Oh Baby! How to Take Maternity (or Paternity) Leave When You’re the Only Employee

Your independent consulting business can still flourish through all of life’s twists and turns – you just need to plan for them. In this guest post from Jenny Schmitt of Cloudspark, she shares her tips for handling one of life’s biggest events as someone who’s successfully followed this plan twice (but jokes she’s not interested in testing its effectiveness a third time).

babyIt’s a thrilling moment to find out you’re going to have a baby. It’s joyous, anxious, exciting and overwhelming at the same time. If you’re a Solo PR pro, the news comes with its own host of questions you’ll need to answer.

Why? Unlike the corporate world with clearly defined family leave policies, you’re a solo employee with limited resources and a business you’ve built on your own. You don’t have a family leave policy. Heck, you may not even have any policies. So how can you take extended time off for personal reasons when you’re the only employee?

You, my friend, need a realistic plan.

Six Months Before Baby

  • Determine the length of maternity or paternity leave that will be ideal for you/your family
  • Find fellow Solo PR pros who’d be willing to work with your clients while you’re on planned maternity leave
    • You need someone with whom you’ve worked with or with whom you’ve established a relationship
    • Set up a subcontractor agreement
    • Map out your calendar for the next year with schedules for work/family/doctor’s appointments
    • Research child-care options

Three Months Before Baby

  • Write and share a maternity leave plan with your clients including your projected due date
  • Start sharing client updates, plans with your sub/s
  • Plan how you’ll manage any social media presence while on leave
  • Research Virtual Assistants (VAs) to manage the admin side of the business (and other activities)
  • Narrow down child-care options

Two Months Before Baby

  • Meet in person with your subs and review the status of current work and the assumed in duties s/he/they will take on
    • Include expectations for communicating with the client and with your VA
    • Review how to track time, report activities and bill you for work
    • Host a Skype video conference or in-person meeting with your client/s and your sub/s
      • Post-call, start including your subs on emails and all communications with clients
      • Hire your Virtual Assistant and have them start familiarizing with how to manage your inbox and billing activities, as well as your expectations for how frequently they need to update you when on leave
      • Secure child-care plans for when you return to work

One Month Before Baby

  • If you haven’t already, introduce your whole team – subs and virtual assistant via Skype or in-person meeting
  • Meet with subs to review client projects, plans and expectations for communications
    • If they need files or background info, they can get it from the VA
    • Place all relevant files onto a shared platform
    • Draft out-of-office messages for your email and/or social networks
    • Go see a movie in a theater. Really. It’ll be the last time you do for a while.

On Leave

  • Turn on out-of-office messages (or have your VA turn them on) and change your voicemail to reflect your time away.
  • Let your clients know you’re now on leave with a basic announcement via email
  • Allow your virtual assistant and sub/s to handle the work you’ve prepared them for
  • Step away from the connections and focus on what matters most
  • Repeat, step away from the connections and focus on family

Coming Back

Make your first two weeks back from maternity or paternity leave part-time. It will help you transition back to the working schedule, be sure to get to doctors’ appointments, catch up on work status and adjust to your new role as a working parent. (It helps the baby and the whole family adjust to the new routine, too.) You might be anxious to jump right back in, but giving yourself permission to ease back into work can set you up for success.

After those initial two weeks, if you’re ready, get back to full-time work. Set up meetings with clients and your subs to transition back into the fold and re-assume your role as their PR counsel.

Most importantly, when coming back to work, be patient with yourself — it takes a while to find your new groove, but you will!

If you’ve managed a SoloPR maternity/paternity leave, share your top tips in the comments below (just no one say “nap when the baby naps” – that doesn’t happen).

Image credit: koratmember

 

  • Raul (@ilivetotravel)

    Good list! I think this applies easily to other 1. reasons for leave or 2. professions!

  • Raul – thanks for adding the comment. I’m sure this applies to any of us who chose the solo-work life. There is debate out there that solo’s can never really leave the job. I’m here to say it CAN happen with planning and purpose to disconnect for a set amount of time. Thanks, JR

  • Jenny, I will never need maternity leave 🙂 but this is great advice for any type of extended leave. I have heard so much lately from solos who feel that they can never be away from the business but this post illuminates that just as in corporate life, it simply requires planning. Thanks for the roadmap!

  • My favorite part of this post is how you give everything a long lead time, Jenny. I learned about this the hard way at the beginning of my career, when my manager was put on bed rest two months early (she had not planned for this possibility at all). Her blood pressure was high, so the doctor ordered her to not even talk by phone to anyone at work — I still feel sorry for my completely lost, 23-year-old self when I think about it!

    For those of us who don’t have kids in our future, it’s good to note the milestones Jenny outlines, so we can keep them in mind when working with someone who is expecting (this includes men). I’ve noticed many expecting parents are overwhelmed and put off some of these decisions, so (if needed and appropriate) you can help them ID plans for when they’re out. There are few times in life when the world allows you to unplug, and having a new baby is one of them – enjoy it!

  • Boy, so I wish I had thought a bit more before our baby came along! Of course, we only had 2 weeks (adoption). But as others have noted, this is great advice for being prepared for an emergency leave or other type of leave, regardless. While we thought we’d be waiting for more than a year (I had plenty of time to figure out a backup plan, right?), we didn’t. So lucky on the baby front, but boy did I and my clients suffer for a few months because I didn’t have think of the unexpected.

  • In my experience having been through this twice, having someone that you trust fill in is VITAL! And thinking about who that might be, talking with them well in advance and setting them up for success with the client should all be part of the plan.

  • michelle – having someone i trusted was critical. on my first leave an ornery client tried to hire my sub and break my contract. thankfully my sub let me know and once back, i happily retired the client (and the sub wouldn’t touch it either).

  • jennifer – you know how good we are on tight deadlines? i’m sure you handled it as best you could. any advice for those with short notice (e.g. adoption). what tips would you offer?

  • kellye – while i applied this type-a-ness to maternity leave, it definitely applies to nearly any extended leave for personal reasons. it’s smart to also think of this as a resource for those we work with, i’ve met plenty who put off the planning as a way to avoid challenging choices or conversations. a plan gives direction and boundaries at a time when you may need it most.

  • karen, we must champion taking personal time (no matter why) as solos or we’re apt to burn out or break down. let’s keep reminders to plan and to take time away – it is possible!

  • I was completely caught off guard. I expected I’d have 6-12 months or more before a child would be in our home. I never fathomed it would be 4 weeks after we were approved (got the call 2 weeks beforehand). So, my biggest advice (as someone who didn’t heed it and paid for it) is to have a contingency plan in place for anything that could come up unexpected. Have a trusted pro or 2 in your pocket that you can call on a dime.

    If you’re thinking of adoption, I recommend you start putting your maternity leave plan together at the same time that you are working on getting yourself approved for the adoption. You hear all these stories of people waiting years. Who knew it can happen so fast!