It’s daunting to start your own business. Throw raising kids on top of that, and it can be truly formidable. And in the most masochistic turn of events ever, what if you travel full-time, moving to a new city every month, while attempting the first two?
If I can do it, you can too.
The challenges already inherent in enterpreneurship are plenty, but funny enough, it’s taken becoming a traveling “work-on-the-road” mama of two to feel courgeous enough to jump into the start-up waters. In the years of touring with my husband’s show The Lion King, I can tell you that the following lessons apply not only to parents, but anyone wanting to start their own business — and succeed.
1) Define your boundaries and stick to them.
“I’m going to do some work at the dining table this morning,” I tell my husband. I dive headfirst into phone calls, follow-up emails and social media, and after 25 minutes I hear him yell, “Ang, I’m taking a shower!” Before I can respond, I hear the spray of the water and the pitter-patter of little feet drawing near, and I know my workflow’s about to be interrupted. See what happened? No matter what I’ve said otherwise, if I’m in eyesight, my partner or kids still assume I’m fair game.
So how do you avoid the “Mama’s home so she must be free to hang out” syndrome? Don’t be home. Leave the premises and find a coffee shop or co-working space to truly separate yourself. If it’s not possible to actually vacate, find a room in the house with a door that can close. Sounds so common-sense, but you don’t know how many people I know lament their unproductive workdays in their living room/front porch/reading nook. A good friend of mine turned her little walk-in utility closet into a workspace (her “cloffice”), and once that door was closed, she was golden.
Also, we all know how tempting it is to finish the breakfast dishes or throw one load of laundry in before beginning work, and how quickly it can snowball into other forms of menial procrastination (re-arranging the bathroom closet, anyone?). Just get that stuff out of your eyeline. Close that cloffice door or head to the cafe, and commit to staying there. And speaking of…
2) Stay consistent with your workspace/workplace.
This piggybacks off of #1. Though I am literally in a new city every month, I still have at least three weeks to establish a good routine. One of the first things I do upon arrival is search for the nearest (ideally walkable) local coffee shop with wifi. I go after the morning rush — usually around 10 am — and scope out a corner table near an electrical outlet. As I settle in with my latte, I allow myself at least 2-3 hours of work before getting up to order lunch. Being mobile, I keep my workspace clear of random clutter and I try to stay in one spot. Yes, it’s an additional cost vs. staying home, but the $5-10 I spend in food and beverage is a small price for a few hours of office space “rent”, wi-fi and productivity.
Also, committing to a cafe or co-working space also lessens those feelings of isolation that can crop up for those who work from home. For me, this is vital. During our five-week stint in Boston, the guys working at Bartlett Square Cafe in Jamaica Plain greeted me by name, and I always knew the Colectivo Coffee barista in Milwaukee’s Fifth Ward would end my transaction with “And you have yourself a brilliant and exciting day.” You may be working for yourself, but that doesn’t mean you can’t feel part of an organic work environment. Create one to energize yourself. Speaking of…
3) Find a tribe, a network, or an accountability partner. Set up a support system.
I was lucky to be chosen for sustainability guru Shannon Whitehead‘s inaugural class of Factory45, an accelerator program for makers committed to bringing sustainable, made-in-the-USA products to market. I was surrounded (virtually) by people from all walks of life — a Swedish humanitarian, a Parsons School of Design grad, a former Miss Wheelchair Kentucky, a bond trader on Wall Street, an award-winning Bay Area handbag designer who’s made millions with her first company, you name it. We met once a week on a group online video call, and Shannon guided us through marketing, sourcing and launch for six months. Some of us were even able to hang out together when our cities and travels coincided, and now I’ve got a network of supporters for life. They’ve invested so much time, advice and words of encouragement for Mamachic, and I’ve also been recipricol in their company’s growth.
Twitter is an amazing way to reach out to fellow entrepreneurs who may have advice and motivating ideas for you. Once you make a true connection and get to know each other, set up regular chats or calls to check-in. The best question to ask: “What can I do to help you move forward?”
4) Set up a babysitting co-op with other moms and dads.
Wanna save money on sitters or daycare? Form a co-op with parents who are in the same boat as you — it’s a trade instead of a paid service, and you get babysitting in return for babysitting. This is a no-brainer, since watching other peoples’ kids is less of a stretch when you’re already home watching your own. And as your children get older, shared babysitting can actually feel more like trading playdates. Everyone wins!
Besides not having to pony up money, joining a co-op assures you that your kids will be cared for by the best kind of sitter — another parent or caregiver you know and trust. And it’s a treat for my kids to get to visit a friend’s house and play with different toys, and it’s fun to get to know other families. So whether you have a business trip approaching or a saucy date night, co-ops are a rad solution.
5) Exercise is imperative.
What gets your heart rate up will only serve to invigorate you later on in the day. What gets your blood pumping will make you sharper and more present for both your work and your family. Seriously, exercise makes you a happier, more confident person (take it from my mama friend, dancer Kristine)! Even if it’s a jog around your neighborhood or a sunrise yoga class before your shower each morning, work it into your routine. Get creative! My friend Kissy straps her daughter into a carrier to do weight-bearing conditioning like squats and lunges in the local park. Not only does she get an amazing workout, both get fresh air and quality time together.
6) Early to bed, early to rise.
As a life-long night owl, this was probably the hardest adjustment for me. Since we are a theatre family, and my husband Mike’s show doesn’t end until after 10 pm, I often stay up late doing work or watching TV while waiting for him. But our kids get us up when the sun rises, and it’s just not sustainable for me get less than 8 hours of sleep and expect to be at my best. Let the sun be a good business partner and take advantage of your time with it. Now, when I put the kids down for bed, I force myself to wind down too. And P.S. — the amount of work I now get done before noon is just amazing! The extra couple of hours mean the difference between a rushed blog post and a life-changing one like this. Or unexpected bonus time to get ice cream with your kids!
7) Just say no.
Time is such a commodity when you’re an entrepreneur and parent, and you’ve got to be ruthless about prioritizing what you do with it. So, figure out what is truly important, rather than what is simply demanding (this holds true to both family and work!). Say no to requests and don’t look back. Contract out tasks that you feel you might be able to do yourself but know would be time-intensive to learn. Even though I was a freelance web designer years back, I actually hired a web designer (Emily Belyea) to build the Mamachic site out because I knew I just wouldn’t have the energy to do it myself, with everything else on my plate. It’s actually empowering to utter the word no (politely, of course), and even more freeing when you realize you’re off the hook for something your heart’s probably not into. Once those limits are set, you’re on Easy Street trying to work within those limits. However …
8) Put your social life on autopilot, and treat dates with friends or your partner like they are crucial — because they are.
Keeping yourself whole is the name of the game; it’s easy to let your business and your kids take over other parts of your life. The truth is, you’re still a good businesswoman, marketer, designer, maker and mama even when you spend some alone time with your partner. What’s more, your partner needs that from you too. Sometimes (who am I kidding — often), my conversations with Mike revolve solely around travel logistics, schedules, chores, and parenting. Or I realize months have gone by without a girls’ night out with my fellow Lion King tour mamas. How can you prioritize some date time this coming month? Brainstorm two or three date ideas right now, put it on the calendar, and lock it in.
8) Be honest and forgiving with yourself.
Mamas, we want to do it all. But we can’t — and that’s okay. My family travel blog 4 For The Road has been languishing through this stretch of the last four cities as I gear Mamachic up for our Kickstarter campaign, pack and unpack my family in each city, and spend a week in Vegas for live narration work. I somehow feel like I’m letting my kids, friends and family down by not documenting our housing and posting photos of food! But I’ve got to feel secure about saying no (#7!) in order to prioritize the best use of my time, energy and resources. In saying no, I’m also guaranteeing myself more sleep (hey, #6) and real quality time with my kiddos and husband (oh, there’s #8) because I’m not pulling out the camera every five minutes.
The beauty of working for yourself is that your goals and schedules can be malleable — and improvisation is essential as you learn what it takes to launch and operate your product or service. Go easy on yourself, mama! It’s taken me more than three years to launch Mamachic, but I’m confident we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be right now.