When you run your own business, it can often feel like you’re already the parent of a demanding child, one that requires all your attention and doesn’t want to give you a day off for yourself.
So how do you tear yourself away when the time comes to give birth to a real child? You’re sure that everything will fall apart if you’re not present round the clock and that something’s going to have to give.
But hey mom, listen. Instead of fretting about what might happen to your business, you can lay solid plans that will keep your business together during your maternity leave. Follow me.
1. Know – And Listen – to Yourself and Your Needs
This should be your golden rule, not just for maternity leave, but throughout life. You are almost guaranteed to face pressure from demanding clients who insist that they “need” you to come back to work, or who accuse you having taken “too much” time off already.
Stick to your guns, and don’t give in.
You should only come back to work when you really feel ready to rock it out again. Coming back too early can just set the stage for physical, mental, or emotional stress, and it’s not fair either to you or to your clients.
That said, some women find that going back to work helps with their mental health. Feeling in control and reconnecting with your pre-baby professional self can be the cure for postpartum emotional issues. If this is you, and you start to feel antsy at home after a few weeks, don’t feel that you have to stay away from work just to check the maternity leave box.
2. Enlist a Support System
“It takes a village to raise a child,” as the popular saying goes. Well, you don’t live in a village (probably), so you’re going to have to build one yourself. Reach out to your friends, siblings, parents, partner, heck, strangers down the block if necessary, in order to get the help you need.
Don’t wait until you’re desperate; set up your support system in advance. That might mean:
- Booking a postpartum doula or baby nurse to help you get through the difficult first couple of sleepless weeks
- Creating a rotation of friends to send you dinner each night for a week or two
- Hiring household help to clean your home, take care of the laundry, or whatever chores you need done.
3. Build up a Savings Cushion
You’ll feel much more relaxed during your maternity leave if you know that you’re in a good place financially, so prepare in advance. Start to aggressively save money as soon as you discover that you’re pregnant. It’s even better to begin saving when you first think about having a family.
However difficult it may be, it’s vital to think about the worst case scenario. What happens if your baby isn’t well, and you need to stay away from work for an extended period of time to care for them? What if your own health is affected by labor and birth, and it’s months before you can return to the full-time entrepreneurial grind?
You need a financial cushion to cover you just in case your business has to close its doors temporarily.
4. Train a Replacement Well in Advance
It’s best not to leave your business without anyone in charge, if you can possibly help it. No one can replace you, because no one else loves your business as much as you do, but it’s still good to leave someone holding the reins till you return.
Here are 4 common options to finding a replacement during maternity leave:
- Train up your assistant to manage things while you’re away
- If you divide tasks and responsibilities with a business partner, you could shift the entire burden sideways and ask them to handle it all for a few weeks
- Divide up your work and spread it across your entire team of employees
- Hire a freelancer or consultant to step into your shoes for a while
Whichever option you choose, make your decision as early as possible. You need to allow plenty of time to train them in your regular duties. Try very hard to think of every issue that might come up, and deal with it in advance if possible.
Whenever you give instructions or advice to your replacement(s), use WhatsApp, Messenger or email so that you get a paper trail. This way you can prove what you requested, and your replacement can refer back to it whenever they need to.
5. Test your System in Advance
Here’s a wacky but awesome piece of advice for you. Try test driving your maternity leave before you really need it.
This is what entrepreneur Nathalie Lussier did before the birth of her first child. She took an “unplugged” vacation for a few days. It gave her the chance to see if her system worked, and find out which gaps she still needed to plug.
6. Set Realistic Customer Expectations
If you’re a solopreneur, you might not be able to switch off completely from work during your maternity leave. Even if you have employees, you might need to return to work part-time before you make a full comeback. It’s also important to consider that without you at the helm, response rates and turnover time might slip a little.
For all these reasons, it’s vital to adjust customer expectations in advance. Let your clients know that you’re going to be on maternity leave from X date till X date, and that during that time they can expect someone to reply to their call or email within – let’s say – 12 hours instead of your usual 3.
Alternatively, if you know that Ms. Ford will insist that she needs to speak to you and you alone, for example, make it clear that you’ll be available between 3 and 5pm every weekday.
7. Work Out What To Do with New Leads
Hopefully, your business is so damned good that you have new leads coming in all the time, even if you’re turned marketing down a notch during your maternity leave. If that’s the case, you need to have some kind of plan in place for what you’ll do with new leads that appear while you’re away from work.
There are 2 main options:
1- Build a network of connections to refer new leads:
You hate to pass up on new clients, but you also want to be able to give them your very best, and you know that you can’t do that while you’re on maternity leave. So you connect with other service professionals who are almost as awesome as you are, and agree to refer all new leads to them during your maternity leave.
It’s up to you whether you:
- Charge them a referral fee for every lead that becomes a paying customer;
- Make a deal where they’ll do the same for you during their maternity leave (assuming that they are likely to have a baby some time in the next couple of years);
- Refer leads for free out of your kind heart and desire to give value to everyone who comes into contact with you
2- Set a timetable for your own business:
Your other option is to decide how long it will take before you respond to new leads. You might just reply saying that you’ll be back at work on X date, and will be happy to reply then. You could create an automated online calendar that allows leads to book appointments online, and block off your appointments until after your return.
Whatever you choose is cool; what matters is that you make a decision in advance.
8. Set Up Passive Revenue
Although you should create a savings cushion to see you through your maternity leave, it can still be stressful to know that you’re living on savings. You always worry that you might not have saved enough, or that something might happen to swallow it all up.
That’s why it’s best to do as much as you can to rearrange your business structure to bring in passive income. Passive income means money that you earn without having to do anything. Sounds pretty sweet, right?
Well, you don’t get to actually do nothing at all. The idea is that you prepare something once, and then you can sell it over and over again. We’re talking an online course in taking baby portraits, or a series of videos showing how to do wedding makeup, or even a long, in-depth guide to doing your own taxes as a small business owner. Something that draws on your skills. Even a few dollars a week is better than nothing, right?
9. Watch Out for Signs of Postpartum Depression
A little known fact is that between 10 and 20% of new moms experience postpartum depression (PPD). This is a real issue that’s a lot more serious than the “baby blues,” and… it requires careful attention and treatment.
The good news is that it can be treated successfully and quite quickly, so do avoid the temptation to “work through it” or “tough it out”. Keep a close watch for any changes in your mood and if you’re not sure, check out this list of early warning signs of postpartum depression.
Remember: Happy babies and a healthy business start with a happy mom. Take good care of yourself and don’t be afraid to reach out for support when you need it.