I understand this topic doesn’t truly fit everyone. But I also know there isn’t a lot of information out there for those who run a small business and need to plan a self-scheduled maternity leave. So here’s how I did it.
When my husband and I found out we were expecting Baby #3 in January 2018, we knew so many things would change for our family. Besides adding yet another mouth to feed and tiny human to love, one of those things would be leaving my full-time, 13-year, nine (well eight) a.m. to five p.m., corporate career to stay home with our 3.5 year old and 2 year old daughters, as well as this new edition, a baby boy who was due in September. Daycare for three kids is just too expensive.
We actually calculated we could fortunately live off my husband’s income alone, but would need to cut back our monthly spending quite a bit. But being able to bring in additional income would allow us to continue our lifestyle and continue to pursue our personal financial goals. And to top it off, owning my own business has always been a dream of mine. I just never had the big push to do it.
However, this time, the new baby on the way somewhat forced my hand (in a positive way) and I finally took the plunge and started Lauren Austin Creative, LLC in March of 2018.
But there were so many questions. Here I was with a really new business, my first one, and I was planning on taking a leave of absence only 6 months into it. There were so many questions I had to answer.
How much time should I take?
Corporations, like the one I worked for over the last decade, have mandated state and federal laws they must follow regarding leave, and additional benefits they offer. For my past two children’s births, when I was working for that corporation, I received 6 weeks paid leave and the option to take 6 weeks of unpaid leave as well, which fortunately for my family I was always able to take. But when running a personal business, even just 6 weeks off isn’t feasible - both for both my clients and for me. That’s 6 weeks of time away from my clients and 6 weeks of time I’m not being paid. Plus, that’s 6 weeks that I’m leaving the business I’ve worked hard on the last half year, and I didn’t want to backtrack on any of that time I put in.
At the same time, bringing a new baby home is life-changing, and sleep depriving, regardless of how many kids you already have. I was scheduled to have yet another repeat C-section, which results in a more involved recovery. I knew I’d have to take at least some time to heal and get into the flow of a new baby. Considering this, plus being that I’m a virtual, online serviced-based business with part-time hours at the moment, I factored I could take a full 3 weeks off before diving back in and getting into the swing of things.
But of course, figuring out a number is going to be based on the type of business, how you work, how many customers or clients you have, and how long you feel you can be away from your business.
And there’s also more options than cut and dry, opened and closed. You could take half-days or come back part-time. Or if you feel up to it, answer emails, but not do work. And although I seriously thought about subcontracting my work during this time, I didn’t feel like it was needed. But subcontracting to someone else while you’re out, or at least for your day-to-day work can be valuable. Definitely research your options.
How do I prepare my clients?
This summer, a few months after I officially launched Lauren Austin Creative, I was already working with a few clients. I was open and honest with them about the baby and taking leave from the beginning, and reassured them the plan was to organized and plan for them as much in advance of my leave. And you know what? They still hired me knowing I’d be taking time off in September.
Sure, it took more work up front on my end, creating and scheduling social media content moving around 3 weeks of hours to the earlier part of September and into October. But it allowed my clients to continue on as regular while I was actually out. And of course I can’t thank them enough for being flexible and understanding enough.
Again, this is going to depend on the type of client you have, and how much work you typically provide them. Do you need to stay in contact with them? Are you more project based, or do you help them daily? All questions you’ll need to ask yourself.
How do I prepare my business?
My clients always come first before my own business. But I also knew I couldn’t leave my “virtual baby”, my business, in the dust either. So a month or two in advance, I started letting my subscribers, followers, and potential new clients know my plans as well - that I’d be “closed” for a few weeks, but that they could always contact me for when I return. And so that I didn’t seem to fall off the earth, and that I stayed in my customers daily viewing, I started creating and scheduling my own social media content to post while I was out.
I also knew, like this post, I’d probably have to do a little work while on leave, but I honestly enjoy it, and love having an outlet to work on that doesn’t involve feedings and rocking a baby (although, there’s plenty of that great stuff too!)
If you have employees, which I do not, that definitely gets quite complicated. Either you can leave someone trust worthy to manage the business while you’re gone, or keep a solid foot in the door on your leave to keep your employees going.
If you’re a product based business, you could always close down shop, but take orders, letting customers know they won’t ship until your back. Or you could bulk up all your handmade wares before you take leave, so all you’re doing is shipping during leave, still making sales.
Do what you want.
The one thing that’s true for all small business owners is that there’s no cut and dry answer, and no one-size-fits-all. Being a business owner, you make your own rules. Take leave, don’t take leave. Take a week or take a year. Or just cut back hours, or change services. Bring the baby to the office, or hire child care. There’s so many options for you.
My biggest piece of advice is to plan, and plan early. The more time you have before your leave, the better organized and prepared you can be, and in turn, run the best business you can.