Why Running a business while Home Educating is Madness

Megan Blair

Running a small business from home can be challenging at the best of times. Running a small business from home while you’re home educating your children adds a whole different level of challenge. Running a small business from home while you’re home educating your children and you’re a single parent is beyond just challenging. It’s absolute madness! 

For many years writer, Anaïs Nin, maintained two marriages, one on each side of the North American continent, in what she referred to as a ‘bi-coastal trapeze’. She kept her duality a secret from each of her two husbands, creating a series of stories that she told each one, going as far as recording the details of what she had told them on file cards. On the east coast, she was Anaïs Pole; on the west coast she was Anaïs Guiler. Perhaps ‘bi-coastal tightrope’ might have better expressed the constant balancing act required to maintain her secrets. 

We’re not here to talk about Anaïs though, are we? I’m running off topic. But not really. Because managing that trapeze, or tightrope walk, whichever you prefer, is a pretty apt description of what we ask of ourselves when we dive into setting up a small business while we have our children at home full-time. What the heck! Let’s throw in the term ‘juggling act’ as well and recognise that our life has become a crazy, colourful circus, complete with quick costume changes out the back as we switch roles, a fair amount of jumping through hoops, and a tough ringmaster (our self-expectations dressed up for the occasion). It really can feel like that at times. Like Anaïs, we adopt different personas for our various roles. Keeping track of them almost requires a file card system. 

Despite all of that, I love running a small business from home. It gives me a great sense of achievement when we reach a goal, it provides mental stimulation in ways that are different to home ed, and it allows me to earn a bit of income while I’m at home with my children. 

Fortuitously, by the time the opportunity came around for me to venture into the world of business, my children were old enough to be largely independent. We had home educated from the beginning, so we had a level of confidence and stability on that front. I doubt that I would have managed to take even the first step of the venture if we were in a ‘school to home ed’ transition phase. As it was, the transition from ‘always available mum’ to ‘often busy at the computer and distracted by business plans mum’ has been difficult for all of us. There’s that tightrope again. 

The other factor that I am ever grateful for, is that I was able to take the plunge with a very dear friend, Kerrie Kruger. She is also a home ed mum, her son just happens to be best mates with one of my boys and we have loads and loads of shared interests. While those three factors are great in any friendship, what really makes things hum in our business is that our skill sets complement each other almost perfectly. Kerrie and her husband Pete have run their own business for many, many years, so she brings a mountain of knowledge from that, along with some great skills in website development and using social media. I like project management, spreadsheets and accounting. 

Looking at that list, you’d never guess that our business is about the concept of Simple Living and teaching the skills that our great-grandparents took for granted. Who knew that teaching people to bake bread, make butter, raise chickens or make their own natural body-care products needed so many apparently unrelated skills? But the fact is, that it does. Almost any business will. And even though we already had some of those behind-the-scenes skills, transferring them to a new business and getting it all up and running has taken a massive amount of time, energy and learning, not to mention an endless supply of patience from our children over the past year. 

Which brings me to the issue of time management. It’s time to reach for those juggling balls and start practicing because this is going to make or break not only your business but your family. In order to maintain any grip on sanity, you need to get a handle on this early. Setting up a business and keeping it ticking along takes up a lot of time and mental energy. Even when you’re not actually working, you’re thinking about the business. When your children are tucked away in school, this might not be an issue. When they’re at home and you are responsible for facilitating their learning, even though you’ve been up working until 3am the night before, you’ve got a phone meeting with your business partner after lunch (uh-oh, what’s for lunch!!?), and you’re still in your pj’s because you can’t find any clean clothes, believe me, it’s an issue. If you’ve already found yourself in this situation then I beg of you, please stop. For the love of your children and for the remaining shreds of self- respect, just stop. 

A chainsaw juggler doesn’t randomly throw their chainsaws up in the air and hope for the best. As each chainsaw leaves their hand, it is all part of a controlled movement. They know what trajectory the chainsaw will be on, how long it will be in the air, where it is in relation to the other chainsaws, where it will land and, most importantly, which part of the chainsaw is going to land back in their hand. When you’re juggling home ed and business management, the stakes are just as high so you’re going to need a similar level of control. 

The best piece of advice I’ve had was to create a schedule, like the ones we had at high school; the type that tells you that from 9.30-12.00 on Tuesday you’re going to be wearing your work hat, so you’d better have something lined up for your children to be doing independently, but after lunch you’ll be completely available for some games or a trip to the park. I started by making a list (because that’s where I always start – my business partner Kerrie is more of a bubble map kinda gal). My list included the various lessons and activities that my children attend, general home admin, meal preparation and house cleaning, as well as a couple of timeslots for gardening and sewing plus some downtime. I drew up a timetable that starts when I get up in the morning and finishes when I go to bed. I added in the activities that are not negotiable (scheduled lessons, meals, etc), then filled in the remaining times. It turned out that I now spend fewer hours on managing the business but work more efficiently in that time because I know that this is the time allocated for work. Conversely, when I am doing something else, my mind is able to focus on what I’m doing, not thinking about business stuff, which had been a huge problem before. I cannot count the number of times I realised that, although I had just had a conversation with one of my children, I had no idea what it was they had said because I was not mentally there in that moment. Isn’t that the saddest thing? Don’t be sad. Make a schedule! 

I guess the point of all of this is, if you’ve got a business idea that you think could work, you need to consider the following points before you dive in: 

Is your business idea something that you’re passionate about? For me it is the concept of Simple Living. 

Passion and persistence are the big ones when it comes to business success. 

Is your family ready for this? Are your children independent enough to spend several hours at a time without your attention or do you have someone you trust who can reliably and regularly mind them? 

Do you have those important behind-the-scenes skills? If not, can you either team up with someone whose skill set complements yours (again, you need to be able to deeply trust this person) or can you do a short course to obtain them? Otherwise you need to pay someone else to do those things for you 

The big one. Do you have the time available to invest in getting a business up and running? Even if you can tick off the first three, if you don’t have a good amount of time (and I’m not talking about “middle of the night” time), you’re best off putting it on the backburner until you do. 

Don’t be put off. Just be realistic before you toss that first chainsaw into the air. 

*Megan Blair and Kerrie Kruger are the proud co- proprietors of Our Life Our Way, running workshops in Simple Living (when the whole world isn’t self- isolating) and home educating their children whilst drinking real tea made in a teapot and eating homemade bread, butter and jam. You’ll find us online at www.ourlifeourway. com.au 

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