Balancing motherhood and full-time freelancing with Lily Ugbaja

Motherhood is not easy. Freelancing is also not easy. But these two are doable. As they say, it takes a village. As a freelancer and a mom, my village is not only composed of friends willing to drive me and my kid on an out-of-town trip when I’m too exhausted to commute. It’s also composed of fellow freelancers and mothers who inspire me and who I continuously learn from.

Balancing motherhood and full-time freelancing is all about constant learning. Lily Ugbaja, a freelance content writer for SaaS brands shares her story about being a first-time mom and balancing that with building her freelance career.

The start of a side gig

“When I started freelancing, it was supposed to be a side gig to raise money for blogging tools,” Lily Ugbaja shares. “I started out as a blogger because people said it was the most flexible way to make money from home. It also had the passive income appeal, which is great.”

Ugbaja started freelancing in 2017. She left the workforce while 8-months pregnant with an original plan to “stay at home full time and then re-enter the workforce or start a business when my kids were grown.” It started out well until she realized their finances were really stretched. After starting out as a blogger, Ugbaja shares that things changed when “a big SaaS company contacted me for a full-time role. It made me realize that my writing was worth more than I thought and that I could make a full-time living either as a freelancer or an in-house content marketer.”

Balancing motherhood and full-time freelancing

Focus is something all freelancers need to protect like it’s sacred. There is no on and off switch with focus. It takes practice and work to move from being distracted to focusing on your task. “It’s not just a few minutes of interruptions that I lose. This is mental work which means I need to grow to full concentration. It may take up to 30 mins to refocus. That’s a problem when I get interrupted again in the next hour,” she adds.

It takes a village —and a solid childcare setup

Ugbaja admits that daycare is something that really helps her balance motherhood and full-time freelancing. “Without child care, this would be impossible for me,” she says, adding that right now, with her two older kids going to preschool, she has a nanny that, comes in to care for the younger ones.”

When asked how she decided it was time to consider childcare, Ubgaja casually says it was with her second child. “She was an early mover: crawling at 4 months and walking at 9. I couldn’t strap her in a carrier or have her stay still enough to not worry about her safety. I started falling behind on deadlines because I could only work when she was asleep.”

It is things like these that you can’t avoid as a mother. To make things work between motherhood and freelancing, it’s important to develop a childcare setup that works for you. At the end of the day, you need to be able to breathe and take care of yourself too! To make sure you’re at your best for both your kids and your business.

Business and life responsibilities

Speaking of business, like any freelancer, experience taught Ugbaja a lot. She shares how she wished she understood early on that, skills don’t sell themselves. You need to focus on marketing as much as upskilling.” She adds that it’s also important to know that “there will be bad fits and it’s not your fault.” “I got so hung up on why I wasn’t perfect for a gig when I was starting out. Forgetting that there were gigs I was perfect for too.”

The takeaway: Be kind to yourself. You’re learning as you’re going. You’re learning as you’re growing your business. Not to mention you’re a mom. Relax.

“I think the biggest thing about motherhood that has affected my business is the responsibility. It’s not just me who’ll live on the streets or go hungry if I fail to bring in an income.” Ugbaja shares, further adding that “that sense of responsibility clouds my judgment and makes me give a backseat to my long-term goals sometimes.” There’s always a lot going on when you’re both a mom and running your own freelance business. Some things need to be in the backseat for a bit and that’s OK.

What Lily makes and how it all worked out

It’s a wide range. Sometimes it’s $6k, sometimes it’s $12k,” Ugbaja shares when I asked about her monthly income. “I didn’t get to the $5k mark until around this time last year. That’s 4 years after I started freelancing. But I also didn’t take freelancing seriously until last year — I kept switching between blogging and freelancing and even went full-time.”

And when it comes to how many hours she puts in every week, she says, “would it be crazy to say I don’t know for sure. I don’t have a routine so I can’t tell. But it feels to me like I work the full 40 hours (maybe more).”

Balance sounds overrated and some may not believe in work-life balance. Seth Godin has a very interesting perspective when he says, “balance is a really tricky word, because I don’t think there’s such a thing. There’s just time. There’s just where you are and what you do.”

Whatever your perspective is on work-life balance, one thing’s for sure: being a mom and growing your freelance business full-time is possible. You don’t have to do it alone. You will fail, and you will most definitely learn. A final piece of advice from Lily Ugbaja: “Clients can be flexible with deadlines. Don’t accept a deadline just because you think the client won’t accommodate a longer one. Give yourself ample time to complete good work and to feel good about it.”

Tammy Danan
Tammy Danan

Tammy Danan is a storyteller who reports on environmental and social issues. She also covers productivity, creative pursuits, and the future of work. Her words have appeared in VICE, Audubon.org, ZEKE Magazine, Shutterstock, Toggl, among others. You may find her on Instagram @SlowFreelancing.