Successfully Balancing Working & Parenting at Homeby
As with many professions, for accountants, working from home is here to stay. While it has many benefits, such as eliminating a long commute to the office, keeping people safe from COVID-19, and so on, it also comes with some challenges, especially if you're a working parent. Kate Josephine Johnson, owner of Heritage Business Services, explains how she's made this arrangement work.
I am Kate Josephine Johnson. I have a small virtual bookkeeping and business consulting firm called Heritage Business Services. My only involvement in the accounting profession is as an entrepreneur, so that is where I'm coming from. My venture into entrepreneurship came out of necessity, not out of some lifelong desire to work for myself. Truthfully, I’ve always thrived when I work for someone else. I make an excellent employee in a corporate environment. However, I’m also a military spouse. Several years ago, I had to quit two jobs in corporate finance and agriculture lending in less than 12 months because our family moved twice with the military. It was all totally out of my control, and I was crushed by the whole experience. I knew then that I needed to uncover how to find a fulfilling professional life on my own terms.
For further reference, I want to share that my kids are 9, 8 and 7 (yikes!). Furthermore, I do not work full time hours, and my husband is unbelievably supportive with a very steady military job (with healthcare benefits). My entire professional life as an accounting entrepreneur has been working remotely with kids.
Consider this article a bit of a case study, if you will. My way is not the only way, but I hope it encourages other work-from-home accounting professionals. Hopefully, there will be more articles like this from people who have different situations, like a grandparent taking care of grandchildren, a single parent, a part-time accounting college student, a parent of a newborn, a career-changer studying accounting for the first time, etc.
It might sound a little cold-hearted to call it “Kid Management,” but I do have to “manage” the fact that I work at home while my kids are home. Every single day, I’m faced with the reality that my children are home with me a lot.
Even when we’re not dealing with a COVID-19 pandemic, I faced this reality because we are part of a homeschool hybrid school. However, I’m privileged to do my very best to love them well AND simultaneously try to be efficient with how I structure our home and happily manage working from home while they are with me. So, here are some Pros, Cons and Solutions that have arisen out of “managing” caring for my kids while working from home.
Pros: I choose to embrace the belief that building my business right inside our home gives me the opportunity to show my children that I work hard, have a big brain, and make complex choices. I teach them about worth ethic and making money and even job skills. I hope to hire all of them at some point in their young lives. I am certain they would not learn nearly as much about work and business if I wasn’t working from home.
Cons: I can find myself short-tempered with them at unpredictable times. My mind can really be consumed by my business when I’m working, and it is difficult to be understanding, as we are in each other’s spaces more than we would be if I worked in an office all day or if they were in a child care setting.
I have a few solutions I’d like to share:
- Sometimes, it is just best to not be around them while I need to work. That is simply the truth. I have partnered with a couple of friends who also work from home to arrange kid swaps. That means I might have lots of children around some days. But that also means that I have zero kids on other days. It works out very well. And, I can often get some work done on the days that I’m watching other kids because having playmates usually makes my kids not want as much attention from me.
- My husband and I have very deliberately put effort into supporting each other and making our house run well. This is something we talk about often and frankly. This might not be something that everyone can have in their toolkit, but as we’ve put more work into our marriage, we’ve been able to reduce a lot of the stress that working from home with kids has put into our lives. I feel that it is important for me to share that his strong support and willingness to pitch in with household duties provides unquantifiable benefits to my business.
- I work non-traditional hours. My Calendly appointment scheduler takes meetings as early as 5:30 a.m., and I use my “early bird” nature in my marketing. (And, in case you’re wondering, my clients actually book those early 5:30 a.m. appointments.) Using a big digital clock, I also started training my children at an extremely early age about what time they are allowed out of their room (7:00am M-F during the school year and 8:00am on weekends and summer). I’d rather have 1 hour of work with NO children around than 2 or 3 hours of work WITH children around, so this arrangement works well. And, this helps my kids realize that the world doesn’t revolve around them. They can entertain themselves quietly, or roll over and go back to sleep. I consider this a life skill that I’m teaching them.
Besides having to manage my interactions with my children, I also have to manage my interactions with my clients. Here are some Pros, Cons, and Solutions for this aspect of my business as it relates to working from home.
Pros: The location-independent structure of my business has naturally lent itself to narrowing down my client base. This is a good thing. Clients who find me and my services appealing are naturally more tech savvy and have a non-traditional work life/hours themselves, etc.
Cons: I do know that I lose potential clients because of how I have chosen to structure and operate my business. I frankly cannot take on a client that has very strict ongoing time/deadline requirements. There are real trade-offs between family and business demands.
- As mentioned above, I have early morning client meeting slots available Monday through Saturday. I do offer meetings during more “normal” work hours, but having the before-the-sun-is-up meetings signals to clients a lot about how I run my business and allows me to have some of my meetings when my children are not a possible factor.
- I have a dedicated Slack workspace for each client. I try extremely hard to have all my clients only communicate via each Slack channel. They know where to go for their “bookkeeping stuff,” and I know where all my important client information and communication history is.
- My absolutely favorite application is Loom, which I use to create short videos for asynchronous communication. Each of my clients are given a certain amount of time to have conversations each month as a part of their engagement with me. However, I have found that if I create a short, 3-5 minute debrief video to accompany their monthly reports, almost none of my clients utilize all of their allotted phone/Zoom time. Scheduling client meetings with busy business owners can be tough, so this still gives them a chance to hear from me and listen to what I think are the most important accounting items and tasks without taking a full 30-minute call.
Additional note: Asynchronous communication is becoming more and more common, and there are lots of ways to do it. I’ve heard of one very bold idea from one of my personal mentors that I’d like to share. She also creates debrief Loom videos for her clients, and she tells them at the beginning of her engagement that she will not take a monthly meeting with them until she gets the notification from the Loom platform that they have watched the short video. I have not gotten the courage to implement her rule in my own business, but there is definitely wisdom there. There is a good chance the client’s question is going to be answered in the debrief anyway. But, if it is not, there is a 100 percent chance the subsequent meeting will be more efficient and constructive if the basic financial information is covered in the short debrief so that she can provide deeper advisory services on a Zoom call beyond what is in the short Loom video.
Pros: Because I work from home for myself, gone are the days of pointless projects and meetings that I remember from my time in the corporate world. There are also so many other efficiencies that I would never have had working in a traditional office role. I get to mow my yard on a random Tuesday whenever the sun is shining and I need exercise. The days before and after a vacation are so much smoother than when I had an office job. It is very empowering to get to make calculated decisions about how the tradeoffs between work and family priorities on any given day.
Cons: It can be hard to feel like a valuable professional when there is laundry sitting beside you or someone is asking you to open a bag of chips. It is very difficult to set boundaries between work life and home life. Every day, I have to decide what I’m going to work on. There is no boss telling me what to do. I find that I have to fight the feeling of fear that leads to procrastination or complete paralysis.
- To combat the struggle of feeling professional, I became a member of my local co-working space. I couldn’t recommend that strategy more highly. My mentality and demeanor are so different on the days that I’m able to work from there. I would say it was one of the most significant things I did for my mindset.
- I have tried hard to grow my entrepreneurial spirit. Once I embraced the fact that, “YES, I am a business owner!”, I started to see related business opportunities everywhere. The accounting field has historically has had a tendency to be more of a “trading time for money” type of a business. However, that is harder to do in a work-from-home-with-kids setting where it might be harder to have truly consistent hours to work. When you deliberately choose to exercise your entrepreneurial muscles, you can come up with great ideas for less traditional ways to make money but that are still in the accounting field. Below is a non-exhaustive list of things that I’ve seen entrepreneurial accountants do. The starred ones are ones that I have personally done:
- * Publish a book, eBook, or newsletter.
- * Monetize a YouTube Channel and have that be your lead generation tool (I’ve heard a successful accountant call his YouTube Channel his “business card”). A podcast could also work similarly.
- Instead of making money trading your time one-on-one with clients, think of creative ways to take the step of providing services one-to-many, like group coaching or training.
- * Promote your favorite accounting products and applications via partner/affiliate programs.
- Develop continuing accounting education programs courses for something you develop an expertise in.
Tip: Keep your eyes on other accounting professionals on social media and you’ll start to get ideas.
I’ll close with a reminder I constantly have to tell myself. This is a temporary season, even if there are days that can feel so very long and you find yourself watching the clock until bedtime. Doesn’t everyone with older children remind those of us with younger children that we will miss these years terribly? You and I won’t be working from home with kids forever. The more we remember that, the easier it might be to open that bag of chips for our small kiddo when we are supposed to be working.
Kate owns Heritage Business Services, LLC, a virtual bookkeeping firm serving small business clients all over the United States. She can also be found helping other accounting professionals build a virtual accounting career they love inside her Bookkeeping Side...