Managing Maternity Leave When You’re Self-Employed

kathryn by Kathryn Hawkins on January 6, 2014
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Are you thinking about having a baby? When you’re self-employed, planning your maternity leave can be a challenge. Although you won’t have to return to work on someone else’s timetable, you may find it tough to schedule significant time off. After all, for most independent service providers, if you’re not on the job, you’re not making money.

Here are three strategies for successfully managing a baby break from your small business.

1. Purchase short-term disability insurance before you get pregnant. If you’re planning to start a family sometime soon, consider signing up for a short-term disability policy, which will provide you with income equivalent to a portion of your average earnings during the time that you’re unable to work. (For a complication-free pregnancy and delivery, that period is generally six weeks.) Make sure to enroll before you’re pregnant, and find out how long you’re required to pay the premiums before you can collect for pregnancy-related reasons. Enrolling after you’re pregnant makes pregnancy a “pre-existing condition” that may not be covered, as is the case with this Allstate policy [PDF].

2. Clear your schedule in the weeks after your child’s birth. Depending on the type of business you run, you may be able to plan some extended time off. For example, an independent consultant could let clients know that she won’t be taking on additional work after a specific date (and perhaps until further notice) and refer prospects to others in the field, if necessary. If it would hurt your cash flow too much to close your office or shop for a few weeks, hire a great manager to step in while you’re away.

3. Enlist help at work and at home. Don’t want to risk letting business lapse or clients get away? Before you deliver, recruit hands-on help — a family member or a paid caregiver — to assist with your little one. Make sure that you’ll have someone around to look after the baby at least a few times a week. This will allow you to concentrate on job-related tasks. If you plan to breastfeed, pumping on a set schedule will help you avoid interruptions (at home or the office) and enable a caregiver to feed the baby without your help.

Meanwhile, it may be difficult to focus heavily on your business in the early weeks of parenthood, so consider hiring temporary staff or outsourcing certain tasks that you know you won’t have time for, such as bookkeeping and administrative work. For example, freelance writer Cynthia Ramnarace saved time by hiring a transcription service to transcribe her source interviews, enabling her to complete a major assignment within a month of her baby’s birth.

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