What to do when ‘flexible working’ means you have no time to work

Last Monday, over 4000 schools in the UK were closed because of safety concerns after a heavy snowfall. That will have been a major headache for working parents across the country.

As work-at-home-mums we’re lucky in that we can work more flexibly than most. But it’s easy for virtually all your work time to be swallowed up by family commitments, and that’s a big is a problem. Here are a few tips from me about surviving those times when family life gets in the way of your business:


Note: No small furry animals were harmed in the making of my hat 🙂

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Can I claim childcare costs as a business expense?

This post could could stop you from getting into trouble!

Last week I got into a debate with a self-employed friend: she was convinced that as a sole trader she could consider childcare to be a business expense. After all, she needed the childcare to be able to work.

On the other hand, I was almost certain that in the UK, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) don’t consider childcare to be a business expense.

I asked accountant Jonathan Freeman of Freeman and Co to answer our question for us. He said:

Unfortunately, childcare costs paid by a sole trader would not be considered wholly and exclusively for the purpose of the trade and therefore would not be tax deductible.

The only childcare costs I’m aware of which are allowable as a deduction are those where an employer provides childcare facilities to its staff.  There is detailed guidance about this on HMRC’s website http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/paye/exb/a-z/c/childcare.htm

As a sole trader it may however be possible to claim Working Tax Credit, which does include a childcare element.

So I was right, but it’s not exactly good news. 🙁

Although this might be basic stuff for some people, there are many mums who aren’t making enough money to pay an accountant to advise them and could be totally unaware that childcare can’t be claimed as a business expense. And you could have problems (and a hefty repayment to make) if HMRC found that you’d added childcare to your business expenses in error and paid less tax as a result.

If you’re not sure just what is allowed as business expenses, take a look at this leaflet. You might be surprised!

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Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My Latest Adventure In Childcare

My guess is that childcare is the number one worry for any working parent. Either it’s not up to scratch, it’s not flexible enough, you’d rather be at home caring for your own kids or it’s just too expensive.

Being self employed does give more flexibility, but I’ve found this has still given me some tricky choices. Especially as I have two children under age three, so the cost of childcare for both of them is very high. Like many self-employed mums, I’m stuck in a cycle where I couldn’t  afford the childcare until I got an income, but couldn’t find the time to earn an income without childcare.

The main reason I chose to become self employed was to spend more time with my children, so I don’t want much childcare, just enough to allow me to get some work done in the daytime i.e. when my brain functions better than in the evenings! And I felt my daughter was just about ready to mix with more children of her own age.

So here’s what I did. I’ve arranged for my two-year-old to go back to the nursery she attended last year for one morning a week. While she’s there, her baby brother will have his morning nap and my mum will babysit him for the rest of the morning.  (My mum doesn’t have the energy to care for both of them at the same time). With the childcare vouchers from my husband's job (you can’t get these if you’re self employed), this isn’t going to be too expensive.

That sounded like a reasonable plan, but knowing how good babies are at messing up a reasonable plan, I was a bit nervous. And I was surprised at how stressed I was at putting my daughter in the nursery. It was only one morning a week, the nursery is fantastic and I feel incredibly lucky that I don’t have to use full-time childcare like so many other mums. But it’s never easy, is it?

Well, we tried it for the first time last week and all was fine. There were a few tears (my daughter’s, rather than mine!) but generally my daughter was fine at the nursery. Best of all, it was brilliant to have three hours of day-time to concentrate on my work at last. I hope to be able to increase the childcare gradually as my daughter qualifies for nursery funding in just over a year’s time.

So if you’re wondering whether to use a bit of childcare to free up some time for your business, I recommend giving it a go. Of course it could all go pear-shaped next week (new government, please don’t cut back on the childcare vouchers!), but there really is a limit to what you can do by working in naptimes and evenings.

Have you got any childcare tips for self-employed mums?

Photo by AbbyNormy

Business Mums: This Could Solve Your Biggest Problems

home officeThe number one  problem for business mums has to be childcare. If you're running a business around a family, most childcare isn't  flexible enough to fit your working life.

Working from home isn't  as great as it might seem, either (unless your home office is like the one on the right…). You can miss connecting with other adults, you're stuck sitting in the trail of mess left by your children and you really wouldn't want to invite clients in to sit in it too!

photo: Jeremy Levine Design

If you live in South London help is at hand from May – and I hope it will extend to the rest of the country soon.  Let me introduce guest blogger Melissa Talago to tell you about Third Door and the  launch competition you can enter now:

Ever since I set up my own PR business almost 4 years ago, I have battled with one thing: Childcare. It has been a nightmare. When the kids were both still under 3, they went to nursery. But the nursery only had Mondays and Fridays available, the worst two days for me to get anything done in my industry. Plus if the kids were sick, they couldn't go and I was left once again not able to work. There were times when I had way too much work and needed extra childcare and other times when I didn't have enough work to justify having them in childcare, but couldn't risk losing my nursery place.

And did I mention the cost!! My pay used to go directly into my bank account and straight out again to the nursery. I should have just gotten my clients to pay the nursery direct and cut out the middle man!

I know I'm not alone in having these issues. Childcare for working parents – particularly those trying to freelance or set up their own business – is a nightmare. But now someone has at last had a brainwave. It is just such a good idea, that I absolutely had to work with them.

Take a look at Third Door – particularly if you're a parent living in SW London.

Shazia, a mum to a 2 year old and 4 month old (so imagine how much sleep she's getting!), decided that there had to be a better way of allowing parents to work remotely with flexible child care that suited them.

So she and her husband created Third Door, where you get flexible work space (a hot desk or meeting room) with on-site childcare (in an OFSTED registered creche) all done on a pay-as-you-go basis.

No more having to stick to certain days assigned to you by a nursery. No more having to pay for childcare that you can't use when your child is sick. No more mad rush to pick your child up from nursery after work – because they're just downstairs. No more wondering how your child is doing, because you can pop in and see them, perhaps have lunch with them. No more working on your own in your spare bedroom without any other adult company as you can network with like-minded parents in your area. No overheads of having your own office.

The benefits just go on and on. Like I said, a brilliant idea.

The company is launching in May in Wandsworth, just up the road from Cupcake Spa for those of you who know it. And to help celebrate its opening, Third Door is running a competition that I genuinely think will change somebody's life.

The prize includes:

  • 30 hours of free workspace and childcare
  • Third Door membership
  • a Business in a Box package that includes logo design, company name registration, business cards, letterhead and website creation
  • 3 hours of consultancy from experts in finance, legal, marketing, PR, technology, social media and business coaching
  • a laptop
  • a smartphone

Basically all the tools you need to start up your own business or enable you to work part-time, freelance or possibly build up a blog. Sometimes in fact, all you need to be able to change your life is some child-free time to think, a blank screen to tap ideas onto, a strong coffee and someone to talk to. If you win this prize, you can do exactly that!

So if you want to enter, go here. And please help spread the word about this to anyone who you think would benefit from it.

Melissa Talago is the owner of Peekaboo Communications

How Do You Get Work Done If You’ve Got Kids At Home?

Answer – Get a childminder!

But what if you can't afford one or don't want to use childcare? Is it really possible to run a business with babies or toddlers in the house?

I thought I was pretty good at managing my time before I had my daughter. It's  far harder now with tiny children demanding my attention. All the time. (Stressed? Who me?). The normal time management rules just don't apply any more.

So I was delighted to find not just one, but four articles on working around small children this week. All written by mums who have been there, done it and got the (carrot puree splattered) t-shirt.

The first three are from Natalie Lue at Self Employed Mum:

And the fourth is from Lexi Rodrigo of Freelance Folder:

These articles are packed with useful advice, but the most important message for me is to "have realistic expectations". How about you?

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