The realities of running a business during the school holidays.
I’m not sure why the desire to write this post (because I’m definitely not an expert in this space) has come about, but I’ve felt compelled to write about my own experience with our recent school holidays and mostly, my lack of organisation this time around.
One would think that after being in business for very close to two years (even longer if you count my previous businesses) that I would have this under control. The truth is, I haven’t. And if anything, against all of my own previous advice, I made the same mistakes this last holidays - and I vow to not do the same again.
I know that a lot of you out there share with us regularly how you have created a career, business and lifestyle to support the flexibility of a young family. I can certainly agree that this was a big driver for me personally (and I can vouch for Jax on this one too). We are grateful that we are in a position to financially be supported by our partners income through the growth stage of our business, and the benefit for our families means that we get to be there for school pick-ups and drop-offs, concerts, award ceremonies, sports days etc. (side note, we know this isn’t available to everyone, and whilst this is our experience, we appreciate that everyone’s situation is unique and we support all decisions for women when it comes to career). But, it doesn’t mean that the work stops. And the busier and bigger we become, the higher the workload, expectations of clients and less sleep we all get.
I’ve decided to share a few ideas for survival (or really, just coping). As I mentioned before, I’m definitely not an expert, and I sometimes don’t follow my own advice - but, I like to think that I will next time so here goes…
1. Don’t overcommit
We learned this the hard way. Our first school holidays saw us scheduling a lot of client interaction, which heavily relied upon ‘vacation care’ for the kids. What we didn’t think about, was the prep and all the BTS work that goes into our client interactions. When were we going to do this? Ahh, the hours between 8pm and 12pm was when, and that’s not fun when you have bad sleepers, early risers and full days with little ones. Cue, sleep deprivation. Now, we manage our diary very closely during this time, and ensure that we have kid-free time for our prep and other day to day business too.
2. Put down the phone.
This is controversial, and highly personal - but for us, we use these weeks to have a little more offline time than usual. We often schedule less social media, find ourselves not engaging as often as we normally would, and generally try and I say TRY not to be on our socials when the kids are around. Unless, of course they’re playing endless games of Minecraft - I figure, if he can play, why can’t I? (sorry, bad parenting advice there). For us, our ideal client is also a Mum, so she will most likely be doing the same - in fact, our engagement rates really drop during this period, so it’s not detrimental to our business. In saying that, I’m a firm believer that if other marketing activity is ticking away, you have a clear strategy, we can all afford a little more time off the socials. We want to manage them, not them manage us remember (wink).
3. Meal Prep.
I listened to a podcast a few years ago, and they interviewed Madeleine West (Dee from Neighbours if anyone is old enough to remember) who has 6 kids. How does she do it? She makes dinner before she leaves the house in the morning. What? That sounds way too hard doesn’t it. I tried it. It works. If I literally spend half an hour prepping the evening meal, it means that witching hour isn’t painful. It also means that my own eating habits don’t go out the window and I’m sort of nourished to be able to cope with the extra mental and physical load of entertaining an active seven year old. It also means I can probably squeeze in an hour of work before dinner whilst the cartoons are playing.
4. Manage your Inbox.
Again, similar to managing your socials. I set myself a time (and max. time limit) that I will login to the inbox, prioritise and do what HAS to be done. Then walk away. I use to be on the road in my corporate days, and I can tell you that I often would be able to clear my inbox in half an hour at the end of the day when I finally logged in. If I was in the office, it would sometimes take me all day. Distraction. It’s the worst.
5. Vacation Care.
Seriously, get rid of those guilts. I struggled with this at first, but after the seventh time I’d heard ‘I’m bored’ on day one of the holidays (before 10am mind you) I realised that there was a lot of stuff out there that was way more fun than I could organise. Chat to the other mum’s at school. They’re all in the same boat. We have a group post that goes out beforehand with the days everyone’s organising something. The kids are really happy to catch up with their friends, and it seriously brakes up the weeks. If it’s not vacation care, there is lego camp, adventure camp, the PCYC do a lot of school holiday programs plus so much more.
6. Play Dates
Ever watched that show ‘marriage swap’ ? (I haven’t BTW) — this idea is kids swap. My son is way less demanding when he has someone his age to play Ninjago with on the trampoline (No son, I can’t jump on the trampoline because there’s this little thing that happened when I birthed you). See if you can organise for a ‘swap’ where you have them for one morning/afternoon/day and they have yours. It’s an affordable alternative to having to pay for vacation care too.
7. Tell your clients
All of our clients know our position, we warn them about our availability and they are absolutely fine with it. Like anything, you need to set expectations, and then people will work with them. Let them know in advance if you’ll be taking some time off, out of contact, whether anything is urgent so you can manage before the holidays. Honestly, we’ve never had anyone complain about our response times as we are completely transparent with it all.
8. Don’t bite off more than you can chew
Try not to lead into any launch phases, new product launches, new services, brand relaunches etc. around this time. We tend to turn off our lead generation activity and concentrate on managing the clients we have at the time. We made this mistake once, and won’t do it again. Result = flop.
9. Don’t forget about yourself.
You need to recharge, use one of the kid-free mornings/days to go to the gym, take a walk, or just sit on the couch. Seriously, my partner was not around much these holidays and I really felt exhausted - mostly mentally. It reminded me of those really early days of parenting, when you could sometimes go for days without having an adult conversation, everything is a negotiation - “you can have that lolly if you eat that carrot stick”, picking up toys off the ground only to find them back there when you turn around. I was definitely craving some ‘alone’ time.
I’m not sure if it’s because my seven year old is suffering from separation anxiety, and can’t be more than two metres away from me (Steve Biddulph says this is normal) but I felt really under prepared this time, and perhaps it’s been cathartic to write this post so that I’ll think about that before the next round.
I know that a lot of you are not only managing your household, business, family and a full-time/part-time job so I empathise with that extra level of responsibility you guys have. All in the name of us supporting each other, ideas are absolutely welcomed.
PS. So you want to hear something funny? First day back at school my son tells me he wants to be home schooled — ahhh…not likely little man.