When I was pregnant with my first daughter in 2012, I thought freelance writing would be easy to squeeze in between diaper changes and naps. I even imagined myself using dictation software to quietly write articles and books while I nursed in the middle of the night. Oh, the hopes of first-time moms.
Running a freelance business with a new baby is a challenge, but it’s not impossible. Here’s what I’ve learned from my own personal experiences.
What to Expect After Expecting
No book can adequately prepare you for how draining a new baby is on your physical and mental health. For mothers, it can take a long time for the body to heal and for hormones to regulate. Baby blues, postpartum depression, brain fog and sleep deprivation are all real things that can affect parents and your freelance business. As sleep expert Dr. Dianne Augelli told Self, “The effects of poor sleep on cognition, memory, learning and processing can be seen with just one night of tossing and turning.”
Should You Tell Your Clients?
In my experience, I’ve had the most success telling clients that I’ll be taking a month off, making myself available to work ahead so they’re not left hanging. Just remember: The time it takes to get back into the swing of things varies for everyone, so don’t be surprised if it takes you more — or less — than a month.
You may be wondering: Should you give your clients a reason for taking time off? After my first baby, I told some clients the reason, but after my second, I didn’t. In my experience, many clients were happy for me, but two clients did eventually move on to another writer during my time off. For myself, not sharing information about my pregnancy made me less likely to use it as an excuse on days when I wasn’t feeling 100 percent. In the end, the choice is yours. There’s a slight risk that your client will replace you either way, but many times the good news can make them more understanding and respectful of your time.
Does a New Baby Mean a New Budget?
For freelancers with a spouse or partner, one of the best ways to budget for a new baby is to live off of one partner’s income during the pregnancy and newborn months. But if you’re the main breadwinner in your family, you should consider setting aside a portion — perhaps 30 percent — of your earnings each month during pregnancy. Doing so will enable you to be more financially stable if you take some time off after your little one is born.
Of course, both of these tactics may require you to make some financial cuts. But adjusting your spending accordingly will help you build up your emergency fund and prepare for living on a tighter budget after your baby is born. Finding a freelancers disability insurance plan that covers maternity leave can also help you ensure your finances stay afloat during the transition.
It’s best to plan for unforeseeable delays, such as a difficult recovery or a premature baby who requires a NICU stay. Knowing that you have an emergency fund, are signed up for disability insurance and can survive on less for a few months will help to take some of the pressure off.
Having children made me realize I need boundaries in my freelance business. Current and prospective clients can’t expect me to answer an email within 10 minutes, take an unscheduled phone call or have less than 24 hours to meet a deadline. Let your clients know that you’ll always answer emails within a specific time frame, and that you need X amount of hours to meet an assignment deadline.
New baby or not, it’s just a good business practice to mentally detach from your work and focus on your family and yourself at the end of the day. If you feel like you have to be “on” 24/7, you’re going to burn out quickly from the pressure and stress. Giving your clients these boundaries means they’ll always know exactly what to expect from you — and that’ll eliminate frustration from unmet expectations.
Schedules Are a Must
There are two camps in Parent Land: the schedulers and the non-schedulers. As a freelancer, it’s essential to get your baby on a regular routine of eating, sleeping and playing. Your parenting routine doesn’t have to be rigid, but if you’re feeding your baby and putting them down to nap at the same times every day, they’re less likely to be fussy.
Scheduling takes a lot of effort up front, but once you get into a routine, you can easily navigate your day. Both of my daughters were scheduled to eat every three hours, and trained to go down for their naps at the same time each day with minimal assistance. Even though my second daughter was a horrible night sleeper for two years, having her on a consistent schedule let me plan out the pockets of time I had to work. Knowing her feeding times, nap times, happy times and fussy times helped me be more productive when I sat down to tackle a freelance project.
Hire Regular Child Care
Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you also have to be a stay-at-home parent 100 percent of the time. Consider hiring a caregiver to come to your home on a regular schedule so you can work uninterrupted for several hours. Of course, daycare is another option, as well. You can also try arranging a regular, weekly schedule with another parent friend. For example, you could watch the kinds on Mondays, and they could host them on Thursdays. And, if a family member offers, you can ask them to help out on a consistent basis, too.
As much as you want your freelance business to thrive, don’t forget that you have an exciting new bundle of joy in front of you. So, enjoy your time with your new baby, and don’t burn yourself out trying to do everything. You’ll find your new normal eventually. Trust me, the dreaded new parent brain fog doesn’t last forever.