How to Take Paid Maternity Leave as a Freelancer
Most freelancers work for themselves because they wanted the freedom and independence of being able to choose their own clients and set their own schedules so they can live a life they want. Freelancing comes with lots of perks a typical 9-5 doesn't . . . but it also comes with some downsides. (Self-employment tax and no group health insurance come to mind.) One other benefit most freelancers don't get: paid maternity leave.
We talked a few weeks ago about how to prepare your freelance business for your maternity leave. It's all well and good to say "I'm not working for X weeks while I recover from having a baby." It's a different story to take those weeks off and not see your bank account take a hit.
After taking a short unpaid maternity leave with my first baby two years ago, I'm taking steps to take a longer paid leave the second time around. Here's what you can do to create your very own paid maternity leave.
How to Take Paid Maternity Leave as a Freelancer
Before we can talk about how to pay yourself while you're on leave, you need to decide how much money you actually need. This is pretty easy if you're already paying yourself a standard salary. Just decide how many weeks you want to take off, then add up how much money you would normally make during that time.
Voila! It's your goal to set aside that much money before maternity leave begins.
Not every business is in a position to hit that savings goal. If you're only starting to think about maternity leave a month or two before your due date, or you've been struggling to find enough clients as it is, you can always take a percentage of your usual salary while you're on leave. Any little bit of money you can set aside is better than nothing!
Now that you know your savings goal, you can create a plan to set that money aside. These are some of my favorite ways to do just that.
Take on extra work
You know you won't be working a few months down the road, but you can earn extra money by taking on a heavier workload now. This is the main strategy I'm using to pay for my maternity leave this year.
Let all your current clients know when you're starting your leave---and add that you're available to take on additional tasks now if they have anything for you. You can also use the ever-popular scarcity tactic to let your followers know that they have a limited time to get on your schedule before you're out with your new babe. (It's not a sleazy sales strategy if it's true!)
Pros: Working ahead allows you to increase your income now, so you don't have to worry about checking emails or doing other administrative work while you're on leave. You'll be truly free to focus on your new bundle of joy.
Cons: There's no guarantee that you'll be able to round up additional work right now. If you do get any takers, you'll have to hustle and make room in your schedule to squeeze the extra work into your days. You're essentially putting in the extra hours now so that you can free up your schedule later.
Raise your rates
If you don't have the bandwidth to take on more clients (or even if you do!) this is a good opportunity to evaluate how much you charge for your work. If you can't remember the last time you raised your prices, it's probably time to give yourself that promotion.
One of the simplest ways to do this is to reevaluate your service packages and decide what you can do to offer more value without taking up more time per client. Little add-ons that are simple for you to create are a fantastic way to add that extra value to your work. If you're not comfortable raising your rates right before going on leave, you could tell your clients that your new rates will go into effect as soon as you get back. Maternity leave provides a natural break and gives your clients time to retool their budgets accordingly.
Pros: Raising your rates will obviously continue to increase your revenue after maternity leave, not just during. Higher rates also helps clients value you and the work you do.
Cons: Even though it's awkward to talk about raising prices, there aren't really any downsides to it. You may lose some clients, but in my experience, new clients who truly value your work will fill in to take their place. Just make sure you're really earning your rate increase, and don't make the price something totally unreasonable!
Many freelancers make the most of their time by subcontracting work to others in their industry and taking a percentage of the job fee. This is a good option for freelancers who have a full client list and don't have enough time to take on extra work.
Subcontracting can take some time to get set up and running smoothly, so this is something you'll want to set up sooner rather than later. Some clients also may not be crazy about you outsourcing your work. It's best to be up front about it with your clients (and write the option for subcontracting into your contracts).
Pros: The big benefit to subcontracting is that you'll free up your time and continue earning money throughout your leave. This is a perfect example of working smarter instead of harder for freelancers who have more clients than they can handle.
Cons: It can be tricky to navigate a smooth working relationship with your subcontractors. You'll have to agree to a fair and solid contract and make sure you're comfortable with the quality of their work. You'll also be placing yourself in a project management role, which means you may still be on the hook for doing some work here and there on your leave.
Create passive income
One of the most popular options for freelancers is to create an ebook, course, or other digital resource that generates passive income. This takes plenty of work up front, but it can be a fantastic way to keep money flowing throughout your maternity leave and beyond.
Pros: Not only does passive income have the potential to boost your annual revenue once your maternity leave is over, it's also a great opportunity to provide more value to your followers. As long as you have the right audience for your product and have set up automated systems to promote sales while you're on leave, your product has the potential to bring in extra money indefinitely.
Cons: Passive income isn't truly passive. It involves a lot of work up front---and there's no guarantee your product will sell, so in a worst-case scenario, that could be time wasted. There's also an initial cost to produce most ebooks or courses, so you should be confident that you'll at least earn out any investment you put into it.
Become an affiliate
Affiliate marketing is when you use a unique link to promote someone else's product and receive a commission of any sales that are made through your link. They're a popular income stream for bloggers, and they can provide a nice income boost for your maternity leave savings.
Pros: You don't have to go to the work of creating your own product to earn passive income.
Cons: You need a fairly large audience to see the most return on affiliate marketing. It also takes plenty of work to keep promoting your links without crossing the line into sleazy-sales territory. You may have to continue blogging throughout your maternity leave to keep pushing out those links.
Cut back on expenses
Earning extra money is just one way to save for your upcoming leave. The other is cutting back on business expenses and paying yourself what you've saved. Take a hard look at your current expenses and create a business budget to help you decide what can stay and what should go.
Some expenses are necessary if you're earning money, like PayPal transaction fees, but others might be superfluous if you're out on leave. Do you really need to keep your Dropbox linked up while you're not working for three months? What about pushing "pause" on the monthly retainer agreement you have with your virtual assistant? Most services can be paused and started again once you're back to work without a problem, so this is one option that's worth looking into for every entrepreneur.
What does your paid maternity leave look like?
Have you ever taken a paid maternity leave, or are you planning one now? I'd love to hear your strategy for keeping income flowing while you're away!