How to plan your maternity leave as a freelance mum
Congratulations! You’re bringing a new life into the world. *Cue confetti!*
We know that however excited you are, having a baby is daunting. And when you add a freelance career into the mix — hello, complete unpredictability of how your child is going to impact things! — it’s a recipe for potential stress that you really don’t need right now.
The good news is, you’re not the first freelancer to start a family. Lots of us have been exactly where you are right now.
So with a little help from some other freelance parents who’ve already navigated having kids around self-employed life, here are our top tips on how to plan for maternity leave as a freelancer:
Predict the unpredictable
The one thing you can guarantee is that your future is unpredictable. You can’t be sure how maternity leave is going to pan out because you just don’t know when your baby is 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, about how your body might recover etc.
You’ve bought the buggy and the nappies and whatever else, but think about what your business needs as well. There are so many unknowns whenever you have a baby, so preparation is key, but preparing for the unknown is a huge part of that.
Think about the range of things that could occur in terms of your pregnancy, birth and the first few months after baby arrives — the kind of things you can’t control. Maybe you’ll go into labour when you don’t expect to? Maybe you’ll have a super active baby that doesn’t nap as much as you thought they would?
And then think about what you can do to prepare yourself and your business for if those things happen — risk assess! What could you do in reaction to those things to bring the risk down for you (your wellbeing!) and your business?
Let your clients know well in advance
You’ll be pleased to know there are lots of things you can control.
One of those things is making sure you communicate with your clients.
Tell them what’s going on. Tell them how much time you hope to take off, when you hope to return, if you’re going to manage your business through somebody else while you’re away, and if so, what they should expect from that process.
Your clients will appreciate the heads-up. Be sure to give them clear information about how their services will be impacted and/or any reassurance on how any work for them will continue while you’re on maternity leave. Plus, knowing that your clients are well informed will likely help you relax too, and reduce the likelihood of getting unwanted communications when your baby is here.
In the dream scenario, you not only tell your clients what to expect while you’re away, but you chat to them about their plans and lineup work with them for when you return. Oh, and make sure they pay a deposit! That way you know you’ve got the work secured, but you’ve also got some cash in your bank account while you’re looking after your baby. WINNER.
Also, try not to tie yourself down to any specific dates. Stick to flexible deadlines wherever possible. Juggling freelancing and a newborn is a bit like manoeuvring a massive Jenga puzzle — if one piece falls out, it can all go a bit wrong! So try to work with clients who are OK with flexible deadlines.
Look at your finances and what support is available
Another thing you can control? Saving as much money as possible while you’re pregnant to build up a buffer of cash.
Feeling financially stable during maternity leave is absolutely key to feeling relaxed and truly able to enjoy your time with your baby. The last thing you want is to feel stressed about money.
Now is also a good time to get on top of any outstanding payments you need to chase. Send those invoices!
You’ll also want to look into the Maternity Allowance system and what freelancers can claim when taking maternity leave. If you do want to claim Maternity Allowance, your National Insurance contributions need to be up-to-date. With this in mind, make sure you submit your tax return and pay any income tax and national insurance you owe well ahead of time. This will mean you should have, in theory, less stress claiming your Maternity Allowance.
It’s worth mentioning Frankie’s blog here on her experience of applying for Maternity Allowance. Maternity Action also have fantastic resources on maternity leave for freelancers and a free helpline.
And while you might stop working while on maternity leave, don’t forget that many of your business expenses will just carry on!
Sit down and work out which of your business subscriptions and direct debits you’ll actually still need while you’re not working. Then cancel everything you can to save yourself spending money when you don’t need to be.
Outsource where possible
You are allowed to work for ten ‘Keeping In Touch’ days without losing your Maternity Allowance. This means you can work on your business for ten days while on leave while still claiming support from the government.
Our understanding is that HMRC/DWP don’t have an issue with you making money while claiming Maternity Allowance, but they do have an issue with you actually doing the work. With this in mind, you could keep your business going by getting someone else to run it while you’re away, or you could sub-contract work to other freelancers and take a fee, or even earn money through some kind of ‘passive income’ all while on maternity leave.
If things get too much physically or mentally, or there’s a chance you aren’t going to meet a deadline before your baby makes an appearance — having trusted freelancers you can pass projects on to is also great for peace of mind as your due date approaches. Plus, if you pick freelancers you trust — rather than the client finding someone else themselves — you can rest assured they’re not going to pinch those clients off you!
Automate or batch prepare as much as you can
If you’ve got a chance while waiting for baby (ha!), now’s the time to make it as easy as possible to kick back and step away from work when the time comes.
Batch as much marketing content as possible, schedule your social media posts so people are aware of your existence when you’re offline, think about automating emails or whatever else you can do behind the scenes to keep things ticking along while you’re sat on the sofa with baby watching Homes Under The Hammer.
And don’t forget the simplest and most powerful automation of all — your Out of Office!
Put it on towards the end of your pregnancy telling people what to expect from you over the next few months and, crucially, when you hope to be back and how to book you for future work!
Be kind to yourself
Finally, lower your expectations and remember to be kind to yourself.
Don’t put any pressure on yourself to do any more than the bare minimum while on leave, and then if you do manage to do more than that — it will feel like a massive win!
Your business will still be there when you come back, promise.
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