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How I Prepped for a 5-Month Maternity Leave as an Small Business Owner

June 14, 2022

One year ago today I was preparing for my first maternity leave as a business owner. As an entrepreneur, I had no idea what to expect from creating my own maternity leave and there really weren’t any resources available for how to prepare for a maternity leave as an entrepreneur. There still isn’t. 

I was recently on a podcast recording with a new friend who was dreaming of one day creating her own maternity leave as a business owner and she asked me for advice, my experience, and a podcast all about it. Honestly I didn’t feel like an expert – nothing went exactly as planned, and even if I share my story, my team makeup at the time was different and smaller than a lot of other business owners. I was struggling to see how my story would benefit anyone. 

But, I know one thing. I planned well, and strategically. The practical applications may look different between my business and your business, but the approach to planning can be the same!

My Priorities in Planning my Maternity Leave as a Business Owner

The way we approach maternity leave as business owners has a defining impact not just on our businesses, but also on our experiences as new parents. Let me underscore a crucial tenet that guided me throughout my planning process: “Birth the business first, then the baby.”

In my experience, the effective preparation of my maternity leave revolved around four crucial factors. Here’s a glimpse into what they entailed:

Systematizing Operations

The first step was to ensure that my departmental operations were not only well-organized but also self-sufficient. I aimed to create a seamless system that could continue to function efficiently even in my absence. This meant automating as many processes as possible and hiring the right people to manage those that required a more personal touch.

  1. Identify Repetitive Tasks: Start by identifying tasks that occur regularly in your operations. This could be anything from sending weekly newsletters to processing invoices.
  2. Document Processes: Write down the steps involved in each task identified. Be as detailed as possible. This documentation can be in the form of written procedures, video recordings, or flowcharts. It should be easy for anyone to understand and follow.
  3. Automate Where Possible: With your processes documented, look for opportunities to automate. Tools like email marketing software for sending newsletters, or accounting software for handling invoices can save a significant amount of time.
  4. Use Project Management Tools: Tools like Trello, Asana, or Monday.com can help you manage tasks, projects, and deadlines. They allow you to see the status of various tasks at a glance and assign responsibilities to team members.
  5. Create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs): Transform your documented processes into formal SOPs. These are a set of step-by-step instructions to help team members carry out complex routine operations.
  6. Delegate: Delegate tasks to competent team members or hire personnel for specific roles. This will allow you to focus on strategic aspects of your business.
  7. Monitor and Adjust: Implement a review process to continuously monitor the effectiveness of your systems. No system is perfect from the start. Be prepared to adjust and optimize your systems as you receive feedback or as your business needs change.

Empowering the Team

A vital part of my plan was to cultivate a sense of ownership among my team members. I wanted them to view the business as their show, understanding that any growth or positive metrics during my leave would be a direct result of their efforts. Fostering this entrepreneurial spirit within the team was a strategic move aimed at maintaining the momentum of the business.

Enhancing the Leadership Academy

Next on my priority list was to elevate the Leadership Academy experience. I achieved this by engaging stellar guest speakers and creating opportunities for other leaders within the community to step up. This approach ensured that the quality of the Academy experience was not just maintained but actually improved during my leave.

Prioritizing Health

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I prioritized my health. This meant consciously scaling back my involvement in the business to allow more time for physical activity, quality time with my daughter, and postpartum preparations.

Planning for maternity leave as a business owner can be a daunting task, but it’s absolutely doable with a clear strategy in place. Prioritizing the right aspects ensured that my business continued to thrive in my absence, allowing me to fully enjoy the beautiful journey of motherhood.

Focus Areas of My Maternity Leave Preparation

Like I said before, my ultimate goal was to birth the business first, then the baby. I needed what was living in my head to live in some way, shape, and form outside of my head. Inside my head, I was the only one who could manage it. Outside my head, the business lived as a product, in systems, and in automations that could be managed by others.

I needed to get it out so I could get myself out of the business for a period of time. So, that meant disentangling my brain and my business. 

My main focus areas were team, marketing, and client operations and management. My business model is a community and digital product model, so my goals were to make sure that new members could access content, the community, and events while I was gone. 

Here’s what I did for my business for each of these areas.

Team Preparation

Like I said, I don’t have an agency model or a huge team. In fact, heading into pregnancy I only had one team member, my content manager. Her role was to promote the podcast and manage post-production materials. Heading into maternity leave, I hired a temporary operations and program manager – you can view her job description here

The foundations, however, are the same even if you have a larger team:

  1. Clear Communication: Announce your maternity leave as soon as it’s practical, allowing your team ample time to prepare. Discuss your expectations, provide guidelines for decision-making, and set clear goals for your absence.
  2. Establish Roles and Responsibilities: If you’re a solopreneur or have a small team, consider hiring temporary or part-time help to cover your responsibilities. If your team is larger, delegate your tasks among team members, ensuring they are equipped to handle these additional duties.
  3. Train Your Team: Offer additional training, if needed, to ensure everyone is confident in their expanded roles. This could be one-on-one training with you, courses, webinars, or bringing in a consultant.
  4. Designate a Point Person: Assign a trusted team member to take the lead in your absence. This person will be the go-to for questions, troubleshooting, and decision-making.
  5. Create an Operations Manual: If you don’t have one already, create a comprehensive operations manual. This document should include procedures for all essential tasks, guidelines for decision-making, and emergency contacts.
  6. Practice Run: Before you go on leave, have a few practice days where your team operates as if you’re not there. This will give them the chance to identify any issues or questions that may arise.
  7. Stay Connected, But Set Boundaries: Decide how (if at all) you want to be contacted while on leave and communicate this to your team. You might set up a weekly check-in or provide guidelines for what situations warrant contacting you.
  8. Show Confidence in Your Team: Before you leave, reassure your team that you have confidence in their abilities. This trust can boost their morale and encourage them to take ownership of their tasks.

Marketing Preparation

During my maternity leave, I wanted to ensure that my marketing efforts continued effectively. Here’s how I prepared my marketing strategies:

Repurposed Email Content

I took advantage of my existing email content by repurposing my best emails from 2019-2020. I created high-value emails and scheduled them in advance, covering the period from June to December. This allowed me to consistently engage my audience and even gained new members for my Academy through an old launch sequence.

Utilized Existing Notes

I delved into my extensive collection of notes, including Google Docs and iPhone notes, to uncover valuable ideas. I transformed these thoughts into engaging Instagram posts and weekly newsletter emails. It was like discovering a treasure trove of content that had been waiting to be shared.

Recycled Content

To maximize efficiency, I recycled existing content across multiple platforms. If I had written something valuable, it became an Instagram post, an email, and even a podcast episode. This approach not only saved time but also ensured that my message reached a wider audience.

Maintained Podcast Momentum

My content manager played a crucial role in sustaining the momentum of my podcast during my absence. While I recorded as many new episodes as possible, I also scheduled replays of what I considered “hidden gems” – podcast episodes that had valuable content but hadn’t received as many listens. This allowed me to continue providing value to my audience without the need for constant new recordings.

Launched a Referral Program

To generate additional growth and engagement, I launched a referral program specifically targeted at my Academy students. This program incentivized them to refer others, resulting in increased enrollment and a sense of community among members.

By repurposing content, leveraging existing resources, and maintaining engagement through strategic initiatives, I ensured that my marketing efforts remained active and fruitful during my maternity leave. This allowed me to maintain a strong presence in the marketplace and continue serving my audience effectively.

Client Operations Preparation

My goal for client operations was to elevate the experience within my community and finalize product creation. Here’s what I did:

  • Finished creating and recording the actual course. This was a huge endeavor and took up most of my time during pregnancy.
  • Organized guest speakers for inside the community and tasked my operations and program manager with connecting with the speakers and hosting those calls. 
  • Asked for support from my mastermind and community to have support leading co-working calls and book discussions in the community.
  • I sent an email two months out to all clients letting them know of what was happening behind the scenes and detail what they could expect while I was on leave. You can view that email here! (I got several messages from clients about how much they loved this email.)

If you’re preparing for your own leave or sabbatical, consider the following:

Notify Your Clients

Reach out to your clients well in advance to inform them about your upcoming leave. Provide clear and transparent communication about the duration of your absence, alternative points of contact, and any changes to your services or response times. This helps manage expectations and ensures a smooth transition for your clients.

Delegate Responsibilities

Assign someone on your team or hire a temporary manager to handle client operations during your leave. This person should be familiar with your clients, their needs, and the processes involved. Clearly define their responsibilities and provide them with the necessary information and resources to effectively manage client relationships.

Document Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Create detailed SOPs for your client operations to ensure consistency and continuity. Document key processes, including onboarding new clients, managing client inquiries, handling requests or issues, and delivering services. SOPs serve as a guide for your team or the temporary manager, ensuring that clients receive a consistent experience.

Provide Client FAQs and Resources

Compile a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) and create resources that address common client inquiries or concerns. This can be in the form of a knowledge base, a comprehensive FAQ document, or video tutorials. Make these resources easily accessible to your clients so they can find answers to their questions even in your absence.

Schedule Check-ins and Progress Updates

Set up a system for regular check-ins and progress updates with your team or the temporary manager handling client operations. This allows you to stay informed about client projects, identify any issues or challenges, and provide guidance or support as needed. Regular communication ensures that clients receive the necessary attention and support throughout your leave.

Establish Communication Channels

Determine the preferred communication channels for your clients during your absence. This can include email, phone, project management tools, or a designated contact person. Clearly communicate these channels to your clients, so they know how to reach out with questions or concerns.

Arrange for Client Support

If you offer ongoing client support or maintenance services, ensure that there is someone available to handle support requests or technical issues. This may involve training a team member, hiring a support specialist, or outsourcing support services to a reliable third-party provider.

Plan for Smooth Transition Back

As your leave comes to an end, plan for a smooth transition back to full client operations. Review the status of ongoing projects, reconnect with clients personally, and assess any changes or updates that may have occurred during your absence. Gradually reintegrate yourself into client operations while ensuring that your team or the temporary manager is properly informed and supported.

Streamlining for Maternity Leave: What I Let Go Of

As I prepared for my maternity leave as a business owner, I learned the value of simplicity and letting go of unnecessary distractions. It was a process of prioritizing and focusing on what truly mattered, while releasing fears and adopting a mindset of trust and resilience.

Embracing Simplicity

I constantly reminded myself and my team that simplicity is better and done is better than perfect. Each day, we asked ourselves, “What can we ditch today? What is distracting us from our main goals?” By simplifying our tasks and projects, we were able to stay focused on the essentials and make progress without unnecessary complications.

Overcoming Shiny Object Syndrome

I faced the fear of time slipping away, leading me to chase after shiny opportunities that were not aligned with my priorities. So, I had to scale back a planned launch and workshops that would have been difficult to manage during my leave. I also shifted my podcast strategy, promoting replays instead of recording new episodes. Recognizing the need to let go of distractions helped me stay on track and make the most of my limited time.

Releasing Guilt and Fear

Financial concerns can be a significant source of anxiety for entrepreneurs preparing for maternity leave. However, it’s important to shift from a scarcity mindset to one of trust and abundance. I allowed myself to explore worst-case scenarios, acknowledging that even if I had to refund clients and temporarily close my business, I would find a way to bounce back. This mindset shift allowed me to let go of unnecessary worry and create contingency plans for any unforeseen challenges.

Finding Joy in the Journey

Amidst the preparations and uncertainties, I reminded myself of the true essence of this journey—welcoming a new life into the world. I embraced the understanding that while securing finances is crucial for my team and business, the joy of motherhood and the connection with my baby mattered most. I released guilt and embraced the mindset that everything would be okay, trusting that I would navigate any obstacles that came my way.

Seeking Support and Advocacy

Maternity leave challenges entrepreneurs to consider the lack of parental and financial support available. While we should strive for better systems, I reached out to supportive networks, sought advice from fellow business owners, and connected with communities that understood the unique challenges we face. Together, we advocated for more support and explored creative solutions to bridge the gap.

Preparing for maternity leave as a business owner is a process of letting go, simplifying, and focusing on what truly matters. By embracing simplicity, releasing guilt and fear, and finding joy in the journey, we can navigate this transition with greater ease and grace. Remember, it’s not just about birthing the business, but also cherishing the precious moments of welcoming a new life into the world.

How I Structured the 5 Phases of My Maternity Leave

I broke preparation and leave into 5 phases, each with their own objective that fueled my ultimate goal – taking two entire months completely checked out. Here is my timeline below – my due date was July 26 (and he was born July 8… or was it 9th?).

Preparatory Work in April/May

My goal in my second trimester was to ensure the foundation of my Leadership Academy by finalizing the curriculum as much as I could and automating onboarding completely so that this offering was self-automated, found temporary operations manager and created role and prepped for onboarding. 

Phase 1: June (T-8 Weeks to Due Date)

Goal is to serve and set the team and clients up for success, temporary operations manager. This is when I sent my detailed email to clients, held last client coaching sessions, and had several 1:1 and all-team meetings. 

Phase 2: July (T-4 weeks to Due Date)

This is when I began my leave, but I remained in a supportive role for my team until the baby came. Client facing, I was out. Team facing, I was in. 

At this point I was ready to be completely out when need be, the team had everything handled, but I was available fully for my team as they began leading and managing operations without me. It was a great buffer period. 

Also, I had no Asana tasks in this phase. I had one Asana task called, “Kaylan Goes into Labor.” My only job was to ping her when I went to the hospital, then she activated that task and went into “GO Mode.” The task didn’t have much on it, since I had scheduled so much already, but it did have her send a message to my other team member and my community.

Phase 3: August & September

COMPLETELY OUT. If I wanted to work, I had a list of projects prepared that were pre-approved by me, like working on my website. I knew I had to respect my own boundaries and protect myself from jumping in and confusing my team and community. I made a list of projects, but I never touched them.

Phase 4: October

This was my transition month. To my clients, I was still out. To my team, I was peeking back in. This was my space to discover and settle into a new routine and get back into podcasting and creating curriculum. 

Phase 5: November

Now, I was back and showing up for clients on November 4! I still had support from my operations manager this month, then she offboarded in December.

Nurturing Your Business and Yourself: Preparing for Leave of Absence

Whether you’re planning a maternity leave, facing unexpected circumstances, or simply considering a future leave of absence, it’s essential to prepare your business and yourself for the transition. By taking proactive steps and prioritizing self-care, you can navigate this period with greater ease and ensure the well-being of your business. Here are some valuable tips to consider:

Start Saving Now

Regardless of when you plan to take a leave of absence, it’s wise to begin saving early. Financial stability provides peace of mind and allows you to focus on your well-being and that of your team. Building an emergency fund will help cover expenses during your absence and ensure the continued operation of your business. Even if you don’t anticipate taking a leave, unexpected events can arise, emphasizing the importance of financial preparedness.

I have a mastermind sister who was unexpectedly hospitalized in the ICU earlier this year for 10 days. You don’t expect to have to take long leaves, but is your business okay if you must? Here is her podcast all about her top tips for making sure your team is prepared in case of emergencies. 

Lean on Your Support Systems

During times of transition, it’s crucial to lean on your support systems. Reach out to trusted mentors, fellow business owners, or mastermind groups for guidance and advice. They can provide valuable insights and support as you navigate the challenges of preparing for leave. Seek comfort and encouragement from those who understand the unique demands of entrepreneurship and can offer guidance based on their own experiences.

Ask for Help and Shed Guilt

Entrepreneurial spirit often leads us to believe that we can handle everything on our own. However, embracing the need for assistance is a sign of strength, not weakness. Recognize that it’s okay to ask for help, even if you feel guilty about it. Just as you would support others in similar situations, allow your team and loved ones to step in and lend a hand. By delegating tasks and responsibilities, you can alleviate the pressure and ensure the smooth operation of your business.

Flexibility and Adaptability

While it’s important to have a plan in place, it’s equally crucial to hold those plans loosely. Life rarely goes exactly as expected, and the same applies to leaves of absence. Be prepared for unforeseen circumstances and unexpected challenges that may arise during your absence. Remain flexible and adaptable, adjusting your expectations and plans as needed. This flexibility will enable you to navigate any hurdles with grace and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Delay Major Decisions

During your leave of absence, give yourself the freedom to postpone major business decisions. Taking time to focus on your well-being and bonding with your newborn or addressing personal matters should be your priority. Delaying important choices until you return will ensure that you have a clear and focused mind to make well-informed decisions that align with your long-term goals.

Prioritize Your Mental Health

Taking care of your mental health is essential as you prepare for and navigate your leave of absence. Consider seeking support from a therapist or counselor who can provide guidance and help you manage any anxiety, stress, or other emotional challenges that may arise. Cultivating a healthy mindset and engaging in self-care practices will contribute to your overall well-being, allowing you to fully enjoy your leave and return refreshed.

Self-Care and Postpartum Prep

When preparing for a maternity leave, prioritize your health and well-being. Focus on self-care practices that nurture your body and mind. This includes getting regular exercise, spending time outdoors, practicing affirmations, and removing yourself from excessive input and distractions. Create a relaxing environment and make time for activities that bring you joy and rejuvenation.

During the postpartum period, remember that your own needs are just as important as caring for your baby. Treat yourself to comfortable postpartum clothes, indulge in relaxing bath and body products, and consider hiring a cleaner to ease household responsibilities. Preparing freezer meals and stocking up on gift cards for takeout can alleviate some of the pressure of meal preparation. By focusing on your well-being, you will be better equipped to care for your baby and return to your business with renewed energy and clarity.

Preparing for a leave of absence requires careful planning and self-care. By implementing these strategies, you can ensure a smooth transition, maintain the stability of your business, and prioritize your personal well-being. Remember, taking time off is not only beneficial for you but also contributes to the long-term success and sustainability of your business.

I'm Kaylan, leadership educator, podcaster & speaker

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