When I had my first baby, I planned a three-week maternity leave thinking I was a “tough cookie.” As any experienced mother knows, that plan wasn’t “tough.” It was inhumane.
My baby needed me far more than I could have imagined. It took about two seconds of looking into her big, newborn eyes for me to realize that she was going to be my number one priority for a very long time.
I knew I had to recalibrate quickly (which I was able to do as a business owner), so I shut down the most demanding part of my company and fired challenging clients. I simplified and streamlined wherever possible. It all worked out fine, and I recovered whatever revenue I’d lost within months.
Now we’re expecting baby number two, and I’m doing things very differently this time around. No more frantic scrambling to recover from over-optimistic ideas about working motherhood. Instead, I’m putting into practice all my hard-earned lessons about how to stay sane as a new mom (while also ensuring your clients don’t panic and flee). Here’s what I learned.
1) When to let them know you’re pregnant
When it comes to telling your client, timing is critical. Also, consider the following: Do they follow you on social media? If they do, they’re going to know if you announce it there, so be sure they know ahead of that. Will you be meeting them in person during your pregnancy? If so, I wouldn’t count on hiding your bump past 20 weeks, and I’d tell them a little sooner. How personal is your relationship with them? If they consider you a close friend, they may feel wounded if they’re the last to know.
In short, the “right” time to tell them will depend on the nature of your relationship with them. The critical thing is to factor in enough time to be respectful of the disruption your absence may cause. For some clients, you may let them know as late as six or seven months in. For most, between the 16- and 20-week mark is standard.
2) How to let them know you’re pregnant
How you work with your clients–in person, remotely, etc.–will determine how to tell them best. I’ve found face-to-face often works better than sending an email for most working relationships.
Since I work remotely with my clients, I’ve shared the news as often as possible when consulting with them in-person. For nearly everyone else, I’ve just shared it at the end of one of our regularly scheduled meetings: “Before I let you go today, I just wanted to share a little news!”
At this point, they almost always know what I’m about to say and meet the news with smiles and congratulations. We celebrate for a minute or two, and then I provide reassurance:
“Obviously there will be changes, but we’ll make sure we cover all of that as everything gets closer. My role will actually be covered by so-and-so. She’s amazing. I’ll be working with her for the next few weeks to bring her up to speed and then make introductions and get her fully transitioned to cover through my maternity leave. I’ll be there right up until I leave to be sure we work out any kinks.” The key is to create a cocoon of coverage and reassurance.
Depending on your role, the transition time for a team member to take over can be anywhere from a few days–or most likely, if you’re a freelancer or business owner–a few months.
3) Setting clear expectations with your team
The key to not losing your clients while you’re spending that beautiful, all vital time with your new bundle of joy is preparation. The following process works well for nearly everyone:
- List all your responsibilities and time commitments.
- Delegate those responsibilities with plenty of runway to help guide and coach the team members who will take them over. For example, for accounts where I am the primary strategist, I delegate those responsibilities four to five months in advance.
- Plan at least three “test periods” where you step away from your responsibilities. One day, three days, and then a full week is optimal. This is a powerful way to see how newly assigned team members are doing, and then coach them through any mishaps.
4) Finalize your transition plan and follow up with clients
Once your clients know the game plan, work in a few essential follow-ups to reassure your clients that they will be taken care of.
- Within a few days of your initial conversation, thank them for their support and provide a brief email or Slack message reiterating the game plan.
- As soon as you begin the transition to new team members, reassure your clients you’re working alongside them and encourage them to offer feedback. You don’t need to mention your maternity leave again. Just say you’re bringing on so and so, and helping him or her get situated.
- A week or two before you leave, send your client a short reminder of the timeline and how your temporary replacement will be doing a fantastic job in your absence.
5) Make sure to give yourself a pre-due date break
If you have the luxury of setting your schedule, here’s one more suggestion, give yourself a few days before your due date to begin your maternity leave. There’s no glory in checking email as you start labor. I did that, and in retrospect I wish I hadn’t.
Tara Zirker has taught thousands of business owners to rapidly scale through the power of Facebook ads. She is the founder of Successful Ads Club, a high-touch support platform where business owners receive step-by-step training to master their own lead generation.