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How I approached maternity leave as a solo founder

When Lucy Werner found out she was pregnant, she had to figure out what to do about her other baby ─ her business. Here’s how she managed maternity leave as a founder.
Maternity Leave – solo founder

A lot of people say that running a business is a lot like having a baby. To that, I’d say try having both at the same time.

I run my own PR business, The Wern, as a solo founder. I’ve also just had my second baby, and my partner and I are still finding that balance between work and life with two young children.

I’ve learnt two very important things along the way, though. First, you should plan your maternity leave as much as you can. Second, it’s impossible to predict what it’ll actually be like once the baby arrives.

Planning for maternity leave

The first time I got pregnant in 2016, I had four PAYE employees. After my first trimester, I told them each over lunch ─ and assured them a plan was in place for while I’d be away.

I was nervous about telling clients about my maternity leave, but my mentor advised that I do it with a smile, and present it without a single worry. Interestingly from a psychological perspective, this worked.

"Of course, both babies and businesses rarely go to plan. I thought I’d be completely hands-off, but actually I still needed to answer questions from the team on WhatsApp"

The rest of the plan was simple. I’d hired a senior figure to babysit the business for me. My partner Hadrien, who worked for a big design agency at the time, was going to share parental leave with me. I’d do the first three months, he’d do the next three, and we’d take it from there.

Of course, both babies and businesses rarely go to plan. I thought I’d be completely hands-off, but actually I still needed to answer questions from the team on WhatsApp. Even more unexpectedly, as soon as my baby was born, I absolutely knew I wasn’t going to return to work full-time in three months.

Shifting Perspectives

Not all of The Wern’s clients were able to wait for me to come back, and I did lose a few when I broke the news.

I wasn’t too upset because, in all honesty, my priorities had changed. I am still ambitious, and having a baby made me really think about what I was doing ─ I didn’t want to work the hours I had been any more. I’d already left the hectic world of big agencies with a mission to provide proper PR support for small businesses and entrepreneurs. But here I was trying to recreate the agency model.

So I took action. I came back to work, explained to the team what had happened, and let them go. I pivoted the business towards teaching entrepreneurs how to do their own PR.

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Baby number two

Post-pivot, I became pregnant with my second child. We figured the changes we had made to our working lives would make it easier to manage having a second baby. Only, as with our first child, we soon remembered that planning can only get you so far.

One week after Hadrien told his boss we were having a baby, he was made redundant. Things got even more difficult when our baby arrived with a heart condition, in need of urgent intensive care. It’s hard, but we’re getting through it.

The changes we’ve made to the business have helped massively ─ working solo meant I was able to wind down client work and start building up future revenue sources in the run-up to my due date. Hadrien’s redundancy has been a blessing, too. He was put on gardening leave for a few months, meaning he could stay at home on a full salary while sharing parental duties with me.

Juggling business with babies

Good planning should leave room for flexibility. One thing I made sure of was that I had a trickle of income coming through from a project ─ which would let me spend even more time with my family.

I’ve also been saving as much as I can to supplement the government’s statutory maternity pay, which works out at about £600 per month. I’ve ended up with enough money that I can pay myself a personal maternity allowance, too.

"Good planning should leave room for flexibility"

Actually getting the government maternity pay also requires a bit of planning. You’ll need to get a MatB1 certificate, which you get from your GP or midwife, that shows when your due date is. My accountant helped me to apply, and I’d recommend doing it as far out as you can to make sure it arrives in time. Because with the best will in the world, not all babies come when they’re supposed to.

Helping sole traders

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