Preparing for maternity leave as a business owner

Katie Mallinson and Flo - preparing for maternity leaveAs a company founder, it’s always going to be tough to leave your ‘business baby’ to go and have a real one, but it is possible to ‘switch off’ during your maternity leave – provided you put robust plans in place.

Here, founder and MD of Scriba PR, Katie Mallinson, shares her top five tips for new parents – including how to handle the unexpected.

Begin preparations as soon as you can

It’s a completely personal decision as to when you share the news of the latest addition to your own family, with the team. In my case, I involved my colleagues from the very start – to ensure we could work together to plan the entire journey.

It was my first child, the only time I’d ever left the business until this point was for a week’s holiday, and the firm was still in relative infancy itself – so I felt it was important that we prepared as far in advance as we could.

I found that a good place to start was with monthly meetings. We used this time to discuss all outstanding work and projects, any fears about additional responsibilities, my own apprehensions around ‘letting go’, and preparing for the unexpected. The latter, it turned out, proved to be crucial.

Seek advice from the professionals

Sometimes, it can be helpful to involve an impartial third-party to help identify any underlying areas you might need to focus on. For example, we worked closely with our company wellbeing coach – Natasha McCreesh from PiP to Grow Strong – who helped us identify our hopes and fears for the coming year.

As someone who is separated from day-to-day life in the office, an outsider can guide you through the planning process both as a team and individually – offering a confidential ear to those who may be reluctant to discuss any concerns in an open forum.

In my case, I needed to identify what I wanted my maternity leave to look like – in an ideal world – and then work backwards from that, to pinpoint what needed to be done in order to get there.

Planning vs. preparedness

Of course, the best laid plans can soon be disrupted. When I was in the latter stages of pregnancy, I also found out there was a tumour growing in my nose, which soon forced me to make some difficult decisions about when my baby would arrive.

Lucky for us, Flo arrived of her own accord just after midnight on December 19th, and I had surgery at 11am the same day. Two weeks later, I was given the all-clear that the growth was just a freak of nature – nothing sinister – and, thankfully, my nose was back to its normal appearance shortly after.

That wasn’t the end of it though. In February 2018, when Flo was only seven weeks old, I fell and broke my back. Nothing could have prepared us for the physical and emotional rollercoaster that followed.

Thankfully, because we had planned meticulously for almost every scenario, the team were prepared – and empowered – to deal with the situation, enabling me to focus on my recovery. Plus, we have great technology in place for remote working and keeping in touch on projects, so I was as contactable as usual if they needed me.

Ensure all clients know who their point of contact will be

It goes without saying that clients need to be fully in the loop and should know who to contact in your absence. I didn’t divulge news of my baby until I had a very clear plan regarding what would happen while I was away.

Rather than saying: “Hey, great news, I’m pregnant! I’ll let you know what happens with your account in due course,” we made sure all conversations included a focused message and identified the person who would look after them in the interim.

I also made sure to set my usual happy and personable out of office, which explained that I had temporarily morphed into ‘first-time mum Katie’, rather than ‘the Scriba PR boss who always has an eye on the inbox.’ I felt I owed it to myself, my partner and our daughter to enjoy these precious moments we had together.

Switch off your phone!

Of course, it’s hard to let go and believe that you can take the time away from your job. No matter our occupation or seniority, we all like to think that we’re an integral part of the business – and in many cases, that’s the truth. But it will survive – if you prepare.

Despite the bumps in the road, I did stick to ‘the plan’ and took around three months off after Flo was born. My personal phone doubles up as my work mobile, so the team set up a separate WhatsApp group for their day-to-day chatter and I had to be very strict with what I did and didn’t look at!

We agreed – as a collective – that, following the initial round of baby photos and congratulations, only our operations manager would contact me, and that was in case of an absolute emergency.

My return to work was phased too. I started with half-a-day once per fortnight, before stepping that up to one day per week from home. After three months, my partner also took paternity leave so I could come back part-time to begin with.

I know everyone’s family circumstances are different, but I think shared parental leave should definitely be considered by more people, if it works for them. It was lovely for my partner to have some time at home with out daughter too.

Katie Mallinson, MD of Scriba PRAbout the author

CIPR member Katie Mallinson is Scriba’s founder. An Outstanding Young Communicator winner with a gong from HRH Prince Andrew also under her belt, she steers the Scriba ship and maintains the lead on all new business enquiries.

Her passion for communicating and eye for growth opportunities means she still loves to be hands-on with several of our technical clients. She is also an advocate of workplace wellbeing, staff development and young entrepreneurialism, which sees her frequently deliver pro bono support to youngsters in education and starting out in business

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