Vicki Young is the owner and CEO of Nalla, a 12-person agency in Shoreditch, who collaborate with clients on digital transformation. She talks openly about what getting pregnant and having a baby can look like when you run an agency.
Nalla began 8 years ago, after Vicki spotted a gap in the market. She noted how when she set Nalla up, agencies didn’t consider how branding translated to a website and would pass this off to a web designing agency later on. So, she ‘started the agency that would do just that’.
When discussing her pregnancy she suggests, ‘my first wake-up call was thinking that you can be pregnant for nine months, and just carry on working at the level that running an agency requires’. She went on to discuss that being pregnant can really alter your working plan, once you get to the later stages, you ‘can no longer do a full day’.
‘I was absolutely petrified of telling my team’. ‘I felt in some ways that I was deserting them for a while, it took a lot of courage to tell them’. At the same time, Vicki suggested she wanted to make everyone ‘aware of her plans for the agency’.
‘I told them team during a quarterly meeting, and just said “at Nalla I want everyone to achieve their dreams, and my dream is to be a mum”, then I changed the slide to a picture of my ultrasound’.
She explained that Nalla is very transparent with goals and situations, but Vicki mentioned that she found it difficult to keep everyone in the know about what would happen after the birth. ‘You can plan up until the birth, but you don’t know how you will feel as a first-time mum, you can’t predict it’.
When asked what she had done to prepare the agency for her absence, Vicki suggested that ‘as soon as I found out I was pregnant, I had notified the directors and sent them on leadership courses’.
‘I worked out that if the directors could manage the accounts we already had in, and not worry about getting new business, then that would be a good option whilst I was gone’.
She continued, ‘when Marnie [her daughter] was born, we got a truck-load of gifts from clients, which was lovely.’ Vicki suggests her method with clients was ‘to develop their relationship with the account managers in the run up to her leaving, having ‘meetings with them both together before I left’.
Vicki explained that in having new interactions with clients and pitch meetings, she ‘learned more about my business and myself than I ever had before’. Detailing that ‘I would have really great discussions on the phone that would progress brilliantly. Then I would meet them, they would clock the bump, and then those leads would quickly go quite cold’.
‘Some clients were refreshingly honest and explained that they really wanted to award the project to us, but that they wanted me on the project’. She went on to say ‘I had a bit of a cry on the way home, because it really enlightened me to that fact that I am really entrenched within the business. I cannot remove myself from it without effect the very success of it’.
‘Although on paper it was not a very good year, the business is better and strong because of the pregnancy. By removing yourself, the team are forced to work in a way that you always wanted them to work. Projects are running themselves’.
When asked about her return to work plan, Vicki explains that her initial plan was ‘to have 6 weeks where the team didn’t call me after the birth. Those first 6 weeks I was ill’.
‘I then said that between 6 and 12 weeks, I’ll be available for calls with the teams, not with the clients’. Vicki then went on to discuss how after ’12 weeks it was a lot easier to begin that transition back to working part-time. Once Marnie is 6 months, I’ll go back to the office on a more regular basis.’
Vicki noted how she ‘still oversees the strategy of the business, because [she] enjoys it. [She] is now introduced to clients as the strategic director, so leaves as soon as projects are handed over to Creative’.
‘I’ve learned that the team could probably already have done everything they are doing now, I just never gave them the breathing space. But having a baby forces you out’.