“Mat leave as a business owner - it’s going to be OK”

Solo Episode

Show notes:

This week I’m sharing my mat leave as a business owner experience with you.

When I was pregnant for the first time, I looked around for positive narratives about maternity leave that weren’t horror stories. Maybe I was looking in the wrong places, but I couldn’t find anything at the time that told me I was going to be OK!

With my second pregnancy I was in a very different situation – self employed, with some foresight of the intensity and changes I was about to go through (although believe me, it was not what I had expected!)

I’m giving you a breakdown of how I prepared my business, what went to plan and what didn’t, what I learnt in the hope that it will give you something to cross reference if you’re looking at mat leave as a business owner or self employed. Yes it can be tough, but it can be done!

And I share a little perk that I didn’t realise was coming from HMRC, listen out!

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Transcript:

Intro
Hello and welcome to Bump to Business Owner, thank you so much for tuning in today. This podcast is inspired by my mission to find out why more and more mums are leaving the employment world for the entrepreneur life. I’ll be talking to some of the people I believe to be the most inspiring women in business about their journey building their businesses alongside motherhood. I’ll be also sharing some of my own experiences of juggling my award winning virtual assistant agency Upsource, while raising my two young children. Right now they are two and four, and trust me, it can be chaos.

Caroline:

Hello and welcome to this edition of Bump To Business Owner. My name is Caroline Marshall and I am founder of a business called Upsource and a mummy to two pesky little boys.

Caroline:

Let’s just say it’s been one of those mornings today I can’t get anything right. I hope you can. So thank you for coming to today’s edition, which is going to be talking about what my maternity leave actually looked like as a business owner. I was actually a self employed person when I took maternity leave. So how I did it, I’m so aware isn’t going to work for everyone. Every maternity leave is different, every child is different, every experience is different, but I think it’s sometimes helpful, I think, especially as a self employed person and as business owner, to kind of just listen to other stories. I think the first time I fell pregnant, I was so worried about my career and it was unplanned and untimed. I wasn’t in a leadership position, I didn’t run a business.

Caroline:

Well, they said I was in a leadership position, but I really wasn’t. It was a startup where, yeah, I’d kind of just worked my way up quite quickly, but I was on a fine salary. But I felt there were no real stories or people I could aspire to listen to. And maybe I was looking in the wrong places that there potentially were, but I still felt like, where can I speak to women or listen to women like me and kind of feel like it’s going to be okay, like, not get horror stories or not get just told how I’ll feel differently. I think that potentially I bet that can happen. I was on my second child when I started Upsource, so I kind of already while every child is different, I already knew that the intensity you feel and how things can change. But I also really knew that actually, for me, having a child didn’t mean I felt any less about my career. If anything, I felt more passionate.

Caroline:

When I look back at my background and everything, yeah, it makes complete sense. I’m really such a believer in women keeping their financial independence and mothers keeping their financial independence. So that hugely matters to me. And some people it matters less or some people can take a backseat on the financial side until maybe they feel it’s their turn when the kids get older, or maybe never do. Maybe it’s always the dynamic that their husband or partner will be the main earner and they won’t be. Whereas I just always wanted to make sure I keep some form of financial independence. So therefore, in order to do that, I need a career. And also I enjoy working.

Caroline:

And actually working feels easier than parenthood a lot the time. Stay at home mums. Being at home, respect, your job is so hard. So hard. And what they put you through day to day, it’s so much fun, but it’s so hard. Right? So back to maternity leave. So I think if you’re listening to this and you run your business or are self employed and before you’ve had kids, I can imagine people are telling you, oh, you’ll feel differently about your business. And that’s just really patronising and unhelpful.

Caroline:

It’s like when people, really odd comparison, when people say, I’d feel differently about my cat, and at the time you’re like, I really love my cat. When people stop saying this to me and they’d actually go a step further. I’m not even going to say what people would say my cat would do to my child, because I’d be like, who thinks these comments are okay, but complete diversion there. But I think it’s really helpful to talk to people because also, you might not be thinking about doing maternity leave. You might think, actually, maybe you’ve done maternity leave before and you think your business is fine to just keep going alongside your baby, and that’s not wrong, that you just never know what’s going to happen and that might absolutely be the right choice for you. So I think while this is my story, I want to make it clear, because I still am, I have a mentor called Amanda Johnson in the VACT, and she held these things called a get shit done day where VA’s get together. We talk about problems in our businesses, things we’re going through.

Caroline:

And I actually went just after lockdown, we had one and I was pregnant. And it’s all based around what the maternity leave looked like for me. And it was just such a great space where it was kind of clear, like, well, this VA took a year off and then came back. Or this VA decided to carry on working around it. And this VA things didn’t go to plan and they were glad they were in neonatal intensive care working around it. So it was just such a safe space to be like, it’s up to you what you want to do. And so I want to make that clear while I’m sharing what I did. You may have a very different idea of what you want to do and that’s great, and follow that.

Caroline:

And we all have learnings from our maternity leave, but this is why I did a podcast earlier to share a snapshot of the few things that went wrong the first time I did maternity leave. Just to show that why when I launched my business, the plan was to always take some form of maternity leave. And also I knew how tiring it got because that was another thing. Oh, my goodness. My first maternity leave, because I only got statutory leave and babies don’t arrive on time, apparently. Who knew my baby was not working to my timeline, he ended up being 40 plus ten. I was still at work because I was like, I’m not eating into my six weeks of full pay, being sat at home. I ended up taking some holiday and kind of doing some…

Caroline:

They luckily had a few kind of jobs I could do. And that’s something sometimes you’ve got to go through the first time to learn if that’s the way your mind goes. Other people are like, no, no way am I going to work like that. And great, do learn from me on that. It wasn’t great. And it only got to the point where they started talking about inducing me, that I was like, maybe I should take some time off work. So I did. Ended up stop working and then the baby came.

Caroline:

So I started setting up the motions for this business in April 2020 with a plan to launch when my child would be back at nursery, as in full on working. I did bits and pieces. I had a 10 hours client and started out picking a few more. And luckily some clients weren’t ready for me then, but said they’d want me by the summer, which was fantastic. That worked out so well.

Caroline:

Sometimes things are meant to be. So I ended up fully booked by August, which was when my kid went back to nursery, which was great. And so at the same time, I actually worked quite hard. I was in my second trimester and I experienced this beautiful thing. You get loads of energy in your second trimester. I never had that with my first because my maternal health, mental health, was so bad and I’d been so overworked, I never had that energy. So I was like, wow, I’ve got all this energy and my kids back at nursery, I can work. This is great.

Caroline:

And the world was opening up because we’d all been stuck inside for four months. So I decided to also talk to potential VAs, talk to potential team members, people who could take on my current clients. All my clients knew I was going on maternity leave and I’d reassured them that I was going on leave. One VA I already had in mind. I’d worked with her in the past, she was looking for something new and she already worked with my clients, which was fantastic. So she ended up coming onboard. She’s still with me now. She’s now my community manager.

Caroline:

I allocated her at the time as also a lead contact. Basically, S hits the fan, she’s in charge and I gave her that ownership and gave her that role. And also just to kind of keep a little bit of community amongst the other VAs, just to be that kind of leader presence there while I wasn’t there or if I wasn’t there. I think it’s how things worked out. We ended up in a little bit of a worst case scenario situation with our second child, which, if you’re listening to this, I won’t go into too much because you just never want to put that fear and never want to talk about worst case scenario, but that was just how it was. So I’m very glad I put that lead contact in place. So, July and August, I ended up overworking myself a little bit just because I was doing so many chats with potential VAs, as well as doing the client work, as well as starting to put in handovers in place as well. I was really aware from my previous experiences of setting people up right. And I really wanted to keep these clients throughout my maternity leave.

Caroline:

So therefore, I really had to do my part in firstly choosing the right VAs, but also setting them up for success, not just dumping a client on them and expecting them to do the same job as me. That’s not how it works. So around that time, around September, so I was getting to the stage where I’d be getting towards the third trimester. My baby was due in December 2020. The plan had been I was around mid November going to go off and I’d be around still. It meant I’d be around still for questions, get all those little things that just naturally come up when you’re new to a client. And you only just start to know that when you work with a client. I planned to switch off around mid November, so about a month before my due date, because I’d never experienced just like sitting and watching TV and just waiting for the baby.

Caroline:

And I thought maybe he’ll come sooner, which he actually did. Maybe he’ll come sooner if I’m not stressing myself out working up to the date. I hear such impressive stories of women who are still answering emails while giving birth. That was not me. So don’t feel like you have to be that. If you end up in that position and you’re happy with that, great. But I always like, no, my birth is quite quick anyway, I don’t have time to answer client emails while I’m giving birth. It wasn’t time for that.

Caroline:

You need oxytocin, not client stress around mid November. Because also I thought, ideal, it’s Christmas, my kid is at nursery still, four days a week, I can watch Christmas films. Great time to be pregnant and stay inside versus August with my first child and everyone’s out at the pub in the sun and you feel like you’re missing out on everything. But by the time of September, I was like, I want to stop working earlier. Which it just felt so foreign to me, but I was genuinely like, no, I’m done, I’m tired, I’m hormonal. I don’t really want to carry on past mid November if we can afford it as well. Because I also understand while I’m talking in this episode practically about what I did, finances play a huge part, so please don’t think I’m ever underestimating that because you might have made certain plans, as in with your maternity leave and things. So I was like, well, I’m going to start earlier.

Caroline:

And so what I did in the October, kind of was like a tester, kind of like, I’m away for a week. Well, I wasn’t away and they did the work, which was good, and I had them on by then and it worked out. By planning to be off earlier, I worked perfectly to time. I ended up switching off around mid November, which was great, and actually it felt wonderful because I hadn’t done it with my first, really, and I’d always been plowing on. It just felt good, like I went swimming, I just chilled. I might look at my emails in the morning and be like, I’m done for the day, or just check them at two and just make sure everything was okay. So my baby ended up coming around the due date this time, not long after, and unfortunately, I had a beautiful birth, beautiful golden hour. But unfortunately he suffered something called a sudden, unexpected postnatal collapse, which meant we came quite close to losing him and he ended up in neonatal intensive care.

Caroline:

So that was a brief bit of what happened. But something that I did that I think was fantastic was just having that lead person in place. So all I had to do was, Greg messaged her, and told her I’m not around and that was it. And so it was quite clear, everyone knew, clients knew, team knew. Until I came back, I didn’t exist, basically. And that was needed first. That’s worst case scenario, you never want that. But maybe in a different way.

Caroline:

With my first child. I had a really amazing newborn period with my first child and I was in such a bubble, I didn’t actually want to talk to anyone in a good way. I had like the dreamy newborn period, my first, and so I probably would feel the same way, but just different circumstances about switching off. No one talked to me from work, unless you want to see newborn spam. I didn’t even really do that. My newborn period, I was just like happy not talking to anyone. So that was in the December. In the January.

Caroline:

So what I did, I used KIT days and I actually used them to do things like just stay on top of some social media and do my invoicing. That’s probably something now I definitely would hand over. And I definitely could have handed that over. Part of me is not sure why I didn’t. Maybe it was just to have a bit of a handle on it, but I definitely could have handed that side over. But it’s fine. It’s once a month. And my KIT days, it was easily used. So my baby came in December.

Caroline:

He didn’t end up home until the January, but in the April, I decided, right, I started to get the odd sales call in, odd lead, odd bit of interest. With everything happening and starting to think of KIT days and things, I think I’m just going to tell HMRC I’m going to return to work and come off maternity pay. Because there was enough coming in the business to kind of replace that maternity pay. So I had enough coming in rather than because of the model I’d set up with a few associates, I had enough to cover that, whatever statutory maternity pay is a week. But what is great, so I did not know this before and this is why do your research on HMRC. Because this is brand new information to me. So I called them, told them I was returning to work, told them about when I did my KIT days, all of that, returned to work. And then I got a call a couple of days later and they were like, how many days a week are you returning to work? And obviously, I was a bit like a freelancer.

Caroline:

You’re so not set up for the freelance work. I’m not returning back days. I’m grabbing bits and pieces of work when I choose to or feel I need to. Like, my kids were still at home with me. There was no form of childcare in place for my second child. He was only four months old, very much breastfeeding, so everything that comes with that. And I was like, oh. So I kind of said, well, like two days a week, let’s say.

Caroline:

And she was like, oh, because you worked five days a week before I took maternity leave, we’ll continue paying for the three days mat pay. This is fantastic. This is great. What a perk. You don’t get that. I didn’t get that at my first job, returning to work before the statutory came back. If I’d come back part time, I could have got paid. You don’t get that.

Caroline:

That’s great. I still don’t know if this case please don’t go to HMRC and say this is what you do, but just find out all your information, because that was just really helpful. It gave a buffer which was needed in the business. So it meant I got my three days per week and that was until the August. I think my statutory pay ran out in the August, so I continued it in the August. So my plan was I started to make a plan in the September to when my child was nine months old to start to put him in nursery maybe like two days a week. That was a loose plan and I actually ended up doing it when he was eight months.

Caroline:

Two days a week. It kind of sounds really early. It’s not early compared to anything I did for my first child. And no, maybe it’s not early, I don’t know. It’s so hard. You only know what you know. But he was eight months old and we knew the nursery so well because it’s the same one my son went to and they were so good, my eldest son, when we weren’t around because of being in the neonatal unit, so really got a bit of attachment there. So yeah, he went there two days a week and my husband was actually the one who was like, Caroline, you want to work more, you’re struggling.

Caroline:

Prior to that, I completely missed this part. So basically when I started to do some work between the April and the August, I actually used an app called Bubble and I’m not promoting that or anything, but it was really good in that early stage. I had a couple of women who’d occasionally come, they’d do like 2 hours and they’d just be here. So if my kid needed to feed, I’d feed him and they’d wait for me to feed him. Otherwise they’d just be there for a couple of hours, just kind of entertain him and I’d do some work. It was fantastic. So that was like a great option to have because I think I mentioned before my first was quite a good sleeper and that was something I learned. And I think also because my first child just went through he moved to a bed around the time you’d think you might try and get your baby to sleep a little bit.

Caroline:

So I didn’t have the evenings I thought I might to work at like eight months. My second child was not a good sleeper. Evenings were just that horrible, trying to get a baby to sleep for ages. So I couldn’t work. So I think I thought maybe I’d work evenings and that didn’t work out for me. So that is maybe a learning to impart sometimes how flexible you’ve got to be and adjust, which is something you learn as a mum. You have to just adjust and adapt.

Caroline:

So I think that’s why we ended up moving him into nursery two days a week at eight months because yeah, things didn’t work out like I was expecting, so I carried that on. And then when he was a year, or just over a year in the January 22, I went three days a week, so put him in nursery three days. But then I ended up working school hours because we moved our first child into preschool. So I thought I’d be getting more time and I end up with less because it felt like school hours. I’ve mentioned before I had to pick my kid up at three. I’m basically working half days now, so I went three days, but went to school hours. And then COVID was still around, so I even remember we put him in that school and then the teacher got COVID, so, yeah, he ended up at home pretty soon after that.

Caroline:

So this is what I mean with the work and progress and adjustment, I thought I’d have way more time and I ended up with less. But I was kind of stubborn. I don’t know whether it’s because I felt like I wanted to do things the right way or I had more friends have kids, and suddenly they were only going back to work three days a week. And I was like, oh, God. I looked like a terrible mother. Maybe I had this real comparisonitis in that sense of like, I look like a terrible mum if I do more than three days, which is not the case. I do not advocate that, that was mum guilt and comparisonitis. And I was still very much in trauma mode in January 2022 for many reasons.

Caroline:

So I carried on that on. I think we were in another adjustment period because also had school holidays. Yeah, school holidays. I’m still unsure what to do with those. I’ve ended up taking half term off soon, just because I’m like I feel like I can’t just book another camp. Although my kid quite likes camp. I’m quite lucky with my first.

Caroline:

He’s quite adaptable, maybe because he had to be. My eldest started school in the September. So my youngest was about a year and nine months. The September 2022, this last year, I went up to four days, which is where I am now. And you’ll see, I’ve done another podcast on how I structure my days. Well, not how I structure them, that’s a whole other story, but how my weeks go. And that’s where we’ve got to, and that’s what my maternity leave looked like. I had certain things, maybe certain ideas in my mind, like working evenings or certain things I thought might go another way.

Caroline:

Obviously, I didn’t plan a neonatal unit stay, so I think that kind of set us on a bit of a shock. But the thing about it was I really wanted my business to work and I wanted to grow it. And I love my business. So while that sounds there may be some people listening to this and like that so soon. I can’t believe you put him in nursery from eight months or you started leaving him with people. By the way, I didn’t leave him with people. People came to our house from the Bubble app from four months. But I love working.

Caroline:

I love my business. And I was also aware when I came off maternity leave, there was only so long that money I could kind of cling on, I needed to start paying myself a salary at some point. And that means putting in the legwork. And that’s how it worked, that I was a self employed. business owner but thankfully also on the positive for when my eldest child, we decided to move into a school preschooling, ended up in school hours. I just adapted my day. I didn’t have to go through a HR boss approval method and then worry my job was at risk because I wanted to change my hours. And that is so empowering.

Caroline:

And I’m still so lucky that I have managed to start a business where at least in that time, it’s adapted to it. That is the story of my maternity leave. Please tell me about yours. I love hearing about how business owners do it and talking about it, and if things went to plan for you. Please connect with me at Bump to Business Owner. Send me a message or send this to any of your friends who you know are going to take a maternity leave. Complete safe space. Never any judgment from me because I’m fully open about what I’ve done wrong on my two maternity leaves.

Caroline:

So please do. Thank you so much. I’m Caroline Marshall, founder of Upsource.


Outro:
You have been listening to Bump to Business Owner, the podcast for mums running businesses, aspiring to run businesses, or simply supporters of mums who go on this crazy business journey. I’m your host Caroline Marshall and I run a virtual assistant agency called Upsource. I started it in lockdown 2020, I’ve seen it through maternity leave and it is growing alongside my two growing boys. Thank you so much, please connect me at Bump to Business Owner, my name is Caroline Marshall.

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