POP.

The return to work after having kids can be a time of great internal conflict. Of nerves. Of excitement. Of guilt. Of no guilt. Of logistics. Of crazy money spent on childcare. Of questioning “Is it worth it?” or “When can I start?”.

This week saw my first client meeting as Mrs Robinson since having my boy 16 months ago.  I have blogged a bit and been working from home in the last few weeks but I’ve not been in front of  REAL LIFE HUMAN clients in that time.

It marked the physical start of going back to work for me and of my cosy maternity bubble bursting.

POP.

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My boy in a bubble

Dom asked me the other day what the early years of motherhood have felt like for me.

The only way I can describe it is as being me, but under chicken wire.

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You can see me and I can see you.  I don’t seem any different yet I am slightly tethered by this invisible mesh.  It does loosen, gradually. Then one day you realise that you are beginning to float again. You want to grab on to a balloon and soar but you can’t quite. You feel like a different version of the you before. Not better, not worse. Just different. Responsible, I guess.

He looked mildly confused so we turned the telly on.

Even though working for myself has its advantages (namely the luxury of flexibility and not having an adult boss, just 2 mini ones) it doesn’t mean you avoid those feelings when starting up again. Oh no, far from it.  You are on the frontline of everything.

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My bosses. They are as tough as they look.

Like most things, it’s down to confidence.  Something that can take a serious trouncing when you’ve been bringing up baby.

There are no appraisals or 360s at home to let you know you’re on the right track.  If a colleague were to poo their pants in your presence, sometimes several times, on a daily basis you would probably, hopefully, lodge a complaint with HR.  But you have been lovingly wiping it up for the last X months.  Your barometers of survival and success have changed and that’s OK. Just getting through the day in one piece can be enough.

Here are a few ideas to get you work ready when the big day comes:

1. Boost your confidence – acknowledge your OLD skills

Phoebe Lovatt of the Working Women’s Club suggests “swapping your to-do list for a done list” as a way to get motivated.

This means listing all the things you’ve made happen in the last 6, 12, 18 months (That includes keeping a small person alive) and appreciating all that you have achieved. If you’ve been OOO for a while, read over old emails, it always really surprises me what I’ve written in the past but it also reminds you that it is all there inside you when you need it.

Dig your CV out while you’re at it and reacquaint yourself with all that you’ve got under your belt so far. See?

2Boost your confidence – acknowledge your NEW skills

Parenthood has flung a lot at you. It’s the steepest of learning curves.  I was thinking about the types of roles in the advertising industry I could recruit for and realised I’ve done most of them myself in the last few weeks alone. I suddenly felt very qualified:

MD – Right team, our goal this week is to get to school before they ring the bell. There will be bonuses for those who make this happen.

FD – Sorry darling we don’t have enough pennies for that *insert horrible lump of plastic branded with Frozen* today.

Planner – My insight is that my small ‘clients’ are fickle. Planning is often wasted.

Media Planner – In Q2 they will move from Peppa Pig to Ben and Holly before moving on to Paw Patrol in Q3

Creative – Wow this cardboard tube is a telescope/ a mast/ a horsey/ a really nasty weapon in your hands. Let’s put it in the recycling now.

Art Director – Let’s make a lovely card for Nana’s birthday

Creative Director – The card is lovely, darling, but I think it needs glitter

Client – 10 minutes later. I hate glitter.

Copywriter – See PR

PM – I now have an online colour-coded-calendar-per-human in the house. Gross I know.

PR – Thank You/ Birthday/ Christmas cards x 1 million

Social – An Instagram account devoted entirely to pictures of my sprogs. You don’t have to look.

Receptionist – Sure, I’ll take that parcel for number 20.

Cleaner – Noses, bums, tears and surfaces mainly.

Canteen – 3 meals a day, 7 days a week. Though I do outsource to chez Nana, chez Grandpa, Wagamamas, Nandos, Pizza Express* delete according to emotional state/ how near it is to payday.

Procurement – I have joined CostCo. It has come to that.

3. Childcare

Having this right and feeling happy about where your babe is spending their days is basically key to your at-work peace of mind.

So many things to consider:

Distance/ Flexibility/ Opening Hours/ COST/ Childminders/ Nurseries/ Nannies/ Au Pairs/ VIBES VIBES VIBES

You know the deal and what is most important for your needs.  My only advice would be is to go and see them ALL.  You might think you want a nursery environment and then find a gem of a childminder that just FEELS right and vice-versa.

Toptip: Your local authority should have a list of Ofsted registered childminders in your area on their website.

4. Plan A, B,  C and D…

Getting the logistics sorted is also key to you being as relaxed as possible when life does its thing, which no doubt it will.

Get a back up childcare plan or two in case your childcare goes wrong or your little one gets ill in those first days back.  Just knowing which friends and family members are on stand-by/ have a front door key is a life-saver.

For the first couple of weeks fill the fridge with easy stuff; stir-fries, pizza and salad and packed lunch bits.  Bits and bobs are easy to pick up on the way home but you don’t want to be doing big food shops or having to think about what you’re going to eat whilst you’re getting settled.

4. The night before shit-mess

I have learnt by trial and error that doing stuff before you go to bed, however annoying it seems at the time, will make you love yourself for it in the morning.

I bought 4 of these magazine racks from Tiger and we have one each lined up under the stairs.  I chuck my daughter’s school shoes, cardi, book bag and PE kit in hers. I chuck nappies, wipes, shoes, hats, a spare pair of clothes in my son’s. My handbag, keys, purse, sunglasses etc in mine and it has so far avoided the inevitable morning screams of “Where are your shoes?” Dom has not used his yet under claims he doesn’t want his wallet at kid level. But I keep putting his shoes in it. All in good time.  Plus I enjoy asking anyone that will listen, “have you looked in the box?”

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Easy, Tiger.  I wish this was my house but it’s not.

6. Look good, feel good.

Yes I know this is shallow but I was totally flummoxed by this. I realised that I have lived in a uniform of Joni Jeans and a stripy t-shirt for the best part of 2 years plus my body shape has changed and I don’t even know what I like anymore. So when it came to my meetings last week I didn’t know where to start.

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I put something on that I thought was a bit Joan Holloway and then caught my reflection and realised I was more Ma’am than Madmen.

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I spoke to previous #mumbossofthemonth Caroline Mcleod Smith of Style Bureau – she says:

“Invest in quality timeless pieces in plain, neutral colours and then add the wow factor through striking outer layers, statement shoes and bold accessories…think classic black tapered trousers and cream blouse with the addition of an on-trend tweed cocoon coat, block heel pumps and bold colour tote bag. Those finishing pieces will show you’re totally on it, even though you got ready in 5 minutes flat amid mayhem.”

7.  Flex

I am watching in awe at the moment as Mother Pukka goes on her #FlexAppeal crusade for flexible working for parents.  It’s something I want to incorporate into the roles I recruit for and the clients I work with.

But how do you even start the conversation with your employer if you would like to work a bit more flexibly?

Clair Milligan – Head of Talent and Talent Development, Next Tech Girls Champion and Diversity & Inclusion at top city recruitment firm Empiric says:

“Flexible working can mean lots of different things – remote working, adjusted hours, working a set number of hours over a week at different times (as long as deliverables are met), job sharing…

Think of the work that you do in terms of deliverables and not hours served.
Can what you do be done remotely, outside of the standard 9-5?
If it can’t, can you perform a different role in the company that allows for flexibility?
Talk to other people (colleagues, friends, family) who might have already worked flexibly and how they went about doing it successfully.
When approaching the conversation, have as many ideas and options as you can about how it could work.
Avoid deciding that the answer will be “no” before you’ve even asked.  We often limit ourselves because we think we already know the outcome before giving it a chance. And if you don’t ask, you don’t get!
And remember nothing is permanent. Things change and the needs of your family will change over time. This is flexibility for now not and necessarily forever.”

 

8.  And finally, be nice to yourself.

Get some rest.   It is very tempting to use the time after the kids are down and eating has happened to OD on social media.  Weddings of people you have not even met are not for your tired eyes.  And “just one more” of your current box-set might feel like life or death at the time  but not so fun at 0530 the next morning when the small-human alarm clock goes off. I am the worst at this. Must. Try. Harder.

Make peace with your guilt in whatever form it takes.  Most mums I know feel guilty at some point, whatever their choices. If you work you feel guilty because you are not there. If you are there you feel guilty when you stick another DVD on.  You might feel guilty because you don’t feel guilty. I have even heard of grandparents feeling guilty in hindsight that they weren’t as hands on and child-centric as our generation. You can’t win.   I don’t have the answer for this but just try and enjoy the view wherever you are.

And just remember. You made a brain. And a vagina or a penis.  With your body. Stick that on your CV and smoke it.

More coming from Mrs Yellow soon.  Please find me on Instagram to see the latest posts.

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Forget Muth-R, you need MUSH

So, remember a couple of months ago I wrote a piece about The Minefield of Making Mum Friends?

It struck a chord with so many people, got shared around the world and lots of people got in touch to say how they could relate. I heard from Dads in the same boat and even randoms on Facebook added me saying that they would be my friend.  Thanks guys, really.

I signed off by saying that I was going to launch an (imaginary) app called Muth-r.  Think Tinder or Grindr for Mums.  This too got a positive response with some kind folk wishing me every success with it. Gawd love ’em.

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Then a funny thing happened.

This week I went along to a brilliant Mother’s Meeting event.  It was all about networking and one of the companies that got introduced to the group was Mush.

Now this is where it gets really exciting… because Mush is my imagined app in THE REAL WORLD.

It actually exists and it is thriving. Download it here.

How it works:

 

The two clever brains behind it are ex-advertising MD Sarah Hesz and ex city-broker Katie Massey-Taylor; both from South-West London.

 

Sarah Hesz and Katie Massey-Taylor, developers of the new app Mush.

Sarah Hesz and Katie Massey-Taylor, developers of the new app Mush.

 

They became friends last year, at an admittedly lonely time for them both, when Sarah approached Kate in a rare act of social bravery.

I caught up with Sarah earlier to find out how it all came about.

Why do you think making mum friends is so hard?

It shouldn’t be, but it is.  When you have a small child and you’re knackered it’s hard enough getting out of the house, let alone making conversation with a stranger.  At groups you often know what the kid is called weeks before you find out the mum’s name.

Asking for someone’s number takes courage and or desperation.

I had seen Kate a few times in the playground, she looked normal, we had kids the same age and I needed someone to get through this tough stage with.  I asked her for her number with very little pre-amble and we became great friends.

The funny thing is, we live so close and have Facebook friends in common that it should have been way easier to make an introduction.

So Mush is about making it easier for Mums to connect.

What was the lightbulb moment?

It was a Friday afternoon, we went out for a hectic tea with our four kids at Pizza Express to celebrate that we had kept each other sane through the winter and the births of our second children. At least one bottle of prosecco was involved and the idea was hatched.

How long did it take you from idea to launch?

That initial idea came in March 2015.  We then went through the process of research to see if it existed already; we thought it must do but it didn’t. We talked to people about the idea and they seemed to like it.  We also knew we needed an app which we needed to raise funds for.

We made a really budget website, put 3 posters up around the playgrounds near us saying “Mums of East Sheen, let’s do this together.” And it worked; people signed up for it.  Off the back of that we looked for potential investors.  We secured investment at the start of this year and launched at the end of April.

How did you manage it with the kids?

We had no childcare in the beginning so were pulling in favours all the time.  Once we had some funding we got help so we could dedicate our time properly.  And now it is our job 4-5 days a week but with the flexibility to do nursery drop-offs and park time before tea.

And why the name Mush?

We have a few reasons.  In truth we wanted a word that meant something to mums and mush is something we all know with baby food etc plus we were probably weaning at the time.  It also has other meanings such as face and friend.  Or it could even be Mum’s Social Hub.

Are you both on it and using it?

Absolutlely.  I had a great playdate last week with a woman who, coincidentally, lives on a parallel street.  We had enormous fun puddle-jumping on a rainy afternoon.

What has been the feedback so far?

It has been fantastic.  We have been going for a month and have 11,500 users already.  Mums are making connections and that is extraordinarily satisfying for us.

We have had a lot of positive feedback from the media too:

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There is so much to do now.  Someone asked me the other day if I was going to have any more kids and I said that I have just had a baby. This app is our baby and it is keeping us very busy.

And finally,  what advice would you give someone with an idea they want to get off the ground?

Believe in your idea, people are going to pick it apart: the trick is to stay committed to your vision but open to feedback and advice.

And with that, I have downloaded the app.  It is really easy and pleasing to use; especially choosing the words to describe what you like to do with your kids and in your non-mummy life.   

I feel a bit furtive and nervous as I make a profile and start checking out other mums but it is also quite exciting to have a nose and see who you like the look of.

I have chosen carefully and sent a message to one mum who looks like my mates, I suppose. Plus she has kids the same age and has put similar interests as me.

We’ll see if she feels the same. I  do hope she doesn’t think I’m mushing into things. (Sorry, not sorry.)

Download the free app here.

 

I Wanna Tax You Up

Whatsapp is where my non-small-child-related life happens these days.

Plans are made, photos are shared, advice given, births announced, even high drama can occur when friends flounce out of heated conversations. Seeing “XXX has left the conversation” has made me gasp out loud before and squeal “Noooo.”

It is my go to app when it seems to be day of wiping noses, floors, bums and surfaces on repeat and I need some grown up interaction.

One of the groups I’m in is with a handful of my uni girls. We’re all mums and, coincidentally, in the last few years we have all started our own businesses. (Big Up TropicFox, JennyMac and Purple Door Media)

Our chats are eye-wateringly honest and we cover lots of interesting ground so I was quite surprised when one day our chat turned to the very unsexy subject of tax.

What quickly transpired was that none of us really know our arse from our elbow when it comes to what best suits our companies’ needs in the tax department. And we didn’t even know what questions we should be asking.

And, after a quick Facebook strawpoll, I realised we were not alone.

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So I met up with the brilliant Barefoot Accountant, Ele Stevens, to quiz her on the basics.

Hertfordshire-based Ele is a #MumBoss herself and set up Barefoot just over a year ago after working as an accountant for 20 years in industry.  She specialises in working with creative people in creative industries.

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Photo by Jeanette Lendon

 

She has a down-to-earth, approachable and jargon-free approach to finances and creates an environment where there is no such thing as a silly question or idea. Which is lucky.

Ele points out that, “Not knowing makes people feel silly. Lots of very intelligent people are clueless when it comes to finance and that’s where I can help. I let you get on with what you’re good at whilst I do the numbers so you don’t have to worry.”

“Burying your head in the sand is very common”, she says, “One client hands me a huge carrier bag of that year’s receipts and another won’t even open brown envelopes.”

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Ok, so we are definitely not alone.

Here’s our very basic guide for freelancers and small business. Please do chat to an accountant before you get started.

What is a Sole Trader?
You. Not an employee. You work for yourself. You invoice your clients and complete a tax return.

What is a Limited Company?
A separate legal entity to you. It can be beneficial in certain circumstances as some large companies will only deal with limited companies. Whether or not it is beneficial to you will completely depend on your personal circumstances.  In terms of liability, the company is limited to the funds within it, so it’s not your personal money.

Can Sole Traders and Limited Companies be VAT registered?
Yes.

Why do you become VAT registered?
If your turnover exceeds £83k in any 12 month period then you have to be VAT registered by law.

What does it mean?
When you invoice for your services you add 20% VAT which is then paid to HMRC minus any recoverable VAT on expenses. This means you can claim VAT back that you have paid on goods purchased for work such as laptops etc

Can you be VAT registered even if you earn less than £83k?
Yes. If all your clients tend to be VAT registered and it won’t impact your prices then it can be worth it because you can reclaim the VAT on the purchases that you wouldn’t be able to claim otherwise.

Additionally, if you are selling goods that are zero-rated (i.e. with no VAT, like the majority of food items or books) you can also reclaim the VAT back on purchases without having to add VAT onto your invoices.

There is also a flat rate VAT scheme that you can opt for if you are VAT registered which would benefit a business with less than £150k turnover who makes less VAT purchases. It’s worth talking to an accountant about this as different industry sectors have reduced percentages.

At what salary should a Sole Trader consider changing to a Limited Company?
When you start paying 40% tax (£43k salary in 2016-2017) you could start thinking about it. There is more responsibility attached to being a company director and you will pay more in accountancy fees so do seek professional advice at this stage.

How long have I got before I make myself known to HMRC?
As a Sole Trader you need to register with HMRC within 3 months of starting to trade. You then need to complete a tax return by 31st January. You can do this from April 6th for the previous year and then be free from the worry.

As a Limited Company you need to register with Companies House before you start trading as a limited company and HMRC within 3 months. I would recommend having an accountant if you can afford it as it will save you money as they know the tax efficiencies you can benefit from. It also frees you up to run your company rather than researching all of that.

You may wish to register a dormant Limited Company with Companies House but trade as a sole trader. This protects your name and ensures it is available if/when you decide to incorporate

What about Childcare? Are their monetary benefits even for people that work for themselves?
Yes. If you are a limited company you can set up a childcare voucher scheme where you can pay approximately £243 of your childcare through your pre-taxed salary. Which means you are not being taxed on that £243.

Have a look at this Better Off Calculator and see what that would mean for you.

Mrs Yellow has heard a rumour that the government is GIVING AWAY FREE money. This isn’t true, is it?
Yes it is. If you are a Sole Trader or a Company Director you may be entitled to Working Tax Credits which can be very useful if you are setting up a business and are on a low income. They are salary-based and if you have a high earning partner you may not be eligible but it is worth checking out.

There are also Child Tax Credits which are different from child benefit. It is another top-up for low-income homes and is again based on your circumstances.

How do I know if I am eligible for these tax credits?
If it’s your first year in business you will need to provide HMRC with details of your previous year’s earnings plus what you expect to earn in the next financial year and why this might be different. If you massively miscalculate you will pay back any credit you have been overpaid but this will be judged the following year when your previous year’s accounts are submitted and processed.

If you are already up and running, if you submit your tax return in April you will have a good idea of what you are entitled to.

And what about Maternity Pay if you work for yourself?
As a Sole Trader you may be entitled to Maternity Allowance.

As a director of a Limited Company you may be entitled to Maternity Benefit.

Either speak to an accountant or the Department of Work and Pensions or apply online here.

How do you go about choosing the right accountant?
Whatever industry you are in, talk to colleagues and find out who they are using and who they are happy with. Get as many recommendations as possible.

I personally recommend using someone who is familiar with your sector as there are certain quirks with HMRC for certain industries. I have made creative industries my niche so I can keep on top of the changes in legislation and stop my head from exploding.

Large accountancy firms will probably have specialists per sector and some accountants don’t specialise at all.

And how do you know they’re good?
Check that they are qualified with an approved body. There are different levels of qualification and a simple guide can be found here .
Go with recommendations.
And find someone you feel comfortable with. You need to be able to ask silly questions and not feel silly.

It’s a really important relationship that can help you succeed and grow your business.

And, finally, any hacks that can make your life easier?
Use a cloud book-keeping system like XERO. It hooks up with your bank feeds, your accountant can access it remotely and once you have got your head round it, it makes life so much easier.

Also just get into the habit of writing everything down, preferably in a spreadsheet.

Keep every receipt and keep mileage logs if you drive. You will pay less tax as your expenses can be used against your tax.

Use an expenses tracker app too if you can. You scan your expenses receipts as you incur them and some even upload those to a cloud accounting system too.

You just need to find a way that works for you.

Who is your dream client?
Someone that does their tax return in April. It’s not only great for me, it means you can be smug for nearly a whole year and not have a panic in January. Oh, or Frank Turner.

 

So that is what we all need to do, AIM FOR APRIL and win 10 months of smugness to lord over our friends struggling with Dry January and Tax Returns on 31st January. 

I’m really going to try and do this. No really, I am.

 

To get in touch with Ele, visit www.thebarefootaccountant.co.uk

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Photo by Arpita Shah