Stepping away from work for parental leave is never easy. While you're wrapped up in the joy, beauty and sleepless nights of your newborn, work still goes on. Projects still have deadlines, clients are still paying and there are always new fires to put out.
While a corporate job might offer twelve weeks of parental leave, running your own business means it's all up to you to figure out.
So, how exactly do you handle taking parental leave as a solo PR pro?
We talked with a few PR pros to get their best advice — Nicole Becker of Nicole Becker Public Relations, Kristen Elworthy of Seven Hills Communications and Meredith LeJeune of Thought Bubble Communications.
From an expectant mother to a mom of three, here's how these solo PR pros planned their parental leaves while keeping their successful businesses running smoothly.
Rely more on freelancers (or business partners)
Relying on those around you is a crucial step for keeping your PR businesses running while you take parental leave.
Whether that means bringing on a part-time freelancer full-time for a few months, asking a business partner to take on extra projects or temporarily hiring someone new, make sure it's someone you can trust to manage your day-to-day projects.
Kristen has three children, ages nine, seven and three, and says her parental leave looked different with each of them. However, throughout all three rounds of parental leave, she relied on freelancers.
In addition to her business partner picking up extra work during her first leave, Kristen also used freelancers to take some tactical stuff off her plate. “The second time, we did something similar, and the third time, most recently, I was running the business myself and I expanded the role of one of my freelancers to full time for two months in order to enable me to take as much leave as possible,” Kristen explains.
She let clients know she'd be checking in frequently, and introduced them to her freelancer. She also cut back a bit on her work while she was pregnant, which helped transfer the workload over to her freelancer.
Nicole, who is expecting her first child in six months, is planning something similar — she's going to bring someone on in a project management role to take care of her high-level, day-to-day company management and client communications.
Prepare ahead of time
Setting everything up for your parental leave isn't something you can accomplish overnight. All of the solo PR pros we talked to recommend to start planning at least a few months out.
Kristen 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. Also, if there are any clients you've been wanting to part ways with, the months leading up to your maternity leave could be a good time to do so.
“For all the leaves, I started preparing documents months in advance to allow whomever was taking over for me to do what they needed to do,” Kristen says. This included weekly plans, checklists and short videos on how to do certain tasks. She used the workflow management tool Asana to schedule recurring tasks ahead of time.
Meredith has gone through parental leave as a solo PR pro twice — once with twins and another time in 2020.
She also took a similar approach to her parental leave: she talked with all of her clients two months out from her expected due date. When she was about 30 days out, she discussed major to-dos and any projects that might come up while she was out on leave.
“Be transparent with your clients about your plans,” Meredith advises. “They need time to prepare just as much as you do. Take the time you need! Whether this is your first child, second child or eighth child, you are still a new mother with a new baby. Because each baby and pregnancy is different, you never have the same experience. Take the time you need to heal mentally, physically, and emotionally before returning back to work.”
As a solo PR pro, it might not be realistic to plan to 100% step away from work for two months. Being a new mother means the unexpected could pop up, and you have to be prepared for anything. Whether that looks like getting back to work sooner rather than later, or you end up needing more time to heal than you initially thought.
“This may be hard if it's your first time taking leave, but try to be realistic about what your leave will look like,” Kristen advises. This will look different for every solo PR pro, as it depends on your work habits, availability and the staff temporarily taking over your role.
Kristen took her first two weeks off completely, then slowly eased back into her full client load over the next four weeks.
“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,” Kristen says, “while also understanding that having a baby is an unpredictable journey!”
Despite her meticulous planning, Meredith says she only ended up taking a month off. “However, when I did return back to work, it was on an adjusted schedule,” she says. “I started out two days a week for half a day and then gradually added more time and days until I was back to full time.”
Similar to Meredith, Nicole is also planning on taking the first month completely off. “After the first month, I am planning to continue having additional support on board, while I slowly reintroduce work with a flexible schedule,” Nicole explains. “I am planning to block my working hours, and my husband, who thankfully has a semi-flexible working schedule, will be able to help during those working hours.”
You might still have to check in…
Kristen understood that, as a solo PR pro, she couldn't totally check out for 12 weeks, but she was OK with that — “I think that, as solos, it's almost impossible for us to take a complete and total leave,” she explains.
“I focused on offloading anything I could for about eight weeks and keeping my work concentrated on client deliverables, such as reviewing anything written, and checking in with those who were covering for me to ensure that we were in good shape,” Kristen explains.
While she knew she couldn't completely go off the grid, Kristen appreciates the flexibility of being a solo PR pro more than the guaranteed maternity leave of a corporate role. “I can go on field trips, drop them at school, take them someplace on half days or days off — these are things I might have struggled with in a regular full-time role,” Kristen says. “For me, I have always been fine with that trade-off.”
Nicole 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.
While having a set maternity leave at a traditional job might sound appealing at first, being a solo PR pro allows for a lot more flexibility throughout your child's life — whether they're six months old, six years old or 16. You, and you alone, will dictate your own work schedule, client load, and have the freedom to step back when needed.
Don't forget that your family (and your health) comes first
Of course, it's important to keep your business running but, as a new mom, you and your newborn should always come first. Don't feel rushed to get back to work, or push yourself too much before you're ready.
Meredith felt anxious about taking her first parental leave and was worried about losing clients, but she said having her baby helped put things back in perspective.
“I wasn't the same person I was pre-baby, or pre-pandemic for that matter,” Meredith says. “I was confident returning back to work knowing that, even if the client's needs might have changed or that my workload might change, my family came first. I wasn't as stressed as I thought I would be, which was a huge relief.”
Kristen's main piece of advice is to be confident in your plan. “Right now, there is a lot more dialogue around working motherhood that probably does a better job of supporting maternity leave for a solo than there was on my first leave nearly a decade ago,” Kristen says.
Remembering back to her first maternity leave, when a client asked her if she was planning on getting childcare or planning to work while watching her baby, Kristen was surprised it was even a question. “I didn't really leave room for their feedback; the plan was the plan. I did not lose a single client over this in three maternity leaves — I didn't even have anyone ask to pause,” Kristen says.
With each maternity leave, Kristen adjusted her schedule accordingly. For one child she went to a half-time schedule; for another, she cut back a lot more. “I think it's important to do what you think is right for your family at any one time, and know that you can come back — these choices are not permanent,” Kristen says.
While Nicole is nervous about stepping away from something she created and loves, she's excited about the new challenge of being a mom! “I know I need to just be flexible and honest with myself about what I can and can't handle and not be afraid to ask for help when I need it,” Nicole says.
Have you navigated taking time away from your business? Share your tips in the comments or on social media using #solopr.
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