WAHM archive

Some time around the middle of 2012, shortly after having my second child, I decided to take the plunge and start working for myself. An experienced web developer, the plan was to expertly balance the demands of my children and my clients while making loads of money, keeping the house clean and becoming a size 10 fitness addict.

I haven't achieved any of those things yet...

Self employment and mental health

Self employment / freelancing and mental health issues seem to go hand in hand. The stress of finding work, maintaining momentum, dealing with all the admin etc, not to mention restricted access to Actual Humans (besides the postman) and the feelings of isolation this can bring, lack of holiday and sick pay causing freelancers to feel like they have to be “always on”… all massive contributors to stress and mental health issues.

From a personal perspective, I have recurring mental/emotional problems and my work is usually the first thing to suffer if I’m experiencing one of “those” days. This in itself can trigger feelings of inadequacy and guilt, putting me in a downward spiral. But, as someone with a mental health condition brought on by a relatively predictable syndrome (hello PMDD) self-employment is not always the stressor. In fact, it can sometimes be the cure: the chicken soup for the soul.

I’m not tied to Mon-Fri / 9—5 working hours

If I’m having the sort of day that kicks me in the guts from the second I open my eyes, where getting out of bed and facing the world seems impossible, I just don’t. I soak up the comfort of the warm snuggly duvet and I treat myself to an extra hour. The indulgence can often be a band-aid on invisible wounds, enough to get me to take the first step back into reality.

And when it doesn’t work? I can double down, bury my head under the covers and catch up on Saturday. Or at stupid-o-clock of an evening when the kids are in bed.

(Photo by Sonja Langford)

And allows me to exercise

Working a schedule outside of the norm allows me to sub an hour at my desk for an hour in the gym, or an hour on the road training for my next race. Exercise is a huge contributor to better mental health (it’s scientifically proven!) and being outdoors massively benefits my mood, my self esteem and my overall health.

I can juggle my calendar

Because my issues generally fit within my cycle, I am able to fit my work around this. I don’t have to drag myself into work just because it’s a Monday, or meet a client just because some dev manager or boss has stuck it in my diary.

This week I am post-period, and so I will be prone to hyper-concentration, greater sparks of inspiration, confidence & an increased libido greatly improves my people skills (believe it or not!) so now is a great time to work on things I’ve been putting off or new projects that need creativity. By the end of next week this will have a fizzled out and I will be anxious and needy. I will avoid meetings with new clients and difficult phone calls. After that I may get another short period of increased productivity, and then I will need space for my temper; it is not a good time for me to deal with clients who don’t pay on time (for them, I mean).

Finding a full time / office job that would give me the freedom to organise my time and my work into 28 day blocks would be next to impossible, and would massively contribute to the guilt I feel for not being on “top form” 24/7 and in turn worsen my symptoms. And so…

It reduces the guilt

The last time I worked in an office, I spent the majority of my time ‘on-edge’ and feeling guilty. Guilty for needing flexibility, guilty for needing mental support and compassion for nearly 2 weeks of every four, guilty for feeling like I was letting my team down, and for a long time just guilty for the inability to put a name to the problem that I had.

I was very privileged to work for a boss who was understanding and supportive, but even the most compassionate of people have to draw a line when their profits and productivity are threatened. I avoid most of this as a freelancer by utilising the flexibility of hours and schedule, as mentioned, which lessens the burden and eases the symptoms.

I can choose my clients

Beyond sculpting my schedule into something that works for me, I help avoid inter-cycle flare-ups by working with only people who are sympathetic to my needs. It doesn’t have to be someone who’s intimately familiar with mental health issues or working with someone with PMDD, rather just a case of finding clients who are fine receiving an email at 8pm rather than 8am, or who trust that I can balance out a shit day with more great days in return.

Picking my own clients also allows me to reject people who I don’t think I’ll get along with either through a conflict of beliefs or simply mismatched personalities. It’s so much easier to produce great work for great clients and feel good about it.

I can choose my own path

Conventional advice would have us believe that to optimise your ‘wellness’ and ‘work / life balance’ you have to set strict boundaries, never reply to e-mails outside of the 9—5, never get personal with clients or allow work into your “home life”. That’s great if it works for other people, but if I never replied to emails outside of the 9—5 I’d miss out on a chunk of my day when I’m at my best (or busy doing the school run). If I didn’t get personal with clients I wouldn’t have the great relationships that I have with some of them.

It’s not for everyone, but my balance and my wellness comes from ignoring the conventional and choosing my own rules and my own path.

Lead photo by Tim Goedhart

I do freelancing wrong (and I’m still successful)

Search for how to be a successful freelancer in your favourite search engine, and there’s no end to the list of tips and tricks people have. Some of them are useful and actionable, but most are generic; regurgitated from someone else’s “how to be a great freelancer” list. Always willing to buck the trend, I thought I’d tell you all of the things I don’t do as a freelancer (and still consider myself successful):

I never wrote a business plan

Business plans are supposed to be a roadmap for your ideas. Used properly they can help you lay out all the variables to help you build a business: examine the purpose of the business, research and analyse both your target market and the competition, assess the feasibility and future of your ideas and so on. I didn’t write one. Why?

  • I wasn’t looking for funding
  • I didn’t have a big idea that needed fleshing out, I just knew I wanted to code
  • My target market was “anyone who wanted a website”, which seemed too broad to detail
  • I wasn’t worried about the competition – web developers have been in high demand for as long as I can remember

Nearly 6 years on I’m finally getting to the point where I’m considering writing a plan for the future, but when I first started it was far more important to me to spend what little time I had a) working and b) getting the word out that I was available.

Professional business person working on their business plan. Maybe. Definitely not me. (Photo by Olu Eletu)

I quit my day job before testing the waters

A lot of people wiser than I am recommend launching your new business, or project, while at your existing job. My circumstances were complicated slightly by maternity leave, but I handed in my notice before I did anything else. Why?

  • I didn’t want the potential conflict of interest between my old job and my new freelance business
  • I knew that if everything went tits up, I had enough experience (and there was enough demand) that I wouldn’t have a problem getting a new job
  • I wanted to be able to dedicate 100% of my mental energy to my business (and a newborn baby!)

I did, however, have a small amount of savings which I could rely on for a few months if it took a while for work to pick up traction (and an incredibly frugal household budget).

I didn’t network (in person)

Well, OK, I did: I went to a few “mum business” networking meetings. However, I felt like they were a waste of my time. The other attendees were not likely to be able to afford my services (most being in the process of launching their own small businesses) or were unlikely to last long enough in business to need a website (harsh but true). I did, however, do these things:

  • I emailed a few old colleagues to let them know I was freelancing — this led to several early leads
  • I mentioned on social media that I was now freelancing — I won my first job via twitter

From there, word of mouth did the rest.

People networking. Or just having coffee? It’s basically the same thing. (Photo by Daria Shevtsova)

I didn’t sign up to freelancing sites

And, to be honest, I don’t know why people recommend them.

Freelancing sites like PeoplePerHour encourage what I consider to be a race to the bottom – that is, they encourage people to pitch lower and lower in the hope of winning a job. My time, my experience, my talent… it all has a value. By undermining that in an attempt to cut under other freelancers, I might as will stick a sign on my head saying “will work for scraps”.

Position yourself as able to service the end of the market that is going to pay your bills, and you will find work that pays your bills. Compromising on my rates has never turned out well for me.

I never created an “elevator pitch”

And to this day, if someone asks me what I do, my stock response is “I build websites”.

Turn the question around and listen: it’s far easier to win a client by listening to what their needs are than by talking about yourself. If you know what a potential customer needs, you can best figure out where you fit in to solve it. If they don’t have a problem that you can solve? Well, there’s no point pitching to them anyway.

This empty elevator / stairwell represents my lack of a decent pitch. It’s metaphorical, innit. (Photo by Andrew Welch)

I don’t blog (professionally)

After nearly 6 years in business my portfolio contains 9 blog posts and only one of those is what I would consider vaguely relevant or demonstrates that I know what I’m talking about. In my experience, clients are far more interested in demonstrations of actual working websites than whether or not I can write 600 words about something tech related. Unless you’re freelancing as a blog content creator, a blog isn’t the be all and end all.

And on that note… I also don’t maintain a professional social media presence. I tried, it was exhausting. I gave it up as a bad idea. In fact, I went one better and pushed my brand as laid back and all “me”: crazy cat lady, swears on the Internet and gives no shits. I’ve not lost a job for it yet. I think.

Despite all of these things I’m doing “wrong”, I still have the ability to turn down work that doesn’t fit or suit me. I have clients that I’ve been working with the entire duration of my freelance career. I very rarely have work droughts and when I do they don’t last long. This isn’t a brag: I’m not saying my way is the right way. On the contrary, I share my “failings” only to offer you encouragement that there is no right way to be a freelancer. It doesn’t have to be suits and plans and networking meetings.

The beauty of being a freelancer is that you can make it work for you, your way, and only you know how to do that.

Personal Bests and Personal Worsts

I started this week on a fantastic high. After having cracked squatting my bodyweight earlier this year (roughly 72kg give or take) I had been struggling with improving my squats further. Marred by dodgy knees, skipped gym sessions thanks to a chaotic schedule and over-indulgence on food & drink, it’s my own fault. Still, this didn’t stop me on Monday when I smashed out squats at both 80kg and 85kg with a set of 2 for each. Strong strong legs.

A post shared by Jem Turner (@jemjabellargh) on

Not content on just PBing there, I went on to pull 50kg doing close-grip front lat pulldowns having been stuck at 45kg forEVER. To say I was buzzing after that was an understatement.

(I am currently using Myprotein Impact Whey Protein to support my workouts but I’m looking to potentially improve on this in the new year. If you supplement protein, I’d be interested to know what you take. Drop me a comment/email.)

This strength-related high was short lived as I got home to yet another round of work related emails (boo) and the ever present threat of the taxman knocking at my door.

Every single year I forget about HMRC’s payments on account, leaving me ill-prepared to meet their demands for large sums of cash at a time of year where things are tight as it is. My kids want Christmas presents and I’m sat watching the balance of my overdraft grow hoping my clients pull their fingers out before December 25th; this doesn’t leave me much leeway to pay the taxman money for a tax year that isn’t even over yet (don’t even get me started).

Why is balancing the ebbs and flows of freelance, and planning sufficiently ahead, such a personal weakness? It’s been over 5 years since I started working for myself and barring a break in the middle where I briefly returned to my old agency, I have had to put money away all this time. And I fail, time and time again.

2018 has to be the year where I nail this shit.

Spend your time wisely

With the recent announcement over on my professional blog that I’m now celebrating 5 years of working for myself as a freelance developer, it feels somewhat bittersweet that I am also announcing the closure of one of my side projects: WAHMweb.

It has been a labour of love over the past 5+ years. Designed originally as an outlet for my own work at home rants, discoveries and so on, it has evolved into a decent resource for parents (and in particular, mums) who are looking to either move into working at home from a full time position, or simply just want to earn a few extra quid while they stay at home with young children.

Unfortunately the project has never been close to profitable, and while that was never the key aim, I can no longer afford to push money into hosting and content development to not even get close to breaking even.

As my notoriety(!) in the WordPress space increases, and demand for my services is reaching new highs every week now, I have to spend my time wisely: choosing to continue with projects which are self-supporting, self-financing, and concentrating the rest of my energies in best serving my clients (and my kids).

I have moved the most popular of the WAHMweb content pieces to this blog, and will transfer and other bits I feel are important in due course. While this is a sad announcement, it does mean that I will be able to focus more time and energy on sharing the things that have helped with my personal success as a work at home mum right here where it belongs.

Thank you to all those who’ve supported WAHMweb over the years.

Multi Level Marketing: Scam or Dream Ticket?

Anyone active on social media in recent times has likely come across network — or multi level — marketing schemes, potentially without even realising it. Usually, these schemes sell health and “wellness” or diet products, with sales persons claiming dramatic health improvements or weight loss, but crucially without any science to back these claims up. When they can’t sell you the products, they try to sell you the lifestyle: a lucrative business model guaranteed to generate thousands of pounds a month.

Recently popular competitors in the UK market include Arbonne and Forever Living, although there are several out there (Herbalife, Juice PLUS+, Avon etc)

A modern day pyramid scheme

All of the multi level marketing companies rely on a pyramid structure to work: for a sales person to make enough profit to be worthwhile, each sales person needs to recruit other sales people, who in turn need to recruit other sales people.

Because the sale of physical products are involved, this differs from a pyramid scheme in the legal sense: a pyramid scheme promises profit on the basis that each person involved will pass on money to those further up the chain with nothing to show for it. Nonetheless, the principles are identical: person A recruits person B and C, person B and C recruit D, E, F and so on…

After a given point, person A doesn’t even have to sell products: they can live off the hard work of person B and C’s sales and recruits (and so on, down the pyramid). Unfortunately, the system relies on an infinite number of people available to buy or recruit, which is impossible.

A saturated market

If we assume that nobody can sell or recruit fast enough to require infinite people, you still have the problem of a saturated marketplace, and even more so the lower down the ‘chain’ you are.

Let’s say your Auntie Joan sells you some cream, which you think is great, and you want to sell it too. Chances are Auntie Joan has already sold to or tried to recruit the majority of your family. So you’re now reduced to selling to family on your partner’s side, colleagues or friends. But your mate Elaine has already got a cream distributor in her local area that she’s loyal to, and you can’t invade her patch, reducing your potential sales area down further.

Most MLM sales people will only have a certain amount of friends – only a few of these will be interested in buying products. Even fewer of those friends will want to be recruited and those that do get hooked in struggle to sell within the same social circle. The chances of making a sale or hooking in a recruit decreases as the popularity (and size) of a scheme increases unless you’re “lucky” enough to get in early.

Lifestyle bait

The key promise of these multi level marketing schemes is a type of lifestyle bait: promising the reward of time with loved ones (playing on common feelings of guilt amongst parents, particularly mothers), the suggestion – both directly and indirectly – that you could earn thousands of pounds per month, and the reward of the house, car, boat, holiday, etc of your dreams (appealing to greed).

The reality is that even if you’re lucky enough to get into one of these schemes early enough to not be affected by the saturated marketplace, you have to work very hard for a long time to be earning significant amounts of cash. Working hard means not spending time with your family, and even after putting all that time and effort in, is not indicative or a guarantee that you’re likely to cash in at the end. The success stories (the people posing in front of their brand new cars with comedy size cheques) are usually early adopters who’ve worked 12+ hour days, and can now cash in on the sales and recruits further down their chain.

Doomed to failure

In 2008, multi level marketing expert Robert FitzPatrick studied 11 different MLM networking schemes in the US, including ones that have a presence in the UK — Arbonne, Herbalife to name but two — and discovered that 99% of all distributors in these companies earned on average less than $13 a week in commission income, which isn’t even enough to cover the minimum purchases that distributors are required to make. That’s £10 to you and me, at the time of writing. Can you survive on £10 per week?

In 2015 FitzPatrick published a new report showing that more than 99% of distributors still don’t make any profit from multi level marketing schemes, and what’s more, the major MLM schemes, such as Amway, Avon and Herbalife (amongst others) have reached global saturation and now face a no-growth future: or in other words, there is no way for the distributors to recruit enough people to continue selling down the chain to compensate for the millions that quit every year.

Too good to be true

Remember the old adage: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If it were possible to make thousands of pounds per month while spending all your time with your family, and not having to do a day’s hard labour, everybody would be doing it. Unless you get in early (too late) or have an infinite number of friends (unlikely), it’s likely that you will fail to profit from multi level marketing, and worse, could potentially financially suffer from buying in this late in the game.

Network AKA multi level marketing is not a ticket to your dream lifestyle.

Work at Home Jobs for Single Parents, and Making It Work

In May 2014 I ended a twelve year relationship that I’d been in since I left school, and suddenly had to face the prospect of caring for two children and working full time outside of the home, doing all the household chores, shopping for groceries, etc etc. All the usual “mum” stuff but all on my own. It was scary, and hard, and eventually something had to give. I had to return to working for myself from home to give me the flexibility I needed as a single parent to juggle all of my responsibilities as well as allowing me to reduce my reliance on childcare and wraparound school care in order to reduce my monthly outgoings.

I am lucky in that I have a skill that is easily transferable to home working. In fact, I can work from virtually anywhere: well, anywhere with power, wifi and a supply of coffee. But if you’ve been out in the workplace in a non skilled profession or have been a stay at home parent for years, you may not have access to such a marketable skill. So where do you begin if you have limited experience or no prior work at home experience?

5 Low-Skill Flexible Work at Home Jobs for Single Parents

  • Customer support assistants – working for a third party via a virtual call center or online management, respond to customer support requests via email, phone, helpdesk software etc
  • Sales reps – working for a third party selling physical or digital products (sometimes relies on cold calling and sales bonuses, only recommend if you have proben sales experience)
  • Website/App testing – get paid to test websites and phone apps with existing tech equipment most people have at home
  • Data entry – ideal for those who are fast and accurate at typing
  • Audio transcription – listen to audio files and type what you hear (fast/accurate typing also required)

Alternatively, if you’re actually the next Stephen King, have a creative streak, or have managed staff and offices, you might be suited to more skilled roles:

8 Skilled Flexible Work at Home Jobs for Single Parents

  • Crafting/creating – create products at home and sell on marketplace websites like etsy, Supermum’s Craft Fair, etc
  • Copywriting – write copy (text) for others (avoid ‘content mills’ who pay poorly for badly written, churned out text)
  • Editor/Proofreader – proofread other people’s copy quickly, spotting mistakes that others might miss
  • Tutoring – turn your experience into online lessons, webinars, or 1-to-1 tutoring for other people’s benefit
  • Social Media Management – use knowledge of social media to represent the identities of 3rd party companies
  • Virtual Assistants – use office/PA skills to manage and assist other people
  • Translation – if you’re skilled with multiplate languages, translate documents
  • Personal Training – offer diet and fitness tips online through webinars, limited access paid facebook groups, private blogs

Of course, finding a job that you can do from home is just step one. Breaking into a new industry, or starting again from scratch, can be intimidating. It’s even harder if you have to do this while keeping odd hours around school days, children’s nap times and the like.

Getting started working at home as a single parent

So, first things first… you need to figure out if you’re going to work for yourself as a self employed sole trader, or find a company that allows remote home working in the position/career area you’re interested in. If you are going to work for yourself, be sure to read our guide on how to register as self employed. It’s easier than it sounds, can be done online, and is absolutely crucial to ensure your work and income is legal. The last thing any single parent needs is a visit from the tax man! Alternatively, if you plan on remote working for a third party, check out our guide on the ins and outs of remote working.

Once you’ve decided on how you’re going to work, you need to find someone to work for. Workingmums.co.uk has a directory of home working jobs, and The Guardian has a small list too. Be wary of jobs that sound too good to be true: for example, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to turn over thousands of pounds a month in a sales position unless you’re putting in 16 hour days, which is nigh on impossible when caring for children.

If you plan on working for yourself, you need to figure out how you’re going to market your services. We recommend that you start with a business plan with clearly identified goals and a brief run down on how you plan on achieving them. Once the business plan is ready to go, our tips on using twitter for business are a good start for publicity.

When you know how you are going to work, who for, and what your plan of attack for your business is, you can start thinking about how you’re going to fit this into your day. As a seasoned work at home parent my key times for productivity are:

Pre-6am: if I can manage to make it across the landing and down the stairs without waking my early-rising 7 year old, the early hours of the morning are perfect for tackling small jobs that need your utmost concentration. Don’t even think about opening your email or social media though: nobody expects (or deserves) a response at 5am, and this is key quiet time for maximum efficiency.

Daytime naps: unfortunately both of mine are too old to be convinced to nap now, but when I was working at home with a young baby, naptime was a great time to get boring (quiet) tasks finished up… and sometimes I’d manage a hot coffee too. If your baby is one of those awkward fussy ones (is there any other type?) use a sling to keep baby close allowing you to get things done with the comfort of your warmth and smell right there.

Post-bedtime: if you’re not absolutely knackered (and you probably will be for the next few years) and your children have a good bedtime routine which guarantees some alone time past a certain hour, you can plot in a couple of hours work post-bedtime to check off the low-concentration jobs, last emails, social media scheduling: the bits that don’t need 100% attention, because nobody has that to give after a full day of juggling children, chores and work.

Fitting it all in as a single parent

There are two key points to fitting everything in as a single parent. The first is to have something you can “sacrifice” if something else eats too much of your time: in my house, children and work are my priority (in that order) and so the first thing I sacrificed if something went wrong was chores/housework. Yes, sometimes my house looks like I’ve been invaded by an army, but no, I don’t care.

The second key point to fitting everything in is to try and stick to a rough schedule. I know schedules and routines are boring, but if you know what you need to do at 10am on a Monday morning because it’s the same thing you do as every other Monday morning at 10am, that’s one less thing you need to actually mentally process.

With that said, it’s really hugely important to remember that it is just impossible to “have it all”, and attempting to have the perfect everything 100% of the time is going to leave you burned out, stressed and disappointed. I’ve written before on the having it all myth (few mild swear words!)

Networking when you have children

After your home working plan is in place and you know when you need to be doing what, the next step is to ensure that you’re constantly seeking out new contacts. This is just as important for home workers in remote working situations as it is the self employed with their own business (because you don’t want to miss out on a potentially better role just because you’re stuck at home with the kids now!)

There’s a huge network of mum-and-children networking meetings across the UK through services such as Bizmums who offer child friendly networking, so you can go out and meet new people without needing a babysitter or childcare fallback, which can be difficult to source as a single parent.

What now?

With your home work setup running, you and the kids in a loose routine to keep you all sane and (hopefully) the work rolling in, what now?

  • Regularly review your progress, compare it to your business plan and goals
  • Never stop seeking opportunities to grow
  • Share your experiences with others: supporting other work at home parents, especially single parents, is incredibly rewarding

Good luck.

6 things you should be doing with your business website

1. Phone number on every page

I know it can seem intimidating to list a phone number on your website when you’re a work at home parent but many suppliers and customers prefer to talk rather than e-mail, even in this day and age. In fact, one of my favourite clients came to me because the first person he’d been recommended refused to chat on the telephone. My willingness to talk earned me work, and his word of mouth referrals continue to benefit my business in a huge way.

A phone number gives an appearance of ‘real-ness’ and transparency. It takes you from “internet nobody” to someone tangible.

If you only have a personal number and don’t want to invest in a work phone, consider paying for a virtual phone number to mask yours.

2. Examples of your work

Although difficult if you’re bound by NDAs, showing examples of your work is crucial to quickly show your potential customers that you can do what you say you can. This is especially true if you work in an industry that relies on creativity or visual ‘stuff’ – design, writing, etc.

If your work is all protected by NDAs (Non Disclosure Agreements) or you’re just starting out and don’t have any “real” work to show, put examples and dummy work on your website. As long as you make it clear to your potential clients that it’s fictional work, you’ll be fine.

3. Contact form

Although there are still lots of people who like a good chat on the phone before handing over business, there are just as many — if not more — people who want to make contact via the web. This can be for a variety of reasons:

  • They’re making enquiries at work and don’t want to have to take a personal call during work time (or shouldn’t be on the internet in the first place!)
  • They have anxiety issues or dislike talking on the phone: this is incredibly common
  • It’s quicker to describe their query or give requirements in text format than it is to explain on the telephone
  • They want a written record of communication
  • Laziness! (Guilty as charged…)

For this reason I highly recommend you have a working contact form on your website. But — and this is hugely important — don’t add a ton of required fields. Name, e-mail address and enquiry are all that you need to reply to the submission. You can ask for more details later on if it seems relevant.

4. Social media links

If you’re on social media (and if not, why not?) then make sure that you link your social media profiles from your website. Like many people now, if I have a quick question for an item I want to buy or about a venue etc, I always reach out first on twitter or facebook before I resort to emailing, purely because people generally respond faster via social media than they do via email.

5. Make it clear what benefit you have over competition

Every business should have a USP (Unique Selling Point), some reason or another why customers should buy your product or services over the competition. If you don’t make it clear to your website visitors what that USP is, and why they should use you, you run the risk of losing them before they’ve even left your home page.

If you can make it look like you have the perfect solution to your client’s problem, you have a guaranteed sale.

6. Testimonials

Testimonials (or product reviews, if you are selling something physical) sound cheesy and are easy to fake (NEVER do this!) but people still read them before spending their hard earned cash. As someone who does their shopping almost exclusively online, I avoid anything with zero reviews or things rated poorly.

To give your testimonials or reviews authenticity and make them feel more powerful, make sure you use a name and — where possible — a picture or image to represent the person behind the words. Use the testimonials on appropriate pages, e.g. from an existing customer of ABC Widgets on the page selling Widgets.

Don’t forget, your customers and clients are unlikely to offer up a testimonial, so make sure you ask. Give them some guidance: ask for specific reasons why your product or services worked for them, ask for figures or stats to back it up if appropriate, and then bask in the warm glow that comes from being told how awesome you are.

Image credit: anna maria lopez lopez

Fitness Tips for Busy Work at Home Parents

Many of those who work at home find fitness right near the bottom of their list of priorities. Work at home parents in particular often find that they’re so busy juggling the demands of children, partners, work and household chores that fitness doesn’t fit on the list at all. However, this approach to fitness is shortsighted: it ignores the benefits of physical activity on both physical health (which gives you all important energy to run around after little ones) and mental health (which can keep feelings of isolation and lack of motivation at bay) as well as keeping the “work at home biscuit belly” in check. But how do you fit this in?

woman doing yoga

Workout tip #1: involve the kids

child enjoying fitnessYounger kids are usually fascinated watching mums (and dads) doing a home workout, and many are eager to join in. Try incorporating your kids into short bursts of exercise to get you both moving. Star jumps, squats, arm circles, sit ups, and the plank are all perfectly feasible for kids and can be incorporated into a 15-20 minute session to get your heart rate up and your blood pumping. If you’re feeling really brave, and your kids are into it, you can even use them in place of weights for overhead presses and weighted squats. Be wary of flying drool though – I speak from experience here! Make sure you both cool down with some easy static stretches.

Studies have shown that children are much more likely to go on to have a healthy attitude to exercise when parents regularly take part, and show enthusiasm and commitment to their exercise.1

Workout tip #2: mix it up

For the majority of people, performing the same workout all of the time not only becomes boring and monotonous, but it can also become less effective at burning calories and improving overall fitness. Of course, doing the same thing every day of every week is better than doing nothing at all, but for best results considering mixing up your exercise sessions and varying your home workout types.

dumbbellsOn days 1, 3 and 5 try strength training – either with weights (your children?) or just your bodyweight. Squats, push-ups, pull-ups, chair dips are all effective home based bodyweight exercises that have a huge impact on fitness and calorie burn. Then, on days 2, 4 and 6/7 fit in some cardio: walking, running, cycling (static bike or out on the road) etc.

If you can get half an hour away from the kids and responsibilities at home, run around the block or a local park a few times. If you’ve not got that luxury, take them on a long walk (either get them walking too or strap them into the pushchair and off you go!)

One of my favourite ways of fitting in cardio (running) when I have to look after the kids is to visit the local park. I let them tire themselves out on the play equipment while I run the perimeter of the park. They’re never out of sight but are learning independence and to support each other, and I fit in a great cardio workout. We’re usually all exhausted by the time we return home!

Workout tip #3: short bursts of intensive exercise for fat burning

If you’ve got the “work at home biscuit belly” (it’s so easy to dip into the snack cupboard every time you make a cuppa, right?) you might want to consider short bursts of intensive activity instead of long runs or other cardio sessions. Numerous studies2 support the theory that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) burns more fat than steady sessions of exercise. This might even mean that you can burn more calories in a shorter space of time, and as work at home parents have little time as it is, this is ideal!

It doesn’t seem to matter what you choose as your activity for HIIT, as long as you alternate between bursts of high intensity (maximum effort) and then lower intensity exercise. Bodybuilding.com recommends 15 seconds of high-intensity exercise such as skipping (with a skipping rope), sprinting or using a stationary exercise bike with 60 seconds of rest of low-intensity effort. As you progress, you can increase the amount of high-intensity effort you put in and decrease the amount of low-intensity effort.

Workout tip #4: stop taking shortcuts

One of the biggest barriers to fitness has to be the luxury and convenience of modern technology. Escalators, elevators, even the washing machine encourage us to move less and less. As well as fitting in dedicated physical activity to your routine, consider increasing your incidental exercise too: take the stairs instead of elevator, hang your washing outside instead of tumble drying (I admit, hand-washing is too extreme even for me), walk or cycle the school run instead of taking the car, walk to the shops for your pint of milk, even just standing instead of sitting keeps your body active for longer! For every thing you do yourself instead of relying on technology or furniture, you’re moving muscles and burning calories.

Workout tip #5: prioritise rest

It might seem tempting (or even necessary) to burn the midnight oil to catch up when you have deadlines approaching or have not managed to achieve much in a working day, but choosing to stay up instead of sleeping can not only decrease your mental performance but it can discourage fat loss. Attempt to fit in your 8 hours of sleep a night (if the kids will let you).

In addition to making sure you’re getting adequate rest at night, it’s important to take rest days if you’re working out intensively too. Your muscles need time to repair and recover, particularly after HIIT workouts and strength training with heavy weights. It doesn’t mean you have to sit on your bum with the laptop all day (try a steady 30 minute walk instead of an fast 30 minute run) but take it easy to avoid exhausation and injury.

Workout tip #6: don’t give up

It’s incredibly easy to see exercise as a chore, especially in the early weeks (and even months), if you’re not really seeing any physical benefit. If you’re over-weight you may even feel worse before you feel better, but for every session of exercise or workout that you do you’re having positive effects on your body. You’re building and strengthing muscle, increasing your stamina and burning calories. Eventually a regular exercise regime becomes part of your routine, and you will do it without evening thinking. You may even grow to enjoy it!

Don’t make excuses, just do it (sorry Nike). There’s no such thing as lack of time, just lack of proper planning and prioritisation of your health and fitness.

1 Parental Influence on Young Children’s Physical Activity

2 The Ultimate 8-Week HIIT For Fat-Burning Program (see references)

How to organise your Life with Filofax

This isn’t the home for the great Filofax debate but it is a place where the merits of this personal organisation system can be discussed. It has been in existence since 1921 and many of its advocates will tell you it’s better for organising your life than a computer or any regular diary. Held in such high esteem by so many it’s definitely worth taking a look at whether the humble Filofax is the perfect tool for the busy work at home mum or dad. We’ll start from the beginning and provide all the information you need to choose and use your first Filofax.

Choosing a Filofax

The advocates of Filofax will tell you these are the top reasons for purchasing:

  1. No risk of crashing like a computer or smartphone
  2. Instantaneously add things without having to wait for documents or diaries to load
  3. Organise in many different ways
  4. Personalise to reflect your individual style/the way your brain works.

There are a range of different Filofaxes on the market. There are five standard sizes: Mini, Pocket, Personal, A5 and A4. The Mini is the smallest and fits pages of just 67mm x 105mm and is useful for slipping into a handbag or using on the go. It has five rings for papers to be clipped onto. The Pocket Filofax has six rings and has a larger paper size of 81mm x 120mm and compact again like the Mini, ideal for using when out and about. Many Filofax fans suggest owning a Mini or Pocket for keeping just important appointment dates and to-do lists, essential for busy working parents. A page from the Pocket also fits easily into the Personal so pages can be moved when needed.

filofax banner

The Personal Filofax is the regular size that most people will recognise. It has its trademark two sets of three rings and it holds paper of a size of 95mm x 171mm. As the most popular choice the Personal Filofax has the widest range of different paper and diary refills available. The Personal Filofax is the recommended choice for first timers!

The A5 Filofax is less popular than the Personal despite its handy size. It holds 148mm x 210mm paper and is often used as a desktop organiser rather than one carried around. It’s a great choice for having in the home office alongside all your other necessary bits and bobs. The standard paper size of the A5 means you can do your own printouts too, once you’re into the swing of things.

The final Filofax size is by far the largest. The A4 Filofax has just four rings at 80mm spacing and is once again a popular choice for keeping at home as a desktop organiser.

Choosing your Diary Format

There is no right diary format, although different Filofax users will tell you otherwise. There are many different types of diary format which suit different users and the most popular formats include:

  • Day per page
  • Week per page
  • Week on two pages (or week per view)
  • Month on or two pages

Some of these diary format inserts are only available for certain types of Filofax and there are others available, especially if you choose to print your own.

Once you’ve chosen your diary format it’s time to think about the additional extras. Many Filofax users opt to create their own colour coding systems and may use different coloured pens, post-its or even additional pages such as maps. Some users use different types of stickers as markers or as part of the organisation system – once you start you’ll be able to see which work best for your needs.

How to use your Filofax

Setting out some basic guidelines for using your Filofax will help you keep it up and ensure it becomes the valuable organisational tool you need. Below are some steadfast rules to keep in mind.

Your One and Only

Put away all other notebooks, diaries and organisational tools, including Google calendar. When you’re putting together your Filofax you want to rely on the singular system and nothing else – multiple systems will dilute the effectiveness.

Include Every Appointment

Ensure your Filofax diary section includes every appointment you have to remember and those of other people that matter, such as dates and times your childminder is unavailable or when Grandma is having the kids. Your Filofax can manage your whole life, not just your work.

Check Every Day

Get into the habit of checking your Filofax diary every day. Look ahead over the week coming and ensure you have every date secured and organised in your mind. You’ll soon see your productivity increase. Look out for events which have been cancelled or changed so you don’t end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Keep a Task List

Have a task list page or pages in your Filofax. Keep them separate from the diary and if possible you should always keep individual tasks away from the diary section, unless they are particular to an individual day. Your Task List should include a list of all the tasks you have live and their deadline dates, even if these are dates set yourself and not by a client. Highlight and mark urgent or must-do tasks on a daily basis and ensure completed tasks are satisfyingly ticked off.

Note it down immediately

Key to the success of your Filofax is having it to hand and ensuring you note things down in the right section immediately. This means if you arrange a meeting with someone you put it in your diary as soon as it’s confirmed or if you have a new job it gets added immediately to your task list. This system also means you can check your diary before agreeing to anything and you should always make sure you check. Put your trust in your Filofax.

Don’t Forget your Notes Section

The notes section is integral to the success of your Filofax. It can be filled with just blank papers and is needed so you can note things down which don’t fit in your diary or task list sections. Keeping them separate avoids confusion but means you always have a space for those additional bits of information which are sometimes key to the success of a project or understanding the diary entry you’ve made.

The Filofax Holy Trinity

Your notes, task list and diary sections truly are the core elements of your organiser. Everything you need can be stored in these three parts. Additional sections such as addresses or finances can be added in but they’re purely extras. Within the three core areas you can have sub categories and additional sections but with these three key sections kept in good order you’ll be ready to go.

Make use of Markers

Dividers can help ensure your core sections are kept separate and any sub categories can be marked out with tab stickers or mini post-its. You should also have an easily movable today divider so you can always keep on top of your daily lists, whatever maybe on the cards.

Above all else your Filofax must be with you at all times. The system won’t work if you simply neglect to take it out one day as it should become like another limb. The longer you carry out the above practices the sooner it will become routine and you’ll soon realise you really can’t live without your Filofax.

All photography (c) filofax.co.uk

The truth about earning money from surveys

I’ve lost count of the amount of times someone has suggested to me that filling in surveys online are a great source of easy work at home income. Everyone seems to have a story about their great aunt’s on their dad’s side or cousin twice removed who makes hundreds of pounds a day filling in a few simple surveys.

I call nonsense!

Back when I first started working from home, I signed up to a few survey sites to fill up the odd spare 5 or 10 minutes. I figured if I could earn a tenner or so a month while supping a coffee it was money I could put towards my jaffa cake habit. Unfortunately, despite having signed up to 4 different survey sites nearly 2 years ago, the closest I’ve come to my tenner is with PanelOpinion, & even then you have to have a pretty lenient definition of close because I’ve only accrued £1.90

Unfortunately, surveys pay really REALLY low amounts, usually around 20 pence for a 10 minute survey (and that’s even if you qualify, for most of which I don’t!) By my calculations I’d need to qualify for and complete 50 x 20 pence surveys to get my £10, and that’s going to take me around 8 hours and 20 minutes. Now, I know that minimum wage is fairly crap in this country but it’s definitely more than the £1.20 per hour I’d be “working” at for that jaffa cake money.

Is my time worth just £1.20 per hour? No. Is your time worth just £1.20 per hour? I’m going to suggest that no, it probably isn’t. Nobody should be working for £1.20 an hour. There has to be better ways to make money from home.

Having it all? What a load of boll….

Off the back of Beth’s eloquent piece on being “wonder woman” I can’t help but summarise my opinion on the phrase “having it all”: it’s a load of — and look away now if you’re of sensitive disposition — complete and total bollocks.

“Having it all” is just another stick invented by the media to beat up women who don’t meet bullshit fantasy ideals which only serve to drive women crazy in their misguided pursuit of happiness.

I confess, before I actually became a work at home parent I thought that it would be the yellow brick road, the wardrobe opening into Narnia: I honestly thought that I could sit at my laptop tapping out a few great websites for clients (that’s what I do, see) while the children played gaily at my feet. The washing would be done, dried and folded; the kitchen work surfaces sparkling as I’d have not long scrubbed pausing only to sip on my hot coffee in a clean mug. My food would be prepped for our evening meal and we’d all be happy and rich as I rolled in the money I would make as a successful freelancer.

snotty baby
Not my child. Model shown for demonstration purposes only.

Hahahaha what a prat I was.

The reality is a little more like yesterday: I was sat at my desk, covered in bogies because my youngest is ill, bouncing him on my lap to keep the noise level down whilst I try to give a training meeting to a client over skype; my headset whistles because dearest child is trying to eat the microphone, again leaning forward to wipe his teary, green-crust-covered face across my chest and I pause to listen to the questions over the sound of a hacking cough and wimpering (child’s, not mine).

I can’t stop working to nurse my child back to health because I’m on my second month of being overdrawn thanks to scrooge-like clients holding on to their cash for as long as possible. My long forgotten coffee on the manky crumb-covered kitchen side is long cold and will sit there until the following morning when I replace it with another (which will also likely go the same way) in the same grotty mug because pausing to wash it is too much effort.

And if you think that’s an exaggeration for comic effect, you’re obviously not a work at home parent.

Don’t get me wrong, I have really enjoyed the challenges of working from home over the past 18 months. On the months where I have made more money than I did as an employee I have rejoiced in the successes… but it’s not like this every day. It’s stressful, and hard, and I am not wonder woman. Like I said: having it all? What a load of bollocks.

Many thanks to the lovely Eeh Bah Mum for letting me use her gorgeous snotty child to illustrate my slightly ranty post.

Does the Taxman know about your Blog?

The rise of the professional blogger and those who monetise their personal blogs has crept up slowly and now, everyone’s doing it. For some people it’s a genuine source of income, for some it’s their business and others simply do it for a bit of extra cash. In every instance you earn tangible money from your blog – you need to be in discussion with the HMRC. In fact, even if you’re only thinking about earning money from your blog you should consider registering with them too.

Earning money from blogging takes you into the realm of self-employment and tax. The HMRC offer NO minimum limit on the amount you have to declare as extra income. This means as soon as the cash received from your blog exceeds the costs of running it then you need to make a declaration to the HMRC. This isn’t as complicated as it sounds.

Many self-employed mums and dads run blogs as a side line and this income should be recorded too. If you’re not self-employed and have an employer but run a profit-making blog then you can simply ring the HMRC and they’ll adjust your tax code to ensure you’re paying the right amount of tax. This rule applies if you pay tax through PAYE and your earnings don’t exceed £2,500. Once you reach that milestone you’ll have to register for Self-Assessment and your blog income will also need to be declared if you’re a tax credits claimant, provided they exceed £300.

Tax Matters

Everybody in the UK is entitled to a ‘tax free’ personal allowance from their earnings which is currently £9,440 for 2013 for everyone aged 75 or younger. If your profits and any other taxable income fall below this threshold then you wouldn’t need to pay tax but you still must declare your earnings and profit.

Blogging for Business or Pleasure?

The tax regulations differ slightly dependent on the purpose of your blog. If you’re a WAHM who blogs as part of their business then it is slightly different than if you started blogging for something to do as a past time and it became slowly more popular and you decided to monetize.

If your blog is simply a hobby then you will be able to offset the running expenses (shown in more depth below) against the income. However, you are not able to carry any losses you make forward to offset against other income.

Blogs that are run as a business allow losses to be carried forward or used on the self-assessment form to offset other income. You do need to convince the HMRC that your blog is an effective business and not simply a hobby that costs too much if you consistently make loss upon loss.

If your blog is your business and you have no other income you must register as self-employed within three months of starting up.

Blogging Income

There are several ways work at home mums and dads may make money from their blogs including:

  • Selling advertising space on a monthly fee basis
  • Utilising Google Adwords
  • Cash payments for writing reviews or other blog posts
  • Writing sponsored posts to include links to the buyer’s client website
  • Affiliate sales
  • Certain payments in kind
  • Any money received to compensate for travel expenses to events

Certain things which are not taxable include any goody bags you may receive at a conference as this is considered a gift and also being bought lunch by a company you’re working with is non-taxable as long as you aren’t doing anything specifically in return for that lunch.

Review products are an issue of contention. As a rule if you plan to use the item in your own home with your family personally than you shouldn’t need to declare it however if you plan to sell the item then you should be paying tax on it.

Blogging Expenditure

There are some expenses that you can offset against any income you make as a blogger. These include:

  • Your web hosting fees
  • Your domain registration
  • Any marketing costs you incur including business cards, paying for advertising elsewhere and any software you may use for marketing
  • Attending conferences and events in the name of blog promotion
  • A calculated percentage of your broadband costs which you need to work out to separate business from private use
  • Assets necessary to maintain your blog such as laptops, hard drives and even printer ink – this point is only relevant if you are classed as a business and you will need to discuss these types of expenditure with an expert as they are treated differently to regular expenses.

It could be that you’ve only been blogging a short time and have received a few small opportunities so you don’t think it matters about declaring it. It does. Every £1 needs to be accounted for and the HMRC are aware of the growing blogging network and want to ensure everything is being carried out above board.

Your employer doesn’t need to know if you don’t want them to but you do need to ensure you are paying tax on all that you earn, even if you have only monetised your blog recently.