by Harriet Mitchell, Virtual Assistant & Founder of TillyBoo’s Virtual Assistant
Working a business around family life (especially when you have children) can be daunting. It can put you off from making the leap, from taking a step away from secure employment, or can hold you back from even starting. But I’m here to tell you that, in my experience, fitting a business like Virtual Assistant Services around your family can work, and I’m going to share some top tips for making it happen.
I originally come from a teaching background, I’ve worked in education for 15 years, and although I loved the holidays and how they fit with my childcare, let me tell you that teaching is not flexible with its time off, and does not give a good work-life balance.
Having done this full-time during the 8 years of my son’s life before his sister came along, I was determined to get a better balance going forward. During my maternity leave, I started to put the plan into place, and with the full support of my husband and encouragement from my son, who DID NOT want me to go back to full-time employment, I reduced my teaching to part-time.
After dabbling with a product-based business that was going well, but not making enough of a profit, I launched my Virtual Assistant business in May 2022. I have continued this ever since whilst teaching part-time at a primary school for two days a week. I love my setup, have a great work-life balance, work around my family and their needs and have not looked back.
It’s possible for you too, and I want to share with you how this can be done.
Taking a leap; finding your why
Taking the leap from employment to self-employment can be really scary, it can feel less safe and less secure. So, you need to be really clear in your ‘why’. If you have a family, like I do, then your ‘why’ might be obvious - to be able to generate income whilst being there for them. It’s a huge WHY, after all what’s the point of living to work, we all should be working to live. Once you have your ‘why’, whether it’s as mentioned here, or something different like redundancy, burnout, job satisfaction or due to childcare costs, it’s important to hold on to it. Turn your ‘why’ into something you can easily access - a post it-note, make a poster (nice activity to include your children in) or add it to a vision board. Don’t forget it, your ‘why’ is a powerful driver and will help you to take the leap when you’re feeling reluctant or worried.
Setting your hours
Setting your hours and sticking to them seems easy. But working for yourself can mean that the lines become blurred, and this can lead to burnout. If you never have downtime or ‘nights-off’ you could be running into a recipe for disaster. Instead, you need to be fitting this business around your family and commitments by setting your working hours. Define them, and then publish them on all of your public accounts - website, Google for Business, Facebook , Linkedin and calendar booking systems. Make sure that your working hours are written into your contracts and service agreements. Let clients know that you will only respond during set days and times and be strict to keeping to it. By doing this, you will be creating a positive work environment, will be more productive, and will achieve the work life balance you crave with a business that fits around your family and their needs.
Link your calendars
Being a small business service provider often means keeping track of your calendars and taking bookings online. When you’re fitting all of your appointments, work, calls and meetings around a busy family life, it can get confusing. The best way I’ve found to work around this is by linking your calendars. In fact, I’ve just streamlined this further by upgrading to Google Individual and using their appointment scheduler on my website. By doing this I have my personal calendar feed into my business one, I have my discovery call times on my appointment scheduler, this scheduler then views my busy times in my calendar and blocks those out. Add to this that any discovery calls booked, go straight into my calendar and I have a system that works. Other systems will do this too, like Calendly for example. But for me, Google has been the solution! Now when my daughter has a school event I’m going to, I add it to the calendar and I know that my booking scheduler will automatically adjust. No double bookings for me!
Create a digital to do list (automated if possible!)
There are many great ways to create to-do lists, with Trello being one of my personal favourites. But when you’re working your business around your family, you need to think about automated options. One that works for me is todoist. Why does this work so well for me? Because it links to my calendar (yes, my Google one!). This clever little app takes my calendar events and makes a to do list from them for me to tick off. I find this so helpful. And I can add things of my own to the list too. Best of all it’s FREE! It really is one of my top tips for working a business around your family.
Prioritise and time block
This one’s obvious right? And if you work and have a family, you probably already do this all the time! But obvious things sometimes get overlooked and it is a key element to success. You need to prioritise. That means everything. Client work, your own business admin, household tasks, and self-care. This all hinges on the calendars and to-do lists mentioned above. You need to know what work there is to do, what deadlines there are, who it is needed for and what time you have to do it in. Trello or other systems, like Asana or Click-up, can be your go to’s here. Once you’ve set your hours and you have your clients, look at the work that needs doing, split it up into blocks, and start with the ones with short or strict deadlines. I like to split my days into either tasks or clients. So, for example, I work 3 days a week as a VA between 9 and 3 roughly. I take a day, look at my clients (I have 3) and split either, one day each, or half a day each or I might do content for client 1, followed by content for client 2 etc. I think about this each week and find that time blocking by either client or task type, leads to more productivity. Fitting in work on my own business sometimes gets left until the end, because the clients must be the priority, so it is good practice to block out a slot for yourself too.
Holidays (school and otherwise)
The Biggie. The hardest part of fitting your VA business around your family can be holidays. After all, people think when you work freelance, for yourself, or from home, that you can manage childcare at the same time. But, in reality you can’t. At least not long term. So here are some strategies for the holidays:
1. News flash - take time off. Yes, it is ok to take time off. You can arrange this with clients in advance by writing it into their contracts, by arranging it in advance in a conversation or by arranging for cover via an associate. This is sometimes where being an associate yourself can be beneficial. Don’t be afraid of actually just taking time off. This is probably more relevant to you actually going on a holiday, we all need a break after all.
2. ‘Front Load’, at least that’s what I call it! This is where you fit more hours into the earlier part of the month because there’s a school holiday later. Obviously it works the other way too. So in May there is a school holiday at the end. I condense my work so that I complete my client hours before the holiday week starts. I let my clients know and manage the workload so that it fits their needs and mine.
3. Work around the children’s day. In holiday times I often work between 7am and 9am and then again in the evening after tea. The times when my children are ‘chilling’. Yes, they are on a screen! And the times when my partner is home from his less flexible job and can parent whilst I work. Look at your day during these times; block out the time slots where you can work productively, and let your clients know that on these dates your hours will be different.
4. Shared parental load/clubs. If you need a few full days to work on your business, then you may need to look at times when someone else has the children - their other parent, a grandparent, a holiday club, or childminder. Then you maximise this time, plan ahead and get stuff done.
There are other ways to do this too, but just remember that if you own a business, it’s so that you CAN make it work around your needs. The world is changing, and many people are now on flexi-time, or are even digital nomads. As long as you get the work done well and on time, most clients are flexible on when it is done.
So that’s it, my top tips, words of advice and nuggets from my personal experience on how to fit a small business around your family. For me, becoming a Virtual Assistant and having my own business has unlocked so much earning potential that fits beautifully around my family and their needs. I love the variety of work, the clients I have, and its flexibility and I am not looking back. Of course, there is a limit to the hours I can work, but there are other ways to increase income, like evergreen offers or service based packages, like my blog writing packages. Services that can add income, without dramatically increasing your monthly fixed hours of work. So don’t be put off thinking that a small business can’t fit around your family, embrace the change, and take a leap into flexible working!
I’m Harriet and I own and run TillyBoo’s Virtual Assistant. I’m passionate about work-life balance and working to live rather than living to work. In fact, that’s why I started working as a Virtual Assistant. I’m a mum of two (plus one cat), a wife, and a part-time primary school teacher.
In 2022 I launched my Virtual Assistant Services based in Suffolk, using knowledge and skills that I developed whilst building my own previous small business and those acquired during my years in the education sector. I have worked for 15 years in Education, working at different levels of structure and responsibility, leading teams, and organisations. I still work as a Primary School Teacher 2 days a week, and in May 2020 I started independently growing my own eco-product business from the ground up. Unfortunately, with the changes to the economy, this enterprise was not creating the extra income my family needed, so I pivoted to becoming a VA and haven’t looked back!
My business now gives me space and time to work around my family, doing work I love and supporting others in gaining that work life balance too!