Taking the plunge to go freelance is always a huge decision, but even more so when you have children. With no regular income and the responsibilities of a small business owner it can be tough. Employed mothers are entitled to six months paid maternity leave, but the self-employed must rely on their own resources. So how do freelancing parents manage? Helen Kaut finds out.

"Children won't stop you freelancing, but they will make you poorer! However, having less money for stuff is less likely to kill you than working all hours for an employer who cares nothing for you," says Julian Rollins.

Mr Rollins did not plan to become a freelance when he was made redundant by the BBC in 1998. He started freelancing with the hope of finding another job in television. But for the father of six-year-old Isabel and 12-year-old Holly, it soon became clear that he was much happier working from home than enduring long days as an employee with a lengthy commute.

Tips for freelancing parents:

• Have at least six months' worth of savings before you start
• Create a business and cash flow plan with set targets
• Make sure you have a clear idea on how to deal with clients and draw out contracts
• Network with other parents for support
• Have a wireless phone you can use anywhere in the house to make important phone calls
• While it is difficult to train younger ones to keep quiet when you are on the phone, make sure your older children understand that it is a business call
• Be professional with editors and don't let them know your children are around - it can backfire
• The further away your office or workspace is from your living space, the better
• Make financial provisions such as life insurance, a private pension scheme and/or disability insurance, which covers you in case of severe illness
• Apply for Family Tax Credit
Business Link and Business In Focus provide free business advice and support

"During working weeks I had very little contact with my elder daughter when she was young. That's all changed now, to everyone's advantage," says Mr Rollins. He specialises in environment and wildlife conservation and writes for BBC Wildlife, Your Environment, Green Futures and Countryside among others. Mr Rollins's wife Helen is retraining as a midwife and will soon start working for the NHS. It's not possible for other family members to help raise the children but over time they have made good friends with other parents and they help each other out.

For Mr Rollins, freelancing turned out to be a blessing in financial terms: "It has taken me five years to get where I am now. In purely financial terms I'm better off than if I'd stayed with the BBC and progressed to the next step up the career ladder. On top of that I don't spend money on commuting and we can live in a part of the country (Wales) where property is much cheaper. That said, it would only take an accident or illness to ruin all that."

He can work remotely on his laptop as long as his work gets done. However, he has one rule for his children: They are not allowed to answer the phone, and when he is on the phone they have to keep out of the office and the noise down. This arrangement seems to work well.

Children as inspiration

"The flexibility is the biggest advantage of being a freelancing mother. It allows me to take my girls to school and pick them up, to be able to take them to doctors when necessary or to see their school play without having to explain or make excuses to a boss," says Linda Jones, owner of PR company Passionate Media.

Ms Jones left full-time employment as a news editor at the Express and Star to begin her freelance career when her six-year-old twin daughters Emily and Melissa were just eight months old. She sub-edited for her former employer and wrote for women's magazines until she was headhunted by a PR agency for which she worked part-time three days a week. Eventually she cut back the work for the agency to build up her own PR career, as well as her journalism. Since her daughters started school she has increased her work rate and now runs her own PR company. Passionate Media supplies PR work for IT companies, small businesses and not-for-profit organisations such as the Twins and Multiple Births Association (Tamba).

For Ms Jones and her husband Neil, who works as a communications manager in the NHS, it was always clear that he would not have to give up work to look after the twins.

"I started out with the clear attitude that I could not expect to earn a huge amount and be relaxed enough to 'be there' for Emily and Melissa. We have made it a priority to be happy and recognise that does not come from material wealth. As work has grown, so has my turnover. I am now paying five other people and have set my salary quite low to allow the company to grow," says Ms Jones. Organising your life around raising twins is not cheap and she believes that multiple birth families should be given more financial support. When the twins were younger their grandparents helped with childcare. Later they went to a private nursery for a couple of days and now go to school.

Drawing boundaries between her work life and home life was not always easy, but Linda used her children as a source of inspiration for several parenting articles for Tamba and babyworld.co.uk. Her advice for parents considering freelancing: "Just go for it - it's the perfect solution. Be clear about how much work you can fit around your kids, whether it is full-time or just one day a week, and don't expect too much of yourself. You have to fit in time for yourself too - I never did!"

Bringing up baby

Looking after a newborn baby and trying to fit in interviews and writing copy can be quite challenging. Anna Tobin started her freelance career three years ago and has recently become mum to three-month-old Ella. She writes about homes and interiors, travel and jobs for regular clients including House Beautiful, Real Homes and 25 Beautiful Homes.

Like Ms Jones, she sees the flexibility of organising her work as an advantage but finds it quite hard to combine motherhood with freelance journalism. "I cut my work down when I had the baby, but I didn't stop altogether because I was worried that I would lose vital contacts and find it very difficult to build up business again later," says Ms Tobin. "Most people take at least six months' maternity leave but it is difficult when you are a freelance." Whilst she does not get any financial help, she can rely on the grandparents to look after Ella when she works. "I would like more help, but it wouldn't be worth us paying someone to look after the baby regularly." Her husband is a recruitment consultant and the young family mainly relies on his salary, without which Ms Tobin says she could not work as a freelance.

No day is like any other with Ella, and Ms Tobin tries to fit her work around her. "I try to schedule interviews and phone calls for the few hours a week when her grandparents can come around. I also do interviews in the evenings when possible as my husband is home, and write up the main copy when the baby is asleep, content on her play mat or in the evenings. I do very short snatches of work whenever I can during the day." She plans to attend launches and will take Ella with her. Her advice: "Don't take on work without being sure that you can do it in the time available to you."

Tackling toddlers

William Knight is father of 20-month-old Morgan and has only recently started writing for the IT press. Before Morgan was born, he was working full time in a software engineering firm and had a few pieces published. He took his time to prepare for his career change, writing articles at six in the morning before he would go to work. He went freelance full time when Morgan was nine months' old. Though his background is not journalism, Mr Knight had the advantage of being an IT expert and writes for Computing, the Register, Infosecurity Today and the Financial Times IT section.

Mr Knight shares his parenting duties with his wife Jane, who works as a GP for the NHS two days a week. When she is working, Morgan is taken care of by a childminder for one day and William looks after him on Fridays. "While a joy, looking after him can be tougher than writing articles and is often more stressful," he admits. But it also has its advantages. "We have the balance of work, home and kids right – I'm really happy with it. I'd hate to work five days a week and get home to Morgan just as he was going to bed - or worse, when he is asleep. Only freelancing could give me that flexibility and risking the career change was the only chance I had. Otherwise it would have been two hours a day commuting and missing the little chap's daily adventures."

However, the lack of enough money is certainly a disadvantage. "I don't earn enough yet, certainly not enough to pay into a pension scheme and that can be a worry. In a year, I've proved the money is there, but it still takes a lot of chasing and persistence to grab a slice of it." Mr Knight and his wife just about manage financially, relying on her steady income. Unfortunately the grandparents live too far away to help, but the move to Devon brought the advantages of more space, less traffic and no commuting. Family life can be distracting, but Mr Knight finds it easier when he has more work lined up and deadlines to meet. "Sometimes it's hard to let the work go even if you are on schedule. The office is just up the stairs so instead of reading Morgan a bedtime story I want to check emails or run a final edit, but the little chap deserves a dad in the evening."

William believes that it is impossible trying to write and look after a baby. "Trouble is, you can't rely on a toddler giving you the time, and it's vital to get consistent blocks of work-time. It is a business - not a hobby."

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