How to put your private practice on hold for short or long term
You know how people say, "I just leave my work at the office" and all the IBCLCs are like hahahahahaha "if only!"
Why "office hours" aren't a thing when you're a lactation consultant
One of the reasons I bet you were drawn to lactation private practice is because you have a compassionate heart, and that means boundaries can sometimes be a challenge. It can be really hard to intentionally make yourself unavailable to your clients, because you know how much they need you because their baby genuinely can't wait. And as a small business owner, you need them--when appointment requests come in, you want to be able to respond to them.
Every year my family spends a day at the same cute little mountain pond (which we call Goose Poop Pond) and every year I remember how in 2014 I spent 45 minutes of our vacation time on the phone with a pediatrician who'd talked my client out of a tongue tie evaluation. I unfold my chair, I take off my shoes, I look to the left, and there's past me, bringing work to Goose Poop Pond and wishing I could have that vacation time back.
Why you need to take time off
When you work with people at at one of the most vulnerable, most stressed, most anxious, and most life-changing times in their life, and deal with situations that can turn on a dime, you need to access patience, compassion, empathy, resourcefulness, and focused attention. That can take a lot out of you, and in order for you to be the best IBCLC you can be, you're gong to need to take regular breaks to rest and recharge.
Some of these you can plan in advance, like vacations, family events, holidays, and the like. You typically know when high school graduation is going to be, or that you will be away from cell service and internet while on vacation.
At other times, you're going to have personal or family emergencies that you didn't anticipate. A sick child has to stay home from school, or a loved one passes away unexpectedly.
These are all legitimate reasons to say, "Hey, I can't manage client communications right now." In fact, you'll regret it if you let client issues encroach on your own personal life.
How to close up shop and still maintain your business
The more you can truly unplug from your private practice, the better you'll be at your job when you get back. Advance planning now will help you both for the time off you know about (vacations, holidays) and the time off you can't anticipate (emergencies and unexpected events).
Here are four ways to carve out time for yourself that truly belongs to you, while still providing your clients with the care they need to reach their breastfeeding goals:
Set client expectations from the outset
When you're explaining your follow up policies to your clients, be really clear about how it all works. If you're offering phone support, don't make it sound like they can call you anytime they like and reach you. Instead, have them schedule it with you. When they email or text you, resist the urge to engage with them in troubleshooting, but instead refer them back to their care plan which should be detailed and include a timeline for self-assessment of their progress and instructions for when they should call their pediatrician, midwife, or OB/GYN. The purpose of the care plan is to promote client self-efficacy, which will make it easier for you to maintain healthy limits on your practice.
Having these expectations in place from the start is going to prepare your clients for you to be unavailable when you need to be. Spell it all out in your policies and procedures manual so that you're not coming up with it on the fly, and you'll feel comfortable sticking with your boundaries and setting healthy limits with your clients.
Reach out to your local community for backup
Consider creating a relationship with a local colleague for backing each other up during planned vacations. This kind of collaboration can be mutually beneficial and may even lead to a formal partnership that grows both of your businesses. Put an agreement in writing so everyone is clear about how it all works.
You could also hire someone to answer client calls and manage your schedule while you are away. This could be a great job for an intern or stay-at-home parent in your community. You'll want to make sure that you have a contract in place that explains their responsibilities and your expectations.
Put technology to work for you
Make technology do the heavy lifting. Change your voicemail, set up auto-responses on your voicemail and texting solution (Spruce is great for this), and if you're not already using online scheduling (like Acuity) now may be the time. You'll end up eliminating a lot of the back-and-forth that can eat into your personal time.
Let it be what it will be
It's terrifying to unplug completely. I know from personal experience. But just like you have to help families to relax and trust the process, you have to tell yourself that when you have your systems in place, your private practice will not disintegrate if you don't look at your phone for 3 days, or a week, or even just for an evening with your family or friends. A sustainable practice is built on a solid foundation of policies and procedures that give you structure and freedom.
About the Author
Annie Frisbie, MA, IBCLC is the creator of the Lactation Consultant Private Practice Toolkit, a collection of books, resources, legal forms, training manuals, and workbooks aimed at helping private practice lactation consultants build a private practice that’s ethical, profitable, sustainable, and enjoyable.