think about what might be really important for you and what you might not be willing to sacrifice. If you are passionate about pursuing something then this feels like a good way to work out what your first step might be. Sometimes by taking that first step you end up starting the whole process”.

Sophia Procter, CEO, Munchy Play

“It was sometime in 2017 when I came up with the idea for Munchy Play – the first children’s plate with a built-in track. I took redundancy and left my job (I was in communications prior to this) to develop and manufacture the idea. It took three years’ in research and development, all the while I continued to freelance to bootstrap the business”.

“Munchy Play is the first-ever kids plate with a built-in track for toy cars and trains. The all-in-one plate and track is designed for toddlers, helping to solve mealtime struggles. It’s all about creating positive associations around dining and taking the stress out of toddler mealtimes”.

“With nothing quite like this in the market, I’m extremely proud of creating a blueprint for something that I invented. I’m also very proud that our product was invited to be on the Amazon Launchpad programme for the brightest start-ups. Being a parent made me more aware of how I spend my time. It pushed me, for the first time in my life, to think about working for myself. What do I love most about being a freelance parent? Being the boss! I never doubted by ability but coming from a corporate background it was quite liberating to be able to make decisions quickly and decisively”.

“There have been challenges though. Launching in lockdown has not been easy. Navigating the new normal was a real baptism of fire, and we’re still learning. We are very lucky to be in the parenting community which is very warm and receptive, and we’ve been touched by kind messages from parents, especially on our Twitter and Instagram pages. Proving that perseverance is worth it, we have just won Theo Paphitis #SBS for small businesses and shortlisted in the Junior Design Awards!”

“I would tell other parents who want to start their own business to not be afraid and look for the opportunity. There’s plenty of support out there. One I must recommend is Amazon’s Accelerator programme with Enterprise Nation – it’s free for Amazon start-ups and gives you all the tools you need to get going. There’s also business grants and endless business leaders doing what they can to support small businesses now. That in itself has been humbling.”

CJ Bowry, small charity founder of Sals Shoes

“With a bag full of my young son Sal’s preloved shoes, and unable to find a charity that could tell me where exactly they’d find their new feet if I donated them, I founded the charity Sal’s Shoes finding new owners for children’s outgrown but not outworn children’s shoes in 2013. An anthropologist by trade, I’d worked in international development before Sal’s arrival”.

“Kids tend to outgrow their shoes before they outwear them so we find them new feet amongst children in need both here in the U.K. and around the world. By harnessing social media for good and spreading the word, in less than seven years there are now more than 2,000,000 pairs of Sal’s Shoes walking again in 46 countries. I think when working in the humanitarian sector, it’s always rather uncomfortable to feel proud of any achievements when what we’re able to do is because of the less fortunate position of others. But it very quickly transpired that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what to do with their children’s preloved shoes, so I’m glad I made the leap”.

“In hindsight perhaps becoming a parent did make me more courageous. At the time I just recall the expense of toddler shoes and how quickly Sal outgrew them after barely walking in them. I think as a parent I was just keen, having already paid for Sal’s shoes, for another child to be able to access them who may otherwise not own a pair. Feet in shoes are protected feet - feet protected from injury and infection; and in areas of low sanitation the spread of infection”.

“Freelance is flexible [to a certain extent]. It allows me to spend time with my own children whilst being in a position to help other children. Some days I work office hours, others I’ll put in desk time once my own children are in bed”.

“I think when you start something you never really set out to [I had no idea how large Sal’s Shoes would grow and how much support it would gather] challenges arise and just seem like bridges you need to cross. We’ve grown organically and with no goal in sight other than finding new feet, challenges seem just a part of the unknown journey we’ve set off on”.

“My advice for other parents wanting to go freelance would be to be aware of your limitations and ask for help. I believe we’re all inherently helpful and whilst we may not always seek out ways to be of assistance, because life gets in the way, if we’re directly asked if we can help with something and it’s within our capabilities, we do. Everyone has something to give, be it time, resources, money, contacts, or just a listening ear to act as a sounding board”.

Don’t forget if you haven’t already, there’s still time to sign up for Lara Piras’ pay-what-you-feel yoga class, taking place virtually on Saturday the 26th of September at 10.30am. I will be there so come and join me on the mat and let’s enjoy some much-needed chill time.

Finally, if you love a good birth story, mine was featured in The Huffington' Post’s Birth Diaries if you fancy a read.

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Until next time…

Cat x