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Wellbeing / Work & family

Will your clients give you maternity leave? Mine did

Are you a soloist who’s just about to have a baby? Worried about trying to keep your clients and a newborn happy? What if your clients gave you maternity leave like Zoe Wundenberg’s did?

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My second ‘baby’ turned two years old last week and I will never forget the terror and panic the positive pregnancy test brought. My husband and I had decided to ‘start thinking about maybe having a second child’ and BAM, two weeks later, that second pink line popped up on the pee stick. My life was set to change forever. Again.

Self-employed with the responsibility of bringing home the bacon for my family, I couldn’t imagine how I was going to juggle a squishy newborn AND my work. I was doing crazy hours (often up all night) to meet deadlines and had only just taken on the editorship of a magazine five months before (a dream job for me). How was I going to handle it all? Argh!

I knew I needed to take time away from work to ‘sleep when baby sleeps’ (ha!) and recover (it would be my second C section so I knew what I was in for!) However, I was terrified. How could I step away from the business I had carefully grown from the ground up for almost five months and then walk back into it as if nothing had happened?

"Since I returned to work, my business has doubled."

The conundrum weighed heavily on me, mostly in the wee hours of the morning. And, when I think about it, was a major trigger in me developing peri-natal depression. (Wow. This is actually the first time I’ve owned that publicly and only the third time I’ve said it ‘out loud’ as it were. It’s quite a realisation that the pressure I put myself under while pregnant with my baby girl led to depression. But it is also an empowering one because it made me realise just how important mental health is when juggling home and work life.)

So, there I was, whale-ish, green with omnipresent all day sickness and feeling stressed and panicked about how I was going to handle everything after the birth. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that none of this worrying was actually getting me anywhere other than deeper into the dark abyss. I decided to shelve the panic and trust that life would work itself out as I went along and tried (some days more successfully than others) to focus on growing a healthy baby while working like a crazy person to continue to grow my business on the pre-birth side of my pregnancy.

In the end, I decided to take the 18 weeks of maternity leave offered by the government after having a long chat to a very nice man at Centrelink who talked me through what I could and couldn’t do while on that leave.

  • I wasn’t allowed to earn money.
  • I wasn’t allowed to do client meetings.
  • I wasn’t allowed to undertake paid work for clients.

Buuuuuuut that still left a lot of room for movement. So I hatched a plan.

Six things that kept my business alive and my clients waiting for my return:

  1. Maintained existing relationships: I made up images on Facebook saying ‘Keep Calm I’m just on maternity leave!’ and told my client group I would be still be ‘here’ but I wouldn’t be taking on new work. If my existing clients wanted to email me and ask me questions or seek advice, then I would happily reply and give them a hand – unpaid and without developing any new work product. (Being a career counsellor, this meant I wasn’t leaving my existing client base in the lurch.) While I didn’t earn money, I was able to maintain and grow my relationships within my current client base which proved to be important in the long run.
  2. Shared articles: While breastfeeding my new baby, I browsed the internet for information, news and articles relevant to my relationship with my client base and I shared them across my social media platforms. This meant that even though I wasn’t technically ‘there’ to take on new work, I was still engaging with my clients and offering support and helpful information that continued to nurture my relationship with them. This led to:
  3. Retained industry currency: Again, while breastfeeding my newborn (and often at 2am when I was trying to stay awake so we wouldn’t both fall off the chair and end up on the floor!), I would research and read relevant articles to my industry to ensure I was up to date with industry trends and still had a voice in LinkedIn discussions regarding industry movements. This led to:
  4. Maintaining my business networks: LinkedIn was a gift. LinkedIn doesn’t care if you are wearing pyjamas at 2pm, haven’t done your hair in two days and have forgotten what makeup is. You can still network online, participate in industry discussions and both read and share interesting articles. I found it was a great way to stay connected with others in my industry and local business owners/managers in my area while I was technically away from my desk.
  5. Planned new products: I had grand plans that I was going to finally write my online training program during those 18 weeks, but, alas, I had forgotten it wasn’t a holiday. I actually had a baby to look after, so that never happened. However, I did get to put together a new counselling approach and finish off the booklet for it which meant when I did return to work, I had a new offering to sell which generated some great new client relationships.
  6. I said ‘No’: It turns out that when you tell a client that you are unavailable, sometimes that increases your desirability. I had to say no to clients who called me during my maternity leave period, but that didn’t stop me from being able to book them in for when I returned. While I had to say ‘no’ at the time, the ‘no’ was actually a ‘not now, but later’ and I found myself booking up for my first week back and had to hit the ground running.

Since I returned to work from maternity leave:

  • My business has doubled.
  • I’ve been head hunted to undertake training and deliver one-on-one counselling with clients.
  • I’ve been invited to mark university assignments as well as guest lecture at the local university.
  • I have a contract with the local council to deliver HR services on an as-needed basis.
  • I was even asked to take over a colleague’s business for them while they were overseas.

After having my baby girl, my business has grown in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

I thought having my first child would mean the death of my career. I started out in recruitment a lifetime ago and just couldn’t imagine putting my son in day care and returning to work full-time. That was it, I thought. Four years at University to change nappies and play dinosaurs. Don’t get me wrong, I loved caring for my son, but I yearned for something more. That yearning is what ultimately birthed my business.

My second child was terrifying for a different reason. I had established my business, I had an office in town and it was starting to grow, but as the sole breadwinner I was panicked over how I would juggle it all.

In the end, I have found that my business has never been more successful. And it’s all because of those six things I did while I was away.

Did you take maternity leave from your business after having your baby? Or did you keep working?

ZoeWundenberg

is a passionate careers writer, counsellor and coach who runs a boutique career development business called Impressability. She’s also the founder of the Albury/Wodonga Business Community Hub, built to support local business leaders. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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