Freelance + Toddler

It's difficult to run your own business. It's also difficult to be a parent. We've all heard this and we all believe it. But how can a person make it work?

Given that there are only 24 hours in a day, my day works out like this in order of priority:

1. Hazel: She's awake for 10 hours and she's home with us.  This is a lot of Toddler time!

2. Sleep: I have to allow 10 hours of sleep these days because it's still interrupted. Hazel wakes up a few times a night :( for a lovely 18 month regression. Once she's back to a "through-the-night" situation, I can get 8. 

3. Work: I realistically NEED a few hours of work in the morning, and then I'll finish things up if needed in the evening. I've become an absolute machine when it comes to efficiency because I have to be. After lunch, Peter takes over on work and I mind Hazel.

4. Some time for me and Peter: I love to get some snuggle/Netflix time with Peter after Hazel is in bed. This is my wind down time. 2 hours.

5. Me: This one comes last for now, but I make sure to get alone time for a workout or an occasional friend date.

So, how can we make this all work? 

First part: time management. As soon as I get an assignment, I start on it. I don't care if sketches aren't due for a week, who the heck knows what a week can bring?  That's seven days of things that can go wrong, so I figure to do the work NOW and let the craziness of life come in at its own pace. Another coping strategy I like to use is breaking large projects down into manageable chunks per day: 60 illustrations over 15 days: that's only 4 illustrations a day!

Second part: flexibility.  With a freelance business as with a little one, each day presents a set of challenges that are outside yourself. One day, there's an unexpected bill in the mail, another, a sick child. It's hard to deal with these things especially when they stack up. It can get a little crazy, but if you keep a sense of looseness and flexibility, nothing can rock you too much!

Third part: naps. Hazel needs an afternoon nap that ranges from one hour to two. This is bonus time for getting things done. Thank God for naps! She's happily well-rested and we're ready to play again after a nice long nap.

And last in order, but really first in importance: Peter. If he weren't home with us this set up wouldn't be possible. I need him to mind Hazel in the morning so I can work. He takes over in the afternoon, and that's my time with Hazel. We figured this out through trial and error, and it's working for now. I'm aware, though, that every day is different and even this loose-ish plan usually requires juggling and re-scheduling. 

Peter often takes Hazel out in the morning for a coffee/treat date so they can have some quality time and I can get a house free of noise to concentrate on work. We have a saying around our house: "a cup of coffee is cheaper than day care!" Since we can't commit to the cost of child care, I think it's fair to let the family have a little fun at the coffee shop :)  He'll often use this time to sketch ideas for upcoming projects and Hazel can "sketch" in crayons too.

The hardest part of working with a little one is probably that constant threat of the unknown. It can be psychological torture if you let it! But, as we all soon realize, the sooner you can go with the flow, the better. 

Airbnb: Question and Answer

We've been hosting through Airbnb for nearly a year now, and we've learned a lot! Here are some questions I got in the Q&A session I put out there last week:

Question: What's the weirdest thing you supply for your guests?

Answer: Black washcloths. They're for makeup removal! I never thought of it before we got lots of mascara and foundation stains on our white washcloths.

Question: How do you deal with damage to your house?

Answer: Airbnb has a resolution center for resolving problems. We've had a few of these to deal with, and usually guests will pay up no problem for things they've broken. We one horrible experience with a group who stayed at our house and left a huge mess and several broken items. I told Airbnb I wanted to charge the guests for the 4 hours of house cleaning and the things they broke. Airbnb only approved the broken item replacement cost. They don't pay for cleaning service reimbursement. Good to know!

Question: What's the most unexpected cost you've had?

Answer: I was really surprised by our water bill some months! I take short showers even when I'm at a hotel, but it seems people staying at our house like long showers. Couple that with up to 8 people staying and you can imagine how much wasted water runs down the drain.

Question: Do you have to provide breakfast for guests?

Answer: No. There's an option to offer breakfast or not and if you do, it's considered a perk. People can search by listings that provide breakfast. We don't do it, but we have coffee/tea and condiments in the fridge.

Question: How do you handle check-in?

Answer: We have a lockbox on our front door (with a backup lockbox inside the security door) and I provide my phone number in case of issues,  but over a whole year there've been very few problems with check-in. The worse that happened is a guest called me because the lockbox door was sticking a bit, but after a moment he got it open.

Question: What is your most received complaint?

Answer: Not enough wine glasses! Since we can host up to 8 people, we usually get large groups staying at our house. Alcohol is usually involved and I hadn't thought to buy more than a couple of wine glasses. 

What do you want to know about how to do it yourself? Employees

We are running our rental from out of state, so that makes it very hard to clean up between guests. We realized right away that if we wanted to make this work, we'd need a house cleaner/manager. 

We found an amazing woman who helps us run the business. She's vital.

In the early days, I was trying to figure out if she was an employee or not. "What does it matter?," you might ask. Well, if you hire an independent contractor, that person pays their own taxes and worker's comp insurance. If you hire a domestic worker (a nanny, a cleaner, etc.) they are your employee and whether you like it or not and you are responsible for their taxes and their worker's comp insurance. If you ignore this, as many do, you could be found out by the IRS. They can charge you back taxes for all the time you've had your employee, and even worse, if you haven't bought worker's comp, you could be sued by your employee if he or she gets injured on the job.

Being unsure, I asked a lawyer, and another one, and another one. They all had different answers. The only thing I figured out was that the IRS has a set of criteria they judge employee status by.

You have an Employee:

  • if you control when and how often someone works in your home: an employee is required by an employer to work particular hours. If you have any say whatsoever in when a worker completes a job and how they do it, then that person is an employee.
  • if he is important to your business: an employee is usually necessary to the business. For example, a cleaner, a manager, and a cook could be employed in a hospitality business, but a plumber, a carpenter, and an accountant don't fill the same type of role.
  • if you provide supplies: providing supplies for a worker means there's a measure of control in how she does the job, and the more control you have, the more likely it is that your "worker" is an employee.

You use an Independent Contractor:

  • if she provides the same services for other people: a worker who runs her own business, advertises and completes similar jobs for lots of other people likely is not your employee (examples: a plumber, an accountant, a designer)
  • if he brings his own supplies: a worker who brings his own supplies is an independent contractor (example: a carpenter brings tools to the job site, a designer has her own computer - these people don't rely on an employer to provide these things.)  
  • if she can control when and how she does a job: independent contractors usually let you know when they can come and complete a job, not the other way around. 

See how confusing this is? I could argue either way for our house cleaner. In the end of the day, though, her services are essential to our business, and that's the sticking point for me. I bit the bullet and made her a legit employee. Why lie to yourself when the lie might not hold up with the IRS? I would rather do it too right than sort of wrong.

We set our house cleaner up on payroll. We use a service called Paychex to issue checks monthly and deduct the proper taxes on our employee's behalf. We are set up correctly, so there's no worry that the IRS will find out we're hiding something.

We also bought our employee a worker's comp policy through State Worker's Insurance Fund. Now if she gets hurt on the job, she can get the proper compensation. 

When it comes to doing it right, it's more work, but now I can relax!