During my first pregnancy, I was a full-time employee at a large company. They offered six weeks of paid leave (at a percentage of your salary) as well as the option to apply for a 12 week Family Medical Leave Act running in conjunction with your maternity leave. This would give a maximum of 12 weeks leave, six unpaid.
The facility I worked at had a beautiful “mother’s room” with a comfortable leather chair for pumping and a fridge for storing your milk. I only had the opportunity to use it once when I brought Norah in for a visit because I did not return after my maternity leave.
When I got the great news that I was pregnant with #2, I knew this would be a different experience. I was now a part-time freelancer and full-time mother to a 2 ½ year old. I had no childcare help. I knew I needed to get organized and I had nine months to do it.
Here are my tips for setting up a maternity leave while freelancing.
Make a budget
The most important part of freelancing while pregnant is being organized! You need to have a plan for your workload and your maternity leave.
Shortly after I found out that I was having a viable pregnancy, I started making plans.
I knew that I need to make approximately $2,000 per month to keep our budget the same. I decided early on that I wanted to take a minimum of 10 weeks off with this pregnancy. I had 10 weeks off with Norah and felt that it was the right amount of time to recover, get into a new routine, and want to start working again.
Deciding on 10 weeks gave me a monetary goal I needed to shoot for. I would need to make a minimum of $5,000 to cover the 10 weeks off. I preferred to set the goal for $6,000 so I’d have some wiggle room.
Here’s the breakdown of how this helped:
First off, I vowed not take on a new client for under $30 per hour. I started with a $32 per hour rate and often didn’t dip below $35. The only exception was people purchasing virtual assistant packages.
For one client, I raised the rates 32% because I had not received a pay raise in the 15 months we had been working together. For the another client, it was 20%. This brought in an additional $200 per month and only added a few more hours per month to my workload.
Subcontracting work was where I found my biggest gains. I was able to increase my hours and go from making around $100 per week with one client to an average of $400. This alone gave me an additional $1600 per month to put towards the $6,000 goal.
Do this: Figure out how much you would need to make during your time off then add 10%. You want to make sure you’re not scrambling for work while dealing with sleep deprivation and raging hormones.
Because of my previous miscarriage, I wasn’t comfortable telling my clients about my pregnancy until I had confirmed that everything was normal. I waited until my 20 week anatomy ultrasound on February 15 to draft the email and set up meetings with clients.
I let my clients know how much I enjoyed working with them and that I was excited to share some personal news. I told them when I was due and that I would be working as normal up until that time. I personalized the letter to each client to address the specific tasks that I did for them.
There were clients that I was able to ask if I could batch work and complete things before going on leave, therefore leaving me some incoming money. There were others that I had to tell I wouldn’t be available in any capacity for 10 weeks. It depended on the client and the workload. I told them all that I planned to continue working together when I returned around September 15.
I decided that I would set a return date based on 10 weeks from the latest I could possibly have the baby. Should I have the baby earlier, then I would have more time to spend with him.
I didn’t want to worry about informing everyone that I’d had the baby and I would be off for 10 weeks from that point. Instead I told them to expect me to become unavailable around the last week of June/first week of July and returning September 15.
Do this: Be honest and upfront with your clients when you break the news. Tell them how much you appreciate their business and hope to continue the relationship. Then let the chips fall where they may. Some people will work with you while others may end the relationship. You have no control over your client’s reactions so try not to stress about it.
I knew that in the month leading up to my delivery, I would have to work more than usual. I did this by finding time to work when I could. This included working in the morning before Norah woke up, working in the evening while my husband fixed dinner, and forgoing some of my favorite shows to work in my office at night. This isn’t something that I would do long-term, but as a means to a (very important) end, I was motivated to keep my foot on the gas pedal.
I knew that I would have 10 weeks of doing nothing but caring for my new baby and toddler at the end of this grueling time period and that was absolutely worth it to me.
Having an end goal in place kept me sane and motivated to work.
Do this: Resist the urge to take it easy throughout your pregnancy. Even though you are tired now, you will be exhausted once the baby comes. Trust this second-time mama! Get as much done as possible before baby comes. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
Relax and enjoy your leave
After all the preparations have been made, the last thing I need to do is relax and enjoy my maternity leave. I worked hard to set everything up and want to be able to enjoy it without worrying about work. The first few weeks with a new baby are so special and they go by extremely quickly.
Preparing for maternity leave as soon as possible is the best option for a freelancer. You are in control of how much time you take off and your financial situation. Make a plan, work hard, and enjoy the time with your precious new life.
Special note: My husband was also instrumental in preparing for my maternity leave. Although I was confident I’d be able to make the goal myself, he worked hard during my pregnancy to get a raise at his job and take on some additional freelancing work to add to the pot.