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Careers Clinic: How do I fit a day job around kids?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I have been reading your recent articles in The Stage on the difficulty of finding flexible day jobs, and wondered if you had any advice about my own situation.

As a single parent with two children at primary school, the hours I can work, let alone perform, are even less flexible than most. I moved down to London from the north 12 years ago to pursue my acting work, so most of my family aren’t anywhere near childminding distance.

If I had known how things were going to work out relationship-wise, I might have made different choices, but the kids are settled down here, so moving back home isn’t an immediate option.

Believe it or not, acting work is still possible when it comes in – I did a play last year and my mum was able to come down and look after the kids for the two-week run, and she is happy to keep doing that when roles come up. It’s earning regular money between jobs that is the real problem.

Lots of agents would have dropped me by now, but mine remains supportive and says he is confident he can get me more gigs this year. I just need some practical suggestions for keeping things going in the meantime.

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE I spent quite a few years as a single parent myself, so your dilemma definitely resonated with me. My own son is now a fully grown adult, but the childcare situation in the theatrical world doesn’t seem to have changed anywhere near as dramatically over the past decade.

As you don’t have ongoing family support nearby and (I would assume) can’t afford full-time nanny services, there is no getting away from the fact that your options are going to be much more limited not only acting-wise but day job-wise, too.

In both spheres, the ideal situation is that you find an understanding employer and hours that suit. I often advise actors who can’t find the roles they want to create their own projects, and, in the short-term, this strategy may work for your day job, too.

I asked personal expert Jasmine Birtles for a few suggestions on flexible self-employment to start you off. “Market research is one area I would look into – the type where you ring people, knock on doors or stop them in the street. It tends to be flexible hours and in some cases you can work from home.

“I’m a big fan of dog-walking as a money-maker. In London it’s about £15 per dog per hour. You do have to be fairly regular, but again the actual hours you work can be fairly flexible. It can be worth joining an agency that needs people to fill in here and there, or join with a friend so that if you can’t make a whole day, you could find someone else to step in your shoes.

“Less regular, but good for extra cash that might go towards childcare costs, would be signing up for focus groups that happen ad-hoc in various cities around the country. It’s cash-in-hand, and they give you food and drink, too.”

There are lots of other self-employment ideas at Birtles’ Money Magpie website, so it may be a case of testing out a few to find the one that works best for you.

Obviously if you decide to add a self-employed day job to the self-employed acting job you are already doing, get some good tax advice on how your allowances will be affected and what you can claim for depending on whether you are wearing your acting or day job hat.

One encouragement I can offer you is that, even though it may seem a long time away right now, as your children get older, your availability will increase, too.

I wish you every success finding work on and off stage in the meantime.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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