Like many moms-to-be running a small business, as the big date approaches, you may start to wonder: what to do about maternity leave? When you don’t have an employer paying for time off and providing work coverage, it can be overwhelming. But fear not: as a small business owner and first-time mom, I’ve put together useful tips to prepare for Little One’s arrival.
However, babies are not on a schedule, so get ready for some surprises. My baby boy arrived 2-1/2 weeks early—well before my maternity leave was set to start—and I was emailing clients from the hospital!
Preparing your small business for maternity leave
- Alert your clients: don’t feel you have to tell everyone at once, but instead consider each client’s individual project schedules—some may need a heads-up farther in advance than others. TIP: look at the previous year’s timesheets or calendar to assess when recurring projects will occur.
- Slow down your workload: as difficult as it may be, you may choose to decline certain projects (or pass on to a colleague or CFC buddy) if they don’t work with your new schedule. Better to be honest and upfront with clients (and yourself) than to create stress and/or fail to meet project expectations.
- Determine timing of your maternity leave: this could vary from client to client, based on your relationship, upcoming projects, etc. TIP: You may choose to return to work part-time initially to make the transition back to full-time easier.
- Schedule work coverage: if you anticipate ongoing projects during your time off, arrange for a trusted colleague to cover your maternity leave. TIP: contact them well in advance to discuss project details, hand off files, etc.
- Decide how available you’ll be during maternity leave: will you completely check out for three months? Will you be available one day a week for project questions or concerns? Decide on a direction and stick to it. If you leave your clients with realistic expectations, everyone will be happier.
- Organize your workspace: organize and purge old files, file work samples, and store unneeded equipment. As my friend Elizabeth Lulu Miranda of Mercury Organizing Professionals says, “Reducing stress caused by clutter will help you enjoy the benefits and peace of mind of having an organized environment.” TIP: Being organized will also help you return to work post-baby more effortlessly.
- Tidy up your accounting: invoice current projects in a timely manner and follow up on any outstanding client invoices and vendor bills in the months leading up to your time off.
- Ease up on scheduled commitments: networking and business events are important, but it may help to eliminate non-essential obligations to free up your schedule for pre-baby office preparations (see #5 above). You can catch up on business socializing after baby arrives—you’ll be more than ready for adult conversations!
- Send an out-of-office email: a few weeks before your leave, send an email with dates and details to clients, vendors and colleagues so they have a reminder in their Inbox.
- Create a client/vendor contact list for your replacement: if you have someone covering your maternity leave, provide them with a list of important contact information.
- Be prepared for setbacks: even with the best planning, deadlines get pushed back and clients get behind schedule. Try to take it in stride—but also make sure to remind them of your schedule to avoid any surprises.
- Tidy up your email inbox: delete old files, unsubscribe from newsletters you don’t read and create filters to automatically file emails into folders (i.e. clients, personal, newsletters). This will make it easier to pore through emails when you have a free moment, or upon returning to work
- Enjoy the pre-baby time: however how you decide to approach your maternity leave, try to take time to relax, exercise, have some fun—and most importantly, catch up on sleep!
- Be prepared for surprises: babies are not aware of your schedule, so prepare yourself for an early or late arrival. A smartphone or laptop and hospital WI-FI makes it easy to alert clients of last-minute schedule changes (such as in my case!)
- Try not to worry: after some initial apprehension, I was pleasantly surprised at how receptive and accommodating my clients were to my temporary (and unexpected) schedule changes.
Fellow mompreneurs: do you have additional tips to add? Leave them in the comments!