A freelance mum’s top 5 tips for self-employed mothers juggling work with family

Jess Day is a freelance writer and new mum to a daughter, Jude, who’s 10 months old.

Jess writes for Simply Business, and we wanted to catch up with her to find out how she’s finding life as a self-employed mum. Jess talks about the difficulties of claiming government support, what she has planned for Mother’s Day itself, and gives her top five tips for freelance mums juggling work with raising a child.

Can you tell us all about your daughter? And your maternity leave?

Yes! Jude is just over 10 months old, although she was born a little early so is still pretty tiny. She loves music, being outdoors, people and faces – and nursery!

I’m back to being self-employed now after eight months’ maternity leave, two days a week but will soon increase this to three or four. As a freelancer I wasn’t entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay, but luckily I qualified for Maternity Allowance instead.

How has your experience of working and freelancing changed now you’re a parent?

I think the biggest thing is the focus it gives me. Before Jude was born I had the luxury of time, and could work later if I needed, as well as starting later or taking time off if I had an appointment or errand to run.

Now I’m a self-employed mum, I’m much more conscious and stick to a daily schedule. I need to make the seven or eight hours I have for my clients really count. Not that I wasn’t time-aware before, but because as a mum I can’t just work into the evening, or pick things up at the weekends. I recently tried to field a last-minute client call from a busy doctor’s waiting room. No problem this time last year, but impossible with a teething baby to bounce!

What’s the most challenging part of freelancing as a new mum?

It might sound ironic, but for me it’s not having an employer, and all the rights and benefits they bring. The biggest one is time off. UK employees have the right to paid time off if they need to deal with childcare emergencies, as well as things like parental or compassionate leave. When Jude’s nursery call me to ask me to pick her up because she’s sick, I drop everything and go, and won’t charge any more for that day. It’s not the cost that makes it stressful, but letting the client down. Babies get sick a lot, especially when first starting nursery, and as a freelancer I want to be reliable for my clients. I’m really lucky to work with people who are understanding though, which is key.

So many people have this romantic notion of what it’s like to be a freelance mum. And it mostly involves working from a coffee shop next to your nursery, downing endless lattes and having time to run quick errands around your flexible schedule.

The reality is really different. It’s fantastic, and caffeine is a big part of the day, but as a freelancer, staying focused is key. When you’re working, it needs to count, because you’re charging for your time. The flexibility, though, is wonderful and I can feel the benefit it gives me, and Jude.

And the most rewarding?

There’s nothing like seeing Jude’s smile when she spots me at nursery pick-up, and the cuddle she’s started giving me. That’s the same for any parent of course, but as a freelancer, I get to show my daughter you can run a business, make your clients happy, see your baby smile and generally spin plates. Even if you drop a couple, now and again!

What support is out there for self-employed mums? Could the government be doing more?

Freelancers aren’t usually entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay, but there is a near-equivalent benefit, Maternity Allowance, which I was able to claim. It’s not available to everybody, though, and it’s completely your responsibility, when pregnant, to sort out. The form is lengthy, with a complicated table to work through by hand, plotting your baby’s due date and calculating when your benefit should kick in.

My experience was particularly bad, as the government’s back office made an error when processing my claim so my benefit wasn’t paid until Jude was three months old. I spent many hours on the phone last summer, trying to sort it out whilst feeding and changing nappies!

Sadly, I don’t think my experience was unusual. It’s a shame because self-employed mums are an important part of the economy, but the systems in place to support them aren’t great.

What tips do you have for self-employed parents?

Here are my top five:

  • trust your childcare – if you’ve found a great nursery or childminder, or a family member is taking charge, put your trust in them. It’ll stop you checking your phone a million times a day, losing focus and generally worrying

  • prioritise – that might sound obvious, but I really wasn’t good at it, until I became a mum! I have a ‘core five’ in the back of my head (they’re secret, though), and every time I have to make a decision about using my time, I run through them. It helps me with everything from saying yes to a new project, to deciding what to eat for lunch

  • find a great workspace – if, like me, you can work from pretty much anywhere, make it a place where you can focus and do your best work. It’s all too easy to ‘squeeze in’ odd jobs at home, and cafes are fine but can be loud and unpredictable. I’m lucky to have a brilliant shared workspace just around the corner from where I live, but libraries can be good too, if the WiFi’s up to it and you don’t have loud calls to make

  • outsource all the jobs you can – this depends on budget, but I’ve cut certain things (mainly my social life!) out of our outgoings to hire a cleaner, get our groceries delivered, and generally make life easier. It’s such a help and gives me more quality time with Jude. Also, I’ve decided to hire an accountant. Sorting out my Self Assessment tax return this year was simply a bridge too far!

  • rest – if the opportunity presents itself, rest. Don’t start the next ‘quick’ job on your list, or call someone you don’t feel like calling, or worry about cooking from scratch. Pull out that emergency frozen ready meal, have a shower and get an early night. You’ll be fresher for the 5am wake-up, as well as that 9am meeting

Also, I really recommend TomatoTimer for keeping you on track with 25-minute work sprints and regular breaks. I run it through the day on my laptop.

Do you have any plans for your first Mother’s Day (although Jude might be a little too young to organise herself)?

I’m so excited. I have a ‘Mother’s Day tea’ at Jude’s nursery tomorrow morning and I think she’s making me a card. Maybe she’ll get a little help, but it will be the most special one I ever get! Then we’re off to Suffolk for a long weekend of walks, cake and crawling practice.

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