What To Do With Your Freelance Business When You’re Having A Baby

Posted in Pregnancy and Baby, Writing.

Hey, did you know I’m having a baby? And quite soon, too? It’s true. Baby A is now fully cooked and could come at any time over the next 5 weeks (please don’t let it be 5 weeks), which means it’s time for me to start winding down my freelance business. In fact, today is my first day of ‘maternity leave’.

I’m calling it ‘maternity leave’ because I’m not going completely work-free till the 14th November, a week before my due date. I couldn’t bear the thought of sitting around doing nothing for weeks on end, especially if Baby A is shy and stays in longer than 40 weeks, so I’m still working with one client to keep things ticking over. Luckily my client is being amazing and super flexible so if I do go into labour before our agreed end date, I can just text them to let them know I’m done.

maternity pay self employed limited company

I started my freelance business back in 2011, running it on a self-employed basis until 2014 when I became a limited company. I’ve been extremely lucky with the business and have never really struggled for work – when I first started, I had lots of contacts from my agency days and got regular work straightaway. And since then I’ve become an expert at keeping in touch with people at all sorts of businesses, putting my name at the front of their mind whenever they need a freelancer.

The business is now in its sixth year and has gone from strength to strength, but it’s only recently I’ve realised that ‘strength’ doesn’t actually equal more profit. Growth has been an upward curve since I started and 2015 was my most profitable year, but it was also my most stressful. In 2016 I stepped back, got pregnant, gave up my studio space and took a slower approach to work. It meant my profit margin dipped but it showed me that I can keep my name in the game, still manage the high-profile projects I enjoy and earn enough money to live my life (and pay my tax bill) without working all hours. Which is going to be a very important balance in the coming months.

self employed maternity leave

So! Back to the baby thing. When I first found out I was pregnant, figuring out the work situation was high on my list of ‘things to worry about’. I waited until we had the all-clear at the 20 week scan, then I went straight to my accountant. Full disclosure – I’d have no idea what I was doing here if it wasn’t for my accountant. Maternity pay for limited companies is hugely confusing and I know I’d miss out on a big chunk of cash if left to my own devices, so I can’t say I’ve organised any of this myself. If you’re self-employed or operating a limited company and wondering what your maternity leave options are, I strongly recommend speaking to someone who is qualified to know about this stuff.

After the congratulations and celebrations, my accountant set to work organising my Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). This is an amount paid to me by HMRC to cover the time I’m taking away from my business, and it’s based on my average salary. To get the maximum benefit from SMP, I had to do some ‘tweaking’ of my average salary – my accountant advised me on this so again, speak to one before you attempt anything!

It’s really important to get your average salary stuff sorted reasonably early in your pregnancy, because HMRC have a cut-off point for calculating their averages. If you leave it till, say, 32 weeks, you’ll be unable to adapt your salary to maximise the benefit of SMP, so it’s really worth getting the process started as early as you’re comfortable with.

taking maternity leave when self employed

I’m still waiting for my SMP to be finalised but over summer I managed to save a bit of a lump sum, so that will tide me over until the payments start coming in. And with the finances looking reasonably healthy, I can concentrate on what to actually do with my business while I’m caring for Baby A.

At the moment, I’m planning to dip my toe back in around April 2017. That gives me five months to concentrate on nappy changing and breastfeeding and baby yoga, and after that I’m hoping to pick up my one main client as well as a couple of short-term projects. I’m incredibly fortunate that I won’t need to go back to full-time work straightaway, so I can play it by ear and see how much I can juggle alongside a tiny baby. And my clients have been brilliant, agreeing to keep my contracts open for me until I’m ready to return. I’ve also enlisted the help of my amazing friend and fellow social media freelancer Lil, who’ll be taking over my two long-term projects while I’m off.

To be honest, I have no idea how things will play out once Baby A is actually here. Right now I feel like I could manage a few hours of work a day alongside the baby stuff, but who knows if that’s a reasonable assumption. I don’t know what kind of baby we’ll have, if she’ll nap during the day or be up all night or even need extra care and attention for whatever reason. Deciding on a definite plan for returning to my business has been so hard, because I’ve never done this before and I just don’t know what I’ll be facing in five months. The ability to keep things flexible is essential for me, and I’m so grateful that I have the opportunity to say “I’m not sure, but I’ll let you know in April”.

Leaving my business behind for five months is a terrifying prospect – I’ve already had to turn down a couple of jobs and I’m missing out on a huge launch for one of my clients, which makes me feel super antsy. I have a serious case of career FOMO, but I’m hoping once Baby A arrives I won’t have time to worry about it. I’ve spent 10 years building up my career and the thought of dropping out entirely is certainly scary, but it’s more about putting things on pause to immerse myself in a different kind of life. Who knows how my return to work will pan out – I’m sure I’ll write about it when the time comes. For now, I just want to concentrate on this new direction and all the exciting things that come with it.

SMP freelance business

To finish this post, I wanted to share a few career highlights from the last six years. You can see all my latest projects on my website, but here are my absolute faves…

– Doing two seasons at New York Fashion Week and one at Milan Fashion Week with Diesel Black Gold. Interviewing Adrian Brody and walking in on Luke Evans changing are my particular highlights!

– Launching Harry Potter and The Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling via the Pottermore social media channels. Turns out a social reach of 20 million is pretty exciting!

– Taking a phone call from TOWIE’s Arg on my sofa in Leeds while managing the ITVBe social feeds. Pretty sure he thought I was in some fancy London office and not in my PJs…

– Dancing to Blurred Lines with David Platt at the #CorrieLive wrap party. As surreal as it sounds.

– Roping in friends as models for a photo shoot with Diet Coke, which involved LOTS of free carbonated beverages.

– Taste testing the entire MEATLiquor menu, because a community manager can never be over-prepared…

– Celebrating the release of the first Twilight film with overexcited teens on the Vue Cinemas Facebook page.

– Building up a fine collection of Hunter wellies while working as their community manager… hey, I needed them for the photos!

Preggo Updates – 36 Weeks

Posted in Pregnancy and Baby.

Four weeks to go! I’ll keep this one short and sweet…

asos maternity dungarees

Maternity dungarees, ASOS | Top, ASOS | Flats, old

I’ve had a great week but today I feel a bit all over the place, emotionally. It’s to be expected – I’m not sleeping well due to continued hip pain so I’m tired as well as hormonally-charged, which isn’t the best combination. Today I had a big cry and I feel better for it, but I think the next few weeks will be an emotional rollercoaster. As someone who usually operates on a pretty even keel it’s hard to deal with seesawing feelings, but I’m hoping I can just ride it out.

In other news, we had our last NCT session yesterday and went for a drink with some of the group afterwards. It’s been so lovely to meet people going through exactly the same things we are – as adults, I think it’s pretty difficult to meet new friends and it’s especially difficult when you work from home without colleagues to socialise with. Babies seem to be the perfect conversation starters, though, and I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone and their prospective offspring!

36 weeks pregnancy update

Dress, Zara | Jacket, ASOS | Flats, old | Bag, Whistles | Necklace, H&M

I had my 36 week midwife appointment on Monday and everything is super positive, so when I feel a little bit sad I just remember that Baby A is doing fantastically and it won’t be long till she’s here with us. My midwife told me she’s in a great position for labour and her head is engaged, so here’s hoping these last few weeks fly by!

How To Create a DIY Mountain Mural for a Nursery

Posted in Home, Pregnancy and Baby.

Since I posted about our finished nursery, I’ve had quite a few requests for a how-to for the mountain mural. So here it is! Read on for more…

mountain mural for girls nursery
Rob and I are not the most handy of people – the extent of our decorating experience before this was painting one wall of our kitchen, which resulted in some very unsightly blotches on the ceiling. So before starting the mountain mural, we weren’t filled with confidence about our DIY skills… but turns out, this is a super easy project to suit all levels of skill!

To start with, we prepped the room that was to become the nursery. After cleaning top to bottom and washing the carpet we used a primer paint on the walls to cover the existing colour (a dark grey), gave the ceiling a fresh coat of eggshell white and painted all the woodwork.

nursery mountain mural diy
I wanted to keep the nursery gender neutral in soft pastel shades, but I didn’t want the mountain theme to look too realistic. So rather than choosing blue for the main wall colour, I went for a gentle green – Farrow & Ball’s Cromarty. It’s a beautiful green with a hint of grey and works so well to create a calming atmosphere… perfect for a nursery.

With the walls and radiator painted and dry, it was time to start plotting out the mountain range!

nursery mountain mural DIY
instructions for painting nursery mountain muralThis is where I handed over to Rob. He sketched out his idea on paper first, then recreated the layout on the walls using masking tape. Rob came up with theee most adorable meaning for each peak – the big ones represent him, me and Baby A, and the smaller ones on the side walls are for our cats, Travis and Lily. I almost wept when he explained that bit to me!

We didn’t want the peaks to look too uniform, so we did a bit of shuffling about once the tape was up – stepping back and surveying the overall scene helped. Once we were happy with the layout Rob trimmed the excess tape, making sure the points of each mountain were sharp.

It’s really important to use a good quality decorators’ tape here – you need a really crisp line and cheaper tape will bleed. A top tip is to rub over the tape with a damp cloth to really seal the glue and make sure the paint stays where you want it to!

gender neutral mountain mural nurseryThis is how things looked after we’d painted the main peaks and the background peaks. We gave each section two coats to ensure an even finish, waiting about 20 mins between coats. Then we waited another 20 mins before crossing our fingers and peeling off the masking tape – success! No leakage!

We stuck with Farrow & Ball colours for the mountains. I wanted soft greys with a warm tone and settled on Pavilion Grey for the background peaks and Dove Grey for the foreground peaks. I love the combination of these two colours against the pastel green.

step by step nursery mountain mural
paint your own nursery mountain muralNext step – filling in the gaps. For this part, we waited until the paint was touch-dry then lined up the masking tape with the edge of the foreground mountains, making sure to add an extra piece of tape to complete the side of the background peaks. It’s quite complicated to explain but hopefully the pics make sense!

With the masking tape in place and dampened down, we painted within the lines to complete the background mountains.

how to paint a baby nursery
gender neutral baby nurseryThe final stage was to paint the snowy peaks – we mapped these out with more tape while waiting for the background peaks to dry a bit, then slapped on a few coats of Farrow & Ball’s Wimbourne White. We could’ve actually done this way back at step one when we painted the main foreground peaks, just by adding the additional tape then rather than painting the grey colour right to the top of each peak. But, no harm done – 3 coats and the grey was as pure as snow. 20 minutes later it was time to peel off the masking tape with fingers firmly crossed…

scandi style baby nurseryTada! It worked!

We finished the mountain mural about 2 months ago and I’m still so delighted with it. It’s not totally perfect – some of the lines are a little shaky and there’s a tiny bit of cracking in the white paint because we layered it on too thickly. But none of that matters (or is even visible unless you’re up close) – it looks fantastic and I’m so proud of us DIY newbies for doing it all ourselves.

It really was a very easy project, and the finished result looks way more professional than I expected. For a couple of first-timers, I think we really smashed it! Here are a few tips if you’d like to paint your own mountain mural…

– It’s time-consuming, but don’t rush it. Set aside a full weekend and give yourself enough drying time

– Use good quality paint and decent brushes. You want an even finish without the stray brush hairs!

– Buy the best masking/decorators’ tape you can find. We found the blue stuff was the best, and a rub-over with a damp cloth strengthens the glue even more.

– Sketch out your mountain scene first and use your sketch as a reference for the wall. Don’t make it too formal or uniform, and don’t worry if your peaks aren’t perfectly straight!

pastel mountain mural nursery

Preggo Updates – 35 Weeks

Posted in Pregnancy and Baby.

Hi! Welcome to 35 weeks of pregnancy, featuring achey hips, extreme tiredness and one very wriggly baby.

35 weeks maternity outfit

Shirt, Cos | Cardigan, Cos | Jeans, New Look | Flats, Topshop | Bag, Michael Kors

This week I’ve definitely noticed a ‘stepping up’ of the pregnancy symptoms. My heartburn is chronic, my hips are practically caving in on themselves and walking is a very slow process. Adjusting to a heavily pregnant body is pretty tough, especially when you’re used to doing everything at double speed… walking in particular is frustrating and most of the time I feel like a tourist on Oxford St – bumbling along at a snail’s pace while everyone else whizzes by and tuts at my slowness.

But! Although the symptoms are annoying and tiring, I can’t feel anything other than excited right now. Baby A is super active these days – her movements have changed from hard kicks to nudges, rolls and wriggles and every one delights us. She sticks her bum out so we can feel it on my belly and knowing she’s right there under our hands is just a bit mind-boggling. It really drives home just how REAL it all is, and that she’ll be here with us in no time. Amazing.

This week Rob and I have also been cracking on with antenatal classes. We’ve signed up for pretty much everything going, including the private NCT course and the free NHS sessions. It’s really interesting to experience both types of classes and the differences between them – so far they’ve both been super useful and NCT is definitely better for meeting parent pals and bonding with a group of likeminded people. But the NHS active birthing class we had at St James’s earlier this week has been the highlight of our parenting education so far – the midwife who led it was absolutely brilliant and I loved the laidback, homespun nature of it… particularly the knitted uterus and placenta cushion used to demonstrate labour!

It might sound a bit ramshackle and I did expect something much more clinical considering we were in a hospital, but the informality was hugely reassuring and the ease with which the midwife spoke about labour made it all sound so doable. We also had a tour of the delivery suite at St James’s including the water birth room I’m hoping to use, which is genuinely a bit like a spa. It’s SO nice and so unlike a hospital, I’m actually quite looking forward to the whole thing.

So, that was 35 weeks. I’m 36 on Tuesday which means it’s only 4 weeks till Baby A’s due date and she’ll be only a week away from full term. Tbh, it can’t come soon enough – I’m desperate to meet her!

A Gender Neutral Pastel Nursery with Mountain Mural

Posted in Home, Pregnancy and Baby.

Baby A’s nursery was one of the first things I started planning when I found out I was pregnant. I’m shallow, I know. But I do love an interiors project and there’s endless nursery inspiration to be found when you’re battling morning sickness and browsing Pinterest.

pastel mountain mural nursery

I went back and forth with a few different ideas before settling on a style. I didn’t want to go super girly with lots of pink, but I do actually like pink and think it works really well to create a soft, calming space. I fell in love with Emily Henderson’s blush and green nursery theme and searched high and low for an affordable alternative to that beautiful forest wallpaper, to no avail. So I toyed with decals and feature colours and printed wallpaper before discovering the mountain mural.

mountain mural for girls nursery
gender neutral pastel nurseryOur first job was to clear the room and paint. Before its nursery transformation, this room was used as Rob’s office/a storage space/a general dumping ground, so we got rid of all the clutter and cleaned top to bottom. Three of the walls were light grey and one a slightly darker shade, so we used a primer on the darker wall then went straight in with the main colour, which is Farrow & Ball’s Cromarty. It took three coats to get an even finish, then we moved on to the woodwork (Dulux’s Eggshell White wood paint) and the ceiling.

For the mountain mural, we used this tutorial and it was all very easy, if quite time-consuming. I’ll do a full post on the creation of the mural complete with progress pics, but for reference we used Farrow & Ball’s Dove Grey for the foreground mountains, Pavilion Grey for the background mountains and Wimbourne White for the snowy peaks!

scandi style baby nursery
storage solutions babys nurseryWith the painting done, it was time to fill the space with beautiful, beautiful stuff! Being six months pregnant and all, I wasn’t much help with the painting stage, but I SMASHED the buying stuff stage. We started with the furniture – I knew I wanted a Scandi-style cot and a chest of drawers rather than a changing table, but it took a long time to find anything in the UK. US readers, you have it so great when it comes to nursery furniture! I loved the Babyletto range at Target but they don’t ship furniture over here, so it was back to the drawing board.

baby clothing organisation
nursery clothing storageI finally stumbled across the Finley cot and 3-drawer chest on the M&S website, of all places. I’d never think to look in M&S for furniture, but both pieces are really well-made and they were assembled by the delivery team – much easier than Ikea!

A little note on using a chest of drawers as a changing table – I didn’t want a wardrobe in the room, so the changing table needed to double up as somewhere to store Baby A’s clothing, too. I also wanted something sturdy and high enough that I wasn’t hunching over it every time I changed a nappy. I read loads of reviews on various ‘changing chests’ but in the end decided I didn’t really need something that was designed specifically for changing – a substantial changing mat (mine is this Cam Cam one from ScandiBorn) seems enough, especially as I’m not gonna be wandering off while my baby lies untethered, mid-change. But if, when we get going with this baby thing, I find I do need a bit more support for the mat, M&S do a changing topper. Clever!

I also wanted to add some hanging storage to the walls to create a bit of a feature – for above the changing table I used the Farg Form hooks and hanging baskets, and added these round buttons from John Lewis to display some of Baby A’s clothes.

ikea poang nursing chair
string shelving baby nursery
girls nursery mountain mural
string shelving scandi nurseryFinding a nursing chair was another point of contention – nursing chairs are extremely ugly and I hate them all. Other than this £795 version (lol, why) I couldn’t find a single chair I liked, so I did what anyone who’s hit a wall during an interiors project would do – I went to Ikea. I’d read great things about the POANG chair for nursing purposes and at £55 it’s far more affordable than most ‘proper’ nursing chairs, so I snapped up the non-rocking version in the grey/oak colourway. It does actually rock a bit, and it’s more upright than the rocking chair which felt more useful for nursing.

To display some of Baby A’s trinkets, I copied every New Mum Instagrammer and bought some String shelves. These are seriously popular in the nursery interiors community (yep, that’s a thing) and the oak/white version matches the rest of the furniture perfectly. I don’t want lots of clutter in the nursery but these shelves are great for holding the bits and bobs I want to display, like the vintage Beatrix Potter books that were mine as a kid, the Lala Loves Decor acrylic pieces and every baby’s favourite giraffe, Sophie.

mountain mural for babys nursery
girls nursery wall hangings
wall hangings pastel gender neutral nurseryFor my baby shower, my wonderful friends and family all bought Baby A their favourite book from childhood. So cute! I wanted them out for all to see, so picked up a cheap picture ledge from Ikea and sat them all on it along with the light box that seems essential for all nurseries.

Instagram has been an amazing source of cool interior brands for project nursery – I discovered Secret Holiday Co’s amazing felt banners and Holly and Teddy’s beautiful weaves during my extensive browsing.

gender neutral mountain mural nurseryI think the finishing touches really pull the nursery together – the felt ball rug adds a hint of pink without being super girly, and the conical lightshade from Made.com matches the wall colour perfectly. I also found these black out curtains to keep the room dark when Baby A is napping during the day (fingers firmly crossed on that one).

Finally, taking pride of place in the room, is Sven the rocking sheep. You might remember his Danish brother from our Copenhagen Airbnb – as soon as I spotted him, I knew he’d be the perfect addition to our Scandi-inspired nursery. Handmade by Danish designer Povl Kjer, these rocking sheep are really popular in Denmark and we saw them in plenty of shops but getting one back in our hand luggage would’ve been tricky. When we got back from Copenhagen I made it my mission to find a stockist in the UK and luckily discovered Gigi Brooks, who sell a range of Povl’s designs (including his amazing sheep stools!). The lovely people at Gigi Brooks sent Sven out super quickly and he was the first piece to go into the nursery. I can’t wait to see Baby A rocking away!

And so, that’s the nursery. All ready for her arrival in 5 (ish) weeks. Although she won’t go into her own room for around 6 months, I’m so glad we went through the ritual of preparing Baby A’s space, and I hope she loves it as much as we do.