Picture this: You’re working remotely while also caring for five children in your home. Now, imagine that you’re also homeschooling those children while running a business. Oh, and you also work one-on-one with your spouse, as you co-own the business together.
Does this scenario sound impossible? Well it’s not. Carrie Sharpe, a communications consultant and public speaker, started a business while raising her children. Learn how her business and remote working evolved throughout the years and what she expects remote work to be like in the years to come.
Tell me about your career trajectory. When you were young, did you grow up hoping to be a communications consultant and speaker?
I grew up wanting to become a lawyer. I earned a political science degree and got a year into law school before deciding instead to become a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t want work to keep me away from my kids, and I knew a legal career would require more time than I wanted to give. At that point I was clueless as to what career I’d eventually pursue. When our third child, Maverick, was born, he almost died from a rare bacterial infection. We spent several weeks in the NICU with him, waiting to see if he’d survive. Thankfully, he recovered and we were able to bring him home. Once we were home, people started asking us to share our story of that experience. My husband, Ryan, and I traveled the United States and Canada telling that story. A few years later, our twins came along, and we knew we couldn’t travel as much with two newborns in the house and me homeschooling the other three kids. That’s when we looked into bringing our business online and transforming it to work from home. We decided to use our education, training, and experience to teach other people what we know about communication and connecting with audiences.
What was it like to homeschool five children while starting a business?
Homeschooling five children while working from home was a crash course in time management and self-discipline for me, especially when we first started. Those skills don’t come naturally to me, and I’ve had to learn a lot and force myself to make and follow plans. However, the great thing about homeschooling is its flexibility. That means we can do schoolwork in the evenings if necessary, do work on occasional weekends, or the kids can do their schoolwork at my parents’ house if I need to travel. Homeschooling was most difficult before the kids knew how to read. During those years, I had to spend more time with them and less on my own work. Now the kids are older and that has shifted– I can spend more time on my own work because the kids need me less. They work more independently now. We’ve graduated one child and are about to graduate a second, so we’ll only have three children who are homeschooling. It’s all so much easier now.
Most traditional offices are known for being loud, but working from home with five children might even beat that. How do you manage it?
When the kids were little, it was crazy in our house. I had to mostly work at night after the kids were in bed. I always made sure we had a rest time scheduled every afternoon, though. That was when I could get work done that required quiet and the kids could nap or read quietly. That gave us all a much-needed break from each other in the middle of the day, too. Now that they’re older I try to structure my work day so that my calls predictably take place in the afternoon when the kids are doing independent work. I hang a stop sign on the door when I’m on a call so they know not to disturb me. There is still noise (sometimes more than I’d like), but after this many years we’ve found a groove that works well most of the time.
What’s it like working with your spouse?
It’s amazing synergy. Ryan is my best friend, and it’s an honor to work with him as a team. I mean that. I know that many people can’t imagine working with a spouse, but we do actually like each other and work hard to cultivate our relationship. Ryan and I are opposites in many ways, and I think that’s why we do so well together. We see things so differently, so we’re able to really come at a project from all sides. His skills complement my own (and vice versa). We each have different roles in our business, according to our own skill sets, so everything works for us most of the time. Our business is about effective communication, and communication is exactly what we use to make our business run so well.
Why do you like remote work?
I love remote work because I get to call the shots. I decide my schedule, so if I need to put my family’s needs first, I can. Because I’m working for our own business, I’m fully invested in its success. I’m challenged every day to do more and do it better. I also get to decide if I’m wearing pajamas all day, and that may be the biggest benefit of all. haha.
What are the challenges with working remotely?
There are many challenges. Self-discipline is a big one. Because there is no one telling me what to do, it’s up to me to know what to do and get enough done. It can also be isolating. I have to make sure I regularly get out of the house for networking with other business owners and professionals. The biggest challenge is probably the issue of steady income because self-employment means there isn’t a guaranteed income level each week. It’s on us to make it happen, and it’s on us to budget for when it doesn’t.
How do you structure the day to make it work? What is a typical day in the life look like for you?
Our daily schedule has changed every year, based on homeschooling needs and the needs of our business. Currently we do schoolwork (that may require me) in the mornings. In the afternoons, the kids do their independent work while I do my calls and other work on my own. In the evenings we have extracurriculars, housework like laundry and cleaning, dinners, networking events, and sometimes additional work and homework.
What does your workspace look like?
My workspace is an office in one half of our bedroom. That allows me to be near where the kids are working but still able to close the door when I need quiet. My desk is set up for video calls, with lighting and a microphone ready at all times. When our final child moves out, I plan to convert one of the upstairs bedrooms fully into an office for myself.
How do you manage projects with your clients from a distance?
I use Zoom video-conferencing to work with clients. That allows me to work with them almost as if we are together, but without having to leave home. I also use the Voxer app to send quick voice messages if we need to discuss something simple that won’t require in-depth work.
Have you ever gotten resistance from clients who don’t understand your remote work lifestyle? How did you handle this?
Over the years I’ve had to set expectations and put boundaries in place to respect my time. There have been times when clients (or others) have assumed that because I’m home I have a lot of extra time. Obviously that isn’t the case. I’ve also had to explain how to use the video-conferencing app a few times for clients who were more used to working with someone in person, but that happens less and less as time goes on. I think our country is getting more accustomed to remote work and online meetings, and I haven’t had much issue with it.
Where do you see your business in five years?
Five years from now our podcast will be launched and growing each year, and it will be a main focus of our business. We will also still be working with clients 1:1. Beyond that, it’s hard to say where we’ll be because technology and our opportunities change so fast in the online space. We may be utilizing tech then that isn’t even available today, so it will be exciting to see where and how we grow.
What is your advice for current remote workers?
Be real with yourself about the season of life you’re in. Do what you can based on that, and don’t feel guilty about whatever work you are unable to do in your current season. Your children will only be small for so long, so make them your priority then (they’ll grow up and you’ll be able to focus more on work, I promise!). No matter how much time you have to devote to your work, become a master of time management and self-discipline so you maximize that time.