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July 10th, 2014

Returning to work after maternity leave

Written by Rachel Follett

I was recently asked to supply my thoughts to PR Week, the PR industry’s main publication, as they are just in the process of announcing an enhanced package of solutions, intended to help women in public relations successfully navigate the challenges of maternity leave and then return to work confidently.

I thought it would be useful to outline some of these thoughts as I, like millions of other women, am a working mother and have had the same fears, challenges and anxieties about returning to work after having children.

When I went back to work after my second child, I decided to bite the bullet and start freelancing, which after seven comfortable years at Fat Face was quite a big decision. Confidence levels are not at their highest, especially as the PR (and fashion) industry have moved at an exceedingly fast pace, whilst you’ve been singing nursery rhymes and attending endless coffee mornings!

I have found freelancing to be an absolute godsend for me as it means I can dictate my hours and decide when I want to work, so if, for any reason, I have to look after a poorly child then work doesn’t suffer as I can choose my hours and am not governed by the rigid 9 – 5 of a normal office. Luckily I’m blessed with two healthy children so I don’t have to worry too much about taking ‘time off’ during a working day but the opportunity is always there, should I need it.

One of the benefits of freelancing is that I now only work for clients whose products or services I have a genuine belief of or like. The same too with clients themselves. Having worked in the journalism/ PR industry for other 20 years, I can now decide who I like working for and who I don’t. Imagine that? You don’t like your boss, so walk away! This has given me a wealth of confidence as it means that accounts or people don’t get me down and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have worked for people I have a genuine admiration of. I’ll do my absolute best for them and get a real buzz out of getting good results!

I was asked the best way to get on people’s radars when you return to work or start freelancing and I believe one of the best ways is to really work the contacts you have. Good old fashioned PR. I’ve also found LinkedIn invaluable as a tool to really shout your skill set. I also drafted an overview paragraph of my work history that I used when emailing potential clients as people often just don’t have the time to read reams of information or a CV. A good website helps and get good journalist contacts to write an overview paragraph that you can use to back up your work. I’ve got the Assistant News Editor from The Daily Express, one of the News Editors from ITV News and the BBC One Sports Presenter, Mike Bushell, who were all happy to provide a quote for my website. Furthermore, these endorsements of your work help with the ‘feel good’ factor ‘confidence boosters’, which you need when you’ve been out of the loop for a while.

I’ve also found a couple of superb networking groups that have proved invaluable. The first is a group made up of the Chartered Institute of PR (CIPR) freelancers from the Wessex region. All of them are women; most are mothers, who are in the same position as me. This isn’t a bunch of mums who get together to talk about nappies and baby milk however. Far from it. In fact, kids don’t ever really get talked about. This is a group of high powered, successful women who run their own businesses and are some of the most sought after PR professionals in the UK.

I also belong to the Hamble Business Group, another group of small business owners from the Hamble/ Hampshire area, who meet once a week and brainstorm and share everything imaginable from ‘what’s a Google + Hangout’ to ‘how to fill out your tax return’. They also run large networking events, twice a year which are advertised and publicised far and wide, bringing a huge number of companies to the event, all of whom do business with one another and impart a wealth of information. I’ve been lucky to have been asked to speak at two of these events with my Solent Media hat on and shared my knowledge of social media with my business partner, Felicity Pearson (generating business as a result as many of the audience have immediately signed up to one of our workshops).

I was also asked how I draw boundaries between work and home life. This is a simple one; as soon as my children go to nursery the whole ambiance of the house changes. It’s quiet, it’s still and I can just turn my computer on and immediately switch into work mode. In an office there’s always noise and it’s often difficult to ‘zone out’ (often because I’m doing most of the talking!) whereas I actually get far more done at home now.

I believe that with the advent of all the mobile communications it’s sometimes difficult to ‘switch off’ from work, when my children are around, when the phone pings a notification that a new Tweet or Google + message has come in. However, I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to have two incredible children whilst continuing to build my business and develop its success. I just remain calm that I’m doing my best to juggle the two. Feel assured that you’re working your hardest and that’s all that anyone can ask.

I never thought I would enjoy freelancing as much as I have – which I think helps a lot – and in the nine months since I’ve set up my business I’ve had national BBC One news coverage for my client, The National Watersports Festival, I’ve inadvertently set the targets for the World Health Authority, through a marketing idea that became adopted by every big rabies fighting animal charity in the world), have set up another new business to teach social media to small businesses in Hampshire ( and seen two children flourish and develop in a nursery that provides an outstanding level of care.

I don’t work a full week – that’s the beauty of freelancing – so I don’t feel guilty about leaving my children. I’ve got the perfect work/ life balance and when my eldest starts school next year, I’ll be at the school gates waiting for him and can still send emails or make calls, so will never miss an opportunity for my client and am always there for them as well (and metaphorically hold their hand when they need help or guidance!).

If I could offer one piece of advice to working mums who are not sure if freelancing works; just go for it. It’s given me confidence, a completely new lease of work life and updated my skill set significantly.

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