If you’re of a certain age (and you want to have children), one of the things that female freelancers have to think about is how their business will be affected when they go on maternity leave.
On 31st May 2018, we welcomed baby Maya into the world. And as I neared to her due date and braced myself for a major life change, there were lots of practical things I had to think about. How would I survive financially without an employer paying me maternity pay and what direction would my freelance work take once I had a baby?
I know I’m far from being alone in this situation. I’ve read many forums and online discussions about the financial challenges that freelancers can face when they go on maternity leave.
So, in support of all the other freelance mums out there, here are the top 5 things I found the most challenging as a freelancer in the lead up to having my baby, along with what I hope are some handy tips and info for anyone who’s in the same boat.
If you’re also a freelance journalist or writer, or simply work for yourself, and have some of your own thoughts and tips, feel free to share them in the comments below.
5 challenges for freelancers going on maternity leave
The lack of financial security
As you may know, the Statutory Maternity Pay you receive from the government when you’re self-employed is just £145.18 per week (As of April 2018). Don’t get me wrong, I’m so grateful that we live in a society where pregnant women can claim for any kind of financial support. But I know I won’t be the only freelancer who will find it tricky when their income suddenly takes a dive. For the first time in my life, I am looking at my ‘office job’ friends who get hefty maternity pay from their employers with envy.
I’ve read all sorts of threads and blog posts on ‘how to prepare for maternity leave’. And many freelancers have talked about creating a sort of maternity/baby fund in the lead up to their due date so they have some cash to fall back on while their career is on hold.
The reality is, the freelance life is unpredictable, so saving for your maternity leave can be tricky. But if there’s any way you can plan ahead and put some cash aside, it is obviously worth it!
Not knowing when to finally stop working
I talked about the issue of being a freelancer and never being able to switch off in this post. And the conclusion I came to was that every freelance travel writer needs to learn to switch off from time to time. Otherwise, you will go insane. When it comes to knowing when to stop working and officially start your maternity leave, the struggle, again, is oh so very real. Perhaps you’re super organised and you’ve got the baby fund (mentioned above) all sorted, you’ve finished all your deadlines a month ahead of your due date and you’re disciplined enough to say enough is enough on a set time.
But for many of us, establishing an official day to start maternity leave can be really hard. After all, you don’t have an agreed date with your employer and you are your own boss so it’s your own responsibility to decide when to stop.
During my third trimester I had week where I felt super-motivated and able to take on the world, followed by weeks where I’ve collapsed into a fatigued, emotional wreck. I’d slow down and then I’d be riddled with guilt that I’m not working enough, telling myself “I’ll just squeeze in one more commission’.
From around 36 weeks onwards, I realised enough was enough and pressed the pause button on any new commissions.
I’ve heard from other freelancers who stopped working a month before their due date and I’ve spoken to others who worked right up until the day their baby was born.
Stopping work too early and missing out on paid work versus starting new projects too late and letting down clients is a genuine dilemma.
My advice to other freelancers would be listen to your body, slow down your workload gradually and above all, remind yourself that your wellbeing (and the wellbeing of your baby) is more important than money. Allow yourself some time off before the baby arrives!
The fear of ‘being forgotten’
One of the reasons I probably found it so hard to start maternity leave was the fear of ‘being forgotten’ and losing clients. Freelance travel writing and journalism is competitive enough as it is. If I go off the radar for six to nine months, will editors and clients forget me all together?
In the same way that you’ve got to have a word with yourself about the importance of time off, I also realised that the fear of being ‘forgotten’ can be managed. While I’ve genuinely lost sleep over the fact that I haven’t been able to blog as often as I’d like recently (and subsequently, my blog traffic might plummet to zero), I’ve also had a strong word with myself.
So what if I can’t blog so often once baby arrives and so what if I can’t manage to engage on Instagram every single day. When it comes to maintaining your client base, you have to remind yourself that other freelance writers have had babies and sprung back into the travel writing world a year later with no problem.
So, I’ve decided, yes, I’ll keep up the blog as much as I can. Yes, I’ll keep one eye on the travel writing scene. But I’m also not going to sweat the small stuff. I’m going to cherish this time with the baby and trust that I can pick up freelance work again if and when the time feels right.
Knowing whether to announce you’re on maternity leave
If you haven’t set yourself an official length of time to go on maternity leave, should you even announce that you’re going on maternity leave at all? That’s the question I asked myself when I hit my third trimester of pregnancy.
I still don’t really know the answer to this question. In one way, putting an ‘out of office’ on to explain that you’re on maternity leave might take the stress off a bit. After all, you don’t want to be fretting that you’ve missed an email from a regular client. And announcing that you’re clocking out for six months may give your email inbox a rest for a bit.
However, in my experience, this sometimes just leads to more emails when your out of office bounces back. And people forget to take you off their emailing lists anyway – I’ve lost count of how many PRs I’ve told that I’m pregnant and that I cover travel, yet stillget invited to review bottles of vodka and attend cocktail nights.
You may not agree, but I think the best approach is to tell the clients and editors you work closely with (and you care about) that you’re pausing your work schedule for a bit while you have your baby, but you’ll be picking up new work in the near future. That way, you’re keeping in touch, being honest with the people that matter, but you’re letting them know that you’re not stopping all together.
Knowing when to go back to work
It feels weird writing this when I’ve barely started my maternity leave but knowing when to return to work when you’re freelance is probably just as hard as knowing when to stop.
Brain power, financial demands and the cost of childcare will no doubt, be just a few of the things that will come into play when I decide when to end my maternity leave. But whatever happens, my main goals are to keep up my passion of writing, survive financially and raise a happy and healthy baby.
It’s a constant balancing act I know many self-employed (and employed) mums have to tackle and constantly review. And only time will tell how it all pans out. Each and every freelancing parent has to do what works for them.
But the exciting thing about being freelance is your work is what you make of it and it can be the most flexible and convenient way of working if you’re a parent. So why not use your maternity leave to get creative, reflect on where you’ve got to in your career and take the time to plan where you’ll go with it next? This could also be a great time to do that online course you’ve been putting off for ages or gain some new skills.
In fact, taking time off for maternity leave could be the best thing you ever did for your career! What do you think?
These are the five things I’ve found most challenging as a freelancer going on maternity leave. I’d be interested to hear what you think and how you’ve made the most of your maternity leave. Feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below.