Parents are leaving their full time jobs in droves to start their own businesses

Maybe it’s all those 3am feeds that give new parents time to ponder an entrepreneurial business idea.

Or perhaps it’s simply that the corporate slog and a long commute is still incredibly difficult to juggle with raising a young family and the cost of childcare. Whatever the reason, parents are behind two working trends: a push for flexible hours, and the rising numbers who are quitting office life entirely to launch their own start-up.

Parents now make up just over half of all part-time self-employed people of working age – and have a significant economic impact. The army of female entrepreneurs alone running a business while raising children are generating £7.2 billion in revenues and supporting 204,000 jobs, according to the think-tank Development Economics.

Meanwhile, the shift towards flexible working – having moveable start and finish times, or working from home – is happening so fast that a new report from the Work Foundation predicts that it will be the main way of working at 70 per cent of firms by 2020.

But whilst a working schedule that allows parents to do the school run in between logging in, or answer emails whilst at soft play sounds ideal to many, the juggle is far from child’s play. So we asked entrepreneurs and corporate high-fliers who work flexibly how they do it, their top ideas for managing the workload and how to switch off – aka step away from the mode of constantly working, if only into the ball pit…

Jayne Hardy

Jayne is founder and chief executive at mental health foundation Blurt, and a mother of one; she and her whole staff at Blurt work flexi-time.

How do you make it work?

“I plan my hours around childcare, and work the same hours each day. Once a month, I’ll have an afternoon of planning, where I’ll check-in on our organisational aims, as well as my goals as CEO. I add the deadlines I’m working to and then block out time, in my Gmail calendar, to focus on the different elements of my role, leaving gaps of time free where I can rejig my workload if needed. If something crops up, such as my daughter being unwell, I move the blocks of time to a time I think I can manage them – usually in the evening once she’s gone to bed.”

How do you oversee the whole team’s flexitime?

“We also use an app called Harvest to log our time so that we know who is online as well as how much we have worked.”

What about staying away from the laptop?

“It takes discipline to not log into work when I’m off, but I’ve removed all app alerts on my smartphone so that I consciously check-in when it suits me, instead of when a flashing light tells me to. There is a dedicated room in my home for work and I make [sure to ]shut the door on it when I am done.”

Edward Relf

Edward is founder and CEO of start-up Laundrapp, which provides on-demand laundry and dry cleaning, and a father of two. Since launch in 2014, Laundrapp now has more than 100 staff and has just announced international expansion plans.

On work/life balance:

“It’s always better to find a ‘work/life integration’ – that way, you never need to worry about the separation between home life and the office. As an entrepreneur, your business never sleeps, and nor will you! I consider my office my home and my home my office – I just swap locations during the day.”

How do you do it all?

“Shared calendars, reminders, and [the apps and website] Trello boards – at home and at work, even my household is run on a Trello board. Being a business owner, I have to be meticulously organised in everything I do, otherwise it’s easy to become a ‘busy fool’ and miss out on achieving your longer term aspirations.”

On flexi-working:

“Most of my work today is run from my mobile phone; even the requirement to be sat at a desk is a quickly-diminishing one. The most successful people in business are “T” shaped people who have a thorough knowledge in a specialism, but can spread themselves across many tasks or disciplines. When building a team it’s always best to look for this flexibility, especially in the early stages. I often say CEO = Chief Everything Officer..”

Jasmine Headley-Craik

Jasmine co-founded Leeds-based PR firm Content Soup with her business partner Nina in 2014 – then the duo “had babies with only five weeks between us” two years later. “But we’ve managed to keep the business booming with the help of some great freelancers and lots of out of hours graft.”

How does it work?

“It was a panic at first.. But we decided to each take just three months’ maternity and both then started back at work on a part-time basis. We drafted in a team of trusted, senior freelancers to look after our clients whilst we were off, and we were really honest with clients, who were (luckily) all really understanding. There were times when it was hard – I remember a huge client crisis kicking off when my baby was just a few weeks old and having to juggle overseeing it between feeds and nappy changes.”

Top tips for other working, entrepreneur parents?

“Be flexible – I often have to work evenings and weekends to catch up on work, and have a trusted bank of people who can look after my son at a moment’s notice has been essential. Don’t be frightened of saying no: we turned down opportunities in the early months; it’s best to be honest and tell the truth, rather than take on the work and then do a bad job.”

Is being flexible good for business?

“It’s a necessity. Lots of the journalists we deal with are freelancers with children and work non-standard hours, so by mirroring that and responding to them swiftly out-of- hours, we’ve been able to generate some amazing results for our clients.”

Stacy Westhead

Stacy is a director at digital marketing agency atom42, with 40 staff and clients including match.com, Three and The Huffington Post; a mother of one, she currently works part-time.

Top tip for managing your workload with family life?

“Don’t have emails on “push” mode. There’s nothing more stressful than unlocking your phone and immediately seeing the email icon with numbers that are increasing by the minute. My emails only update when I choose to open them.”

What about fitting working life into part-time days?

“Try not to take everything on yourself. By delegating and giving clear instructions, work can actually be done while you are off, meaning you don’t have lots to catch up on when you are back in.”

And switching off?

“I’ve started doing 10 minutes of meditation on the train into work, which really helps relax me after a busy morning and getting my daughter ready for nursery. It also helps me focus on my tasks for the day.”

Lucy Tobin is a senior writer at the Evening Standard, author and blogger.

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