For many entrepreneurs, their business is their baby. This is great for business until a real baby comes along. As the number of young female entrepreneurs surges, increasingly women business owners grapple with carving out time for maternity leave. Having a child essentially necessitates taking some significant time off and that can be almost impossible for an entrepreneur to get her head around.
As the founder of Rustic Wedding Chic, I'm about to embark on my second maternity leave. My first leave, when I had my son, Jack, occurred around the time that I began my business. At the end of this year, I'll be taking another leave. My business is bigger and busier, which makes it both easier and harder to step away from it for a bit. I'll be implementing some of the following lessons I learned after the birth of my son to make this leave as smooth as possible.
1. Plan ahead.
Pregnancy lasts nine months. It can feel endless, but that stretch is a time to plan for the weeks or even months of maternity leave. Map out the daily tasks that someone else will need to take on and slowly begin transferring responsibility to that person. This lets you answer questions and work out any kinks before the sleepless nights start and enables you to obtain maximum bonding time with Baby.
Here's the tough part for an entrepreneur, especially those heading large organizations or working solo: Someone else is going to have to cover for you while you're out. If you're lucky enough to have a bigger staff, spread the responsibilities throughout the group, allowing you to keep things running smoothly without overburdening any one individual.
If your staff is small, spend time chatting with all the employees to ask what areas they might be able to take over for you. As a bonus, you might discover some yet undetected talents and skills among your colleagues that will help your business over the long term.
3. Keep the status quo.
Entrepreneurs hate to have periods when the business isn't growing or changing. But if you're planning to step away for a bit, avoid making big changes to the business at this time. Having a new baby can be a big personal change, so streamlining things at work will help you get over the hump. That way when changes come about later, you can give them your full attention.
4. Create connection times.
It would be great to be away on Baby Island for 12 weeks, but for entrepreneurs and business owners, a traditional, hands-off maternity leave isn't usually feasible. To avoid being caught answering the phone at all hours or feeling out of the loop, dedicate specific times for checking correspondance or taking calls (and shut off the email on your phone at other times).
Let people know when you'll be checking in (for example, looking at email three times a week at 4 p.m.) That way they know there might be a delay but that they will be heard. Use the rest of the time to focus on your health and the baby.
Common wisdom holds that a new mother should sleep when her baby sleeps. I made the mistake, though, of trying to working every time my newborn son was sleeping. I became one tired mom and business owner and not as productive as I might have been.
You'll be on a 24-hour clock as a new mom. Take breaks to sleep, even if it's in the middle of the day, and work when you're feeling alert and productive.
Maternity leave for entrepreneurs isn't typical. The brain never quite shuts off and a successful entrepreneur can't just shutter her business. But it's possible to nurture both babies at once with a bit of planning, foresight and a team you trust and rely on.