You're on maternity leave: enjoying your baby and enjoying your freedom. Out and about every day to the park, the soft play, baby weigh-ins, parent and toddler sessions, or just chilling at home as a family. It's a fantastic time. Not necessarily easy, and often exhausting, but very often fun and fulfilling. And very different to the routine of work.
But sooner or later this happy bubble must come to an end. Maternity leave does not last forever. For those of us in the UK we can have 12 months (and very often a bit more once you take into account accrued holiday). That's a long time to get used to a completely different lifestyle, so the idea of returning to work can feel a bit daunting.
But not just daunting - also boring! There's a whole world out there. If you're lucky enough to be totally head over heels in love with your work, then great - stop reading now. But for the majority work is something to be tolerated, even if you've reached a good level of success. And there's nothing like a cute baby and a 12 months off work to really get you dreaming of an alternative way of life.
Please don't stop at dreaming. Do something about it. There really are loads of opportunities out there which will help you to change your life for the better. I've distilled some of these ideas into a handy list for you. This is your 'what I could do after maternity leave' list. Read it, pick out a few, and develop them into your own ideas.
Your old job
1. Go back full time making no change to anything. (Not my favoured option, but I had to include it for balance.)
2. Negotiate flexible working, which might mean changing the hours you work (e.g. starting and finishing earlier; compressed hours), the number of hours (e.g. part time; taking every other Friday off), or the location (e.g. working from home).
3. Arrange a job share with someone you know or ask your employer to look into employing someone new for you to job share with.
A new job
4. Get your CV polished up and apply for new jobs - the start of a new job is the best time to negotiate flexible working arrangements especially if you're not too attached to the outcome. So ask about part time, job share, or working from home. If they don't want you on those terms, don't accept the job.
5. Apply specifically for jobs that are advertised as flexible, part time, job share, home based, or highly autonomous in terms of working hours.
Starting a business
6. Sell a skill that you're great at - like graphic design, IT training, or copywriting. In this kind of business you'll often be working one to one, but you can supplement your income by creating information products like books and courses - to share your talents and knowledge with more people.
7. Start something with a business partner - perhaps your actual partner or spouse, or a friend in a similar position to you. Bonus points if you can find someone who complements your way of working and is detail orientated whilst you paint that big picture, or vice versa.
8. Buy a franchise or licence to run an established business in your area - you'll benefit from national advertising, a proven business model, training, and a network of other franchisees to bounce ideas off. You can then just focus on replicating the successful business in your own local area. A lot of kids activities and classes are run as franchises, so it's a great option if you want to work with kids yourself.
9. Buy into a network marketing business (also called Multi-Level Marketing or MLM). There are a lot of these available and if you're a mum looking for a business opportunity, no doubt a representative will find you...
Yes, the business model is proven and yes, there are people making a lot of money from it, but you have to be of the right temperament for network marketing. You have to put yourself out there and be constantly making contact with new people and telling them about your opportunity. The 'trick' with network marketing is to recognise that it's not selling the product that makes you the money - it's recruiting your team. That's why it's called network marketing.
10. Buy into a direct selling business. (Some of these businesses are also of the network marketing type and some aren't.) This is the kind where you get people to agree to host parties and invite their friends. You all have a good laugh and plenty of wine while you demonstrate your products, and hopefully all of the host's friends will buy lots of things, giving you a lovely commission. If you choose to do this, make sure you love the product and the company because you're going to be talking about it a lot, not to mention carting all the stuff around to people's houses! Don't just take the first option that comes along, because once you start looking you'll find there are literally hundreds of companies you could do this with.
11. A business selling crafty products you make - like greetings cards, wedding stationery, jewellery, or knitted animals. Etsy is a great outlet for this, or you can set up your own website, attend craft fairs, lease a stall in a market, or sell directly to shops that will stock your stuff.
12. A business selling products you source from elsewhere - basically setting up your own retail shop either online or locally.
13. Design an actual physical product, get it made, and sell it online or locally - many kids products on the market were designed by mums who couldn't buy the exact thing they wanted, so they created it instead.
14. Dropshipping. Selling stock that you don't ever see - it's packed and posted elsewhere and you just deal with the marketing and ordering system. There are people who do this on Amazon and eBay and the concept is covered in some detail in the 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss.
15. Become a consultant in your field of expertise and pitch for contracts direct with companies. If you've been pretty senior you'll probably find your network opens a lot of doors for you. If you choose this route, polish up your Linked In profile til it's gleaming.
16. Become a consultant working mainly for other consultants as an associate - this means someone else sets up and negotiates the actual contracts and you work for them on a freelance basis. A good idea if you want to do the work but not the pitching and negotiating. You'll get paid less than if you're totally independent, but likely still more than in employment.
17. Write a blog. If you love writing and can find an interesting angle that people want to read about then go for it - but don't be disheartened by low readership at first. Bloggers who hit the big time have often been doing it for quite a while. Be prepared to share your stuff everywhere and to guest post on bigger blogs to get your name out there.
18. Start a podcast. Great for those who prefer to talk than write. Work on increasing listener numbers then look for sponsors.
Learn something new
19. Go to university or the local college to study a course in something you could turn into a career or business. How about plumbing, reflexology, hairdressing, personal training... The choices are literally endless and depending on what you choose you may be able to find funding too.
20. Train to be a coach - life coaching, business coaching, health coaching - there are many different types of coaches and lots of different schools and academies. There is no regulation of either coaches or coach training, so do your homework and take personal recommendations before signing up to anything.
21. Train to be an instructor in something you already know as a participant. Perhaps you attend yoga or pilates classes - consider whether you'd like to teach it.
22. Learn to trade Forex or on the Stock Exchange.
23. Buy property and let it out.
24. Buy property to redevelop or renovate and sell at a higher price.
I hope this has given you a few ideas. Now, share it with a pregnant or mum friend and see if you can both come up with something more exciting than just going back to work.
A (much more basic) version of this post first appeared on the Maternity Leavers blog.