When you are employed on a contract basis and go to the workplace each day, there is no obvious confusion about informing your boss. You wait until the second trimester, to be sure, and then you negotiate your maternity leave. The only complexity comes with timing before and after birth, and how much leave you can afford to take.
However, as a person who works as a freelancer or independent business owner, the issue of maternity is more challenging. While it is usually best to separate work and life as much as possible, this is one of those situations when you will need to blur the line. You will be unavailable for work for a time, and you will be unresponsive. Failing to inform clients of why you are unresponsive could lead to a loss of the business, which you have worked so hard to build up.
Here we cover some of the basics of bringing up the topic of maternity with your clients.
Drawing up a transition plan
When you find out you are pregnant, you will be fortunate enough to have a period to plan. You should start by writing a list of clients and projects alongside delivery dates for the work or service. Then, simply map this against your critical dates in your pregnancy. If you work with a team of people, you can delegate this work. If you work as a sole trader, you may be able to subcontract the work for the period of your maternity. If you subcontract, this will need careful negotiation with your clients.
If you do plan to pass the work to someone else for the time of your maternity, you should undertake two or three test periods to see if the arrangement works. You do not want to be trialling your plan close to your delivery date for your baby.
One of the critical issues is timing. While you want to plan early for maternity leave, you might not want to inform your clients straight away. However, you need to think early on about workflow and how much you wish to continue and for how long. In short, you need to be clear on your timeline.
Informing your clients too early could lead to a loss of business. While they may be happy for your good news, they have a duty to maintain a continuity of supply of your service or product. Therefore, they may be tempted to seek out an alternative proposition sooner rather than later. The longer they do not opt to use you as their freelancer of choice, the more likely they will build loyalty with another.
However, informing them too late is unfair and could lead to bad blood. You will be walking away from the client for a period, and they will need to fill the gap. In reality, giving your clients four weeks’ notice should be ample to allow them to plan for the gap.
When you do inform the client, you should also be able to talk them through your timeline. Be clear when you will be capable of fully committing to the work they offer you – and be realistic about this.
Writing the letter/ email
It is better to notify your clients in writing and offer a follow-up call should they require it. Maintaining client relationships means managing the conversations, so there are no significant complexities. Calling your client to say you are pregnant and will not be available for three months puts them in that compromising situation of wanting to congratulate you and not appearing selfish by considering their requirements.
When writing, you have an opportunity to solidify the relationship by offering a clear timeline and plan for how this time can be managed. Remember, if you work with other people, you can reassure the client that the work can continue as before and how much you rate your replacement. Having outlined a clear plan of action for the client, you immediately demonstrate that you have concern for their needs. This is particularly vital where there are open projects, or the workflow for the project will run through your period of leave.
You also should address the elephant in the corner – or the baby in the crib – both equally as disruptive to your regular daily routine. While no client wants to suggest that a baby will compromise your capabilities, it will be in their mind. Obviously, you can only anticipate how the new arrival will change your life, you can make some broad assumptions. For instance, while establishing a routine for the first six weeks, it is likely the most you could do is monitor your email in brief periods of sleep. In other words, be realistic.
In the letter or email, make clear what you will be able to do or not. Be honest and authentic in this communication and then offer the chance to speak to you on the phone or by video chat. Remember to end the letter by thanking them for their continued support and understanding during this time.
Pre-due date break
Finally, a word about you: if you are a freelancer, then you have some luxury to plan your schedule. Therefore, apart from checking the odd email, you should be able to prepare for your new arrival practically and mentally before the birth. The last thing you want to do as you start labour is send out the message to your clients that the baby you mentioned is arriving.
Therefore, with a week or two to spare, send out a message reminding your clients that you are taking maternity leave. Reassure them that where your schedule allows, you will be responsive to messages, but you are not available for work. If you work on a freelancing website, and this is how you secure new clients, you should set your status to unavailable for this period, to avoid any loss of reputation while you are away.
With careful planning and excellent communication, you shouldn’t worry about losing clients during this maternity leave. Most of your work will be allocated by people with families, and they will know that your financial security is essential to your happiness.
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About the author:
Laura McLoughlin is a Digital PR based in Armagh, Northern Ireland. She has previous experience as a website editor and journalist, and currently works with King’s Baby Shop.