As I’ve been sharing over the last couple of weeks, I believe that running your own business – working for yourself – is the best way to get both the intellectual challenge and sense of fulfilment that you want, on the one hand, and the freedom and flexibility that you need to take care of a young family, on the other. We’ve looked at why that is, and how to set up your business in the right way from the start. Now, I want to look more concretely at how to prepare your business for maternity leave.
This is when you know that you’re having a baby and you know when that baby is coming, so that you can start planning how you’ll keep your business running while you’re off taking care of a newborn.
1. Define success
Yes, always! Defining success is always the most important first step. We talked last week about the importance of defining what success looks like for you both as a business owner and as a parent; now, the question is what success looks like for you specifically during your upcoming leave.
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First, this means looking at the logistics of when you want to start your leave, how long you want to take off, and when (and how much) you plan to start working again. As a full-time employee, this would involve a more formal process of asking your boss for specific dates, and there would be a clear point at which you’d come back to the office for a certain number of hours per week. When you’re working for yourself, this can be much more flexible. You may also want to adjust your plan once you find out how things go with your baby and how you’re feeling. Decide on a rough plan at least for now, for example, you might plan to take four months off completely and then gradually ease back into things as you take on a first few clients or projects.
In terms of specific goals, it’s probably not realistic to set the ambition to make this period your biggest sales quarter/year ever! Have a think about some other goals that feel right for you, for example:
- Maintain a basic online presence while you’re off
- Keep the momentum going in your business
- Be 100% present with your baby
- Listen to how you’re feeling and what’s best for you and your baby
You can get more specific with each of these, really visualising what that looks like concretely so that you’re clear on what you need to do to make it a reality.
2. Manage your finances
We also looked at choosing the right business model and getting the financials right in our general discussion last week and mentioned three phases: the set-up phase; maternity leave; and ongoing, once you’re back to work. In an ideal world, you’d have time during that initial set-up phase to get the business off the ground and get your finances to a point where you can afford to take time off. Then, when you’re pregnant and that time off becomes more imminent, there are some more tangible things to look at when it comes to your finances.
Once you know when you are going to take your maternity leave, you can plan to ‘frontload’ your year, arranging your business calendar so that the year’s major activities fall before that leave, maybe taking on some extra projects or clients, or doing an extra launch. This will help you get more money coming into your account while you’re still available and able to work full-time on your business.
Make sure you also look into your rights in the country where you live for when you actually go on maternity leave. In the UK, for example, an employee – including a director of a limited company – will qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay, which amounts to 90% of your salary for the first six weeks and then a lower standard rate for another 33 weeks. There is also the possibility of taking Shared Parental Leave and earning a Statutory Shared Parental Pay. If you don’t qualify for SMP, you will usual qualify for Maternity Allowance.
It’s always going to feel a little uncomfortable to take time off and watch your bank balance dwindle with little or no money coming in. However, the more you plan ahead, the more confident you’ll be that you and your business will survive this phase and the more you’ll be able to be present and enjoy this precious time with your new family.
3. Set up your systems and outsourcing
We’ve talked generally about the power of creating systems and outsourcing in your business, even when you’re ‘just’ a solopreneur or freelancer. These tools become even more powerful when it comes to actually taking time off for your maternity leave. Basically, you want to automate, delegate, or delete anything that you’re currently doing in the business. Be honest about this and what’s really a ‘must-do’ and what can be dropped or at least de-prioritised with no real impact on the business.
First, those systems– scheduling your social media posts and email newsletters, for example – will mean that things will keep happening even when you’re not actively there doing them. If your goals include maintaining a basic online presence and keeping up that momentum in your business (and they probably should!), then that scheduling will be a major enabler. You’ll make sure that people are still seeing you pop up in their feeds, so that they don’t forget about you.
Second, and even more powerfully, having an established team to support you will afford you even greater peace of mind as you take time off in the knowledge that someone you trust is managing the critical tasks for you. A virtual assistant or social media manager can take care of social media publishing and engaging with your followers, handle any important admin tasks, and stay in touch with your clients in your absence.
Whether you’re relying on technology and tools or human freelancers – or, ideally, a combination of both – it will be incredibly reassuring to you that at least the basics of your business operations will continue in your absence, so that your business doesn’t die a silent death with no one to take care of it, and so that you can focus on what really matters in the meantime.
4. Get organised
Everything we’re talking about here is about thinking, and planning, ahead: you want to get clear on what success looks like for you ahead of time so that you can work towards that vision; get your financials in order, including planning your income-generating activities on the one hand and applying for any maternity pay on the other; and set up any new tools, or team members, way in advance so that they’re working smoothly once you take that time off.
Another aspect of getting organised, which will be hugely valuable in supporting you with your goals of keeping the business running so that you can stay present with your baby, is batch-creating content in advance. This means having a clear content strategy and calendar for your website and your social channels, knowing what topics you want to cover, and then creating as much as you can ahead of time.
If you’re planning to take four months off, for example, the ideal scenario would be to have pre-planned, -created and -scheduled four months’ worth of content. That might sound completely unrealistic, especially if (a) you’re currently creating content on a very last-minute basis and (b) you have a lot of content going out, including videos, articles, social posts, podcast episodes and emails! But if you start early enough, and have a clear plan, you’ll soon get into a routine of creating content more in advance – and as you see the benefits to both you and the business, I think you’ll become a convert!
You can always scale down your content for that period of leave, for example, you can decide to focus on your weekly podcast, only publish one blog post a month, and stop doing videos for the time being. Or why not consider outsourcing and getting some guest contributors onto your blog or podcast? Be realistic; but the more you can plan ahead, the better you’ll feel about taking that time off!
5. Manage client expectations
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, you want to maintain your relationship with both clients and prospects. How you do this will depend on what kind of work you do as well as your personal preferences, but the overall intent is to reassure them about what will happen before, during and after your leave, so that you can keep a positive, constructive relationship and pick up again when you’re ready.
When it comes to your clients, decide when you need to communicate that you’re taking time off, to make sure that they won’t be caught off guard and feel let down. You can discuss how to frontload your projects and support before you take that time off, or perhaps press pause and then continue once you’re back. If this isn’t possible, and the client urgently needs continued support while you’re off, you can refer them to one of your peers who you trust to deliver to your standards (– consider either a reciprocal agreement, where you refer clients to each other, or perhaps a commission-based referral system).
When it comes to prospects, you especially want to keep these warm while you’re off so that you don’t lose them by ignoring them for months after they’ve come to you excited to work with you. Be transparent with them and direct them to other resources that will help them to progress, and stay within your ecosystem, in the meantime. For example, you can invite them to join your Facebook group; suggest that they subscribe to your podcast; and join your email community so that they get your weekly newsletter.
Again, the most important thing is to get clear on what a successful maternity leave would look like for you; plan and prepare as best you can for that vision; and, finally, be ready for the unexpected! You never know how you will feel during your pregnancy – a severe case of morning sickness may well throw a spanner in the works – or how things will look and feel once you actually have the baby. Know that you’ve done what you can to prepare but allow yourself to go with whatever reality evolves for you.
Join us again next week, as we look at what it’s like to actually run a business with a baby!
Speaking of joining a Facebook group, I’d love to invite you to join the One Step Outside group! You’ll become part of a community of like-minded individuals and get access to free training sessions and resources to help you get that freedom, flexibility and fulfilment in your business.