The last time I was anyone’s W-2 employee was in 2002. I’ve been running my own business through my (now extensive) baby-having years.
There are many upsides to this. I have reasonable control over when and where I work, with the ability to scale up and down.
However, if I don’t work, I don’t get paid (to some degree; some stuff is passive). More importantly, since the business is basically my words/image/voice/presence, if I stop working there isn’t much of a business. Given how much time I’ve put into building this thing, and the commitments I’ve already made, and — not a small point — how much I enjoy it, I don’t want to go completely dormant.
All of this means that taking maternity leave as a self-employed person tends to look different from the corporate variety of leave. As I approach my fifth time through this experience, I’m keeping in mind a few lessons learned over the years.
I shouldn’t assume everyone knows I’m pregnant. If I was reporting to an office 40 hours a week, my gigantic belly would be absolutely obvious to my co-workers. But I was reminded again the other day that with virtual work, even people you work with quite closely (as in exchanging daily emails) aren’t seeing you. So why would they know? If there’s going to be a workflow change, best to bring it up a few months ahead of time. (Whoops).
I can ask for a pause. I’ve had various recurring gigs over the years. When I’ve asked to stop meeting regular deadlines for a while, people have generally been OK with it. There’s no guarantee I won’t be replaced, or that the client won’t leave, with the new person having no clue who I am, but that’s the freelance life anyway. An alternate solution is to…
Work ahead. This is what I’m doing with my podcasts. My goal with Before Breakfast is to have episodes in the hopper through March by the time the baby arrives. Best of Both Worlds will also be recorded well ahead, though since I have a co-host who can produce episodes on her own, this is less of an issue.
I can say no to some things. I decided that I would not travel from mid-December through mid-April. This has involved turning down work (primarily speaking opportunities), which is never easy. As a self-employed person, I often feel like a hunter-gatherer. If someone tells me, hey, there’s a mastodon right over there, my inclination is to go get it. You never know when other mastodons will appear! But the funny thing is…they do. In the past I’ve said yes to a few marginal things and this time, especially since I assume it’s the last time, probably best to take it easy for a bit. That said, I can…
Manage the pipeline. Proposals tend to take a while to wend their way through systems. That means that the month or so before giving birth can actually be a great time to put in bids for new work, or to turn in things that will eventually come back to you, but need a lot of other people’s input in the mean time. With any luck, people will be ready to have you start a few months later. If you scale down this marketing and speculative work since you want to take time off, you won’t have a ton of time to work on it in the first few months caring for the baby, and then the pipeline will feel empty right as you’re ready to scale back up.
I can accept that it’s OK to be not completely off. This is the biggest difference between self-employed “leave” and employed leave. If you employ people they are entitled to whatever time off is contractually theirs without you bugging them. As a business owner, though, you might make different decisions. I could stop working entirely, but why? My feeling has always been that since I’m not reporting to an office away from my baby and I’m setting my own hours and choosing my own tasks it’s OK to do a few things here and there. I like my work and enjoy it. In the past I’ve generally been operating at about 25 percent capacity for a few weeks, and then around 50 percent for the duration of what might be a normal maternity leave. I’m probably at about 75 percent for the next few months. So I’m guessing that’s what it will be this time around too. The interesting thing with this sort of work is that while there’s some correlation between hours and productivity, some is just random. I wrote what has turned out to be my most successful product (the What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast ebook) in the 6 weeks after kid #3 was born in fall 2011.
If you work for yourself, how have you handled births or other major care-taking/medical events? Please let me know your discoveries!
Photo: Look what showed up at my house! I forgot how tiny the newborn sizes were.