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.

Day in the life of a WAHM

It’s Tuesday morning, 6:50am. The kids have just asked me if it’s morning yet and can we get up, and I send them back to bed knowing full well the alarm is going to go off in 5 minutes, but every second I can spend tucked in bed wrapped in limbs and duvet improves the chances of me not being a grumpy arse when I do get up.

7:05am — oops, I realise I must have forgotten to turn the alarm on last night. Drag my weary butt out of bed and get the kids out of theirs.

The next hour is a confused, frantic mess of breakfast choices, getting the kids dressed and hair brushed (urghhhhhhhhh worst part of every morning), me showered / dressed / protein shake in my gob, feeding the cats and getting everyone out the door. We’re running 10 minutes behind schedule.

8:10am: chuck Izzy out at the school breakfast club. She loves going, because it means she can have a second breakfast and it’s usually poached eggs.

8:25am: drop Olly off at nursery: his favourite lady is there this morning, so we have a smooth and smiley handover. This allows me to recoup some of the earlier lost time.

8:30am: arrive with a client whom I have committed 8 hours a week to, split over 2 days. It guarantees regular income (so a bit of stability for me) which pays my childcare bill, allowing me to do all my other (more profitable) work.

Work work work.

12:30: home time

12:45: raid the fridge for anything vaguely edible

1pm: catch up on e-mails, social media

1:30pm: remember I’m supposed to be working, close down twitter

2pm: remember I’m supposed to be working, really close down twitter this time

2:05pm: realise that the spreadsheet I’m working from is out of date (probably because I haven’t updated it)

2:15pm: chuck some notes in spreadsheet, mark things completed, email to client in anticipation of call at 2:30 which is probably going to be a telling off because I expected to have other bits done by now (August was a disaster work-wise)

By 2:20pm I’m already sweating. Not because I’m hot (hello, Britain, September!) but because I hate phone calls. There’s something about not being able to read the body language and facial expressions of someone that reduces me to a jibbering wreck.

2:32pm: Desperate for a pee and the call is already late, what do I do, what do I do?

2:33pm: Risk it.. sit down, start to pee, phone rings. Pee faster, pee faster! Grab phone, accidentally cut him off.

2:34pm: Call back, telling off for slipping deadlines and unclear communication. Oops :(

2:58pm: Joke about pee on twitter, suddenly remember I need to pick the kids up. Forget sometimes there’s an “M” part to this WAH thingy.

7:53pm: Sit back down at computer somehow having lost 5 hours to feeding, bathing, bedtime stories and the like. Suppose I best get some work done. Ooh, what’s happening on twitter….

Flippity Flop

Keeping with the “posts I didn’t think I’d write” theme, I have some slightly less traumatic but otherwise Important Life Stuff news.

Having earlier this week spent the Nth (I’ve lost count) night waking up — tossing and turning — stressing about work, I decided that enough was enough this week. The reasons are many and varied but… I just can’t lie in bed when the alarm clock goes off, dreading getting up and wanting to call in sick: it’s not sustainable and is having a massive effect on my mental health (which has been up and down over the past year as it is). I miss my mojo. I’ve handed in my notice at matm.

A couple of full time opportunities cropped up in the week (coincidence) but ultimately I’m 99% sure at this stage that I’m going to return to freelancing. The flexibility around the kid’s schedule will be a massive help, the ability to go for a run in the middle of the day if my mood hits a big low, not having to deal with petty office politics etc. It’s a win-win situation as far as I can tell. (Apart from having to earn a massive amount to cover my monthly bills, but eh, IT’LL BE FINE!)

One of the big things I struggled with last time, and a big part of why I stopped working at home, was an overwhelming sense of loneliness. I got to the point where I was talking to the postman and inviting Jehovah’s Witnesses in for a cup of tea. I don’t want that to be the thing that stops me from making this opportunity a success, so I will be addressing this as soon as possible. I am not sure how yet, but I’ve had loads of ideas (and nicked other people’s): volunteering somewhere a few hours a week, working in a client office occasionally, working in the local pub for a few hours (actually, maybe not this one… ;))

I want to be able to look at this opportunity the same way I looked at it last time: mostly positive.

It’s just a shame that this is timed so spectacularly badly, given that I’ve not long listed WAHMweb.co.uk up for sale because of lack of time to dedicate to it. And it’s too late to cancel the sale, too :(

Anyway, I’d appreciate your well wishes and crossed digits in the coming months. And if you need a website…

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

I miss working outside the home

There, I said it.

Yeah yeah, I’m a poster girl for work at home mums, running the community and all that shit. I am supposed to be helping mums stay at home and work etc etc. But it’s not what I wanted, it’s not what I see as a solution long term.

When I read smug, bullshit articles from “those” stay at home mums who think working mums are all that is wrong in the world, articles telling me how great they are because they manage to raise their 30 children and homeschool and bring money into the home and do all the housework and somehow manage to maintain a relationship with their spouse, all whilst blogging their adventures with their perfect little family & pinterest-perfect homes, I want to headbutt my keyboard.

I love my children.

That shouldn’t need saying, but hell it’s true. I love them but I am not fulfilled by them. I don’t find myself sitting here basking in the glow of baked goodies, with a clean house and polite well dressed children. Jeez, most days I’m lucky if they’re dressed at all. My house is a bombsite 23 hours out of 24. If I just manage to get by each day without strangling them I celebrate, and that’s the standard I aspire to: surviving. Sometimes we even manage to get through a day where I don’t shout once, but that hasn’t happened in a long time.

I miss adult conversation, hot coffee, and actually getting through my daily todo list. I miss challenges that amount to more than “will I make it through the day without getting poop on my clothes”. I miss the anticipation of seeing my children because I’ve actually been away from them for longer than 5 minutes.

And yet I keep going. I keep going because we can’t afford childcare for 2, because on the good days where I somehow manage to not shout AND manage to do some work AND my house looks slightly more tidy than usual, I like to at least pretend that I can do this staying at home thing. I like to think that the smug mums who question the motives of any woman who dares to need something more than offspring aren’t talking about me.

But I still I miss working outside the home.

Stuff

Today I’m just going to ramble on about the ‘stuff’ that is going on here. First, though, thank you if you answered my question yesterday. Context: I had it in my head that my long-time readers had all but buggered off after I had the kids. It’s nice to see how many of you are floating about despite the talk of boobs and poo etc ;) I’m especially impressed that some of you have been ‘here’ since the beginning. Wow. Anyway…

  • I launched WAHMweb this week, for mums like me working from home. It’s as much to get help as to give it… there’s a distinct lack of info out there on tax, benefits, entitlements etc for mums (and dads) working from home and lots of misinformation too. I hope to be adding some posts to Jem On WordPress re: technical side of things when I get 15 mins spare.
  • I am now pretty much fully booked with projects until the end of November at least, which I’m finding a little daunting. Not the time aspect — I’ve left plenty of ‘spare’ time to account for unforeseen problems, illness etc — but because people are paying me to do stuff. Despite having done this for 8 or so years, now that I’m fully accountable for myself it’s bloody scary.
  • Isabel is withholding again after 6 or so months doing brilliantly, and Oliver appears to be teething, so two grumpy kids means I’m a little on edge. Doesn’t help that I’ve dramatically reduced my coffee intake over the past few days to see if it was coincidence that Oliver slept better the night after the day I didn’t have chance to drink any.
  • I’ve got a bunch of product reviews in progress. Nobody has complained about these yet, are they bugging people? I’m not being paid for reviews but do get sent the stuff for free.
  • I need a bigger margin on these list items…

Time Management

One of my big worries about working from home is the discipline required to achieve everything I need to do with the numerous distractions at home.

While Oliver is small and sleeps or feeds most of the day, I have three full days for coding where Isabel is at nursery. I also have my evenings, although I like to get to bed for a sensible hour. This feels like a decent amount of time but compared to the distraction-free run of days at your standard 9—5 I feel like I’m already against the clock.

I’ve been using FreshBooks to track project times:

…which is helping to ensure I’m tracking time for client projects, and meeting my expectations/guestimations for project time length (so that I don’t under-charge). This doesn’t help with general time allocation though; it doesn’t stop me from spending 15 minutes of an hour tweeting when I could (should) be working which for a full days coding, putting me at a deficit of 2 hours or more!

I’m trialling Evernote to keep track of my notes and to do lists (which I used to use at work to keep me on track) but I don’t want to put myself in a position where I’m spending more time managing myself than I am just getting on with stuff.

So what’s a girl to do?