Finding out I was pregnant with a viable pregnancy, was one of the most exciting but equally nerve-racking times in my life. As anyone who has suffers loss would know it’s a hard journey. However, my journey as not only nerve racking with the physical health of the baby and my body, but my business health too. I have worked hard since I opened my clinic in 2015 to develop strong relationships and rapport with my past and current clients. I treat them all with so much respect and appreciation that I wanted to be able to continue this after baby was born and beyond. Preparing for maternity leave was challenging to say the least. Leaving your ‘first baby’ with someone who you don’t know is hard. I guess it will be like leaving Ibrahim in childcare for the first time. You know that they are qualified however will they look after them as well as you?
PREPARING FOR MATERNITY LEAVE
I initially sought out help from The Ambitious Dietitian. I dilly-dawdled for so long with this. I have a tendency to procrastinate decisions and this was a big decision. I asked my subcontractor if they would be interested in taking over for the time, however they weren’t. I went back to square one.
Several well-meaning individuals did not want my business to ‘fail’ or ‘suffer’ – particularly the name and reputation that I’ve built over the past five years – and advised me to only take six weeks or three months off. Looking back at my experience now, I would say that’s blasphemy and to take as much time as you need. I would looove to take a year off, however the business may not survive if that were the case…more on that later.
To find my maternity leave cover I did a big brainstorm. I spoke with several stakeholders and identified what my business needed, what resources would be available for them, financially how much the business could afford and how much time I wanted to take off. I decided on these parameters and drew up a job description with Brianna’s help. I also sought the help of a lawyer who advised that this person needs to be an employee not a subcontractor (the individual is carrying out the business in the way that you have asked them to – thus they are your employee not a subcontractor running their own business under your roof). There were some great Government resources available on the Small Business Website and the ATO Website. With this knowledge, I went to Seek, Indeed, DAA Employment Page, Linkedin and Facebook to advertise for the position. I got over forty applications – many new graduates which I did consider, however with me being away, I needed strong clinical judgement to be made in a somewhat isolating area – private practice. I had three strong applicants. I interviewed them all, made notes and gelled with two. I would have loved to hire them both and indeed would have given the circumstances. I made my choice after weeks of indecision (lucky pregnancy lasts 40 weeks!). I had my maternity leave cover – then came the training.
Training was laborious and a financial investment. You don’t want to pick the wrong person. This is challenging. My advice is to go with your gut. I had to take a look at myself and all the processes that I did on auto-pilot and break them down to my maternity leave cover. I had a lawyer draw up a casual contract that would convert to a part-time contract if successful of the training period. The training period was a casual contract that paid the maternity leave cover while they shadowed me. Following this training period, I shadowed her. Upon successful completion I offered the six-month part-time contract.
Before I started to prepare to leave, I started telling my clients that I would leave on X day. Many wished me well however some were disappointed and would wait until I returned. This made me sad and anxious as I catastrophised that no one will book in with my maternity leave cover. I also informed my primary referrers in person and introduced my maternity leave cover. I also sent a letter out to respective referrers to advise them of the clinic changes and what to expect.
As my last day was coming up, I started doing reduced clinics, and asked my maternity leave cover to take the clinic on some days of the week. The clients were well aware of this and I shadowed my maternity leave cover. It was hard initially to get others to be receptive to the maternity leave cover, however once we had her name – we started using this instead of saying ‘locum’. Locum scared away clients who said they will not see a locum and will wait until I got back. Having a name was extremely helpful in initiating rapport and handover.
I was terrified, stressed and anxious about leaving my business. I had to remember I made the right steps to protect my business and care for my clients while I was aware. I set boundaries and did my best to stick to these.
THE MATERNITY LEAVE
I went into labour right on 40 weeks; however, I took off at 36 weeks. I could have worked longer but I was tired. Furthermore, it was Easter/ANZAC and Labor Day all within those three weeks. Business was down as a result of those weeks and was a good start for the maternity leave cover to begin. Maternity leave cover has been relatively smooth however some managerial bumps – knowing actual hours worked, assessing how well the clinics are going and loss of referrals. Some marketing strategies have been implemented; however, it is challenging not being involved in the day to day to have a large impact.
Over the past five months, the maternity leave cover has been financially meeting our expenses. We aren’t making profits and I think that is important for anyone going on maternity leave to know. It will be tough. Although you will have your review clients mostly stick with you, new referrals thus initial appointments will decrease and your business expenses increase (by hiring an employee with wages, tax and superannuation that you’re liable for). This leads to not much left for the owner’s wages/savings for tax. You must save during your pregnancy. It has helped that we are living on our savings as it would be even more stressful learning to be a Mum and running a profitless business with no money for yourself. Save as much as you need for your daily expenses for the time you have off.
I expected to have a lovely six months where I didn’t have to be hands on with the business however this wasn’t the case. I have had to come in many many times to deal with administration issues, continue to attend to my accounting, pay wages, deal with complaints and have managerial meetings. I am somewhat grateful that I have something to expend my mental energy on however making manager decisions while on leave is taxing – particularly with little sleep and time.
I am now currently working back up to full-time (four days a week). I am starting back two days a week from mid-October until 2020 then I will transition into school hour clinics Tuesday to Thursday.
My advice to anyone preparing for their own maternity leave:
- Take off as much time as you need. I am grateful I had a month to myself before baby arrived – I got to be a lady of leisure and helped me mentally for the maternity leave period and shift into being a Mum.
- In regards to time off, I would have preferred a year as getting little one into childcare is challenging at such a young age (<6 months) and missing out on milestones will be hard. They’re young once and having one child is apparently easier than multiple. Enjoy it.
- Invest in a lawyer and/or human resources manager. I personally relied on both. I had several email contacts with them during my maternity leave to deal with managerial issues. I wish I found Janine earlier as she’s invaluable.
- Brianna is a brilliant source of information/assistance. Keep in contact with The Ambitious Dietitian team.
- Plan your finances in advance. You’re surviving not thriving in this time.
- Let your primary referrers know where you’re going and introduce your maternity leave cover. This encouraged referrals as they’re aware you chose that person to take over for you.
- Trust your maternity leave cover however do not be over-trusting. It is your business and you need to still be involved in the managing side of it. Ensure everyone is happy and on the same page.
- Find a friend going through the same experience as you. They’re your moral support, confidant and venting buddy when the going is tough.
Overall, it’s a wild anxiety promoting journey. I have learnt a lot about myself, my business and made so many mistakes – I will know what to do next time I take maternity leave.