First off, congratulations on your big news. You are soon going to have a tiny human in your life. While that can seem terrifying, it is also exciting and the start of an entirely new journey.
If you are a woman running her own business, you may be wondering how to navigate maternity leave, without it affecting your work. Maternity leave for entrepreneurs comes with its own set of challenges as compared to maternity leave for employees. However, thankfully, there are ways to navigate without losing your mind or your business.
We spoke to a few mommy entrepreneurs and did our research to help you prepare your business for a leave of absence during your maternity break.
Preparing for maternity leave
As a women entrepreneur, your business is your baby, which is great until you have to prepare for an actual baby coming along. Caring for a baby requires time and effort, which means that you will invariably have to put your business on the back burner for a few weeks or months at the least.
The detachment from work not just leads to a loss of finances and a lack of structure for your business, but can also take a toll on you emotionally.
Ashita Shah, a Mom Entrepreneur who runs the brand Shoegasm, tells us, “I had started working at a very young age, did odd jobs while studying event management, went for summer jobs at various offices. I had stopped taking money from home since then. And suddenly I was completely dependent on someone after all my savings exhausted. I went into severe depression.”
The first thing is to accept that your business will be on hold for a certain amount of time. However, you can plan things in a way that works out best for both you, and your business.
Eight months before maternity leave
Make a plan for when you won’t be there
Use the earlier months of your pregnancy to plan for your maternity leave. If you are lucky enough to have a team helping you out, map out all the tasks that you usually take care of, and assign them to the team. Divide things into ‘delegate’ and ‘delete’. If you can delegate something that you usually do, great, if not, delete it and put it on the back burner for the next few months. Being more strict about what’s necessary will help you focus on the more significant issues that need to be taken care of during your absence.
Use this time as a test run – let people take charge and be available to guide them in case something goes wrong. This will help you work out any significant issues for when you are not going to be there. Try going offline for one week and see how the business functions. This will give you an idea of how things will be – and trust us; they will be just fine.
Make sure you chat with your team and let them know that the additional tasks are only temporary and you are there to take charge in case things get overwhelming or difficult.
If you don’t have colleagues to help you out, consider asking a family member, a friend, or hiring someone for that period to help you with the business.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Giving birth to a baby, while running your own business is tough, and no one will judge you for being honest, and asking for some help.
Having someone take charge while you are not around will also help you relax and give you some stress-free bonding time with your baby.
Kool Kanya to-do: Print this out and put a name against each question.
Q. Who will ensure that the company stays true to its mission during my leave?
Q. Who will be great to give me a brief business summary every Friday?
Q. Who are the people who can take over my day to day tasks?
Six months before maternity leave
Plan your finances
If you are working for yourself, chances are you will lose out on significant income during the time that you are on a break. The best thing to do in this case is to plan your finances in a way that you have a cosy nest to fall back on during your maternity leave. Begin saving aggressively, and instead of investing profits in expansion, growth, or new clients, put it aside for running your business in your absence. Avoid making any significant changes that require capital for the next year.
Aside from keeping some money purely for your maternity leave, also factor in the costs that you will incur when the baby is here.
Sit with your accountant, or look through your finances, and find places where you can cut expenses, and save more. Write down all the things you will need money for during the maternity break – this includes paying your employees if you have any – and make sure that you have enough money for at least three months of maternity. If your finances are sorted, you are pretty much ready to go on leave and bond with the newest member of the family.
If your health permits, take on more projects before you go on leave so that your business doesn’t suffer financially. Like if you are an interior decorator, take up double the projects so that your income doesn’t suffer during your maternity leave. If you are a YouTuber, shoot as many videos as you can so that your page traffic doesn’t go down when you are not around.
Four months before maternity leave
Be honest with your customers and clients
Instead of overpromising and not being able to deliver, let your customers and clients know that you are pregnant and work will get affected for a bit during your maternity break. If they decide to take their business somewhere else, let them. You don’t want to be stuck working with people who have zero empathy.
Ask your clients and customers if they are willing to place orders in advance so that you can work on them before you go on your leave.
For example, if you are going on your break during Diwali, reach out to your client base, explain the situation and ask them if they would be willing to pre-order so that you can work in advance without any distractions. You could also ask them if they are willing to wait till you get back, and put them on a wait-list that you will attend to on priority after you are back.
Kool Kanya to-do: Send out this email to your clients and customers
I want to be the first to inform you of some great upcoming news. I am expecting an addition to my family in the next (#) months.
I wish to continue being associated with your business. However, I will need to adjust my schedule/ask you to place an order beforehand/request you to add more time to my deadlines).
I appreciate your consideration, and I’m excited about our future business opportunities. During my absence, your point of contact will be (name of colleague covering for you, if any, along with their contact details). I will also be available on emails once or twice a week.
Please let me know if you have any concerns or questions.
Two months before maternity leave
Talk to other mom entrepreneurs
Nothing teaches you better than experience, right?! Read up on taking a maternity break as an entrepreneur, and join communities (like this, for example) and talk to women who’ve done the same. Nothing beats the tips and tricks that you will get from them.
Realise that maternity leave for entrepreneurs is not the same. Your brain will never shut out your work, and it’s normal to juggle between your business at the baby at all times. However, with the right planning and support, you can ensure that you nurture both.
A week before maternity leave
Go easy on yourself
You will not be able to work out everything, and that is fine too. Don’t drive yourself crazy, trying to find practical solutions, ensuring that your stress doesn’t affect the baby, and taking care of your health. It’s a lot, and it’s okay for things not to be perfect. You are doing great. Breathe. Smile. And drink that bottle of water.
Plan “connecting time”
In an ideal world, you would go on a maternity break, sleep a lot, bond with your baby, while your business ran in the background, without any hiccups. Well, that isn’t going to happen.
There may be times where you will have to pay attention to both your business and your baby. The best way to do that is by assigning time to both. To avoid responding to work emails at 3 AM, dedicate specific “connecting time” for checking in with your business, while your baby is with a family member or domestic help.
Don’t make the mistake of working while your baby is napping unless you want to end up being one tired, sleep-deprived mommy 24X7X365.
Prepare for a change in plans
For Ashita, despite her well-laid plans to survive her maternity break, things went wrong. “I had saved enough for myself to survive for a few extra months before I get back to work. But I had zero support from my in-laws which lead to us having to move out of their house. My mother was struggling with divorce. So we had no option but to get out own house. To help my husband, I shared my savings with him.”
There will be instances when things go wrong, and you will be left having to deal with it with the additional responsibility of a baby. The best thing to do here is to prepare for emergencies emotionally, mentally and physically.
For Ashita, the struggle was more mentally than financially. “Being dependent and homebound was my biggest fear, and I was living it already, I was on pills, I’d always get panic attacks and would get aggressive if I’d see my husband taking work-related trips. Watching him go out to the office was a nightmare. I wasn’t jealous, but I wasn’t happy with the setup. My baby was completely on my feed, and so I couldn’t step out even once a day. From being on the field all day and meeting clients to staying home 24/7 only to clean poop, feed and clean poop again. Imagine that scenario!! Not that I hated my baby, but I needed to work too. And since we couldn’t afford help, it was me who had to let go of my business for the time being.”
Going back to work after maternity
A lot of mom entrepreneurs we spoke to considered 12 weeks – 3 months – as adequate maternity break and went back to work post that.
While there is no perfect time to resume work, once you do, make sure you don’t go all in. Take your time to learn to balance your two roles – entrepreneur and mommy.
Continue delegating work
Look at how your business functioned without you in the last three months. Stick to that model from now on. Removing yourself from day to day running and focusing more on the growth of the business will leave you free to factor in any baby emergencies that come up, and ensure that you maintain a work-life balance.
Start from going back for half a day, before you take on the regular eight hours of the workday. As your own boss, you also have the added advantage of taking your baby to work on certain days. However, it is advisable to keep parenting time and business time entirely separate to avoid feeling overwhelmed. On days that you do bring the baby in, limit your to-dos to one meeting, and completing two tasks to avoid feeling stressed out.
Prepare for a change in vision
Having a baby changes your life in more ways than you can imagine. Most momtrepreneurs agree that they saw a shift in their vision post-baby. You will find yourself taking up lesser projects – going in for quality over quantity - seeing a difference in the way you connect with your team and client, and also changing your business vision. “I am more compassionate as a manager after having a baby,” shares Nilufer Qureshi who runs her fashion store in Pune. “I also expanded to a baby line post having my child.”
Talk to your partner and your family about your new roles
“One of the most important things was having a conversation with my husband when I went back to work. I didn’t want to worry about, ‘Oh does Harish think I am a bad mom because I couldn’t go for my son’s appointment’. We had an open conversation about this, and I told him what I expect from him in terms of helping me out. We also spoke to our families about it, tell them that we would need help, and zero judgements,” shares Nilufer.
It’s best to have an open conversation, telling your partner and family that there will be times when you will not be around, and they will need to pitch in.
Don’t feel guilty; remember it takes a village to raise a child.
Having a baby is great, but caring for a tiny person may be outside your comfort zone. While learning on the go is completely fine, you may want to enlist some help to take care of the baby while you get back to business. Reach out to domestic help, a nanny, a friend or even a family member to pitch in for a few hours every day – to help you out till you set in your routine.
Take things slow and easy, and make sure they work out perfectly for you. Remember you built that business and it is not going to go away simply because you’ve had a baby. Take things at your own pace, don’t feel afraid to ask for help and give yourself time to settle in your two new roles.
You can totally do this!
Research: Devika Awasthi