“At that moment, with no plan, I just quit.”
When Sarah Fernando, 33, was told by her boss that she had run out of sick days and would have to come back to work while one of her toddlers was in the hospital battling pneumonia, she knew it was time make a drastic career move.
Six months after sending in her resignation letter, Fernando’s brother mentioned his startup needed someone who could do some marketing work.
“I immediately said, ‘I can do those things. I can be that person,’” she said. “That’s how these things start: someone you know says they need something, you’re good at doing those things, and you help them out.”
Fernando quickly realized she could leverage her professional skills to establish a career that would allow her to be fully present as a parent, partner and person.
But first, some boundaries.
1. Establish clear working hours.
“I knew if I was going start down this path, I had to set the tone from the very beginning that I am only available for certain hours because, right now, work isn’t the most important thing,” she said. “My family is.”
Before Fernando signed her first contract as a freelancer, she told the client that her working hours were 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This schedule allowed her to be fully present with her twin sons in the mornings as they did their routine. By closing her laptop at 3 p.m., she had the flexibility to go through their often-extensive nighttime routine.
In establishing her firm working hours, Fernando also learned an important work culture lesson: Not all companies understand boundaries are necessary for employees to be their most productive selves.
“Clients will still try to book meetings outside of my working hours, typically when it’s their internal culture to want something done right away,” she said. “There’s always a balance to strike between keeping the client happy and protecting your boundaries, but I abide by the mantra: ‘Your lack of planning is not my emergency.’ “
2. No emailing after work.
The key to setting boundaries is keeping them, Fernando added. If an email comes in outside of established working hours, do not respond. For those who have spent time working in the traditional 9-to-5 culture, leaving an email unread may not come easily.
“Most nights, checking email isn’t even on my mind because I’ve just gone through the tornado that is the evening routine with two kids and then I’m ready for bed myself,” she said.
When it comes to networking, Fernando discovered success can come simply from word of mouth. Thanks to the strong work she did at the startup, the founder introduced her to one of the company’s investors who needed help with marketing. While she was working with the investor, she connected with another mom on LinkedIn who happened to post about the consulting work she was doing. A direct message and a conversation later, Fernando was consulting for her, too.
Today, Fernando is a marketing director with fivefoottwo marketing, a woman-founded marketing collective comprised almost entirely of freelancers and consultants. The collective does the legwork of finding clients and connecting them with the freelancers. Because the collective knows Fernando’s rates and hours, they only connect her with clients whose projects are a good match for her.
4. Just start.
When it comes to pursuing work as a freelancer, Fernando’s advice is to start by reaching out to professional connections on LinkedIn and asking if they have a project they could use some support with.
“This industry is a major game changer for moms, and the beauty of it is you can start anywhere, at any time,” she said. “Freelancing has helped create a better overall balance for our family, allowing us to share the parenting and professional workload and still have energy for our kids.”