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Self employment for women is becoming popular, as working women in India seek flexibility that most workplaces don’t provide. What’s the experience like?
By Jaya Narayan
Today I complete 3 years of being a self-employed woman. I would like to share my experiences to help others learn from my journey. Before I became a freelancer, I was considered a successful HR professional. I was in a leadership role, with international exposure, working on challenging assignments – everything to get that adrenaline rush! I was considered a workaholic. I was proud and passionate about what I had accomplished. It was always difficult say no to the extent that work crept in even during my maternity leave.
The ‘aha’ moment happened on a regular working day, seated in my office staring outside the window, sipping coffee and watching children in the play area. Looking at the children playing there and the joy on their faces, I asked my self – is this job worth it? Can these moments ever be re-lived once my children grow up? It became clear to me that I needed to invest my time on enriching the early childhood experiences of my children and focus on work that gives me that flexibility. That was it. Many well wishers tried to deter me but I had made up my mind.
So, here are the top 5 learnings from being a self employed woman while handling the responsibilities of a full time mother:
It is one thing to spend a day at home with the kids and experience TLC (tender loving care). It’s another to make that an integral part of your living process. If you think this “avatar” means less work and no stress – it’s a myth. For me it meant taking on much more responsibility. In fact, the constant guilt about not contributing enough to household finances meant I would scrounge on taking paid help.
Added to that every time I bumped into an ex-colleague talking about promotions, salary raises, great work opportunities or, overseas exposure left me questioning my decision. I realized that having worked a fair part of my adult life and deriving pride from work, I had to be prepared for moments of frustration and regret for not utilizing my full potential.
I realized that having worked a fair part of my adult life and deriving pride from work, I had to be prepared for moments of frustration and regret…
In retrospect, I wish I had worked this out in my head, set realistic expectations, had a plan and worked backwards! It would have been a good idea to treat this as a business proposal – the business of raising kids and working part time.
Meeting people and building relationships is important to keep yourself alive and invigorated. A woman friend I knew would proactively reach out to her ex-colleagues, friends and potential business associates and meet them for coffee. I followed suit and found it a great way to surround myself with passionate people who were doing well and following a dream. It was my way of keeping the intellectual stimulation going, having meaningful adult conversation and pathways to play out my ambition.
Most people out there think you are a low cost resource who is happy to do some work as “time pass”. I never wanted to position myself this way, but noticed that my eagerness and passion was often misinterpreted as desperation. I was asked to work for extremely low rates or even for free! I made the mistake of taking on work without legal documentation and contracts to honour past relationships. I always assumed that people would treat me fairly and value me for my work. The toughest aspect for me was to state a price for my worth. I found that collaborating with partners who brought in commercial acumen and business development skills as a strength helped me deal with this inadequacy and learn from them.
I made the mistake of taking on work without legal documentation and contracts to honour past relationships. I always assumed that people would treat me fairly and value me for my work.
As a working professional, stepping out of the house was a great way to de-alienate work and home responsibilities. As a freelancer, these lines have blurred. Initially conference calls would have screaming kids as background noise. Any crisis at home – be it helpers or children resulted in me making the adjustments in schedule. Taking on new work would always be with a preamble about home challenges and request for flexibility, impacting the professional image I would have liked to establish.
Now I have learnt to be disciplined. I have set aside a separate home office and time slots when I am not available, thereby getting everyone around to respect my professional boundaries and work schedule.
In any organisation, your learning and development is also your manager’s responsibility. As a self employed individual, it’s your sole responsibility. Even though you cannot spend a lot of money, it’s important to find interesting low cost ways to learn. For me writing has been a good way to learn. When I interview people or research a topic, I learn the latest buzz words. Now I am always on the lookout for acquiring skills and competencies to differentiate me in the market place. Next, I would like to create an annual learning plan and be accountable to myself for it.
This has truly been a life changing opportunity. The work has been splendid. It has meant freedom to experiment, make mistakes, be critical of my own performance and celebrate key milestones. I have acquired the skills of being self disciplined and managing my time and resources better. A lot of these skills I would not have gained in any corporate job or through any training program. The best part of all of this is that I can go to the park with my kids and reprimand them without feeling guilty!
Jaya Narayan is a alumnus of TISS, Mumbai and has over 15 years of experience
Very well pointed out. Although a subtle voice inside the article says that money can become a concern in the beginning of a freelance position. Although more and more women thinking like this means less and less women in the career ladder and thus less and less women role model for future players. But off course the time has come where we need to understand that there can be several ways to satisfy our urge to be a mother and a career woman. That age old model of an employee working in a set up amidst of many others, started with the advent of industrial revolution might get changed now.
I also wonder abt the point raised by Chandrima. While it’s true that more women are pursuing such alternatives, what does it say about the “mainstream” that it’s not able to create space for women?
Hi Chandrima, ritika, Himadri, JyotiFirstly thank you for your comments. I realize appreciate you reading it and connecting with my experience and that of many like me.
@ Chandrima :Yes money was and continues to be a concern. It can never be the same – secure feeling like a monthly salary cheque…I have realized based on my personal experience that our career has a long term horizon. I wish there were more opportunities for women satisfying the needs of flexibility for leadership roles – else like you said rightly the model is bound to change with more and more women defining their own work identity ~
@ Ritika : I think in the recent past, there is an effort by organizations to retain women in the mainstream roles.. but finally it boils down to the immediate manager and his / her outlook which still needs a change in outlook
This is so true! you have included all the points and phases by which a person goes when he/she starts to work from home or as a freelancer. I loved the second and 4th point as meeting with people is really important. You need friends to keep you alive. Keeping a schedule is also very important many times due to un avoidable circumstances I face delay in work! so well said… 🙂
Jaya shares some useful points on her transition to self-employment. I like it that in Networking, she focuses on meeting people for intellectual stimulation and not just for a steady flow of work. Networking is crucial also to form partnerships to offer a team to a talent seeker. There is less abuse of an independent professional then. Most of all, I like her conclusion on upskilling. Most women, I’m afraid, tend to close their minds to skill enhancement as they age, and end up vegetating or offering an inferior product instead of researching further/taking a course. Money certainly takes a beating in self-employment but the trade-offs are so many that there is much prudence in working independently, whether or not one does this for children.
I am glad I found you. I Found you through FelxiMoms on Facebook.
Your experiences are of a typical entrepreneur (I can vouch for it, ‘coz I am one!).
In the initial stages, the entrepreneur has to take her time and intellect, to create a value for some one who is ready part with decent money for the value that you have created.
Most often, we try to meet the monthly expenses, then we gun for meeting a percentage of our own monthly opportunity cost (OC), then we gun for more than the monthly OC.
My 2 CENTS!
If you have come this far, NOW YOU NEED TO THINK BEYOND SELF EMPLOYED TO BUILDING AN BUSINESS ORGANIZATION.When you do that, that is when MONEY comes in many fold.
Let’s be at it!
PS: Would be eager to seeing you building an business organization, in the recent future! 🙂 All the best!
Thanks Ratan…yes maybe that the next step
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