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I’ve always taken on freelance projects alongside my 9-5 publishing jobs, but when my daughter came along in 2012 I realised my job in Islington, London was not going to be compatible with living in Cambridge and bringing up a child on my own. I decided to take the plunge and do something I had always wanted to do but hadn’t yet been brave enough, I gave up my wonderful, secure and much-loved job at the English and Media Centre in London and committed myself to the precarious, terrifying and exciting world of freelance design!

My freelance career started when my daughter was a few months old. She and I moved into the house of friends who were working abroad. I had very little savings, so having the opportunity to spend two years with relatively small outgoings was the biggest factor in decided to embark on a freelance career.

The first year was a huge learning experience for me. I have learnt how to prioritise workloads, schedule my weeks, maximise working time, keep clients on track and most importantly, create work-free time for my daughter and I to hang out, climb trees, watch Peppa Pig, go hunting for worms and mooch about in our pyjamas! My second year has been very exciting. I have maintained a full schedule with a constant workload of between 4 to 9 projects on the go at any one time. I am on target to double my income from 2013-14 and feel increasingly confident about the future.

The biggest challenge over and above all else has been maintaining a schedule that allows me to meet all my deadlines whilst caring for a baby (now toddler). As a freelancer you have no option but to work around sleepless nights when the little one is teething, down with chicken pox or just needs a bit of extra cuddling. Life is never predictable, but there are things that you can do to make it all a little easier. I’ve learnt lots of tricks along the way and now I want to share them with other freelance single mums out there!

1. Accept offers of help and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it
I have never been good at accepting help let alone asking for it. But, we all need help sometimes and single working mothers need a lot more than most! The best things about accepting help and not being scared to show our vulnerabilities is experiencing how it can deepen friendships and relationships. People want to help, friends and family more than anyone, let them! Let your friends take the nipper to the park for an hour, let your parents babysit when they offer. Take these little pockets of time to work when you need to or go and have a bath, go for a run, or just have an evening away from the phone, computer, twitter, Facebook and email demands that fill the lives of freelancers. You don’t have to do it all alone.

2. Establish a routine
This is crucial, without a routine you cannot even hope to maintain a schedule of work and be confident that you can meet your deadlines. There will always be lost nights to teething and days when you can’t do anything but cuddle the nipper and dispense calpol! but having a routine means that you can make your days as predictable as possible. For each project I take on I establish how many hours it is likely to take and then set a deadline with an extra 20% of time added on. This allows me to feel confident that most regular illnesses and routine upsets can be managed and deadlines still met.

3. Work while your child naps
My daughter took naps from birth until she was 2. This gave me a crucial window of time to work. I would walk around with her in her buggy when I knew she was getting sleepy and then as soon as she was off I would run into the nearest cafe, open up the laptop and get stuck into my work. After a while, to keep me sane, I decided not to work through naps at the weekend, and instead I would go and get the Guardian or meet with a friend. The pressures of freelancing make it very hard to switch off, but it is crucial to allow yourself little pockets of time to relax, an hour reading the paper or lying in the bath is enough to keep me going for the rest of the day.

4. Keeping the little one entertained while you work
I used to feel guilty doing any work at my desk while the little one was awake and wanted my attention, but sometimes you need to and sometimes it can be a good thing for them too. My daughter will often play happily alongside me and become engrossed in her lego house, building bricks or jigsaw, but there are times when she is very clingy and won’t let go of me. I have a variety of techniques to help scrape together a little working time when this happens. Sometimes I sit her on my lap and give her my old unplugged keyboard to tap away on while I use mine to write that crucial email (she thinks that she’s making the words appear on the screen and I get the chance to write). I’ve also found that I can often make my work into a game for her, so when I am designing things in photoshop or indesign she can sit alongside me and I can ask her about the colours i’m using and the shapes I am making. When I am desperate there is always CBeebies! I no longer feel guilty about sitting her down to watch an episode of Mister Tumble, mainly because I think it is actually pretty good! (even if I didn’t have to work I would happily sit down with her and watch a little CBeebies). A wonderful side effect of taking my attention away from my daughter for these small windows of time is that I have witnessed her get bored and then get creative! when she realises that I’m not able to play with her every second of the day she will go to her playhouse and start talking to the little figures, she puts them to bed, makes them tea and tells them stories. Having seen how creative she can be when given the space to play on her own I no longer feel guilty about the little bits of work I have to do during the days that I look after her.

5. Working Tax Credits
It can take a while to build your income, especially if you are starting from scratch. You may start by doing projects for very little money to build your portfolio, so you need all the help you can get at this stage. To find out if you qualify for Working Tax Credits you can use the tax credits calculator on the HMRC website here http://taxcredits.hmrc.gov.uk/Qualify/DIQHousehold.aspx

6. Child Tax Credits
If you’re working at least 16 hours a week and paying for childcare you might be able to claim Working Tax Credit to help with up to 70 per cent of your childcare costs. These credits have been crucial for me and allowed me to place my daughter in nursery for one day a week until she was 18 months and for two days a week since then. Having these days to work has allowed me to build my business and take on more work, and importantly free up the odd evening in order to take a break from work.

7. Two year funding
All 3 and 4-year-olds in England are entitled to 570 hours of free early education or childcare a year. This is often taken as 15 hours each week for 38 weeks of the year. Some 2-year-olds are also eligible. I found out that my daughter was eligible when I went to my local Sure Start Centre (one of the ones not yet closed down by this government!). I gave them all my income details and they approved my application on the spot. They gave me a reference code to take along to my childcare provider. It hasn’t been a straightforward process, my child care provider told me that it was unable to process two year funding, even though my daughter was eligible. This was devastating as I am very impressed with her nursery and was desperate not to move her. Fortunately, after a little persuading they agreed to process the claim. In order to do this, the nursery had to be audited and there has been a lengthy process of mentoring and advising from the council. I am extremely grateful for all the extra work they have taken on in order to make it possible for me to access this funding, they have even pushed for it to be backdated. I hope other families will now be able to benefit at my nursery too.

8. Get out (or stay in) and network
I am a member of various creative networks in Cambridge. I attend daytime events with my daughter and manage to keep her entertained while I chat to other local creatives. I am also very active on Twitter so although I struggle to attend evening events and meet ups that take place in bars I can still maintain good and regular contact via social media. Evening events will get easier, over time, but until then you can be a part of it all online and that way you are still on the radar and still making those crucial contacts for work and for support. Any freelance artists/designers in Cambridge should come along to the daytime meet ups organised by the wonderful Cambridge Creative Network.

9. Socialise
You can’t work every day and every evening without taking breaks, meeting friends and having a little time away from the phone and computer. It is so important to book evenings off for yourself, to have friends round, go out, or just mooch in front of the telly and take a bath. When I have a full work load and can’t afford to take an evening off, I organise my social life in specific time slots. When friends come by for dinner on a work evening I will ask if they don’t mind dropping in after they finish work, that way my friends and I can make dinner with help from the nipper and all eat together, after dinner we can chat while I get the little one ready for bed. By the time I take the nipper upstairs I have had a good catch up, the nipper has had lots of fun playing with my friends and my working evening can begin. I often organise these evenings to coincide with work that can be done after a glass of wine or two!

10. Online shopping
Doing my weekly shop online has helped enormously! I don’t have a car so cycle or walk everywhere with the nipper. It is hard shopping with my daughter as she gets bored in the supermarket and this is a prime tantrum space! so I used to have to shop when she was at nursery and wasted a crucial hour of my time doing this. without a car I also had to do it several times a week in order to be able to carry home tins and nappies and toilet rolls, anything bulky! Now I buy my veg and meat in local shops, avoiding the big supermarkets, and get everything else delivered to my door in handy one-hour time slots. No tantrums and no wasted nursery time!

I’m really keen to hear from other single freelancing mothers who have some tips and advice to share on this topic. Please do get in touch here or leave a comment on this blog post.