Meet Julianne Fraser, a digital marketing guru who started her journey in the nascent stages of social media and influencer marketing. With her foresight and innovative strategies, she fast-tracked her career and began transforming global lifestyle brands at her agency, Dialogue New York. We’re talking brands like Seed, Brooklinen, Adidas, RE/DONE, Golde, Ghia, Sakara Life…the big guys and gals.
After five years of being in business, Julianne gave birth to her now fifteen-month-old daughter, Navy.
“I think it was the biggest source of my fear and anxiety,” Julianne said when asked about her maternity leave planning process. “I was so nervous about losing my identity as a founder and entrepreneur.” She continued, “You hear stories like, ‘You’re not going to have a work ethic anymore,’ or ‘You’re going to lose clients!’ There are so many fake stories swirling.”
And these stories–however wild they may sound–lead lots of pregnant people to feel anxious, guilty, and unworthy of taking any maternity leave at all.
Working with a trusted business coach, Julianne decided to proactively take matters into her own hands.
First, she voiced her biggest fears, among which included:
- My clients are all going to leave if I’m offline.
- I’m not going to be able to focus on new business.
- I’m so crucial in steering the ship of my team, and without me, things will fall apart.
“I was petrified,” Julianne confessed. “I’m really proud of what I’ve built. I just was so scared that I would wake up with no motivation. The reality: I’m more motivated, more productive, and my company is doing better than it’s ever done in six years after having my child.”
Here are the six steps she took (swears by and worked for her) to formulate a maternity leave as a founder/entrepreneur.
Protect this precious time.
“I think people don’t consider how emotionally connected you’ll feel and how important this time is. Protect this precious time and do it unapologetically. For a long time, I thought I would work right through it. That would be fine for me. That was what I had to do as a business owner. I’m so grateful I took maternity leave. And for me, the five weeks I took was not long enough. To be able to be there and go through the craziness, the excitement, the emotion, and really turn off 100%. But remember, you’re the only one that will honor your boundaries. If you’re not going to uphold them, who will? Understand what your boundaries are, but also stick to them. There were times when I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll just get on that one call…’ But nope! I had made the decision that I was cherishing my time.”
“I did a huge push of new business, networking, getting coffees, and connecting with people to get as much excitement and opportunity as I possibly could about a month before Navy was born. During this time, I locked in three clients, all of which started when I came back. I needed to know that if this whole thing blew up, I still would have these three contracts waiting for me when I came back.”
“The second part of planning ahead was team training. We had one hour in the afternoon that we called ‘Julianne’s Maternity Training.’ It was literally in the calendar. We talked about the different dynamics of everything that goes on in my head—everything from client relationships to the different dynamics of the internal team. Talking about these EQ things that may seem fluffy was so much of a role. And it turned out it was something I could train. Every Friday, we’d talk about these aspects of client relationships and timelines. So, for example, looking ahead, when is this strategy due? Or, this client is launching a new product. Let’s make sure they have the proposal by this day.”
“We put into place very clear systems that could automate the role I would typically play. For example, a set of questions to ask each Monday for each client. Are there any red flags? Are we falling behind on anything? Is there anything that’s not working that we need to revisit? We outlined those specific questions, and when the team met on Mondays, they’d ask those same questions without me having to be there. As much as I could systemize my role, the better.”
“My team would send me Friday recaps of anything I may want to know passively. So, if I chose to look at that email, I’d know things like, “Client loved the strategy” or “Client has a new CEO.” But only red flags. I didn’t ask for the nitty gritty. Just the big, concrete stuff. And I wouldn’t respond. It was really all so I could have on my radar.”
Transparency is key.
“Previously, I was so scared to be transparent with clients or my team. But I emailed all my clients, I told them the plan when I was out, who their point person was, who was handling what, and being very clear about what was happening in the future regarding deliverables. Clearly outline who will be in charge of what’s upcoming so there is no hesitation or uncertainty in how the maternity leave will be managed.”
Stick to your boundaries.
No one will enforce your boundaries but you. [It’s ultimately up to you to] protect your time off. Anticipate things will happen that are out of your control. That’s normal and expected. While I was out on maternity leave, we lost a big long-term client of ours [because of] shifting budgets. That was really disappointing. But know that you are going to have these moments. At the end of the day, there’s a solution to everything, so try not to catastrophize.
Be ready to adjust when you re-enter.
Maternity leave completely changed my company. Allow room for the growth that comes when you really delegate. Now, 15 months later, I’m not on every client call. I don’t oversee strategy anymore. I have looped in team members who help with new business. I am not managing everyone on this team. All these things that I held so close and told myself only I could do, being forced through maternity to delegate trust, empowered my team. I came back, and the strategies and client relations were even better. Our reputation and our feedback from clients are better than it’s ever been. And it’s because I just got out of the way and empowered people and trusted them. So, after your leave and your team has grown, don’t stifle that growth by coming in guns blazing. Let them take the lead and show you what they’ve improved while you’ve been out.
I think for my next child, if I’m lucky enough to have another child, it’ll be about remembering what good came of it. My role has immensely changed. After my maternity leave, I’m now focusing on growth and innovation for the agency, new business, and team mentorship. I’m not in the weeds of strategy. It’s just about having that trust in the people that you train and putting the work in to train them.