One of the great joys of owning our own businesses is the freedom and flexibility it gives us! We aren’t limited to 2 weeks vacation and 10 sick/personal days a year, unless we want to be! As long as we plan and set expectations with our clients well, we can go on frequent holidays and even work from all over the world. (In the last 2 years, I’ve worked from my home base in Sonoma County but also from Connecticut, New York City, Maui, Park City UT, and Maine). However, if you want to take a longer sabbatical from your practice without losing momentum, it takes a lot more intention and planning. Most folks that take a long sabbatical see a dip in business going into and coming out of their sabbatical, but it doesn’t have to be that way!
When I joyfully found out I was pregnant in February, after the shock and joy sunk in, I immediately thought “how will this affect my business?” After all, my business has been “my baby” for 16 years and I knew that it would continue to be a priority for me alongside my growing family. I didn’t want to see a huge fall off in my business as I entered motherhood, having to rebuild my business once I returned to work after my maternity leave. The reality is, most of my colleagues who have gone through this transition experienced just that, and so I went into this with great intention and thought so I could have a different experience.
The first thing I realized was that it was time to “retire” from a long term strategic alliance that I worked with for 8 years who referred me about 25% of my business (but a much bigger percentage of my time), and focus on my private practice. I had some great clients through them that I have been working with for 5-8 years, so it was a tough decision. However, it was starting to have a cost personally and financially, as I had to limit my private practice and several times had to postpone new clients from joining my practice due to bandwidth. Additionally, my private practice is much more profitable and juicy for me! I introduced my Strategic Alliance to two of my professional coach clients who they hired to take my place (win-win-win!). I am completing with all of those Strategic Alliance clients in the next two weeks. And, I am happy to report that I’m going into my maternity leave in 3 weeks with 15 private clients in my mastermind, which was my goal, and two people on my waiting list to begin in January, when I return (for a total of 17). I will initially work 3 days a week and plan to max out my practice at 20 private clients in April, once I’ve mastered a routine and my little guy will be less dependent on me. So, by April, if all goes according to plan, I will be bringing in the same amount of revenue each month as I am bringing in now. In January, February, March, I will be making slightly less but I will also only be working 3 days a week.
So, what did I do to create such a positive outcome? And how can you do the same thing if you want to have an extended sabbatical of any type, without losing momentum in your business? Here are the 5 steps I took and that I recommend to continue your business momentum through a sabbatical:
1) Plan Ahead – as I mentioned, as soon as I learned of my pregnancy, I started to plan. I weighed different scenarios in my head; I did financial calculations; I thought about how I could create a great client experience during and after my pregnancy, while maintaining my energy, self care and balance; I started to think through the bridge plan and how I could support my clients and their momentum while I was on leave; I bounced my ideas off of my business mentor, my peer coaches, my husband and my Mama friends to make sure my ideas felt sound, balanced, and, even reasonable. (After all, I’ve never had a child before so getting feedback from other mothers was critical in feeling solid that my plan would work even if I had a fussy and challenging little one). I did all of this and had a solid plan before I announced my pregnancy so I was ready to have conversations with my clients about the plan right away. I also told my Strategic Alliance as soon as I could, giving them 6 months to create a transition plan of my clients to new coaches.
2) Create a bridge plan for clients that continues their momentum – One thing I was clear about is that I wanted my clients to feel supported during my leave. I wanted them to continue their momentum. I wanted to create a scenario that was a win for them, win for me, and win for my family. I thought through several ways I could offer continued support that wouldn’t demand a lot of my time or energy but would create a much needed resource to my clients. My bridge plan includes having 1 group call a month, 1 lifeline call a month for each client (knowing that I would not have childcare and would do my best to minimize distractions), email access to me, and continued access to the training and resources library. I also set expectations that this plan may need to shift if something doesn’t go according to plan with my pregnancy. However, I set expectations that I felt I could easily meet and look forward to, during my leave. Although I won’t be completely unplugged, I knew that I would welcome this level of engagement with my clients. With that said, there are ways you can design this plan that minimizes your need to be “plugged in” or at least plugged in consistently, such as only doing group or lifeline calls on a certain day, or that you will only check/respond to email 2x a week. As long as you provide resources that allow momentum to continue, you can get creative in your plan.
3) Create an incentive for clients to continue with you post-Sabbatical – in addition to providing a bridge plan, you want to create an incentive for your clients that makes them excited about this plan. As an example, if people committed to continuing with me in January, they got the bridge plan as a complimentary bonus. I am simply charging them a deposit in September for their January payment for long term clients. If a client joined my practice after my pregnancy, their package automatically included the bridge plan, also complimentary. Most of my clients saw this as a huge bonus (“I get to work with you for 9 months for the price of 6?!”). Additionally, I let clients know that if they decided to continue into January, they would continue to get 2016 prices into 2017 (and, conversely, if they took this as an opportunity to take a break from coaching, they would pay a higher fee when they rejoined the mastermind). Essentially, I gave them great reasons to say “yes”! These incentives can come in many forms. You want to think about what will motivate your clients to say a resounding “yes” to continue to work with you.
4) Get a clear commitment from clients who plan to continue (or not) – Once I made the announcement about my leave, I set up conversations with each of my private clients that I thought should continue with me through my leave and beyond and had a “rediscovery” conversation. Out of those clients, only three decided not to continue, but it also set us up to complete our work together before my leave with a clear focus. By being pro-active, I cleared away any ambiguity my clients may have had and got them to a powerful “yes” or “no” about their commitment to continue. From this, I knew how many open spots I would have to fill before my leave if I wanted to meet my goal.
5) Enroll new clients into your bridge plan program to fill in any gaps – I had a clear business development strategy outlined to fill the 3 spaces that would be opening that I began to activate in May (4+ months before my leave began). I had two speaking engagements already set up that I could leverage, and I pinpointed three clients who were taking a break from coaching but had expressed the desire to come back at some point. My speaking engagement generated a lot of leads and filled the 3 spots in my practice. Additionally, I have several strong leads for people that may want to start with me in the Spring from the Business Breakthrough Sessions I had. Having conversations with my former clients this past month has generated the additional two clients who will be starting in January (with one more still deciding). I had a few other actions on my Business Development Plan that I held off on, since I met my goal. I will activate those actions in January and February to get to my goal of 20 in April.
When developing your plan, I recommend devising at least 3 core actions you will take, and estimate how many clients you will get from each. Like with me, if you meet you goal upon activating a few of them, you don’t need to do everything on the plan, unless you want to increase your goal. I’m a big fan of creating leverage and not doing any additional work if it’s not needed!
6) Keep communication open – As I’ve been preparing for my leave, I’ve been keeping my clients up to date on the plan and my health (all is good! I am having a blessed and easy pregnancy) and outlined timelines for them so they know what to expect over the next few weeks as I complete my final 1:1 regular coaching calls with each of them and transition into my leave. Communication is key and reminding them of the plan can help shed light on any ambiguity they have through this transition.
If you are planning a sabbatical or leave, I recommend taking these 6 steps to insure that you don’t lose momentum and have a clear roadmap for your business and your finances going into, during and post leave. You’ll probably note that because I am taking several months off with complimentary support for my clients, that I will be taking a leave from some income, as well. Because I planned early, I was able to maximize my earning in the last 6 months, augmenting my income with some VIP days with new and existing clients, and have created a nice cushion going into my leave and actually putting my revenue for 2016 on par with 2015 despite having little income coming in for 3 months. I have also made some key purchases for my business (like redoing my website in March), that will offset my income and help with taxes. Of course, you can also just budget yourself and make sure you save more than usual (we also did that, just in case!), if you don’t want the pressure of making up the difference in revenue. As long as you plan, you can create a scenario that really works for you!
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and questions! Feel free to share this post with anyone that you feel could benefit from it, as well.
Tara Butler Floch