Having a baby isn’t easy. Having a baby and owning a small business at the same time — now that’s really tough. Chances are you have no HR department to coddle you, no second-in-command who can pick up the slack while you’re out, and no paid time off at all — after all, you’re paying yourself.
And yet taking maternity leave when you’re running the show can still be done.
Preparation, of course, is critical. Here are a few steps to get ahead.
1) Start preparing your employees several months in advance.
The catch with babies? You never know when they will arrive. You also don’t know if, mid-way through your pregnancy, you will run into complications that will force you on to bed rest, limit your mobility, or even land you in the hospital.
Even if you don’t plan on taking a long maternity leave, your employees need to know the projects they need to tackle and their priorities while you are away. You should also introduce your next-in-command to key contacts, whether they are clients, partners, or other employees. There will be (likely many) times when you won’t be able to attend a meeting, so your partners and customers need to feel comfortable working with other members of your staff.
One mom CEO even set up a code word so that when her employees emailed her, she knew which messages were urgent and which tasks she should respond to first. Employees will need to know that they can reach you when you are especially needed.
2) Research and hire child care.
Every new mom has said it: “I’m sure I can get some work done while the baby is napping.” And yes, newborns sleep up to 16 hours a day. But many new moms forget that they’ll be sleeping themselves for many of those 16 hours, and even when the baby’s down, there are plenty of other tasks to get done too, like laundry, cleaning, and dealing with the rest of your life. Babies are also unpredictable and you will need an extra set of hands for the times you need to meet a client in person, hop on an important call, or finish a project.
It takes time to research daycare centers and interview nannies to find one you feel comfortable with. Some places will also require you to be added to a wait list, so it is best to start your research as soon as you know you are pregnant.
3) Establish your own space.
If you work from home, you should establish a defined space for you to work in uninterrupted. One of the luxuries of working from home is the ability to pop in and play with your child during some downtime and to cut the time needed to commute back and forth between your home and your office. But you also need a place to step away to when it’s required.
4) Consider outsourcing.
Services such as Elance can help you find an extra hand with bookkeeping, web design, and other contract work. In Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area, you can also hire runners through TaskRabbit to take care of items on your to-do list, from picking up dry cleaning to walking your dog. There are also meal preparation and grocery delivery services available. While these certainly add to your expenses, they also free up time for you to focus on your business.
5) Join a mothers’ group.
Find other mothers who also work or own a business. They will be your support system as you navigate the new world of parenting and working simultaneously.
6) Go easy on yourself.
The first few months with a new baby is a time for adjustment. Know that some days will be tougher than others. You will be tired. You will worry. Things will fall through the cracks. But it will all be worth it.