In the post earlier this week on The Nesting Place, a few comments raised the question of how to start a business when you don’t have the cash for childcare. You hope the business will eventually bring in enough to pay for childcare, a great house, trips to Tahiti, retirement, innovative philanthropic work, etc., but it probably won’t right away. It is the rare person who manages to start a business and sell it to Amazon for $200 million like a year later.
Anyway, it turns out that many entrepreneurs who happen to have kids aren’t paying for full-time childcare. A Manta survey of women small business owners, done for Mother's Day, found that 66 percent did not have nannies or babysitters supporting them on a daily basis. In some cases, that’s because their kids are 17 years old. In others, it’s likely because the kids are in school most of the day. I’m certainly seeing Mosaic logs from women who do most of their core work between the 7:30 bus pick up and the 3:00 drop-off. Add in a few after school activities and night/weekend work and you can hit 45 hours/week.
But while that 66 percent figure could be encouraging, here’s something you need to know: building a business takes time. It takes hours. Here’s something else you should know: With some modern businesses, being seen as a mom just running a blog is as much marketing as anything else. People have teams of employees. And if our entrepreneur has young kids, it’s likely that one of those employees is watching the kids some chunk of the time so mom can work.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with paying people to watch your kids so you can engage in economically productive activities. As a WFH type, I certainly think there are upsides of having the kids in the same place as you. I got to celebrate a potty success the other day, and I get hugs after school and all that. But I don’t view myself as in a fundamentally different category than someone working a corporate job, and I wish everyone would be honest about their childcare arrangements. I have coverage from 8-5:15 M-F. I usually have coverage at least one evening a week too. That is what my life and my professional goals require.
So what if you don’t have regular childcare coverage? What if you have been home with your kids, and need or want to start a business, both for your professional fulfillment and to shoulder your share of supporting the family financially?
People write to me about the chicken-and-egg problem. Childcare delivers time. You need time to grow your business. Growing your business will generate cash. However, childcare requires cash right now. How can you grow your business when you don’t have start-up capital, and so childcare seems unaffordable?
Instead of looking to online entrepreneurs who are being coy about their own childcare arrangements, and feeling inferior because you think they're building a business "without" childcare, it's more helpful to ask a few questions: First, what’s triggering the urge to start the business? If it’s because the former primary breadwinner is now out of work, that’s at least partially solved your problem. Parents can split the 8-6 workday, each taking 5 hours apiece with the kids, and each devoting 5 hours per day to their professional development. That still leaves time for family breakfast and dinner, while everyone’s getting at least 25 hours a week for job searching or business building (to say nothing of night and weekend time that’s also available).
Second, is childcare really unaffordable? A key thing here is that many people don’t like the idea of paying for childcare because they don’t like the idea of childcare in the first place. So it’s always seen as optional. And yet in our Nesting Place story, this family took on debt so the husband could buy into a franchise and get the equipment necessary for it. Investing in his business was fine. That could be a family goal. So I’d say investing in mom’s business can be a family goal too. Even committing to paying for just a few months of childcare can give you the runway to launch, while putting a cap on cash outflow. Not all businesses will generate cash in 6 months, but you can structure your business to make that a top priority.
But let’s say you are committed to no debt. I have seen women manage to start certain sorts of businesses during after work hours. If you don’t have clients who expect to see your face during the work day, and who won’t call and expect quiet at 2 p.m., it can work. The usual approach is that your partner works a regular job, and commits to coming home by 5:30 or 6. You could have family dinner together if you like, and then he covers the evening shift several day a week while you work. Working from 6:30-10:30, or 6:30-11:30 if you can swing it will give you quite a few hours, especially if you then add in weekend work when your partner can cover too. There is one woman in the Mosaic project who’s doing the bulk of her work between 7:30-11:30 at night, and on weekends. It cuts into sleep, and she’s only planning on doing this for a little bit longer until the youngest is in school, but it is an option.
Another option is to combine the above with a few hours of paid care during typical working hours. You might be able to find a part-time sitter to come from 9 a.m. -1 p.m. 2-3 days per week. That would let you meet with clients, do phone calls, etc. while doing other work from 6-10 at night a few days per week. Paying for 8 hours of care is less expensive than paying for 40 hours of care, though this can introduce its own problems. Sometimes people don’t treat 8 hour/week jobs with the seriousness they’d treat 40/hour week jobs. If you’re supposed to meet a client and your sitter calls to cancel, this will make it just as difficult to grow your business as if you didn’t have childcare in the first place. But it’s a possibility too. I’ve heard of homeschooling families hiring mother’s helpers from other homeschooling families in their neighborhoods as a way to get some childcare and help those teens earn some cash. College students can work, or neighborhood retirees, or another mom in the area.
This last concept of tapping community is worth exploring for non-paid care too. Is there another family nearby that you know and trust and that is in a similar situation? Maybe you trade off care — each family takes 2 days per week, and this creates time to work without cash outflow (technically this is a barter that you are supposed to report as income, but I’m guessing this is one of the most flouted IRS rules out there). Could you start a co-op? Maybe you have a neighbor who’s usually around and doesn’t mind having the kids dropped off last minute if you do need to meet a client. This sort of back up can lessen the pain associated with part-time sitting.
Finally, one last option is just to be patient. You can think of your business as being in the “incubation” stage for a few years, depending on the age of your youngest kid (as long as you don't keep having babies — but that's a different matter). You experiment with things and think about it a lot, and figure out your target market, and learn all about the market, knowing that you intend to hit the ground running as soon as the kids are old enough to be in school, or entertain themselves, or whatever you intend to do with them.
Do you run a business without regular childcare? How do you make that work?