When you run your own business, taking time off can seem nearly impossible. In fact, I’ve talked to women from my mastermind group who joke that between social media, emails and client calls, they feel like they are ALWAYS working. I fell into this category at one point. I had zero boundaries when it came to my work. A client could email me at 7pm on a Saturday and I’d feel like I needed to get back to them right away. It wasn’t until I got pregnant with our third child that I realized something had to give.
I started by setting “work hours” and allowing myself time to rest. If I got an email after 5 pm I waited until the next day to reply. These small changes were training my clients to recognize my schedule. And as I grew more pregnant (and my belly grew too!) I began preparing for some real time off.
Whether you’re pregnant and beginning to map out what your maternity leave will look like for your business, or you’re simply wondering how anyone takes an extended leave from their work when they’re the face of the business, keep reading. I learned a thing or two with each of my pregnancies and as I prepared for baby #3 I decided to get serious about creating systems and taking some real time off to rest, be with my family, and enjoy my newborn.
Schedule Everything in Advance
At the beginning of pregnancy, most doctors require a monthly appointment until about 28 weeks. From there it’s every two weeks, then one week, and before you know it your life is run by doctor’s appointments. One way to make things easier is to schedule as far in advance as you can. I made sure all of my OB appointments were on my calendar at least 6-8 weeks in advance so that I didn’t have to cancel client calls or appointments for my personal things as I prepared for our new baby. I wanted to let my clients know that just because I was having a baby, it didn’t mean I would become flaky or unreliable. By the end of my third trimester I made sure to schedule my 6 week follow up appointment ahead of time so that I didn’t need to call and schedule it during my time off. And after baby comes you’ll need to schedule lots of checkups for him or her too so the same rule applies. I find it so helpful to get things on my calendar as far in advance as possible so I can be prepared for whatever comes up.
If you have a storefront or office hours, knowing what’s on your calendar ahead of time will let you plan for closings or time off. It also allows you time to find childcare or coverage for your business if necessary.
Scheduling everything in advance also applies to social media. Regardless of your industry, if you’re using social media for your business, be sure to create a plan for the first month after you have your baby. This will make your life post-partum a lot less stressful. If you want to have a week or two before your due date to stay home and prep for your new baby, take that into account and schedule content in advance from that point so it’s one less thing to worry about.
Plan Ahead When it Comes to Your Workload
Every business is different, and so is every pregnancy. If your job is physical or requires a lot of face to face time with clients or customers, be sure to take into account how you’re feeling and give yourself plenty of time to rest during your pregnancy and recuperate after labor. My job isn’t very physical but client communication takes a lot of my energy and website development can be mentally draining. I know how long a large website project usually takes me so I stopped taking on new clients about two months before my due date. I stayed in touch with potential clients to let them know I’ll be taking on new projects in a few months.
Whatever your workload is like, plan ahead. If you do events, it’s probably not smart to book a wedding that’s days from your due date or too soon afterwards. Consider how long you’ll be on your feet for a job and decide when you think you’ll be up for that after pregnancy and when you think you’ll need to say no to things during your pregnancy. That window of time is your must-have maternity leave. If money is an issue, think about how you can “pay” yourself during your time off. For example, just because I stopped taking on new clients prior to my due date, doesn’t mean I wasn’t getting paid from existing clients during those last months of pregnancy. I was intentional about when I invoiced clients for the projects I was finishing and I scheduled recurring invoices in advance for my monthly clients.
Delegate Tasks & Find Coverage for Must-Happen Tasks
If you own a studio or a shop that can’t just close up during your time off, you’ll need to find coverage. Let clients and customers know ahead of time if they’ll be dealing with someone else and simply explain that you’re taking maternity leave. If you can limit your business’ hours or events during your time off, it will make your life easier and clients will understand. Are there tasks that have to happen or deadlines that must be met during your leave? Find a back-up you trust and ask if they can take responsibility for x, y, z. I work for myself so in my third trimester I spoke to a handful of freelancers and asked if I could hire them as a subcontractor should I run into any urgent client needs. If you’re a photographer, makeup artist, stylist, florist or another independent business owner, be sure to find a backup who is available to take on your clients if necessary. Communicating all of this to your clients or customers ahead of time is key to making sure things go smoothly.
Arrange Help For When Your New Baby Arrives
The best way to get rest and enjoy time with your new babe is with good help. Whether it’s family, friends, a post-partum doula or mother’s helper, make sure you have help for the first few weeks after your baby’s expected arrival. As a business owner there are always stressors – the last thing you want to stress about when you’ve just had a baby is your house, pets or your older children. One of the things I invested in with baby #3 was a cleaning service. It made for one less thing to worry about when we got home from the hospital and the weeks after. I also took my neighbor up on her offer to drive my daughter to preschool every Tues/Thurs morning beginning a few weeks before my due date. This freed up my mornings to prepare for our new baby and gave me time to adjust to life as a family of five after his arrival.
Whether you’re having your first baby or your fifth, one of the best things is when friends and family offer to bring you food. I mean, who has time to cook when there’s a newborn in the house? I had friends set up meals for my family using the Meal Train app and it was a huge blessing to us. Whoever organizes the meal train can create a schedule so that you know who’s bringing you a meal and when. It’s a great way for friends to sign up for a time to come visit and bring you dinner. (And this way you’re not overwhelmed by visitors all at once!)
Regardless of your business type or size, you deserve time to enjoy your pregnancy and your new baby. As you plan for your maternity leave, don’t feel guilty for saying “no” to things or being honest about your availability in the upcoming months. The sooner you start preparing, the more smoothly things will go and the less stressful your time off will be. Trust me, it’s taken me three times to do things “right!”
In case you’re wondering…
-How long was my “maternity leave?”
I gave myself four full weeks of time off – no client calls, projects, meetings or social media.
-Did I go back to work full time at the end of my leave?
No. I typically have a three day work week and I slowly eased into that while working from home some days. And when I did go back to my office, my babe got to join me! Benefits of a female owned coworking space ya’ll! And not only is Inspire Business Community baby friendly… There’s a nursing mother’s room. I could not have a better office space for a new mom.
-How can I join the coworking space at Inspire?
Simply stop by one day and try it out. You can purchase a day pass and see if you like it. There are also semi-private offices available for rent if you want your own space.