Planning your maternity leave as a freelancer.
This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland chat about how to plan for and take maternity leave as a freelance mum thanks to a question from Detective Serena Steele AKA Anonymous.
“I’m expecting my second baby later this year. Do you have any tips on planning maternity leave (pre- and post-birth) and maybe around lining up work for 2022? I don’t want to prepare too much because I don’t know how I’ll feel after the birth. But I also don’t want to go into this without a plan!
I love the idea of taking all the time I need but I don’t know how realistic that is. I guess I’m worried I’ll have to start all over again when I come back? Help! Thanks”
Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.
Here’s what was said in this episode:
• Make a plan, but be flexible — expect the unexpected!
• Let your clients know what’s happening well in advance and make sure that they know things could change. Don’t commit to deadlines or returning on a specific date just in case.
• Look at your finances. Are there invoices you need to send or chase up? Can you put some money into savings? Can you do your tax return early so you don’t have to do it while on maternity leave? Are there subscriptions you can cancel that you won’t be using?
• Assemble a dream team of other freelancers you know and trust that you could pass work onto if you need to.
• Automate, automate, automate! Prep and schedule social media posts. Signpost people via your out of office.
• Be kind to yourself. Accept offers of help and, most importantly… take naps!
• Your business will still be there when you go back to work. Promise.
Comments on the previous episode:
[00:00:47] – Frankie
Hello. You’re listening to the Doing It for The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie, and this is Steve.
[00:00:57] – Steve
Hello! Yes, each episode we take a question from the Doing It For The Kids community. Do our best to answer it, but of course, we start each episode by looking back at the last one. Last time we were chatting about…
[00:01:08] – Frankie
… it was Claire talking about having a creative business that is no longer creative.
[00:01:13] – Steve
Yes. Joanne Cooper got in touch. She says:
“It’s a tough one and not something I think you can change overnight, but as with lots of things in life, you get what you give. I think if you showcase and talk more about the work you want to do, showing examples of your work and introducing yourself to new people as a book cover designer, then over time, this is what you will start to attract. Good luck”
[00:01:35] – Frankie
Ross Wintle says,
“I can’t help thinking that teaming up with someone who’s a dedicated techie and less creative might be helpful. I’m not freelance anymore…”
[00:01:42] – Steve
But still listening, Ross. Still listening. We’ve still got you.
[00:01:48] – Frankie
He only stopped, like, a couple of weeks ago.
[00:01:51] – Steve
He doesn’t have to listen anymore. But it is appreciated, Ross.
[00:01:54] – Frankie
“But I was often in the situation where I needed some creative design skills to team up with, maybe partnering up is a possibility, freeing you to do creative work while maintaining the existing flow of work would be helpful?”
[00:02:05] – Steve
And Laura Mingozzi-Marsh said something similar. She says:
“I would recommend forming a partnership with a freelance developer. I have a developer whom I assist with design work, and I pass him the tech side of my jobs. We present as a unit or as individuals, depending on what is right for each job. The client gets an expert in both fields, and everyone does the work they enjoy and are good at. Win win.”
Our answer to this week's question:
[00:04:01] – Steve
Episode 72. And it’s an anonymous question, so if you’re not aware of this, we don’t like to say ‘anonymous’. So we try to pick a fancy name generator detective name, because they sound just about realistic enough. Here’s some to choose from. Vicky Adams. Brittany Ace…
[00:04:18] – Frankie
[00:04:19] – Steve
Sandra Shepherd. Serena Steele.
[00:04:22] – Frankie
[00:04:23] – Steve
Okay, so this week’s question comes from Serena Steele. Serena says:
“I’m expecting my second baby later this year. Do you have any tips on planning maternity leave pre and post birth and maybe around lining up work for 2022? I don’t want to prepare too much because I don’t know how I’ll feel after the birth, but I also don’t want to go into this without a plan. I love the idea of taking all the time I need, but I don’t know how realistic that is. I guess I’m worried I’ll have to start all over again when I come back. Help.
[00:04:57] – Frankie
I would like to start this by saying…
[00:04:59] – Steve
[00:05:00] – Frankie
Oh, yeah, that’s a good point. Yeah, that’s a good one. Let’s start with that. Congratulations! Cue confetti!
I’m amazed we’ve got to episode 72…
[00:05:09] – Steve
[00:05:10] – Frankie
Well, yeah, but we’ve got to episode 72 and we haven’t really talked about this yet, but we’ve touched on it in a different way in a couple of other episodes. We haven’t actually done an episode about taking maternity leave.
[00:05:22] – Steve
So this is maternity leave for a second baby, which you did three years ago now?
[00:05:29] – Frankie
She just turned three. Yes. Serena says, “I don’t want to prepare too much because I don’t know how I’m going to feel, but I don’t want to go into this without a plan”. That’s exactly it. The one thing you can guarantee is that it will be unpredictable.
[00:05:43] – Frankie
You don’t know when they’re going to show up, you don’t know if they’re going to sleep, you don’t know anything about how you’re going to feel the second time around, how your body might feel, etc, etc, etc. There are so many unknowns whenever you have a baby, so preparing is key, but preparing for the unknown is a huge part of that.
[00:06:01] – Steve
Sometimes contemplating the way things can play out is a good enough plan, right?
[00:06:06] – Frankie
Yeah. When you have ‘proper’ businesses, they do like, risk assessments for shit, right?
[00:06:10] – Steve
[00:06:11] – Frankie
Contingency plans, right. What’s the range of things that could occur in this situation? And what are we going to do in reaction to bring the risk down? In this case, the risk of losing money or your business not surviving or whatever.
[00:06:23] – Frankie
So, yeah, I think it’s twofold. One element is to do the prep. What are the things you can control? You’ve bought the buggy and the nappies and whatever else, but do the prep for your business as well. And then risk assess. Look at what the risks are: maybe you’ll go into labour when you don’t expect to? Maybe you’re going to take longer to recover from the birth than you thought? Maybe you’ll have a super active baby that never sleeps? And then think about what you can do to prepare for those things happening. Like, what is your plan, how is your plan going to allow you to go off plan?
[00:06:56] – Steve
So what can we plan, what can we control?
[00:06:59] – Frankie
So communicating with your clients, telling them what’s going on, how much you hope to take off, when you hope to return, if you’re going to manage it through somebody else, like outsourcing, for example, what they should expect from that process… that kind of stuff.
And another major prep is saving as much as you possibly can financially. So taking on as much as your body and mind will allow while you’re pregnant to build up a buffer. That means you’ve got some savings, money-wise, in your account while you take maternity leave.
[00:07:25] – Frankie
Things we talked about in previous episodes, about batching and preparing content in your business. There was an episode we did about staying visible over the summer holidays, do you remember? Ages ago. And a lot of that applies here, you’re taking time out of your business, basically.
So in the episode we did for Ben, it was about the six weeks over some holidays, but in this instance, it’s maternity leave. But a lot of the same stuff applies around batching content, scheduling stuff, keeping people aware that you exist, so that when you do kick back into work, people are waiting for you to return.
[00:07:58] – Steve
See, a big thing to prep and a big part of this question is around how to line up work after Serena has had her baby — and clearly I’ve not had maternity leave— but comparing it to the summer holidays is a good one.
As you mentioned, what I try and do is ask regular clients what is so important that maybe we can get a head start on it so that we can finish it before the summer holidays? And what can we agree that we’re going to come back to after the summer holidays? Which feels nice because it means you know that there’s work that you’re going to come back to which is not urgent.
[00:08:31] – Steve
But you also know that there’s this big chunk of work that you’re going to do now to earn you extra money before the summer holidays and they’re happy. If you bring it up, it means the clients — even though that’s not their schedule, it’s your schedule — they can start to work to it and I think that’s why it works for the summer holidays, but I don’t see why that wouldn’t work for maternity leave, right?
[00:08:50] – Frankie
It’s a really good point about trying to confirm jobs with clients for when you’re coming back. Crucially, you want them to understand there’s flexibility there and that might be earlier or later than planned. But yeah, agreeing to having some elements of your work lined up for when you get back.
[00:09:07] – Frankie
And crucially, if you don’t already ask for at least a deposit — if not full payment up front for those jobs that you have lined up for the end of your maternity leave because having some sort of cash coming in while you’re looking after your baby — Do it. If you’re not already asking for a deposit, now is the time to introduce that idea to clients so that they pay something now. Then you have that buffer while you’re on leave and then you carry on with the rest of the projects and get paid in full at the end, once you’re back working.
[00:09:38] – Frankie
You can’t control when you’re going to go back to work necessarily, but you can control who you’re going to work with and how flexible those people are. You don’t want to commit to fixed days to return to like, ‘I’m going to work for this client in six months time on X date’.
[00:09:54] – Frankie
It’s like a massive Jenga puzzle juggling a newborn and work, and if one piece falls out, it can all go horribly wrong very quickly. So having flexibility around the jobs you do commit to is really key. So, I don’t know… be proactive in speaking to those clients that you know are super nice and super flexible and will ‘get it’ if you need to push back or even bring it forward rather than committing to work at the end of your maternity leave with people who expect you to be there.
[00:10:22] – Steve
See, a lot of this is communication, but of course we can also communicate without knowing that we’re communicating. I’m talking about the stuff which is automated. If you’re somebody who’s already doing some form of email marketing, take a look at what your automations are — what are people going to get? Because you don’t want them getting the wrong communication. You want them to know that you’re not available right now, for example, but you’re about to come back. Also the simplest form of automation — your Out Of Office.
[00:10:49] – Frankie
Definitely. When you’re taking time out for whatever reason,being upfront, transparent and just managing expectations, it just makes life so much easier. And it can also crucially tell them when you’re coming back. When can you book me? You can even put how can you book me on there.
[00:11:05] – Steve
Let’s talk about finances, getting on top of your finances. If you’re not somebody who’s on top of your finances are there invoices that you need to chase or that you need to flag up now? Can you do your tax return early?
[00:11:19] – Frankie
Right. You don’t want to be dealing with the stress of that while you’re on maternity leave. And if you are going to claim maternity allowance, your National Insurance contributions need to be up to date. So the more on top you are of your tax return and paying all your bits and bobs will mean you should have, in theory, less stress claiming your maternity allowance.
[00:11:35] – Frankie
Also, finances wise— one of the things I learned the hard way the first time I had a baby was, yes, I stopped working for clients but meanwhile, all my business expenses carried on., All my bloody direct debits kept going and I hadn’t ever sat down and worked out what they all add up to a month. And then you look at that in relation to how much my maternity allowance was, it was fairly depressing.
[00:12:00] – Steve
Such a good point.
[00:12:01] – Frankie
It’s well worth looking at what you can cancel, frankly, and sometimes you can cancel and then you end up getting a better deal when you re-sign up.
[00:12:09] – Steve
Especially if that’s Adobe, right?
[00:12:11] – Frankie
Exactly. Another thing you can think about prep-wise is outsourcing or even just asking for help. So the first time I had a baby, I have two now. I wish I listened to this, frankly, when I had my first because I had no clue what I was doing. I just kind of scrambled through, didn’t have a plan and tried to get work done during my mat leave using my KIT days and it was just messy and stressful and I didn’t enjoy it very much. Second time around, I worked until literally an hour before I had my baby.
[00:12:45] – Steve
The famous photo of you on your laptop in the hospital.
[00:12:48] – Frankie
It was in my hospital bag, my laptop. Yeah. I got massively judged by one of the midwives, but whatever. But I built in a plan, which was I tried to sign off all my jobs before mat leave started, but two jobs for whatever reason, ran over. And I had a freelancer who I know really well, who I could pass those jobs over too, if required. Like she would get fully paid for them and I wouldn’t take a commission, but you could think about that? I don’t know.
[00:13:13] – Frankie
Yeah, she’d fully take them on. I would not have the stress of having to deal with those jobs while I’ve got a tiny baby. But also, it was a freelancer that I not only trust, but she’s my friend and she’s not going to nick my clients from me.
[00:13:25] – Steve
Yeah, it’s much better for you to help the client find the person to do the work, then just say, ‘Oh, you’ll have to find somebody else.’
[00:13:31] – Frankie
Yeah, definitely. So I outsourced it that way. Also if you’re in the UK, the Maternity Allowance rules are that you get ten Keeping In Touch days so you can work on your business for ten days out of your leave while still claiming support from the government. And I’m not HMRC and I’m not an official adviser on this stuff, but my understanding is that they don’t have an issue with you making money while you’re claiming maternity allowance, but they do have an issue with you working — doing the work.
[00:13:59] – Frankie
So outsourcing and making money in your business via somebody else is fine while you still claim maternity allowance. It could literally be your partner, for example, is given an email address for your business and is dealing with your inbox, doing your admin. They could be touting for work on your behalf. They could be lining up those deposit payments while you’re still at home with the baby, like bringing in that cash.
[00:14:22] – Steve
You could either do this yourself or pay someone to keep your social media ticking over or to ramp it back up in the weeks before you come back. Then it starts to get you back in the visible eye line of your clients, if that’s the way you find your clients, be it LinkedIn or Instagram or whatever.
[00:14:41] – Frankie
I agree with everything you’ve just said, but I’m wary of advising people to actually pay someone. What I did was I handed over the work to somebody else to finish the job. She got paid and it took away the stress of it. But I wasn’t paying for somebody to manage part of my business.
[00:14:59] – Frankie
I just say that because I know how skint I was on maternity leave and the idea of, like, paying somebody else to do it just wouldn’t ever have happened. I appreciate everybody’s different, so that may work for you, but you’re totally right about the build up to going back. That time is really key. You want to be remaking those connections with clients.
So I basically went back to work in the run up to Christmas, I think it was? I designed a Christmas card and I sent it out. Basically everybody I’d ever worked with and was like, ‘hey, Merry Christmas, I just had a baby, but I’m back from this date doing X, Y and Z services. Book me’.
[00:15:38] – Frankie
But also, if you have a partner— I don’t know whether you do or what their work set up is — but Rob took, I think it was something like two or three weeks off. So he’s employed. As you probably gathered.
[00:15:48] – Frankie
If in that build up to you going back, if you have a partner and they can take some time out of their work — so they take on the baby, assuming the baby’s a bit older and you can work out a way with breastfeeding and whatever else — they take on the responsibility of caring for the kid. Then you’ve got a couple of weeks or whatever to do all that prep to get back in the game.
[00:16:11] – Frankie
Not just to start contacting people and touting for work, but psychologically to get back in that space. If your partner can take on childcare for a bit, it just gives you that time to move from one zone to another. Just get back in that headspace. You even feel like that after the summer holidays sometimes. It’s like you need to get back in the zone. So if your partner can buy you a bit of time to do that and their work allows for that, or if you have grandparents or whatever, I don’t know, that’s something to talk about.
[00:16:42] – Steve
[00:16:44] – Frankie
Passive income alert.
[00:16:46] – Steve
The thing with passive income…
[00:16:48] – Frankie
Is it’s not really passive?
[00:16:50] – Steve
Well, yeah, that’s one thing, but the other is that you do need an audience in order to sell to in the first place. So if you don’t, then it’s probably not worth your effort. Genuinely. You could put so much effort into it, but instead you could be doing client work and earning money and putting it in a pot. But if you do have an audience or you’ve already started creating that kind of thing, then yes, maybe do more of it.
[00:17:14] – Frankie
Those are all things you can think about to prep for. But ultimately the biggest thing is the mindset shift about, ‘yes, I can prep, but also it’s okay if the plan doesn’t go to plan’.
[00:17:27] – Frankie
Classic example of this is the advice I hear given all the time about… and, to be fair, some people do this! I know there are people in the group that do this, shout out to Rebecca Lismer for example. But the piece of advice that’s like, ‘it’s cool, you can still work while your children nap!’. But when you’re building a business and you’ve got small children, building it around nap times is not sustainable.
[00:17:48] – Frankie
My son stopped napping at 18 months. I think just be wary of that advice. And also, like, if they have a nap and you’ve got another kid and you just want to watch Strictly and have a cup of tea and chill out, rather than feeling you need to be like ‘doing’ the thing, answering that email during that half hour — that’s fine.
Ultimately, I guess, linked to that is just being kind to yourself, being flexible in your own mind, accepting that there’s only so much you can do and it’s just a period of your life. It will pass.
[00:18:18] – Frankie
But yes, prep, prep, prep. Be kind to yourself and lower your expectations of what you can achieve. Because that way, if you’re just expecting yourself to do the bare minimum, then if you do more than that, it feels like a massive win!
[00:18:30] – Frankie
Everybody’s experience is so wildly different. Like, if I put this question in the community now, I mean, we have. It has come up a million times in the community. It’s amazing we haven’t talked about it before.
But yeah, the range of experiences that people have is massive. The support they have, the type of business they run, what their children are like, their birthing experience and how long that took to recover from. There are so many elements of this question that are unique to you and to your family and to your business.
[00:18:56] – Frankie
While we can give you all this advice — and I hope some of it’s useful for you — never, ever try and compare what you’re doing to somebody else. You need to design a plan that works for you. Don’t try and emulate what you think you should be doing or what other people are doing. You’re doing a great job. You’re going to have a baby.
[00:19:13] – Frankie
It’s going to be amazing, and your business will be there when you get back. Promise.