How to take parental leave and keep your freelance business thriving

Oct 14, 2020

My customers will forget me if I take a parental leave.

My business won’t thrive anymore when I become a parent.

That’s what I’ve heard from many young freelancers and business owners.

For a long time, I was also convinced that it’s impossible to combine parenting with running a freelance business.

And then I became a mother and my perspective on business has changed. There’s only one thing that you need to transition smoothly into the life of a parent and freelancer: the right preparation!

So, how do you make sure your customers won’t run away from you while you’re running around your baby?

1. Crunch the numbers

As a freelancer, you always need a financial buffer to be ready for unexpected events. Late payments, health issues, family problems, pandemic — there’s always something that could stop your usual work flow. That’s why a good safety net should be an inseparable part of your freelance business.

You could also use your savings to take a longer parental leave. The law in each country varies, and depending on your location, you might be eligible for a maternity allowance from the government. For example, in the UK, if you meet the appropriate criteria, you qualify for about £140 per week. In New York, freelancers can opt in to the state's paid family leave by purchasing an insurance policy (though there's a two-year waiting period before you can access benefits). Once you know whether and how the government can support you, calculate your monthly expenses to find out if you need to take any further steps. In most cases, you'll end up with a number much lower than your usual monthly income, so having a financial cushion or other backup will come in handy. For example, a good idea is to…

2. Have a passive income

No matter your specialization, there’s always something you can share with others — such as your knowledge and experience — and convert into a steady source of income. In this way, you’ll be able to earn money without the constant exchange of your time and skills. You could create online courses, write books or e-books, use affiliate marketing, sell spaces on your blog, create website or graphic templates, develop an app, sell photography, sell printable products — the possibilities are endless. Come up with an original idea, create a quality product, and promote it to your target audience to start generating passive income. It will be your backup not only during your parental leave but throughout your whole career.

But even if your passive income sources are reliable, don’t forget to…

3. Inform your customers

There’s nothing more annoying than coming back to work just to realize there’s no work. Be open with your customers and communicate well in advance about your parental leave. One email may not be enough, so send another reminder shortly before your break. Tell your customers how long you’ll be gone and ask if there’s anything else you can do for them before you go on leave.

You can also arrange coverage — e.g., another freelancer from your field of expertise who could take over some of your projects during your absence. In this case, provide your customers with the contact data of your colleagues and make sure their rates are comparable with yours. Otherwise, your customers might be tempted to keep doing business with your colleagues rather than with you.

Once your customers know what to expect in your absence, make sure to…

4. Automate as much as possible

Even though you’re on leave, your freelance business should still be discoverable. If you don’t want to lose your momentum, try scheduling your marketing campaigns, social media posts, or blog articles in advance. In this way you’ll be able to keep interacting with your audience. You don’t have to publish 10 posts per day to engage with your followers. After all, you’re on a break, so your social media activity can slow down as well. There’s nothing wrong with reducing the frequency of  your blog posts from four to two per month, or your social posts from five to one per week. As long as the content you schedule is relevant to your followers, your audience won’t mind that you’re less active or take longer to respond to comments and messages.

You can’t prepare for all the ups and downs of parenthood. But you can always equip yourself and your business with useful tools that will support you in this powerful transition.

Dorota Pawlak

Dorota Pawlak is a translator and business consultant for freelancers and writers. She recently published her book "You've got this: How to continue your freelance career when you become a mother."