So far, I’ve taken freelance maternity leave twice:
I’ve talked at length about how I carefully planned those periods away from my business. I’ve broken down the timelines, shared the steps I took, created email templates, and more.
So, if you’re currently in the thick of planning your own maternity/parental leave (or really any sort of longer leave) from your freelance business, I highly recommend checking out these resources first:
But, when it comes to taking leave, I’ve realized that a lot of the focus is placed on how to prepare—but hardly anybody talks about how to come back.
In reality, that’s the biggest concern of any freelancer planning an extended break from their business.
Will I bounce back? Will any of my clients want to work with me again? Will my business look the way it did before? Will I ever earn another dime freelancing?
All totally valid concerns—and, admittedly, fears that kept me up at night as I was hashing out the details of my own leave.
Fortunately, I did successfully return from both maternity leaves. *wipes brow*
Both times, I was back up and running in a relatively short amount of time. And, while my business doesn’t look or function exactly the way it did before (honestly, probably for the better), I don’t feel like my career majorly suffered as a result of taking those breaks. I’m still earning a great living working with excellent clients on interesting projects.
But HOW did I return from freelance maternity leave without any major fallout? I’m spillin’ my experience and my best tips here.
When I planned my first maternity leave, my husband and I sat down to create a budget. We knew I wouldn’t be earning for those months I was off, and we wanted to make sure we were set up financially.
Looking back, we made one big mistake: Put simply, we…uhh…got the math wrong.
I knew I’d return to work in June. What I didn’t think about what that I wouldn’t necessarily start earning in June. Sure, I’d be back at my desk. But, clients need time to respond, iron out their own plans, and get back into the groove with you (if they intend to do so).
And even if my clients did bring me right back into the fold? I didn’t invoice until the end of June. With Net 30 payment terms, it was up to another month before I saw any money. I didn’t really feel like I was bringing any sort of money in until August at the absolute earliest—but we had (rather naively) assumed I’d be back to “normal” in June.
We were much smarter about it the second time around, and it’s advice I’d give to any other freelancer: Build a buffer into your financial savings to cover the delay in actually getting paid.
And while you’re at it? Build that cushion into your timeline too, because you might not actually want to head back to work right when you think you will. With my first, I was ready and raring to get back into the swing of things. With my second? I wanted more time and ended up needing to delay my return anyway, due to a COVID closure in his daycare room.
As with anything, the best-laid plans tend to disintegrate right before your eyes. And you’d rather have more time and money than not enough.
QUICK TIP: When planning your leave, don’t promise your clients a firm return date. Give yourself some wiggle room by keeping things somewhat vague like, “I’ll return in April” or, “I’ll be back in the spring.”
During the course of both of my maternity leaves, one thing became painfully obvious: There was no way I could return to working the same way I did prior to having children.
Before kids, I’d head back to my desk after dinner until 8 or 9pm. I’d work the occasional weekend. With a family, I no longer had the time or desire to pour that many hours and that much energy into my business.
That might sound like a loss. In reality, it’s been one of the best shifts for me both personally and professionally. Those limitations have forced me to narrowly focus on projects and clients that are the best fit for me. Plus, I have little giggling/walking/booger-picking reminders that I need to constantly keep my work-life balance in check.
Of course, everybody has a different idea of what their ideal schedule and balance will look like. The point with this tip is to get really clear about what you think you need moving forward.
How many hours per week do you want to work? Do you want to work every day? Only select days per week? How many hours per day? How many projects or clients can you realistically fit into that timeline?
Outside of the numbers, think about the mental and emotional energy that projects require. Are you in a headspace where you can (or even want to) take on really complex, demanding, or challenging work? Or do you need to start with projects that are a lighter lift while you transition back into the working world?
There are no right or wrong answers here. Take some time to think about what you want your life and business to look like moving forward, so you can intentionally build back your business with that framework in mind.
You’ve identified your ideal work schedule—now it’s time to determine how you’ll fill it.
A lot of this will depend on how you planned your leave and addressed it with your clients ahead of time. Personally, I have a lot of long-standing and recurring clients that had me work ahead on projects to essentially “cover” my own time away. So, they were basically waiting for me to come back so we could resume work and pick up where we left off.
With a limited work schedule though, I knew I couldn’t necessarily take everybody back on the way I originally intended. I needed to figure out whick clients I’d keep and which ones I’d refer to other freelancers.
To do this, I used one of my favorite tools: a matrix. It’s a variation of the classic Eisenhower Matrix and it’s a super helpful way to sort through your clients based on two important factors: pay and enjoyment. Here’s a peek at what this can look like:
I went through all of my existing clients and categorized them accordingly. Anything that fell in the “pays well/enjoy the work” category was an easy and obvious keeper. Similarly, anything that fell in the “doesn’t pay well/dread the work” box was a no-brainer goodbye.
It was tougher to weed through the “pays well/dread the work” and “doesn’t pay well/enjoy the work” categories. I did my best to keep a mix between the two, figuring they’d balance themselves out in some way.
There are other systems you could use to accomplish the same thing. Regardless of your route, your end goal is this: Figure out what clients you want to get started with as soon as you’re back at your computer and ready to roll.
QUICK TIP: Keep in mind that some clients you thought were sure things might not actually be able to work with you when you get back. I wouldn’t email any clients to let them go until you know you have a full roster and absolutely want to part ways with them. Coming back from leave is a slow, steady, and intentional process—don’t feel pressured to email everybody some sort of update on your very first day.
In the months leading up to both of my maternity leaves, I didn’t take on any new clients. I stayed focused on working ahead to make sure my existing clients were set up while I was signed off.
When I was contacted about potential new projects ahead of my time away, I let people know that I wasn’t currently taking on anything new but that I’d be happy to put them on my list of people to reconnect with when I returned. It turned into a waiting list of sorts, and it continued to grow even while I was out on leave.
That meant I also had to consider these new opportunities while I was planning out my post-leave schedule and workload. I combed through my waiting list and “ranked” those opportunities, for lack of a better word. I identified the ones that seemed like the most solid fits for me, so I knew who I wanted to reconnect with first.
In all honesty, I didn’t have a ton of time to fit in all sorts of new stuff upon my return. But it was nice to have that list of interested prospects ready to go to fill in any gaps in my workload.
Even if you shared a firm return date with your clients, in all likelihood, they haven’t been watching the clock or the calendar anxiously awaiting your return. You need to touch base when you’re back to let them know you’re ready to start accepting work again.
It’s up to you when you choose to do this. You could announce your return:
Again, there’s no right or wrong way to go about this. I’ve actually done it both ways between my two leaves, and I wouldn’t say there was a long-term, noticeable difference.
Regardless, the point here is the same: to let your clients know that you’re back from leave and ready to work. As you do so, here are a couple of tips to keep in mind:
Don’t overthink this email. You can keep it light and friendly (and even pretty short). Here’s a quick peek at the gist of the email I sent all of my existing clients when I came back from leave.
Subject: Hello again! 👋🏻
I hope you’ve been doing well!
I’m slowly but surely getting back into the swing of things after my maternity leave—which is sort of making me feel like I got spit out of a time warp and landed right back in my inbox.
Moving forward, I’m not sure what you have on the docket as far as content projects go. But, if there’s anything you need some freelance hands for, it’d be great to chat and see how I could help. I currently have space to take on two to four posts per month, and I’d love to get back into a regular groove with ClientXYZ.
Happy to be back and looking forward to catching up!
I gave preference to my existing clients when I got back from leave—they heard from me first. As I got my ducks in a row with my long-standing clients, I started to get a better sense of how my schedule was filling up.
When it became obvious that I was going to have a little extra breathing room in my workload, I knew I had two options. I could either:
I decided to go the waitlist route, mostly because I wanted to make sure to keep my income and opportunities diversified.
I returned to my list of prospects (which, if you remember the step above, I had already sorted through and prioritized) and sent a friendly email to those people who had contacted me ahead of or during my leave. Here’s a peek at the gist of what I sent them.
I hope you’re doing well!
You reached out to me in November about taking on some freelance writing work for ClientXYZ, but I was in the thick of preparing for my maternity leave.
I’m officially back from my leave and getting back into the swing of things so, as promised, I wanted to reconnect. If you’re still looking for some freelance writing help, I’d love to talk about what projects you have in the pipeline. Let me know if you’d like to schedule an introductory chat in the coming weeks.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
All the best,
I loved both of my maternity leaves. But even so, after months spent changing diapers and watching way too much HGTV, I was pretty excited to get rolling on new projects. That made it super tempting to overload myself right out of the gate.
Getting back to work is a big transition. You need to get back into the rhythm of your work life, and that challenge is compounded by the fact that your home life looks pretty drastically different than it used to. That’s why I recommend an approach that’s slower and steadier—regardless of how loud the siren song of new opportunities might be.
You already estimated what your capacity looks like, but that’s only half the battle. The hard part is honoring that. To combat your urge to pile more, more, more on your plate, find a way to keep track of the work you commit to.
Whether you use a written list or calendar, a project management platform, or a spreadsheet (I love Marijana Kay’s project planner, if you’re looking for something!), create a centralized spot where you can track all of your projects and your planned income.
You might still have the urge to overextend yourself, particularly when your enthusiasm is running so high post-leave. But this sort of system gives you some parameters and a good reality check when you need it.
Even with the most diligent planning, your return from leave might not go exactly as you hoped or anticipated.
Some clients might’ve gone in another direction while you were out and not have any need or interest in picking up where you left off. Some might’ve parted ways with your point of contact. Some might not respond at all.
Some of the prospective clients on your waitlist who were super eager to work with you ahead of your leave might act like you’re cold emailing them out of nowhere when you get back (cough, this happened to me, cough).
It happens. And it can feel pretty disheartening—especially when you’re likely already feeling somewhat anxious and self-conscious as you get back up to speed.
In many ways, coming back from an extended break is a lot like starting your freelance business: You won’t get to where you want to be overnight, but with some patience and persistence, you’ll get there eventually.
And in your moments of doubt, remember this: If you can care for a tiny human while you’re about as sleep-deprived as a Navy SEAL, you can do this too.