For many private practice owners, their clinic is their baby. My business partner—audiologist Melissa Wilson Beer—and I constantly joke about our clinic being our first child with all the highs (and lows) that come with raising a little one! The dedication and attention given to the business helps it improve and grow. This time and attention can also become a challenge when a real baby comes along.
As women business owners, we navigate the world of business while carving out time to learn the world of parenting. As I prepare to welcome my first little one into the world—in just a few weeks—I spent time researching state laws, generating plans, and keeping in constant communication with my team and business partner in preparation for taking time away. It’s a lot to wrap my head around … maternity leave for entrepreneurs isn’t typical, as the business-management brain never truly shuts off, but I’m hoping with some major planning, a great team, and advice from others, to nurture both “babies” at once.
A million questions about our practice have floated through my mind since finding out a little one was on the way. How much time should I take off? When do I let patients know? How does the business stay viable? What will communication with my team look like to ensure things run smoothly? Should we get additional coverage?
Luckily, nature gave me nearly 10 months to put a plan into action. I gathered advice from other mom-entrepreneurs and wanted to share what I researched and learned over the past months.
Use the time you have to plan so you can take a step back and somewhat relax when on leave.
- Decide how much time you want to take off. Take into account any highs and lows your business and patient populations might experience. For our clinic, things tend to slow down during summer and winter months. This gave me the assurance that leaving in July wouldn’t create too much of an impact on the team or my patients.
- Create a protocol/guide for other SLPs/team members to reference during your time away. Not only will this document help your team during your leave, it can also provide a resource for future business planning or onboarding new hires. While I’m away, our team can check for answers in the guide before picking up the phone to ask questions.
- Do whatever you can get done in advance. I wrote and scheduled blogs and social media posts, prepaid bills, set up meetings, and continued education content for the team. The more you get in place, the less pull you’ll have to the office during your time away.
Delegate and communicate
One of the most difficult things for me to do as a practice owner is to let go and delegate tasks to other team members. However when I do, I see growth for the team—and the clinic!
- Identify tasks the front-office staff, team members, or business partners can handle. Take care of any training while still in the office, allowing time for asking questions. This can include new-patient intake, website updates, or running payroll.
- Communicate expectations with your business and real life partner. Work and home life will intertwine, and it’s important to let all members of your “team” know when you will be available, and when you will not.
- Let your patients know about your upcoming leave and what they can expect during that time. For me, this was an email to all speech-language clients when I hit 19 weeks to let them know they would continue to receive exceptional care from my replacement, and I would respond to email during my three months away.
- Write an out-of-office email so others know where you are and when to expect you back. Also provide them with contact information of a person for immediate help.
- Set check-in times with your team during your time away. This will help with your absence, as well as your transition back to the clinic. I am planning check-ins every other week to include information on patients, insurance, and overall clinic needs.
Even if you expect your business to run at the same capacity while you’re away, it’s a good idea to put aside a little extra savings.
- Extra costs might come along in your absence, such as additional staff or emergency purchases.
- Come up with a plan to pay yourself while you aren’t working.
Try to build a plan you can use for other team members (because chances are you won’t be the only one who takes leave at some point). Follow the rules of your state, and even though you as a business owner can’t reap many of the state program benefits, know which ones your team members can. The size and location of your company are critical factors in the benefits you need to offer.
- The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows parents to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a new child entering or joining their family. This law applies to companies with 50 or more employees and to employees who worked at least 1250 hours within a 12-month period.
- Even if maternity leave isn’t required because of the size of your company, if your clinic has 15 or more employees, you must comply with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination based on childbirth, pregnancy, and related medical conditions. In summary, you must treat all employees and abilities equally, so any modifications or changes you make for one employee can apply to others.
- Look into state laws. While federal law applies only to businesses with 50 or more employees, many states have additional laws and regulations. States requiring companies with fewer than 50 employees to provide maternity leave include: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington. In California, where our clinic is located, companies with at least five employees must give employees a reasonable period of leave, from six to eight weeks.
- Paid versus unpaid leave? No federal or state laws require any company (regardless of size) to compensate employees during parental leave. However, five states offer publicly funded paid maternity leave available through temporary disability programs. If your business is located in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, or New York (as of 1/2018), you pay for this through your payroll taxes. In our state, California, eligible workers can claim up to 55% of their wages while out on medical leave.
Each clinic and business owner’s leave will look different because every person and business is different. Some may wish to completely unplug and delegate responsibilities, while others may want to stay connected while still taking time to rest and enjoy their new little one.
Do whatever you need to make you, your family, and your clinic happy and healthy. Work will always be there. So regardless of whether you take a few weeks or a few months away, put a plan into place to know your “first child” is taken care of while you are surrounded by diapers or stealing some snuggles with your new little one.