Is there anything that really surprised you about being pregnant and running your own business?
Francine Then: “Two things surprised me and they are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. The first was how accepting people were….Ironically, what also surprised me was how unaccepting people were. I kind of prepped myself for this but I was amazed that when meeting with new potential clients who knew I was pregnant, they would steer away.”
Francine Now: I’m not sure there is a change in my answer to this one. I still stand with most of my clients at the time were so accepting of my pregnancy. And, again, on the flip side, how upset some clients became. At 39 (at the time), I really couldn’t plan when I was going to get pregnant. My husband and I felt we didn’t have that luxury. I’d also like to add how amazing and supportive my event industry colleagues were. They were so willing to help me with anything I needed. Now that I’ve gone through being pregnant and having a baby, I can understand the uncertainty a couple feels if the due date is a few weeks before or after the wedding. I delivered early. I was on a modified bed rest for a couple weeks before I delivered. But, as a planner, I took the necessary steps to ensure my couples were taken care of. I looked at every single possible scenario and offered them Plans A through D. They hired me because they trusted me. This tested some, but for the most part, the support was overwhelming.
What has been the hardest thing to plan for?
Francine Then: “To be honest, planning for taking any time off. I have such a go-go-go mentality and get-things-done way about me that taking time off was and is still such a foreign thought. People ask me when I plan to stop working and I look at them with a blank stare. What do you mean, “Stop working?” That was never an option for me….I will be back working my first wedding 20 days after Novak’s due date. I’ll let you know how that goes…”
Francine Now: In hindsight, the hardest thing to plan for, and still plan for, is time. Babies keep a pretty solid schedule. A typical day for me looks like this: Wake-up (work). Eat (feed). Nap (work). Play (play). Eat (feed). Play (pass off to Dad / work). Eat (feed). Bathe (wash). Play (play). Sleep (work). That’s about 4-6 hours of work a day….if I’m lucky. It’s a major shift from my usual 10 hours a day. To accommodate this, I ended up taking on only one event each month. It’s been nice, but it’s been a killer since I’m not making as much money. Since I support my family, it’s been a real struggle. And, since I support my family, I can’t afford the crazy expense of childcare. It’s such a Catch-22. Sending Novak to childcare is something so hard for me to wrap my head around, but not sending him there really kills my work productivity. And, though I planned and had a staff that really would help when I needed help, asking for help was still difficult. I have that “problem” that sometimes I feel it’s much faster for me to do something than to ask someone to do something for me. This is something that I still need to work on.
Are you making adjustments to your process at all? If so, what has been most impactful?
Francine Then: “In a nutshell, my process changes were: 1) Ask for help from your resources. Mine was from my business coach, my team and my family. And, 2) It’s okay to take breaks. Fifteen minutes to an hour isn’t going to send anyone into a frenzy.”
Francine Now: This isn’t a plug, I promise, but honestly my adjustment is really using Aisle Planner to help keep me organized. I use it for everything now and have shifted all my planning into the system. I have to stay organized. I’m not 100% sure if Mommy-Brain is a thing, but I do get distracted much easier. For example, when I’m working on something and Dave is watching the baby and I hear the baby cry for more than, oh…. 60 seconds, I find myself getting up or yelling to the other room to ask what’s going on. I heavily rely on Aisle Planner's checklists, notification emails, calendars, etc. The new Notes Template feature saves me so much time. I love it. My other adjustments, as with my previous answer was to ask for help (and advice) when needed (which, as I mentioned, is still super hard for me to do).
How has planning for maternity changed your overall process and how you are prepping for leave?
Francine Then: “Standard procedure with FRE (Francine Ribeau Events) is that about 4-6 weeks prior to a couple’s wedding, I have what is called our Final Details Meeting. For my fall couples, I am pushing that meeting to about 8-10 weeks prior to ensure I have a large enough head start to work on their wedding before I have the baby. Not only do my couples feel they are getting more value from me, they aren’t feeling that month-of surge of having to get things done 4 weeks.”
Francine Now: My strategy in over-prepping myself to leave for maternity worked perfectly for me. I was ultra prepared and ready to rock upon my return. Truth be told, I never really did leave for maternity since three weeks after I delivered caesarean, I had a massive rehearsal dinner with one of the HARDEST clients I’ve ever worked with and a wedding with one of the clients most disappointed that I was pregnant.
What are the 3 most important things you are planning for when you start your maternity leave?
Francine Then: “One — To ensure my couples are 100% happy and at ease with the break in their planning or working with other FRE team members. Two — To ensure I have a large enough head start on the work I need to accomplish for each of my couples so I am not stressing to get all the details getting taken care of...I’m assuming my 60 hours a week will be cut in half...I think! Three — I am now spacing out my 2016 events. Before, I would work two maybe three weekends in a row. Now I feel I don’t want to be away from my baby like that.”
Francine Now: One — This was imperative to the success of me leaving. Of all my clients affected (there were a total of five that were directly affected in one way or another), two gave me grief (as mentioned above). I have so many stories of one in particular. She had me working from my hospital bed(!) and then after had the audacity to say, “I feel like all the people I’ve hired have disappeared in one way or another.” I responded with, “I’ve been here with you the whole time.” She retorted with, “There was a time when you went away…the time you were having your baby.” I had to pick my jaw up off the floor on that one. Two — I made this happen as well. I scheduled everything weeks before I was due and made sure everyone was in a good place. Once Novak arrived, my workday didn’t get cut in half; it got completely butchered to include probably one hour a day. Thank God my mom stayed with me for two weeks to help with meetings that I had to schedule and time at my computer (my first two events after delivering was three weeks after). Three — So here’s the thing… in theory, spacing out my 2016 events was a brilliant idea! I’ve been handing off the majority of the inquiries coming in to my Event Managers and only doing one wedding a month…if that. However, my bank account has taken a major, major hit. Novak is now a week shy from 14 months and I am struggling. First and foremost is paying my assistants and event managers, but now my bills are screaming at me from a pile on my desk. It’s been challenging coming to terms with having to work (a lot) more and giving up my daily routine with my baby.
What are you most excited about in terms of being an entrepreneur and a mom?
Francine Then: “I am so thankful I have the option of working from home. I’m really excited about wearing Novak in my Moby Wrap or Mei Tai while working and just being present in his life.”
Francine Now: So remember when I said I was going to strap on my baby and work the day away while he lay peacefully against my breast? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! So, yes, with the time “off” I am taking, I do get to be present all the time and watch Novak grow up. I’ve been there for every single milestone. I watched him flip over for the first time. I was there for his first word. And I let him go and watched him take his first steps. It’s been incredible. I have also come to terms with the fact that, if I want my business to thrive once more, I’m going to have to give some of that up. I’m going to have to trust sending him to daycare, and I’m going to have to start taking care of the baby that I’ve neglected for over a year—my business. Dave and I are considering having another child and I would do so many things differently with everything I’ve learned. The life/work balance is real. It’s hard to manage, but it can be done. So many couples in the industry are pregnant or have already had a baby. For those that know me, know how real and honest I am. I’m not a sugar coater. I accept that I did a kick-ass job prepping for when I had Novak, but I am the first to admit, what a crappy job I did (am doing) since he was born. I’m still trying to figure it out. I struggle daily. But I am ready to jump back in the saddle now that I’ve got a year under my belt. I think I’m really hard on myself, too. I guess what I am trying to say is, “Girl! You got this!”