After a long, hard journey, my husband and I are thrilled to be expecting a little bundle of joy in October. To be honest, I still can’t quite believe it despite my ever-expanding tummy (or ‘guts’ as hubby has affectionately started calling me!). We are over-the-moon excited and a little bit terrified. This will be the biggest life change we’ve ever experienced – and will also mean some big changes for my little business.
Parental leave and then the return to work are looming on the horizon for me as huge unknowns. So, as always, I reached out to my awesome copywriter pals for advice. How does one prepare their business for parental leave? And how on earth do you keep your little person alive and manage your business when you return to work? Here’s the wonderful advice I received:
Preparing for parental leave
“I’d obviously email all current clients and let them know about the situation and allow up to 12 months off… Then reassess the situation once the bub arrives. I was blessed with a good sleeper, so I could tackle work again from the 3-month mark – but you never know what your bub will be like! You can then work while the baby naps or lies/plays on the floor. Do briefing calls or do research while feeding etc. It all comes down to how much work you want to take on!”
“As for advice, it is a hard one as your availability will really depend on so many factors once the baby is born. And you won’t really know until you’re in it, I’m afraid. Keep your site up, redirect enquiries and take on what and when you can. Whether you intend to use a child care facility or not – it is advisable to research now and put your name down for possible future use. The really good ones usually have a long waiting list. It is better to put your name down and say no when a space appears, then not be able to find one when the time comes.”
“My advice is to play it by ear. Sure, have a plan, but keep it vague for now until you know what you’re dealing with. Some people will say it’s easier working around kids when they’re quite young, but others will have a different experience.”
“My only advice is to reserve the first 6 weeks to being at home getting to know your new human and your new body and grabbing sleep around the clock whenever the opportunity arises. Pushing through this period in an attempt to return to normal is the fastest way to burn out at that time and at 12 months. Be kind to yourself.”
“The greatest thing you can do as a new mum is embrace the hell out of your mums group – even if they don’t seem like your people in the beginning, you will find a way to connect with them and years down the track they will become 2nd mums for you when work gets all messy. If you don’t have a sleeper (my first was atrocious) book into sleep school when the time is right, and really, just scale back on the jobs and say no / take referral fees etc. Think about a passive income stream for a while or maybe just commit yourself to a few retainers and downscale, with the plan to upscale in the future. If your budget can manage it, just immerse in baby land for a bit. Love every minute of this journey. Work can wait – this is the most precious deadline ever.”
“Keep your site up, and just manage the leads to a select few so you can set it up with them before you go and then just forward the emails. Maybe on a rotation basis so you don’t need to chase up people or have them compete for the same job. Makes it much easier to just tick and flick. You’ll make it work! Promise!! Some days will suck. Others will be amazing. But the biggest thing is that you don’t need all the answers just now. It’s okay to figure it out as you go and just be kind to yourself. The only thing I would say is put your name down at 2-3 daycares NOW and say you want a place when the baby is 6mths old. At least you’ll have a few options up your sleeve depending on what you feel like at the time.”
Returning to work
“My best advice is to take all offers of help, decide what type of work is most important to you and refer away work that doesn’t tick that box when you first come back – if it’s taking you away from your baby, you want it to fill you up, not deplete you. Remember that the days are long but the years are short, so embrace the time you spend with your baby because you are NEVER going to look back and wish you had worked more during their first six months/year/etc. Work enough to cover your costs and give you a sense of purpose/achievement – the world waits for talented people.”
“To be as stress-free as possible after you start freelancing again after bub, take it slow and build up again slowly as you get used to a new way of working. Step back from the biz as often as you need to and keep your focus on your baby. Put yourself first most days. Be prepared for a change in priorities, some good days, some not so great days. Do what’s right for you and try and not do everything at once.”
“It all goes SO fast (I can now only remember stuff when I see photos) so you may as well make the most of it… And do what feels right to YOU and your baby. We’re all different, and there’s so much prescriptive stuff out there nowadays that tends to weaken your all-important own instincts.”
“I went back to work when my first child was 6 weeks. IMHO, you can’t do as much as you did pre-baby for at least the first 6 months to a year. Your schedule becomes less about ‘office hours’ and more about when you have the energy and your baby is happy to sleep. The great thing about working for yourself is that you get to write your own rules and be proactive about not setting unrealistic deadlines. The joys of having a little human far, far outweigh the difficulties involved in finding your way as a working mum and you’ve got a whole community of working mums to commiserate with when it’s all turning to poo!”
“My mum jokingly says to me, “You have to look at how you utilise your time. What *are* you doing between midnight and 3am?” Your time becomes much more valuable with kids, so concentrate on the jobs you really want. Ideally ones with flexible deadlines and understanding clients. Youngsters feel safe with routine, so have set meal and nap times – it’ll help you schedule work, too. And read Annabel Crabb’s book The Wife Drought.”
My (flexible, go-with-the-flow!) plan of attack
So much wonderful advice above (thank you, Clever Copywriters!) and a much-needed reminder that for now, I can only plan so much. At this stage, I think I’ll finish up some time in early September and take 6 to 12 months off – depending on how I feel and whether we get a sleeper or a screamer 😉 So, with only a month and a bit left of work to go, if you want to work with me, please book in now!
While I’m away, my site will remain live (don’t want to lose those precious google rankings!) but I’ll direct leads to a few copywriters I know and love via my Contact page. I’ve also got one beloved retainer client I’d like back when I return, so I’ll be handing them over to another trusted copywriter to babysit while I’m away.
Of course, the one amazing thing I have in all of this is the freedom to choose when I finish, how long I take off, when I return – and how (e.g. part time, full time, the occasional project as I wish, etc). I realise this flexibility is such a privilege. In fact, one of the main motivators when I started my own business was to achieve this flexibility in preparation for this very chapter of life, and now here I am feeling so grateful to have it. Just one of the many reasons why freelance life truly is the best life!
So, over to you. Are you a freelance parent? How did you prepare? And how do you keep all your balls in the air? I’d love to know!