Kat Boogaard is a freelance writer who specializes in creating digital content around careers, productivity, entrepreneurship, and self-development. With years of experience as a solopreneur, Kat is highly in tune with the ins and outs of freelancing. Outside of her client work, she creates incredible resources to help other freelancers grow their businesses and manages a weekly newsletter where she shares project leads, tips, and tools for freelancing smarter.
In April 2020, in the thick of the pandemic, Kat had her first child. She’d been planning her freelance maternity leave for months—creating detailed checklists, readying her clients, and ensuring all her projects could wrap up in advance of her due date. Nothing prepares you to navigate a pandemic with a newborn, but Kat’s careful preparation made a world of difference, and today she’s sharing her hard-earned wisdom on how to handle maternity leave as a freelancer.
Parental Leave with Kat Boogaard
1. How did you approach your maternity leave with your clients? For freelancers with retainer-based clients, there is a fear that they will lose clients if they take 3 months off. Was that a concern for you?
I feel fortunate that I work with the majority of my clients on a steady, recurring basis—like one blog post per week or two blog posts per month, for example. With that said, I don’t actually have any “retainer-based” clients in the true sense of the word. Even those regular and steady clients pay me project rates.
Both times I’ve planned my maternity leave, I’ve taken a similar approach. I look at my list of current clients and break them into two groups:
Group A: Clients that work with me on a regular schedule.Group B: Clients that occasionally send me projects on a sporadic schedule.
For clients in “Group B,” figuring out how to handle my leave was pretty easy. I simply sent them an email telling them the dates I’d be taking maternity leave, that I’d be unavailable to contribute content during that time, and that I’d reconnect with them when I returned. That hasn’t been a big deal, as those clients don’t rely on me steadily anyway.But, for clients in “Group A,” I send them an email that spells out some options: They can either press “pause” on receiving content from me during my leave and I’ll resume when I return, or they can opt to have me work ahead on content to cover my own leave. I give them a firm timeline of when I’d need advanced assignments and work closely with them to make sure we both get what we need.
Fair warning: The bulk of my clients opt to work ahead (which I understand), and it makes for a wild few months before I sign off. But, it’s worth it to know that I’m approaching my leave as strategically as possible—and earning a big chunk of money before I sign off for a few months.
As far as the fear of losing clients, I think that’s always there for any freelancer. The first time I took leave, I really worried that all of my best clients would replace me or drop me while I was out and those fears were compounded by the fact that my leave lined up exactly with the early days of the pandemic.But, that didn’t happen. And in fact, my business bounced back from my leave even stronger than it was before. So, I have some newfound confidence as I approach my parental leave this time!
2. How did you decide on the amount of time you’d take off for leave?
This was a big struggle for me the first time around. Obviously, I had never had a baby before and had no clue what to expect. I remember originally thinking that I’d take two or three weeks off before getting back to work and I laugh hysterically at the thought now. I can’t even imagine.
I ended up taking about two and a half months off for my first leave and am planning to take about the same amount of time off this time (likely a little closer to a full three months).
I think three months is often looked at as the “standard” for most people who take parental leave. But, when I was figuring out how much time I’d need the first time, I actually crowdsourced opinions on Twitter. As you’d expect, people’s opinions and experiences ran the gamut—some took weeks and others took an entire year or more.
However, one thing I took away from that input was that the best thing I could do was plan for more time than I thought I’d need. That’s what encouraged and inspired me to up my plans from two weeks to over two months. I doubted I’d take the whole time at first, but I did and I needed every second of it!
3. How did you plan financially for your time off? Most freelancers express nervousness about the lack of income during parental leave.
This was another big concern for me. I’m fortunate that my husband has a traditional full-time job that’s steady and comes with a great income. But, that doesn’t mean that my income is nothin’ but frosting for us.
Most people who don’t understand freelance life are usually surprised to learn that my husband and I are pretty much equal earners for our family. I guess I technically earn more, but he carries our benefits which are obviously huge.Because I contribute financially to our family in a pretty significant way (and am happy and proud to!), it’s not necessarily realistic for me to not earn anything for a three-month span of time—even longer, when you consider that it takes a while to get back into the work groove, deliver work to clients, actually invoice for it, and then receive those payments in your bank account.
That’s exactly why I extended the option to “work ahead” to many of my clients. That not only allows me to “cover” my own leave so they don’t need to find a replacement or alternative arrangements while I’m out (they just publish the backlog of work I submitted ahead of time), but it also gives me the chance to rake in way more income in those last couple of months before my leave.
I stash that money in a dedicated savings account so that we can draw from that as my “income” during the course of my leave. My husband and I are super honest and upfront communicators about money, so we sat down together with a spreadsheet (he’s an actuary, so he loves a good spreadsheet) to come up with a savings goal for how much we’d need for us to feel comfortable during my time off.
It gives us both some much-needed peace of mind! Bringing a new baby home is stressful enough, so we do everything we can to work out the financial logistics ahead of time.
4. How did you feel on your return from leave? Did you ease into things or go back into freelancing full time after your time months off?
The first time I took leave, I was almost ready to go back. I probably could’ve gone for another week or two of time off, but all in all, I feel like the time I took off was pretty satisfactory.
I was excited to get back into the swing of things! Granted, my “work-life” was still a little bizarre at that point. I went back to work in July of 2020, which meant my husband and I were both sharing our home office and kept our baby in that same office between us (since we weren’t yet comfortable sending him to daycare in those early months of the pandemic). Even with those bizarre circumstances, I jumped right back in full force. I wanted my clients to know that I was coming back swinging and I was also eager to start bringing in some income again.
This time around, I think I’ll resist the urge to shout, “I’M BAAAAAACK! GIVE ME WORK!!!” from the mountaintops and take a slightly slower, more deliberate approach to fill my plate again. We’ll see how that goes!
5. What additional advice do you have for freelancers who are taking maternity & paternity leave?
Oh gosh, there are so many things I could say. But, here are a few important nuggets I want to remind people of:
Plan early. I notified my clients about my pregnancy right around the same time I shared the news publicly with everyone else. Shortly after, I sent an email announcing my intentions for my leave—despite the fact that it was still months away. All of my clients appreciate the clear communication and advanced planning, and it saves us all from a frantic scramble.
Don’t apologize. Taking an extended break from work can sometimes inspire some feelings of guilt or shame, and I think that’s especially true when you’re a freelancer who feels obligated to serve your clients above all else. But, welcoming a new member to your family (however it happens) is a huge deal, and you deserve to enjoy that time completely guilt-free. Don’t apologize for taking the time you need, whatever that looks like for you.
Roll with the punches. I planned my first maternity leave to the letter. Detailed timelines, canned email responses—you name it, I had it queued up and ready to go. And then? I had my son an entire month early at the start of a global pandemic. Two things I definitely didn’t see coming. There’s a lot to be said for careful planning (hey, I’m a planner to my very core). But you also need to recognize that babies have their own plans and schedules, and you’re going to need to be willing to release your grip on those carefully-crafted plans and remain a little flexible.