More and more of us are now deciding to leave the security of a permanent job behind, opting instead for the freedom of freelancing, self-employment or contract work. However, these feelings of independence can suddenly feel very restrictive when it comes to planning a family.
This needn’t be the case: freelancing and family really can go hand in hand. Working on a project basis can help keep an income coming in, keep your skills and contacts fresh whilst also allowing a much greater degree of flexibility than a permanent role. Whilst businesses are obliged to offer some form of flexible working, we’re all aware of how often this doesn’t work in reality. Freelancing, either in the short or long term, can offer a great alternative.
As a working mother with my own business, juggling family life with work commitments has been an ongoing challenge and, over the years, I’ve met many other parents with their own work/life dilemmas. In particular, several mums have approached me at the school gates asking for advice on getting back to work after having children. They were all highly talented women but lacked the confidence and know-how to find work that could also fit with their family lives. Understandably, they missed their independence and were keen to continue to use their skill base developed over successful careers.
A lightbulb moment came when, at the same time, clients of my existing business were finding themselves short of talent and concerned about retaining the best women in their firms. I realised that connecting these two groups of people would allow employers to keep their best female talent on a project basis whilst also facilitating parents to continue their careers alongside children. Freelancing could then be a short-term solution for individuals wishing to take on projects to fit in with their family lives, then when they are in a position to return to full time work they have the necessary skills to slip comfortable back into it. Or they might choose to continue to work on great projects as a freelancer, allowing them far more control over their work life balance. Either way, I became passionate about giving parents access to great work and decided to set up The Work Crowd, a site to simplify freelancers’ working lives and give businesses direct access to an army of talented employees.
That said, for anyone considering pursuing freelancing alongside a family, research and careful planning are essential, with a number of key things to consider. Maternity leave is one, and if you are termed a ‘worker’ and not an ‘employee’ in your contract, you will not receive any maternity pay – a worrying prospect.
Generally, if you are in charge of your own hours, or pay national insurance or tax on a self-employed basis, you will fall foul of these rules and will have no entitlement to maternity or paternity rights. Should you fall into this category, ensure you claim any benefit entitlement including maternity allowance. Typically you will qualify if you are registered as self-employed and paying Class 2 national insurance contributions – or have done some self-employed work in the 15 months before your baby is due. As you can see, checking your eligibility is absolutely essential in guaranteeing you are paid what you are rightly owed.
Maternity allowance is paid at a weekly rate of £139.58 or 90% of your average weekly pre-tax earnings – whichever is lower, for a maximum of 39 weeks. It is also free of tax and national insurance. It is worth bearing in mind that you can’t claim while you are still working and, ironically, freelancers claiming maternity allowance may only work for ten days during their maternity leave, whereas employees are able freelance as much as they like whilst on leave.
It’s also crucial to think carefully about how you will make freelancing work with your circumstances. For example, do you know where you will get your projects from? Will this take up a lot of time where you might not be earning? Invoicing and chasing payments are also things that can take an unexpected length of time so it’s important to factor this into your budgeting and plan ahead as much as you can.
Other practicalities to bear in mind are how much time you can feasibly give to a project and how it will work. Do you have the right resources and technology to be able to complete the project at home and alongside your family commitments? It’s important to be realistic with yourself about these limitations from the outset or you might find yourself with a project that you cannot actually fulfil.
So whilst freelancing can be a really positive way of pursuing a career whilst raising a family, it does take careful planning and it’s clear that more needs to be done to support freelancers. Above all, legislation needs to catch up with the new realities of work and life. If the Government really wants to encourage more people to become freelancers – and they have even appointed David Morris MP to act as an Ambassador – then surely, they need to do more to help families feel secure during what can be a very vulnerable time.