Recently someone asked me if they could pick my brains on how to deal with maternity leave whilst self employed. I didn’t actually get round to replying to their query (there was a lot going on, we were out for lunch and it was busy!) so here is how it’s worked out for me (so far)
*I’m not saying that what works for me will work for everybody!
Here in the UK, you can claim for Maternity Allowance while you are taking time off. You can find out more about that here. This is very handy and means that you don’t have to panic so much about how you’re going to survive in the weeks and months after your new arrival has appeared. The last thing you want to be doing when you’re trying to work out this whole parenting thing, battle with poo, sleepless nights and somehow manage to look after yourself too.
Whilst claiming maternity allowance you can’t continue to work as you did before. Not that you’ll have time anyway. You can work up to ten days (Keep in Touch Days or KIT Days) during this period and really I’d think very very carefully about spacing these out and planning them well in advance. I have ended up taking far more maternity leave than I’d intended and am now running out of days! You may think you’ll use your ten days in a big block after you’ve had a couple of weeks off (my plan) in reality you may discover that you don’t know how you had time to work in the first place and your days are all full of coffee dates, swimming sessions, lunches, doctors ating in for the health visitor etc.. in fact you’ll find that one thing (like going to the post office) takes all day where before it was just something you squeezed in around everything else. I have a five year old at school too so everything is squeezed into the time before school pickup.
So how do you cope with maternity leave and still keep your business going? Here’s my top tips:
1. Hire a VA. This is definitely the best tip. My VA is called Angela and she’s great. I pay her in advance for five hours of her time which seems to last around two months in my case (although at the beginning it was less than that due to projects being mid-way and my emails requiring a lot more attention!) Angela checks my emails every day, makes things happen, replies to them, keeps everything flowing. This is brilliant because a. I can’t do it, b. it means people don’t get ignored until my next work day, c. on my work days I can do the work rather than get lost in emails and d. I don’t even have to think about my emails when I’m singing to my baby.
I started Whiteacres when my daughter was 3.5 months old and I was ALWAYS thinking about my business, checking my emails, doing work around her on my days off. I do not want to be doing that this time round. I’ve had longer off than I did with her and I am liking being able to enjoy every moment of it.
I would also add that if I could go back, I would have hired Angela a lot sooner. In my last few months of pregnancy I worked reeeeally hard, getting my daughter to school, working like a crazy thing, picking her up – there was a lot of after school club time the month before my son arrived – spending time with her, getting her to bed and then working until 2am. This can not have been good. Especially as it continued right up until the night before he decided to make his presence felt. If I’d hired Angela I’d have been able to relax more as she would have dealt with my emails and I could have just done the work (which I wanted to complete before I had my baby) and prepared all my social media updates etc… I also know that in that time there were a couple of times when I messed up with clients, which I blame on my baby brain and lack of sleep! Thankfully my clients are lovely and understanding but I’d rather have avoided these things happening. If Angela had been dealing with my emails I am fairly confident that everything would have been hunky dory.
2. Plan out those “Keep In Touch Days” – this helps you know when you’re going to work, your VA know when you’re going to work and your clients know when you’re going to work. However, planning isn’t limited to WHEN but extends to WHAT. Don’t give yourself too much to do. Especially if, like me, those days come with a baby too. My son doesn’t care about my business or my clients and certainly doesn’t want me to work when I could be smiling at him and getting big beamers back. Just have a couple of tasks to do. Make it achieveable. My day starts in the office once I get there from the school run and then ends at 2.30 to collect my daughter and once she’s gone to bed I keep going at home until midnight. All with regular breaks for nappy changes and feeds, whilst bouncing my boy up and down, waving toys at him and rocking constantly to get him to sleep/ to stay asleep. Naturally these are the days he sleeps less and demands more of me 😉 so I can’t expect to get loads done, but if I can do two things I’m happy. When I’m working again “properly” I’ll drop the after bedtime part of the day!
If you have childcare for these days though, the world will be your oyster! Go for it! Personally, I didn’t want it and no-one else can feed him after all. Nursery will be worth it when we’re both ready – when I’m not on maternity leave anymore.
3. Get kitted out. What’s the point in having your own business if you can’t take advantage of that fact? If you were employed you’d probably not be allowed to take your baby to work, but depending on what you do, as a self employed person there’s nothing stopping you from taking your baby to work with you. You’ll need a few essentials in the office (which might be your living room anyway?) a blanket/ playmat, some toys, a bouncy chair, a changing mat – and you’re ready to go. I have a trolley next to my desk which is great for hanging toys on if he’s perched on my knee – the back of a chair at the right height would probably be good too and saves you bending down to pick things up. Don’t keep important things on your desk, they’ll get scrumpled up. My son loves newspaper! Usually with recipes I want to try printed on them…
Babies can be very good in meetings. Mine has been excellent so far! If I time it for first thing in the morning he might sleep right through it, or he’ll happily sit on my knee and bounce and most people love cuddling babies – or smiling at them – anyway. It helps that most of my clients are parents. I use a sling too – which is in my mind an essential item as you can hold your baby with your hands free to type and do other things, especially with a back carry which I’ve just mastered! Unless he’s screaming the place down of course or demanding milk or attention. I didn’t say it was easy – but the smiles are worth it.
4. Get help. Maybe like me you’re a one-person-band. If your baby suddenly arrives early or if you don’t manage to complete what you need to complete for whatever reason – are you really going to get your computer out (insert other “thing” if the computer isn’t in your toolkit) next day when you’ve got this new small person to stare at? If you’re not then you need a back up plan. I managed to get most things finished before Little Mr Purdie decided to make an appearance – bang on his due date I might add, I was quite impressed! However there were projects which needed to be completed and one which hadn’t even been started yet and so I was able to ask Mark to take these over for me. Mark used to be my boss once upon a time so I asked him to help me out because I know that he takes great pride in what he does, does a great job, is very efficient and I can trust him. If you’re looking for someone else to do the work you would like to do yourself then you do need to think about it very carefully. I know lots of graphic designers – very excellent graphic designers, but for me this was an easy decision and I was really pleased that he was happy to help me out. Thank you Mark 🙂
There are other things you can get help with too. For example, I blog weekly – or did before the baby arrived! I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep that up or write enough posts to keep my blog going while I was off work so I asked for some guest bloggers and have a whole series on Email Marketing from Kate at Shine a Light Media and a post from my client Newsmaker PR (so far – anyone else who fancies sending me a guest blog, please do!)
5. Schedule schedule schedule. There are tons of options about, but I use buffer to schedule updates to Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn, and I use Facebooks own scheduler for that. I also use Viralwoot occasionally for Pinterest. I upgraded to a business account for buffer so that I can schedule 100 updates per platform whilst I’m not around to sort this out regularly. Very handy. For me, it’s important to keep a presence up on social media as this is where a lot of my work comes from. I’m still using Twitter for personal stuff too.
I also schedule blog posts – like this one – so they are ready written and just “appear” when I’ve asked them to. If you use WordPress this is a very handy feature just above the ‘publish’ button.
What could you schedule/ automate so that you don’t have to be around for things to happen?
6. Keep your clients informed. I felt like every time I sent an email or spoke to a client in the month or two before my baby arrived I was letting them know about my due date and telling them the back up plan. Where before I was happy to reply to Direct Messages on Facebook or texts or receive phonecalls, on maternity leave that can’t happen. I also wanted people to know who was going to be completing their project if I wasn’t able to complete it myself.
I would add that I’ve been really enjoying not being “on call” all the time. Why didn’t I have better boundaries before?! Even if you’re not expecting a baby, it’s worth thinking about this!
7. Enjoy it. That small person will be a bigger small person before you know it. Cuddle lots. Sing songs. Wave jingly toys about. Talk in silly voices. Take photographs. Try to eat well and don’t forget to drink plenty. Do fun things. Spend time with important people. Get used to doing everything with one hand. Walk. Don’t waste your time off worrying about your work. You don’t need to.
What are your top tips for maternity leave?