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.
As the owner of a small virtual bookkeeping and business consulting firm called Heritage Business Services, I am involved in the accounting profession as an entrepreneur. 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 due to my husband's military job. It was all out of my control, and I was crushed by the whole experience. I knew then that I needed to find a fulfilling professional life on my own terms.
I have three children who are 9, 8 and 7 (yikes!), and I do not work full-time hours, as my husband is unbelievably supportive with a steady military job (with healthcare benefits). For my entire professional life as an accounting entrepreneur, I have worked remotely while taking care of my children.
My way is not the only way, but I hope it encourages other accounting professionals who work from home.
It might sound cold-hearted to use the term “kid management,” but I do have to “manage” my children while also working. Even when we’re not in the midst of a pandemic, I have to manage my kids because we are part of a homeschool hybrid school. However, I’m privileged to be able to take care of them well while simultaneously being an efficient worker. Here are some of the pros and cons of “managing” my kids while working from home.
Pros: I believe that building my business from home allows me to show my children that I work hard, have a big brain and make complex choices. It teaches them about having a worth ethic and making money as well as teaching them 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 weren't working from home.
Cons: I can be short-tempered with them when I am consumed by work, and it can be difficult to be understanding, as we are frequently in each other’s space.
- Sometimes, it's just best if they aren't around while I'm working. I've partnered with a couple of friends who also work from home to arrange kid swaps. That means that some days, there are a lot of children around. But that also means that there are days when I am able to be alone. Plus, I often get work done on the days when I’m watching my friends' kids because my kids need less of my attention when they have playmates around.
- My husband and I put a lot of effort into supporting each other and making our house run well. This is something we talk about often and frankly. This tip won't apply to everyone, but the more work we put into our marriage, the less stress there is around working from home with kids. My husband's support and willingness to pitch in with household duties provides unquantifiable benefits to my business.
- I work non-traditional hours. I take meetings as early as 5:30 a.m., and I advertise this to clients. (And, yes, those 5:30 a.m. meetings get booked!) Using a digital clock, I taught my children at an early age that there are certain times they should be in their rooms so I can get work done (until 7:00 a.m. on weekdays during the school year and 8:00 a.m. on weekends and summer weekdays). I’d rather get one hour of work done without children around than two or three hours of work done with children around. This also helps my kids understand that the world doesn’t revolve around them. They are able to entertain themselves quietly or go back to sleep.
Besides having to manage my children, I also have to manage my clients. Here are some of the pros and cons of managing client relationships while working from home.
Pros: Working remotely has naturally narrowed down my client base. This is generally a good thing, as the clients who find me and my services appealing are typically more tech savvy and also work non-traditional hours.
Cons: I do lose potential clients because of how I structure and operate my business. For example, I cannot take on a client who has very strict and ongoing deadline requirements.
- I mostly offer meetings early in the morning on weekdays as well as on Saturdays. I do have more “normal” working hours available, but having an early schedule signals to clients how I run my business, and it allows me to have some of my meetings while my children are still asleep.
- I have a dedicated Slack workspace for each client, and I try to communicate with my clients only via the Slack channel. That way, they know where to find 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. All of my clients are able to have conversations with me each month as a part of their contract with me; however, I have found that quick three- or five-minute videos accompanying their monthly reports eliminates some of the need for phone or Zoom meetings. Scheduling meetings with busy business owners can be tough, so this gives them a chance to hear from me without taking a full 30-minute call.
As a side note, asynchronous communication is becoming more and more common, and there are a lot of ways to do it. One of my mentors creates brief Loom videos for her clients, and she tells them from the start that she will not take a monthly meeting with them until they have watched the short video. There is a good chance that the client’s question will be answered in the video. But, if it is not, there is a 100-percent chance that the subsequent meeting will be more efficient and constructive if the client knows the basics from watching the Loom video.
Pros: Because I work from home for myself, gone are the days of pointless projects and meetings that persist in the corporate world. I can also be efficient in other ways. I can mow my yard on a Tuesday whenever the sun is shining and I need exercise. The days before and following a vacation go so much more smoothly than when I had an office job. It is very empowering to get to make decisions about 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 can be difficult to set boundaries between work life and home life. Also, I have to be proactive, since there is no boss giving me directions. I sometimes have to fight the feeling of fear that leads to procrastination or complete paralysis.
- To feel more professional, I joined my local co-working space. I couldn’t recommend it more highly. My mentality and demeanor are markedly different on the days that I'm there. It significantly improved my mindset.
- I put in effort to grow my entrepreneurial spirit. Once I embraced the fact that I am a business owner, I started to see business opportunities everywhere. Historically, the accounting field has operated as “trading time for money." However, that is more challenging while working from home with kids, which can eliminate consistent work hours. Flexing your entrepreneurial muscles can lead to great ideas for less traditional ways to make money 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 use it as your lead generation tool. (One successful accountant calls his YouTube channel his “business card.”) A podcast could work similarly.
- Instead of working one-on-one with clients, try group coaching or training.
- * Promote your favorite accounting products and applications via partner/affiliate programs.
- Develop continuing education courses in an accounting subject you're an expert in.
Remember to follow other accounting professionals on social media to get more ideas.
I constantly remind myself that these days with my children are fleeting, even if there are days that feel like they will never end. We won't be working from home with kids forever. Keeping that in mind might make it easier to take some time out of our workday for our kids.
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...