You're having a baby! Congratulations.
While this is such an exciting time, when you run your own solo PR business it can also be quite stressful. After all, in some countries, such as the U.S. you often aren't eligible for the same sort of paid parental leave options and benefits as our traditionally employed counterparts.
What does this mean? You get to take control of your own parental leave planning before you meet your new bundle of joy.
While this presents an added challenge, there are several different approaches you can take to planning for parental leave — and yes, if you've planned ahead, or have the luxury of doing so in the future, some of them are even paid.
Parental leave options for business owners and entrepreneurs
As a self-employed Solo PR pro, you may not get automatic parental leave (12 weeks in the U.S.). If you live in a country that does not provide equal leave for traditional and self-employed workers, like anything else when it comes to running a business, you have the freedom to figure out what works best for you and your family.
Let's review your options.
Create your own parental leave (self-funded parental leave)
A self-funded parental leave is one of the most common scenarios we see here at Solo PR Pro.
Several of our members have crafted a unique and personalized plan to keep their businesses running smoothly while they step away to be with baby.
Often times, a self-funded parental leave might look like a mix of a few different approaches, including:
- Taking on extra work in the time before your leave to bulk up savings.
- Working ahead on retainer client work where possible so there's less to do while you're out.
- Bringing in a trusted team member or subcontractor to handle work in your absence and serve as a point of contact for your clients.
- Modifying scope of work with a client.
- Pausing on new business opportunities during the time you plan to be out of the office.
Kristen Elworthy of Seven Hills Communications suggests bringing on whoever will be handling your work as far in advance as you can afford to and introducing them to clients so they're both comfortable.
- Lots of uninterrupted time with your new baby.
- The peace of mind that comes with knowing your business is staying afloat while you're not physically at the helm.
- The ability to ease into your chosen return to work with a modified schedule.
- You'll want to ensure you fully trust and train the team member or subcontractor that steps into your role. Similarly, you'll need to make sure your clients are okay with someone new helping on their account.
- There's an obvious expense that comes with hiring someone to help run your business in your absence. Be sure to budget accordingly.
- You may be required to check in from time to time to make sure things are going smoothly.
“I think that, as solos, it's almost impossible for us to take a complete and total leave,” explains Kristen. “Try to work through what is feasible for you and set expectations for yourself that will match your own work ethic and your support staff's availability while also understanding that having a baby is an unpredictable journey!”
Thinking of putting this option into practice? Check out this guide that details tasks you should complete in the months ahead of your parental leave.
Paid parental leave
When it comes to paid parental leave for self-employed people, there are two common options you'll find in your research: paid family leave by state and short term disability insurance (STD).
Paid family leave by state
The bad news? In the U.S., the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does not apply to self-employed business owners.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “FMLA applies to public agencies, including local, State, and Federal employers, and local education agencies (schools); and private sector employers who employ 50 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year – including joint employers and successors of covered employers.”
But here's the good news: depending on which state you live in, you may be eligible for leave with some caveats and requirements. Be sure to check to see what your state offers, if anything.
For example, in New York state, the paid family leave policy reads, “If you are a self-employed individual with no employees, opting in is as simple as purchasing an insurance policy. Under the governing law, you are required to purchase a policy for both Paid Family Leave and disability; you cannot opt in for Paid Family Leave alone.”
While this is an incredible benefit, there are timing requirements you'll need to follow: “While you can opt in at any time, you may be subject to a two-year waiting period for taking Paid Family Leave, depending on your timing.”
California offers a similar option for freelancers: “If you are an independent contractor, you can opt in to Paid Family Leave (PFL) and State Disability Insurance (SDI) by applying for the Disability Insurance Elective Coverage (DIEC) program. You would need to start paying into the program in advance of needing it in order to establish a base period. The DIEC program also requires you to commit to two years of quarterly premium payments (as long as you remain self-employed).”
The bottom line here? Check out your state's potential options as soon as possible since it may require years of opting in for coverage before you're eligible to take advantage.
Also, keep in mind: paid family leave will not cover your full income. You'll need to check with your state to see how much you qualify for. Looking for more state-specific information? This blog post from Wingspan provides a handy list.
Short term disability insurance
Another option for self-employed people is to purchase short term disability insurance. You'll have to carefully research and check policies, but some short term disability policies do include pregnancy and childbirth.
“The cost of your coverage depends on several factors, like the type of business you’re in, your annual income, your age, and overall health. Keep in mind that preexisting conditions are rarely covered by STD insurance and that there is typically a waiting period for coverage to set in (usually 90 days at least),” explains Rochel Maday for the In Her Sight blog. “When it comes to pregnancy, you’ll need coverage in place before becoming pregnant to take advantage of the benefits.”
- The obvious benefit here is that you may be eligible for some compensation during the time after giving birth. This may alleviate some stress of working ahead or paying a contractor.
- You'll need to plan ahead if you want to take advantage of these options, plus you'll need to live in one of the few states that actually offers benefits to expecting parents.
- If you are compensated during this time, keep in mind it will often only be for a percentage of your usual income.
Unpaid parental leave
This is probably the least desirable option — and not feasible for many of us — but if you've got a healthy amount of savings in the bank, taking a fully unpaid parental leave may be an option for you.
In this scenario, you might take a full pause from all client work— retainer and otherwise — for the duration of your leave.
- Full, uninterrupted bonding time with your new baby with no work looming over your head.
- There isn't a guarantee that when you return your previous clients will want to resume work. If you take a full pause, you run the risk that they may need to replace your services. This means you'll have more prospecting work to do upon your return.
- Financially, this option can be quite risky.
You get to decide
While planning for time away from work when you run your business can be a challenge, it's also an excellent reminder that as business owners, we have the freedom and flexibility to design our own schedules and work life.
Ultimately, whatever you decide, make sure it's the right decision for you and your family.
For example, Nicole Becker of Nicole Becker Public Relations is planning to continue working on her business throughout motherhood, citing this as an important reason she joined the solo PR world.
“It is one of the reasons I actually started my business, to give myself the flexibility to work while still being home with children, which isn't something I found in the corporate PR world,” Nicole says.
Photo: Credit:Koh Sze Kiat
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