Saturday, July 6, 2024

blending running a business with being a carer

picture of large pink pineapple
Earlier this year, I found myself back in the Atomicon-verse (for those that don't know, it involves oversized pink pineapples, lots of freelancers getting giddy, and a strict 'no selling' rule). 

Most people involved in it seem to focus on the main day speakers, and the chance to hang out with people they normally only get to share a zoom screen with. But I've always found that the most encouraging, powerful, and useful part of it for me are the 'roundtables': hour-long on-line spaces in the weeks running up to it, hosted by people coming to the event, to share, reflect, and explore a range of self-chosen topics.

Last year, I was fortunate to be invited to lead one of these round tables, on the topic of being an unpaid carer and small business owner (see the write up from that here) - and this year, the ever upbeat Liz & Mike Cole were holding a space on how to approach 'blending' these 2 identities.

It saw a small group of us convene on screen at the appointed time, to initially offer mutual encouragement through each sharing a (very) small part of our story in how we'd come to gain our caring roles, after we'd already established and were running a business; and some of our struggles in reconciling often competing demands on us this leads to.

This also highlighted just how diverse caring roles can be:

- being a parent to young children

- being a foster carer

- being single parent, following the loss of a spouse

- having neurodivergent children (both young - of school age, and older - in their 20s)

- nursing a spouse through significant illness

- having elderly parents who struggle to live independently 

But we didn't focus on how we supported ourselves in these roles (as happened in last years' round table); our conversations instead explored how we can be more open about having a caring role, with our clients. 

This is because all of us identified to some extent with the concern that as freelancers and small businesses, clients buy us in to fix their problems - if they learn we also have caring responsibilities, which may mean we have to delay or defer working on their project, then they're more likely to pass us over for the commission. 

Several options and ideas emerged through these reflections together, and I've summarised them below, in hopes that they may be of encouragement and support to other unpaid carers in similar circumstances to us:

1) mapping the skills we've developed as unpaid carers, against the offers we can present to clients, to highlight how these responsibilities can offer us additional 'superpowers' in what we can offer them in turn;

2) highlighting the value and impact we've delivered to other clients whilst also having caring responsibilities, to challenge prejudice and bias on their part (however unconscious it might otherwise be);

3) pro-actively offer clarifications about our working practices to manage expectations, as part of our terms and conditions, as a means of 'positive disclosure';

4) referencing external research to validate the assertions we're making about all of the above with regards to our ability to deliver proposed projects.*

This isn't the first time that I've invested time in considering and exploring how to be more open with the world and clients about what it means for me to be an unpaid carer, and how this affects my working life - I had the opportunity to raise the question at an 'expert hot seat' session last year. However, in that instance, I felt rather disappointed with the response from the 'global experts' (who didn't have experience of caring roles themselves). Their suggestion was simply "Tell the client at some point, but don't make it a 'first date conversation' topic. If the client doesn't understand and isn't supportive, then you probably wouldn't want to work with them anyway". But that somehow misses the point of recognising that about 80% of the self-employed are already in poverty (before we add in the impact of being an unpaid carer, and the financial penalty we pay because of this), so we can't always have the luxury of being picky and choosy over the types of clients we work with...

Perhaps this divergence in experience can be attributed to the adage that those with the affected experience are best placed to know how to best respond to it? But as last years' round table on this topic highlighted, we seem to have precious little opportunity to currently do so, so I've very appreciate of Mike and Liz to have hosted the space, for us, and for everyone who was part of it on the day.

* There's not much of such research out there at the moment, but following last years' round-table on the subject, ipse and other national sector bodies have subsequently gotten interested in this topic (given that it's been identified there are about 500,000 of us!), so there should be more evidences hopefully emerging soon...