by Laura McLoughlin
As a freelancer or independent business owner, you have rightly kept your work and life in two separate boxes. You may work from home, but your clients only know you as the professional who delivers the requested product or service. However, when you expect a baby, and you require time off from work, there will be a natural blurring of the boundaries.
While this is obviously a time of celebration, between decking out the new baby’s room and receiving gifts from well wishers, you may naturally feel anxious about your business. Your hope in this situation is to have the break you need to ease into parenthood without losing the clients you have worked hard to win. Here we explore how to address maternity with your clients, so you can find the best solution for all.
Create a transition / action plan
Before you begin to speak to clients, you need to be clear on the details of your work and the timelines. You might want to start by writing a list of your clients and projects, with more information such as deadlines. If you have a team of people, you can then allocate a person to take on the client while you are on leave. However, if you are a sole trader, you will identify when you will not be available to complete the work. It might even be a good idea to seek a subcontractor to work on this for you in the time you are not available.
If you decide to pass the work to another person, you should organise a couple of trial periods. You do not want to be rectifying problems with the plan when you are going into labour.
Getting the timing right
You obviously want to wait until the second trimester before spreading the word about your pregnancy. However, not long after this period, you will start to show the world that you are about to have a baby. If you meet clients in person, this likely means you will have to tell them sooner rather than later. However, if you work remotely, you have a little more latitude to wait.
In reality, four weeks is a fair warning that you are taking maternity leave, especially if you plan for how the work can continue while you are away from your desk. If you tell your client too early, you may give them time to forget or time to seek a different freelancer. They will likely be happy for your good news, but they will rightly be worried about continuing their business. Therefore, give them enough warning to be respectful, with a suitable solution, and you can have some hope to retain that client.
When informing someone of your need for leave, it is better to tell them in writing and then offer a follow-up conversation. Allow the client to digest the news and see that you have an alternative solution before being expected to react.
Your hope for this email or letter is to solidify the relationship and garner loyalty. Therefore, not only will you provide them with a clear timeline and an alternative solution, but you will also make it clear what you will be capable of doing during this leave.
Be realistic about what you can offer during your leave. The client may be a parent too, or at least an aunt or uncle or friend of a parent. They will be aware of the demands of a new baby, and they will respect realistic suggestions. Consequently, you may offer to respond to emails, but you should make it clear that this depends on your schedule when the message comes through.
Finally, if you are using a freelancer site to bid for your work, you should set yourself as unavailable for work. Everything should be focused on maintaining your positive reputation, so you can pick your business up when you are ready to get back to work.
Realistic and authentic
Essentially, if this message was to be boiled down to two words, it would be realistic and authentic. Be sure to only offer what you can deliver and let people know that you have done all you can to put a plan in place.