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.
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.
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.
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.
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!