How to plan your maternity leave when you're a freelancer

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During my first pregnancy with my daughter Rory, I was employed full time as a sales manager for a theatre company. I worked from home, taking on extra photography work at the weekends, and went on paid maternity leave a few weeks before my due date. I received 90% of my pay for the first six weeks, and then statutory maternity pay of £145.18 for the next 33 weeks. It wasn’t a lot, and it certainly wasn’t my full time salary, but it was enough to keep me going while I concentrated on looking after my baby. I had a safe, secure job to return to with a company committed to being flexible around my parenting obligations, and it was a no-stress and seamless transition both out of work and back in again.

However, I decided after a year of maternity leave not to go back to my full time job, a decision you can read more about in this post. Financially it didn’t stack up for me, so I took the leap and began to build a new career and business for myself that I felt could support the vision I had for me and my family’s future. Three years on from my first maternity leave and I’m currently just over 20 weeks pregnant with my second baby. It’s such a different experience in many ways, but the biggest change is that instead of having a full time job with an in-house accountant to arrange my maternity benefits, it’s all down to me. This time around, I’ve been working as a freelance photographer for almost two years. I keep all my own accounts, file my own tax return and have business and childcare costs to pay. I have the daily running of my business to consider, client expectations to manage, and the knowledge that as I’m a one-woman show absolutely nothing in my business happens without me. It’s a little scary, but I’m giving myself plenty of time to plan ahead and research my options so I can be in the best place possible when I step away for a few months. In case you’re in the same position as me, I’ve put together some research and tips about planning for your maternity leave when you’re self employed. Hopefully it helps you feel a little more informed and a little less alone while you work through this exciting and nerve-wracking time in your life and career. Let’s do it together…

So, what maternity benefits are you entitled to as a freelancer?

  • you are entitled to apply for Maternity Allowance from the government if you’re self employed and therefore don’t qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay.

  • you need to have been employed or self employed for at least 26 of the 66 weeks prior to your due date (known as your test period) to enable you to apply for MA.

  • your earnings need to have been at least £30 per week for at least 13 weeks of your test period, and you must have paid Class 2 National Insurance contributions during that time as well. As far as I know you can back date this though, so don’t stress if you haven’t paid it yet. Call HMRC and they can help you.

  • If you meet these criteria you should qualify for £140.98 per week, or 90% of your earnings, which ever is lower, for 39 weeks.

  • If you don’t meet the criteria, you may only be eligible for £27 per week.

How much can you work while claiming maternity allowance?

  • You’re allowed to work up to ten Keeping in Touch days while still claiming maternity allowance.

  • You are required to keep a record of exactly how and when you worked during your maternity leave, but you don’t need to provide proof of your earnings.

  • If you need to work more than ten days, you can cancel your maternity allowance at any time.

  • A day’s work counts as any day which you undertake paid client work, even if you only work for two hours on that day.

It’s a new experience for me, planning for maternity leave whilst self employed. I’m excited, but also understandably a little anxious at what this means for me and my business. I’ve worked so hard over the last two years building it up steadily, and am finally in a good place with regular, repeat clients, a good monthly income and a work/life balance that most of the time is really pretty dreamy. I’m nervous to trade all of that for those newborn days, because as wonderful as they can be, they’re also exhausting, intense and all consuming. I’m unsure about what life will be like for me with two kids, how I’ll find time and energy to work and get into a new groove with it all. I’m confident I will, and that I can put into practice all the things I learnt from doing it the first time around into making it all a little smoother. But of course, kids come with a heap of unexpected challenges, so I’m preparing myself for many of those along the way. I’ve done a lot of thinking, reading and planning for how I’m going to manage my finances, my clients and the development of my business while taking time away to have another baby. I’ve put together some tips for you for planning your maternity leave if you’re self employed, some things which I’ve done already and others which I will be putting into place over the coming months. Hopefully you find them helpful, and perhaps if you’re going through this at the same time as me you’ll chip in below in the comments with some tips and experiences of your own.

Ten tips for planning your maternity leave when you’re self employed…

  1. Apply for maternity allowance well in advance. You can send the form in once you’re 26 weeks pregnant, but it’s a fairly long one to complete so start early and get it ready to put in the post once you reach the 26 week mark. HMRC say they take at least 5 weeks to respond to you, and longer during busy times, so you really don’t want to leave it later than 26 weeks before you apply.

  2. Make a budget, get your finances in order and start saving. Know your monthly costs, and start to save up each month enough to cover those costs while you’re on leave. If you can, save up more than you think you will need just in case you have to take more time off work than you initially planned. Reduce unnecessary monthly expenses so your outgoings are as little as possible (I’m hugely cutting down my phone bill this time around, by not upgrading my iPhone and switching to a much cheaper pay as you go plan), and make sure you know what needs to come in and out of your account while you’re away. I’d recommend doing this even before you go on leave, so you can adjust to not having those expensive extras each month before your baby arrives. Ensure your tax return is filed (I’ve already done mine for 2017/18 because I predict I won’t be thrilled about doing it in early January when I’m 30 weeks pregnant), your N.I contributions are paid and all your accounts are up to date.

  3. Inform your clients. Let them know in good time that you’re pregnant, the dates of your leave and how you plan to manage their projects, workload or whatever it is you need to do for them around the dates you won’t be working. For my business, it’s simple enough because I won’t accept bookings for at least a three month period, but as I already have enquiries for that time I need to let clients know what I can and can’t do. They are then free to wait for me to start working again, or hire someone else.

  4. Pitch for more work, increase your rates and work additional hours, especially in the second trimester when you’re most likely to be full of energy and not too big that any physical work you do becomes more difficult. This means you can get your business to a really healthy place before you take time off, and put some extra money away, allowing yourself to relax a bit in your third trimester before the baby arrives. Obviously, listen to your body and only do what you feel you’re able to. No working like crazy and giving yourself an injury when you’re pregnant!

  5. Set expectations for your return to work. If you manage any staff, or have clients booked in near your baby’s due date, make sure you have set their expectations well ahead of time that you may need to cancel or change meetings, work days and so on. The same goes around the time you plan to return to work, be prepared for the unexpected to happen and let your staff or clients know that dates, workloads etc may have to change.

  6. Be realistic about the kind of work you will be able to, and ask for help if and when you need it. This is something that as women we don’t do nearly enough of. if you’re feeling overwhelmed, or need help in any aspect of your life or business, now is the time to ask for it. It could be that you need your partner to pitch in a little more with the housework, or perhaps you need some hired help for extra childcare or to do the cleaning. Be realistic about what you can take on, especially as you

  7. Consider hiring someone, or outsourcing an aspect of your business. If you’re a photographer like me, perhaps you could use a Virtual Assistant, a studio manager or someone to outsource your editing to. Have a think about any area of your work that you could get some hired help to keep your business moving forward even while you’re taking time away from it.

  8. Arrange childcare. If you already have one or more children while you’re pregnant, sort childcare for them ahead of time. Make yourself aware of nursery application dates, interview local childminders…whatever your preference. Know that these places go fast and that there is often a wait list, so don’t leave it until you’re struggling at home with two kids before you have childcare sorted.

  9. Prepare content ahead of time. If blogging, emailing and creating social media content is a part of your business, plan ahead. Do your writing and photography in batches, and schedule as much as you can. Remember that your second trimester is the best time for this because your energy levels are likely to be higher, and your bump won’t be too big yet to really start getting in the way. Expect that once the aches, swollen feet and tiredness of the third trimester set in, you won’t fancy doing much extra work at all, especially not anything too physical.

  10. Relax before your due date. Plan to give yourself a good few weeks of rest before your baby arrives. Don’t schedule meetings, client work or deadlines within 2-3 weeks (or longer) of your due date and give yourself a maternity leave. It’s my biggest regret of my first pregnancy that I worked so close to my due date, because I went into labour at 39 weeks and barely had any time to myself to relax before my daughter arrived.

The main thing that’s important is to give yourself as much space as possible in the run up to your maternity leave, both financially speaking and with your work load too. There is so much that is unknown about having a baby, especially those early days when you may have a slow recovery, a baby that needs some extra care, or you need some time to find your feet as a new parent. There are plenty of opportunities to work alongside caring for a newborn, they sleep a lot during the day and need relatively little from you other than feeding, nappy changes etc. But the last thing you want is to feel like you have to work when you don’t want to or are not feeling up to it physically or mentally. Give yourself the space to recover, make the transition to having a new baby, and get back to work in your own time. We are so very lucky here in the UK that the government supports us somewhat to do this (although it is nowhere near the level is should be!), so take advantage and don’t rush yourself or put yourself under unnecessary pressure if you can help it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and found my tips useful to plan your own maternity leave. As always, I’m so excited to share the next stage of my journey with you. If you’d like to read more, you can find my other posts on freelancing and photography here, and some more thoughts and tips on pregnancy and motherhood here.

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