Monday, 27 January 2014

Self-employed mums and maternity leave - facts and tips for your business!

I'm having a baby in April! I set up The Intelligent VA Company in 2012 and the decision to have a second child was not an easy one for myself and husband Mark.
Having a baby whilst running my own business was a complete unknown for me, and I found very little in terms of advice from others who had been in the same situation, which was the prompt for this particular blog.
I'm going to look at the challenges faced by self-employed mums before, during and after pregnancy and attempt to share the knowledge I've gathered as I've gone, as well as add some input from other working mums I know.

Can I claim any maternity pay while I'm on maternity leave if I'm self-employed?

The simple answer is you can claim for Maternity Allowance if you have been paying your Class 2 National Insurance contributions, which all self-employed people should be doing as soon as they set up.
Maternity allowance is the same as standard Statutory Maternity Pay and works out at £136.78 a week or 90% of your weekly wage (whichever is lower) and it is paid for up to 39 weeks.

Can I earn money from the business while i'm on maternity leave and claiming Maternity Allowance?

Put simply… No! You can't work at all if you claim maternity allowance save for 10 "keeping in touch" days - and they count any work done (even a phone call) as a full day. You can take drawings out the business whilst off, but you just can't work. I think this is vastly unfair as HMRC lets women claiming SMP from their employers continue to be self-employed and earn an income! So it's good news for mums on maternity leave who may have just started their business, not so good for those already self-employed.

But, if I can't work, how do I keep my business contracts alive while I am at home being a mummy?

There are a few options in this instance. I have spoken to fellow Virtual Assistants I know and trust and they are looking after my contracts for me whilst I am on maternity leave. There are downsides to this and you really do need to trust the individuals you are passing the work on to. Your clients are trusting they will do the job to the standard you would do, and also you're trusting that they are honest enough to give the work back at the end of the term! I am in a fortunate position that I have built close relationships with others in my field and have every faith my contracts will be well looked after.

You could add a partner or friend to the business as a partner who can then work for the business by changing the structure of the business - but, again, you need to be able to trust the individual you choose. 
Finally you could choose to employ someone whilst you're on maternity leave. This is a HUGE decision for you and your business as you need to begin the process of setting up a payroll to allow for National Insurance and tax contributions and you would have to meet the minimum wage and all relevant health and safety legislation, but it is one you might want to consider as an option.

How long should I take off? (Thanks to @franthom from @instillerESP for her input on this one.)

This is entirely up to you, and it depends on your business and your clients. The one piece of advice I would give is not to plan to come back too soon. Being a mum is a tiring business and you'll probably want to try and establish a routine with the child first. As long as you have cover planned, take as long as you need. Just make sure that your clients are ALWAYS kept 100% in the loop. Although it is unlikely you will take the full 39 weeks you can claim your allowance for, I would recommend taking as long as you can to really cherish the time with your baby if at all possible.

So - you've covered your contracts and decided how long you are going to take off with your bundle of joy. The next step is running your business with a family in tow! I'm going to cover some of the lessons I've learned since setting up on my own and working around my daughter, as well as sharing some thoughts and insights from other working mums who contacted me about this blog.

First things first… Be realistic.

One of the things I've learnt is that you really have to be realistic as to what you can actually achieve to the standard you want to consistently deliver to. Do NOT take on work if you are not 100% sure you can deliver it in the time you have available. I always look at the longest possible time it might take to finish a job and what could happen to stop it running smoothly. That way I avoid putting extra pressure on myself. Having a baby around can be quite stressful and you don't want to be adding to that if you don't need to.

Remember… there are 24 hours in a day.

It may sound obvious but many people still think of a work day as having to fit into a 9-5 schedule. Being a working mum from home you do have the capacity to be more flexible. Use evenings, early mornings, and nap times. If you plan contracts as blocks of time and be realistic, you could create extra working time for yourself.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I think guilt is built-in to all parents! You can often feel as if you are being pulled in every direction and like you are doing lots of things at once. I think the key is to set your work time and family time early on and stick to it. This can be tricky but more than achievable and links nicely into my next point...

Be honest.

I've found that being honest has worked well, and all my clients know that I am a mum running a business from home. I am upfront that I often have a child around and there are some days when I am not working on contracts but being a mum. All my clients are very understanding as I have always taken work, looked at it and come back with a very specific proposal about exactly what the work will look like, how long it will take and when it will be completed. I realise not everyone will think this approach the best one for someone running a business, but I find honesty has always worked. My children were the driver behind me starting the company and play a key part in where I am today, so I've always made them part of the business and my decisions, and my clients have been very understanding.

Best laid plans.

And finally...! Remember you can be the most organised individual on the planet but you never know what might happen in life. That block of work you planned while your little one has a two hour nap might be scuppered when they decide that today is the day they are going to take the world's shortest nap! The key is not to panic. Look at your commitments for rest of day/week, look at when you might have another spare two hours, look at the deadline date and how close it is, and ask a friend or family member nicely if they can come and entertain them while you work. Broken down, you can fit everything in nicely as long as you are REALISTIC about the work in the first place. 

And remember...

Don't put yourself under huge pressure by taking on more than is realistic to achieve - and don't panic when it doesn't go to plan. You will be able to get it done. 

Surround yourself with supportive people and plan, plan, plan, and you will be able to juggle two of the biggest challenges life can throw at you… having children and running your own business. But don't're a mum and we can do ANYTHING!

Some thoughts from other mums in business:

Michelle Leivers - @danceandrecruit. "Don't underestimate your achievements; you don't need to work 8-6 and have a board room to be a success."

And this little gem of a pic highlighting the 'Best Laid Plans' point from Charlotte Leivers @leiversdance. 

Thanks for reading. 
To find out more about my Virtual Assistant business please visit or follow us on Twitter @intelligentvaco.

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