Maternity leave when self-employed

Maternity leave for the self-employed can be a somewhat different experience to full-time employees, some of which will get paid their full salary for at least six months.

The latter are, in theory at least, able to immerse themselves in all aspects of early parenthood, from the inevitable sleepless nights to the milky muslin cloths and nappies, without having to worry about paying the mortgage.

For mums who are running their own business, however, it’s a different matter. Many have to return to work sooner than they may actually want to and juggle a newborn baby on one hand and spreadsheets on the other.

Maternity allowance

The government’s statutory maternity allowance, which now stands at £145.18 a week for 39 weeks, is not enough for many new mums to live off when it comes to taking parental leave.

Dan Godsall, managing director of Womba Group maternity coaching firm, says self-employed people usually have to rely more on their own financial resources when taking time out. “The statutory pay provided by the government is not enough for the majority of people to live off,” he notes. “Furthermore, employees taking time away from work are more able to fully disconnect from their work life, and focus their energies on being a parent.”

Self-employed people, on the other hand, often have to wear both hats and combine their professional and personal selves. “They are much more likely to return to work early, perhaps in a reduced capacity to begin with, but more quickly returning to full-time work,” says Godsall.

For self-employed fathers, there is no statutory paternity pay so they often lose out on time with their new baby.

Can you afford to take a maternal break?

Alice Olins and Phanella Mayall Fine, founders of the Step Up Club, a careers club for modern women, say mums who are running their own business face a number of challenges when it comes to taking time off. “Without a wider team and corporate structure in the background, self-employed mums often find maternity leave particularly challenging,” Mayall Fine notes. “Who will back them up while they’re on leave? Can they even afford to take leave in the first place? Will clients leave if their break is too long? And how do you transition back in an effective way without the support of a manager, team or HR to help?”

Do you need to get your own maternity cover whether in the form of a freelancer, other service provider or new hire?

Prepare financially

Preparation, says Mayall Fine, is key. “As soon as you know leave is on the cards, start preparing. Save a little more than usual each month, to give you the financial cushion and comfort that the leave you want to take is viable,” she advises.

You will also need to arrange cover and delegate to someone in your absence. “Even if you’re only planning to take a short time off, the likelihood is your business will need some care while you’re out of the office,” says Mayall Fine. “Could an assistant step up to manage things in your absence? Or do you need to get your own maternity cover whether in the form of a freelancer, other service provider or new hire?”

Arrange cover during your leave

Arranging some form of cover should help reassure you and your clients. “Don’t be tempted to bury your head in the sand and hope clients won’t notice the imminent arrival,” says Mayall Fine. “Communicate early on, letting them know you’ll be out, how long you plan to take and what the cover arrangements will be when you’re off.”

Lisa Fincham founder of MBL Accountants and mum to two young boys, says it’s easy for new parents to underestimate the impact and strain that having a baby will inevitably bring. “When I had my first son in 2010, I thought I’d be able to manage everything fine, but it’s very hard to switch off when it’s your own business,” she notes. “I wish I’d delegated a few more things before I went on maternity leave.”

Keep your clients happy

Fincham took around nine months off and hired a senior-level accountant to head up her practice. “He couldn’t maintain the business for me but he kept things running and kept our clients happy,” she says. When she took her second maternity leave, in 2015, she had lowered her expectations and took six months off and made sure she checked in with her team regularly. “Whilst it was less of an actual break, I was much more realistic second time around and tried to be honest yet professional with my clients if I couldn’t respond to them or pick things up straight away,” she notes.

The benefits

There are, however, some benefits to being self-employed too. “There is no risk of your job being made redundant while you are away from the workplace,” says Godsall. “And whilst you may not get to spend as much time 100% focused on your new baby, being self-employed can be away of creating a more flexible life for yourself.”
Support networks are essential for new parents, especially those who are self-employed, Godsall says. “Having plans, and back up plans, will help you cope with those first few months,” he notes.

Georgina Fuller is an award winning freelance journalist and editor.

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