Five years after leaving her position as a project manager, Denise, a mother of two, was ready to return to paid employment. “The kids were both in school and I wanted the extra paycheque. But after being out of the workforce, I wasn’t sure how or where to start easing myself back in.”

Kelly, an auditor and mother of three, had become frustrated with her job. “After my kids were born, I increasingly felt like if I had to be away from my family, I wanted it to be for work I cared about. My second daughter was born with several health and developmental challenges and I wanted to share my experience with other families, but I didn’t know how to make that part of my career life.”

For both Denise and Kelly, freelance work was the solution. Denise contacted her old colleagues and soon had a few short-term projects that updated her CV and rebuilt her confidence. Kelly began writing for a parenting blog; although she still works in her audit job, she has been able to cut back to three days a week.

What is freelancing?

Any part-time, short-term or flexible work qualifies as freelancing, and virtually every industry needs temporary or project-based support.

Freelancing allows you to supplement your income and acquire additional or new work experience, and can replace a full-time role. It usually also involves greater flexibility in terms of where and how you work. The challenge is that freelancing usually means an erratic income, the loss of benefits and constant pressure to find the next contract.

As part of my research for my upcoming book, The MomShift: Finding the Opportunity in Maternity, I spoke with more than 500 mothers from a variety of professional and personal backgrounds, who all achieved greater career success after they had children.

A common factor in their stories is the role that freelancing played or continues to play in their ability to successfully navigate both family and career.

“I happened into my first consulting opportunity when I was between roles and at the end of my maternity leave,” says Sunita, an Ottawa real-estate lawyer and mother of two. “I felt like I’d found the best of both worlds -- professionally challenging work but with control over my workflow and hours.”

Interested in exploring the freelance model? Here are the top tips from my interviews:

  • Clarify your end goal. Freelance success depends on knowing what you hope to achieve from the experience, since this outcome should shape the work you do and the clients you target.
  • Maximize your mom network. When you’re looking for freelance work, your professional contacts should of course be your starting point -- but don’t overlook the other mothers you meet at activities or on the playground. “I mentioned to one of the mothers I volunteer with that I was looking for web design work,” says freelancer web designer Sarah, a mother of two. “Within the week, she had referred me to two friends who needed sites for their businesses.”
  • Start saving. If your hope is to freelance full-time, start your financial preparation today! Realize that unlike a salaried job, even if you have a regular stream of clients, there is usually a lag-time of approximately 30 days from submitting an invoice to receiving a cheque -- so save up in advance to create a financial cushion.
  • Manage your time. Many of the working moms I interviewed moved into freelancing to keep their work hours in check, and then found the opposite was occurring.

“Initially, I regularly underestimated how long a particular project would take,” says Carla, a freelance researcher and mother of one. “I found myself working more than I wanted and being paid less than I hoped. After diligently tracking my time for three months, I’m more realistic about the deadlines I give myself and my clients.”

  • Challenge your career comfort zone. One of the most exciting aspects of freelancing is that it allows you to explore new avenues and aspects of your career, without any long-term commitments or dramatic changes.

After 10 years as the editor of a trade magazine, Ann is now into her second year as a freelancer, with a portfolio of projects on the go. “My mix includes writing a regular column, teaching a college class and creating event programming. It’s a great way to expand my career experiences before deciding on the next full-time role.”