I'm so happy to be turning my original Juggling Small Business + Motherhood blog post into a series. I'll be speaking to inspirational women who are continuing to build their freelance career as they grow their family, and who let their work and parenting collide.
This month we hear from beautiful soul, branding and portrait photographer, and mentor Siobhan Watts. Mother to Aurora, three, with her second daughter due any moment!
Siobhan and I caught up a few months ago about what freelancing means to her and her family.
Can you tell me a little about your business and your little one? I'm a photographer, specialising in capturing natural, documentary style images for families, individuals and creative business owners. I'm all about preserving what's real, getting to the heart of the humanity of the moment by focusing on connection and emotion in my work.
I started my photography business two years ago when my daughter was almost one, deciding not to return to my full time job so I could pursue a creative career. I wanted the flexibility to build a business whilst raising my family, with the aim of being able to dive full time into my work once I had two children in school. My little one is three year old Aurora, but everybody calls her Rory. She's a spirited, confident and extremely independent kiddo, full of love, laughter and silliness. It's been my greatest privilege to have been able to spend so much time with her, and to figure out how to raise her alongside building my business and following my own passions. We have a really close bond, and I'm grateful to have been at her side through every milestone she has ever hit.
It's really important to me that she gets to be a big part of my life and work, and even though it's not always easy to blend the two, I know it's going to pay off in the long run.
My second baby is due soon, so everything is going to change all over again. I'm expecting a few twists and turns in the road as we all find our feet again, but we figured it out the first time around so I'm hopeful we can do it the second time.
How do you structure your days and weeks (or is structure out of the window)? I really benefit from a certain level of structure to keep my wandering, creative brain in check, so I always try to make one for myself as best I can. Since my daughter was born, our structure has changed every few months and there's been times I've found it easier to have a work routine and times it's been much harder.
Rory has just dropped her afternoon nap (oh how I miss those quiet hours!) so I'm in a harder phase just now, and working with her around is a lot more difficult. I try not to rely on the TV as a babysitter unless I really have to, so either I don't work when she's at home with me or I make an effort to engage her in a task like painting so I can work on my laptop alongside her. Sometimes it works, sometimes I have to abort mission!
I've learnt to be opportunistic and grab time to work when I can, because it's not always possible to have a structure to my days. At the moment I have childcare for two mornings a week, so that's my focused time to edit and do all my emails and admin. My partner takes a Wednesday and Sunday off work, so they're my days when I can schedule photoshoots and be gone for the whole day if I need to. It's not even half the focused work time I really need, but I do my best to use them as well as I can and keep things ticking along. I just have to get really good at prioritising, crack on when I get some child free time, and be a total boss at goal setting so I have any hope of getting things done and growing my business.
Occasionally I work an evening to do client calls or catch up on editing, but I'm not great in the evenings so I don't like to do that if I can help it. I'm craving a little more structure and time to work, but as I'm about to have another baby I'm preparing myself to wing it for another few years yet!
Do you ever suffer from 'mum guilt'? Why? I do, of course. The reasons for it have changed as my daughter has got older, and as what she needs and wants from me is always evolving. When she was really small, she'd cry when I left and I always felt guilty for leaving, even though I trusted it was the right thing for me to continue to pursue the work I loved that made me feel fulfilled and happy. She was always ok shortly after I had gone, but I felt horrible for being the cause of her unhappiness when I walked out the door.
These days, I feel guilty because she needs more attention from me, craves social interaction and really benefits from activities in a way she didn't when she was smaller. Often I'm not as present or focused with her as I could be, and even though I try my best to balance both our needs, sometimes it tips too far in either direction and I find myself frustrated by a lack of time to work, or feeling extremely guilty that she's cooped up indoors whilts I answer emails and talk to clients. It helps me to remember that I'm playing the long game, building a better future for myself and my family and hopefully infusing a creative, entrepreneurial spirit into my children. Ultimately, if I'm happy and fulfilled then my family gets the best of me, so I know that focusing on myself and my work benefits them too. Plus, by working for myself I'm around a lot more than I would be if I worked a full time job, so I try to put the guilt into perspective and trust that I'm doing my best.
I'm always assessing our situation too, adjusting childcare, work loads, etc. As both my business and daughter grow older I find that I have to be adaptable and open to new ideas to keep us all as happy as possible.
How does working for yourself feel? What does it mean to you?
Working for myself feels wonderful. Exhausting at times, sure, but I love the freedom, flexibility, the seemingly endless opportunities and the ability to dream as big as I want to. I always felt cooped up in a traditional work environment, and it never suited me to have to work to someone else's priorities.
The bad is of course that the boundaries between life and work are extremely blurred, and I often feel like I'm frantically trying to keep up with work, life and family. Something is always falling behind while I move my attention around, and multi tasking all the time can be a little stressful. But, while I crave separation sometimes, it's a huge benefit that I'm able to run my business while raising my family, and ultimately be doing work that I love and that makes me happy.
Working for myself has meant I work a lot more than I did when I was in full time employment, and for a lot less money, no sick days or paid holidays, etc. It's taken time to improve my skills, raise my prices and work towards having a more sustainable business.
It can be hard going some times, easy to get discouraged and spend time worrying about where your next clients are coming from. You have to really love what you're doing, and make sure your business supports the life you want for yourself and your family otherwise it can easily turn from a dream job into something that burns you out. But, if you focus on all the good things that come from working for yourself and try to develop more of them, you can really have a wonderful and fulfilling experience. Building a community of likeminded people around you is essential.
I'm so lucky that I love what I do, it gets me out of bed every morning (or maybe that's my three year old?!) and keeps me going. I feel so grateful to have a career that aligns with my strengths and values, and to work with clients who get what I'm all about. I'm always excited to plan ahead, improve my work and my business and grow in any direction that feels right for me.
I truly think it's a huge privilege to be able to do what I do, and that feeling carries me through the good times and the tough ones. I hope I never have to work for anyone else ever again!
You can follow Siobhan's journey via the links below, and also read her fabulous post "Let's Talk About Freelancing" here.
All beautiful photography courtesy of Siobhan.