So you started a business. Over the years, you’ve spent countless hours creating a business plan, a website, marketing strategies, paying the taxman, perhaps hiring staff. You’ve been a busy bee, and now you discover you’ll be even busier—you’re pregnant! How will you handle maternity leave and sustain the business you worked so hard to grow? How will you make money? Fear not.
Here, work/life balance experts and fellow mompreneurs share their best tips:
It’s best to prepare for maternity leave in stages, beginning a couple months before the baby arrives, suggests Jennifer Martin, business development and work/life balance expert at Zest Business Consulting. Begin your planning with a “must-do” list. This will ensure you’re organized and caught up as much as possible, Martin says.
1. Two months before maternity leave, hire an assistant and/or prepare staff.
Consider finding a virtual or in-person assistant who can cover for you while you’re away. Martin suggests an assistant site such as Zirtual. This may be particularly helpful for solo entrepreneurs.
Allison Flinn, professional organizer and business owner, hired an independent contractor when she found out she was expecting. “Prior to being pregnant, I worked alone… I had been wanting to hire additional help for awhile, but struggled with giving up control, but expecting a baby forced me to break out of my comfort zone and I’m glad I did. The independent contractor I hired still works with me.”
It’s also important to train your existing team in your absence, says Jennifer Bernheim, president of martinb+company. “As a woman entrepreneur and a mother to (now) three kids (6, 4, and 1), I prepared for ‘maternity leave’ by fully preparing my team of consultants. I spent endless hours providing them with the resources needed to ensure that upcoming client deliverables would be met with success.”
Expectant mothers should also document their process at work for the staff members who will be handling their workload, Martin says.
2. One month before maternity leave, alert clients you’ll be away, and provide an alternate contact.
“Notify clients that you are leaving and will be less accessible, but give them a direct contact to whom they can feel connected in your absence,” says Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com. “Do not pretend that everything is the same—it’s better to be upfront and give clients an alternative, great contact who can help them.”
It’s important to create guidelines about who may contact you during maternity leave, and what is urgent enough to call or email you about while you’re gone, Martin says. “I call this a ‘must-talk’ list. If the issue isn’t on the list, don’t call,” she says. Also determine when you will be available and what mode of contact you will use (phone, email, text, etc.).
3. Just before you leave for maternity leave, automate whatever you can.
Set up out-of-office alerts on your email account, and change outgoing messages on your phones, Martin says. She also suggests adding a calendar widget like Calendly to your website so clients can self-book appointments for when you return.
Solo entrepreneurs may find it helpful to hire a professional answering service, since they don’t have staff to take phone calls in their absence. “Your clients (or prospective clients) will appreciate a quick, professional phone conversation with a human being,” Martin adds.
4. During maternity leave, find a balance and set realistic expectations.
As an entrepreneur, it’s difficult to temporarily disconnect from the business you worked so hard to create, but it’s all about balance. “I admit that I didn’t totally ‘step away’ during my maternity leave because, in reality, the business is my baby, too,” Bernheim says. “I did greatly reduce my hours and managed from a distance, doing the very best I could in a sleep-deprived state, which included landing two new clients. Like most women business owners, you do what you need to do when you need to do it. [But] I enjoyed plenty of snuggle time with my little one, too.”
Sweeney echoes that sentiment. “As a business owner, I do not feel like you are ever completely on leave. I definitely spent a lot less time in the office and I was less in touch with my team and clients, but I still interacted and stayed abreast of the goings-on of the company.”
Last but certainly not least, Sweeney says, “Don’t overdo it. Trust others to support you—as you have probably done to them.”
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