Photo credit: Oscar the cat
When I started working at home, as a freelance journalist, I managed to hide this from my kids. It was an accomplishment as I have three boys, who, like me, are very nosey.
I needed two things. First ropes. We have an office in our loft, accessible via a pull-down ladder. So my partner devised a pulley system so I could raise the ladder up in order to hide. He even made a soundproofed hatch-cover with two old pillows stapled to it so the kids couldn’t hear me on work calls.
Then I needed a part-time nanny. Enter Jasmin. She who would pick my then 3-year-old twins up from morning pre-school, take them to the park with their packed lunches, then bring them home to play and do art projects. In the school holidays she takes them and their big brother to the park or the soft play centre when I need to commute up to the loft with Oscar, my cat (pictured).
When I finish, I sneak down, with my coat, bag and shoes, go outside, ring the bell and my boys rush to greet me coming ‘home’ from work.
My worst moment was when an expert I had been trying to get hold of all day phoned me just as Jasmin had left. Within minutes a twin meltdown ensued and I had to ask him to email his answers.
My circumstances are becoming increasingly common. According to the Office for National Statistics, 4.6 million people in the UK are now self-employed – a rise from 3.8 million in 2008. Between 2001 and 2015 part-time self-employment grew by 88% and full-time self-employment by 25%. However, tax-free childcare for the self-employed is in its infancy.
My partner is also self-employed as a contractor. Often his contracts run through the school holidays. Any time off he gets is unpaid. So during these 13 weeks of the year I juggle working part-time and hanging out with my kids by:
- working some evenings when they’re in bed
- sending them to a weekly session at the local holiday club
- asking my nanny or my two babysitters (my teenage neighbours) to take them out
- packing them off to my in-laws with their aunty for a sleepover or two
- waiting desperately for my parents to visit from Scotland, and be sent out on various adventures with my rascals
Despite all this, there are occasional emergencies. One news editor wanted some last minute changes to an article on a tight deadline. My only option was to stick the TV on, dish out brioches, Bear Fruit and popcorn and spend the next two hours gathering new info and finessing the story before taking my stir-crazy kids to the playground.
I know other parents who do their work emails on laptops in soft play centre cafes and even a mum who takes her kids to the crèche at Ikea for an hour or two so she can get on with reading reports.
How do some other small business owners manage it?
The self-employed job-sharing hairdresser
Hairdresser Alma Pjetri, from Essex, has two girls, Hailey 6 and Emily 5. After becoming a mum she gave up her job in London’s West End and opened Reflexions hair salon with her sister Ela, who has two teenage boys. During school holidays one sister works while the other has all the kids. But when one sister is abroad for a week or two, the other looks after the salon.
‘When Ela is away I only work for a few hours a day. The girls didn’t want to go to a play scheme, says Alma. ‘They would rather be here with me, playing with their toys. I let them watch one or two movies as a treat as they don’t get to watch TV at home.
‘I have to plan my days. I can’t accept people dropping in, as more than four hours a day isn’t fair on the girls. So it’s appointment only. I take them swimming or to the park first and afterwards we go trampolining or something fun.
‘If you’re a parent and you want to work, you will do it somehow. I could not have stayed at home. I picked this salon because it is spacious and it’s in a family-friendly area. We had a playroom here with their baby walkers, Telly Tubbies and the Ninky Nonk. Emily would sleep in there in her travel cot’.
The baker mum with the kitchen cottage industry
Claudia Stephenson, a baker who runs E17 Crumbs, Biscuits and Cakes, manages the summer holidays with help from her daughter’s dad, who she is separated from. Sophia, 9, goes there two days a week, while Claudia bakes prolifically for several East London cafes. She takes a day off each week to go on an outing with Sophia.
On other days Sophia attends free art and craft activities provided by the local council. ‘There are times where I am really busy with events and Amazon Prime comes in handy for DVDs. But Sophia is also really good at entertaining herself. This holiday she has been writing and illustrating a story’ says Claudia.
The work-at-home Mortgage Adviser dad
Mortgage and insurance adviser Alex Groom runs his business AGA Mortgages from home in Hertfordshire. He says: ‘I am very lucky as my wife deals with the kids in the school holidays. But if she needs to go out and I am left in charge while working, I tend to get the iPad or the X-Box out or put the TV on and hope for the best. My kids are seven and three, so the youngest sometimes wants to sit on my lap and watch something on my phone while I try to type.
‘My top tip is to have a dedicated room in the house that is the office and tell the kids ‘do not disturb – unless it’s really essential’. Despite this there is the odd embarrassing moment – I was on the phone to a client recently and my little boy was telling me he really needed a poo. Oh joy.’
The out-and-about bespoke Jewellery Designer
Bespoke jewellery designer Anne Bailey, who has a 13-year-old daughter, says survival tactics are vital in the school holidays: ‘Part of the nature of the bespoke jewellery world is the last minute appointment, an urgent gorgeous ring here and some fabulous earrings there, all by last Tuesday please. Often the day can resemble a cross between Bad Moms and the Walking Dead with elements of the Devil wears Prada.’
Anne tends to book her daughter into a holiday club for part of the summer to stay sane. ‘The real heroes, however, are my local network of parental Avengers, a motley group of mothers and fathers whose girls are all friends at school. This becomes a wonderful carousel of play dates.’
Anne’s most embarrassing moment came when she was on a serious phone call to an important client, when he daughter burst in. ‘She was singing a freshly made up aria all about poo,’ she recalls. ‘Not content with the originality of her lyrics, she sang louder and harder because all her words rhymed. Caught between maintaining a calm demeanour, when every bone in my body wanted to laugh at my daughter’s undoubted talents, I blamed the radio and gamely soldiered on.’
For businesses based at home, the added risk of intrusion could leave you vulnerable to new risks and claims. If drinks are spilt on client belongings, or a clients car is damaged by a flying football whilst parked in your drive, you may find yourself liable.
Many home insurance policies will not cover buildings or items used for business purposes, which could result in compensation costs and legal fees coming out of your own pocket.
To make sure you are covered appropriately, you may want to take out a dedicated business insurance policy. This can provide cover for contents and Public Liability cover for injury of damage. If you work at home, read our FAQ guide on why commercial liability insurance may be worth investing in.
Find out more about Hiscox specialist Contractors Insurance and get to grips with the right cover your businses needs.