As an independent professional, the idea of taking parental leave can be scary. Without set guidelines or a reliable paycheck, the prospect of having to budget for time off, set expectations with clients, and work head on projects is daunting. Nevertheless, one of the benefits of running your own business is the freedom to structure projects around your personal life, set boundaries with clients, or partner with other consultants to help manage your workload.
With the right planning and forethought, taking time off for parental leave is absolutely feasible for independents. If you’re an independent mom or dad considering taking parental leave, here’s how you can best prepare, overcome common concerns, and successfully return to work.
Having a plan in place when taking parental leave is of particular importance for independents, as they typically work alone and are responsible for running their own business. Planning out how you will complete current projects, pay bills, and notify your clients are key components to preparing to take time off.
Under the Family Medical Leave Act, parents can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a new child, yet this law only applies to those who work at a company of at least 50 employees and only 6% of all employers offer full pay during leave. That means most small business owners and independent contractors are on their own when it comes to taking and financing parental leave.
To financially prepare, decide approximately how much time you’d like to take off and set a budget for those weeks or months. To boost your income in the months prior, you may consider taking on additional work, cutting back on expenses, or even raising your rates.
Take a look at your current projects, tasks, and responsibilities and think through what you can complete in advance, what you can automate, and what you may need a subcontractor, part-time assistant, or virtual assistant to help out with.
“ There are many steps involved in creating a leave plan,” explains Georgene Huang, CEO and co-founder of Fairygodboss, a career community website created by women for women to share their workplace experiences. “For self-employed professionals especially, I would recommend taking a look at each of your projects and business functions, and think through what needs to be done: What are the deadlines? What is the workload? Is this an on-going client or a one-time project? It’s important to note if your work is client based, this could vary from client to client.”
At the end of the day, no matter how much preparation you do, you may find there are certain tasks you’ll need assistance with. Whether you engage a virtual assistant to respond to emails or bring on another independent to run small projects, an extra set of hands can give you and your clients peace of mind.
“Hiring someone that you trust to be a temporary ‘you’ in whatever your business is may alleviate clients reaching out directly. If hiring someone, you could also consider having a weekly call with that person to discuss any issues or concerns, and to keep a pulse on the business,” Huang suggests.
Creating a communication plan and thinking through the expectations you want to set with clients is an important part of preparing for your leave. While it may be inevitable that a client or two reaches out with questions or something that needs your attention while you’re out, a communication plan can help to set boundaries from the start.
Once you have a set leave plan in place, start thinking about the best way to inform your clients. Explaining your plan and thought process to clients will help to reassure them that you are well-prepared and that they are in good hands.
“By clearly defining a timeline and expectations, clients will feel better knowing that you have thought through what needs to be done and when. Communicating with them is paramount to making this all work,” Huang says.
Returning to work after leave can be a difficult transition. In fact, 78% of parents working as traditional, W-2 employees say they considered not returning to their company after having their first child, and 59% say they are likely to switch employers.
When returning to work, take advantage of the flexibility that independence provides. While you may want to prioritize high-value projects and clients, if you do find you need more time, don’t be afraid to take it.
“Work can seem overwhelming when returning from leave and can often times be emotional. It’s a huge transition, but with every day you’ll figure out what balance works for you,” Huang says.