How to Prepare for Maternity Leave as a Freelancer
I'm due with Baby #2 in August---exactly two years after Hadley came along. I've learned quite a bit about the work-at-home mom life since then. As more of my friends are starting their own families, I've found myself in a lot of conversations about making mamahood work with the freelance lifestyle. Working from home with your baby may sound like a dream, but it's not always as idyllic as you'd imagine. Over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing some of what I've learned about being a WAHM---specifically about the transition time as you navigate the tricky world of maternity leave as a freelancer.
How to Prepare for Maternity Leave as a Freelancer
I had no idea what to expect when I was pregnant with Hadley. I figured I'd need some time to adjust to motherhood after she was born, but I didn't think working alongside a baby would be that bad. (More on that little tidbit of delusional thinking in a few weeks.) Still, I knew I wanted to take maternity leave. My income was bonus money for our household, so I planned on six weeks of unpaid leave.
It wasn't the worst plan . . . but it could've been so much better. Now that I'm on round two of mamahood, I've been able to take simple steps to make my business transition into maternity leave much smoother.
So what can you do to prepare for maternity leave as a freelancer? Luckily your new baby is giving you nine months to figure that that out. ;) These are seven things every self-employed mama should consider when it comes to maternity leave.
1. Set a maternity leave schedule
Do you plan on working up until your due date? How long do you want to be on leave? These are questions every freelancing mama-to-be needs to think about. It may seem easier to wing it, but that's a surefire way to end up sitting in a hospital bed with a newborn on one side and a phone full of inbox notifications in the other. Having a plan gives you the freedom to prepare your business and take a guilt-free maternity leave.
Looking back at my own maternity leave, six weeks was NOT enough time for me to adjust to life as a mom and get my hormones under control. Every woman bounces back from pregnancy differently, so six weeks may be a perfect timeframe for you. (I know some who can't wait to get back to work!)
If this is your first baby, my recommendation is to plan for more time than you think you need. You can always ease back into work earlier if you feel up to it.
2. Crunch the numbers
Obviously we'd all prefer to take a paid maternity leave, but you need to crunch the numbers to decide if that's feasible for you. You may not be able to pay yourself your regular salary, but if you cut back on expenses and plan ahead now, you might be able to give yourself a percentage of your usual pay.
Taking paid maternity leave as a freelancer is a loaded topic. Stay tuned for the next post in this series when we'll hash out how to pay yourself while on leave!
3. Talk to your clients
Many freelancers put off telling their clients about maternity leave because they're afraid of losing the work. Bad idea! You should give your clients the same courtesy you'd want from someone you work with. The sooner they know, the better they can prepare for your absence. (Some of that preparation may mean front-loading your work---which could help you take paid leave!)
As soon as you're comfortable sharing your pregnancy with the world, give your clients a heads up about when you're due, how long you're accepting new projects, and when you'll be returning from leave. This is the perfect chance to encourage them to plan ahead and book a spot on your schedule sooner rather than later.
This is also the time to set polite yet firm boundaries with your clients. You'll probably get some well-meaning people who want you to do "one last thing" after your leave has technically started, or who expect an email response two weeks after you deliver your little one. Let them know what level of communication to expect from you while you're on leave, and stick tight to the maternity leave schedule you've set.
4. Expect the unexpected
We have very little control when babies are concerned. They don't show up on their due dates, they cause us to go on early bedrest, they're colicky and clingy when they should be napping. The key to not letting your pregnancy and maternity leave turn into an unnecessary stress-fest is to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
For example, what will you do if your baby comes three weeks early---and you haven't wrapped up an important client project? What happens to your business if you find yourself on mandatory bedrest and monitoring in the hospital?
These are the steps I take to make sure my business is ready for anything.
- Update your cancellation policy in all upcoming contracts. Make sure it allows for you to cancel the contract without advance notice in the case of an emergency and decide what will happen as far as refunds go. Just don't get stuck in a contract that requires you to stick to a tight deadline no matter what!
- Arrange for backup. Have a freelancer in your industry---whose work you know and trust---on standby to take over any projects you find yourself unable to complete. Only about 5% of women deliver on their due date, so this is especially important in the last few weeks of your pregnancy.
5. Decide what to do about your blog
I look at my maternity leave as a chance to step away from blogging, but not all business owners like to take a blogging break. Other options include refreshing posts from the archives, inviting guest bloggers to cover the gap, or working ahead to schedule posts to go live while you're on leave.
All of these strategies require thinking ahead. That means the best time to prep your blog for maternity leave is right now. (Trust me, you don't want to be writing six weeks of blog posts in the two days before your baby arrives.)
6. Automate everything
The last thing you want to do when you're in a sleep-deprived haze and covered in spit-up is send yet another email letting a prospective client know you're currently on maternity leave. When you put your business on autopilot, clients will be more likely to respect your boundaries and see you as a true professional.
The easiest way to let website visitors know you're not taking on work right now is to put up a note about your maternity leave on your Work with Me page. Include when you're coming back and how new clients can get on your schedule. Bonus points for including an opt-in form that lets visitors sign up for your waiting list!
You an also automate the rest of your online presence. Write your email autoresponder ahead of time so you only have to activate it when you feel those first contractions hit. Keep your business in the loop on social media by scheduling updates to go out ahead of time (Edgar and Boardbooster are my favorites for this!). People won't mind if you respond to their social media posts a few days later than usual, and it will keep you from going radio silent for your entire leave.
7. Evaluate your business goals
If there's anything you really want to accomplish in your business this year, now is the best time to work on it. You won't have as much time to spend on big business goals once the baby is here, so this is your opportunity to make things happen.
Prioritize one or two goals that still feel reasonable to accomplish before your due date. You'll feel like superwoman when you look back on your year and realize you created a tiny human and kicked butt on your business goals.
Feeling overwhelmed? Grab your free checklist!
You don't need me to tell you that it's a lot of work to run a business, and it's a lot of work to be a parent. It can be overwhelming to put the two together! That's why I created a free checklist to help you mamas-to-be get your business ready for maternity leave.
What are your best tips for preparing for maternity leave as a freelancer?
Got any questions you'd like answered in my maternity leave series? Leave them in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.