Congratulations! As a fellow small business owner expecting my first bay-bee this summer, I understand the excitement and challenges that come with trying to plan for an actual baby while trying to take leave from your first baby—your business. Maternity leave is a precious time for both you and your growing family, but as a business owner it can feel very overwhelming and requires some extra planning. However, with the right preparation, you can take the time you need (and deserve!) to bond with your new baby and return feeling refreshed and ready to take on new challenges in your business baby.
In this guide, we’ll explore the ins and outs of navigating maternity leave while keeping your business buzzing.
Importance of Maternity Leave for Small Business Owners
If you’re anything like me, you constantly find yourself consumed with every aspect of your business—both for the good and the bad! That obsession has likely been replaced with countless blogs on birthing, podcasts on parenting, and videos on all things baby. You’ve got even more to worry about and you might be asking, what happens with my business baby now that I’m pregnant?
Throughout Honey’s 8 years in operation, I’ve seen other business owners give birth on a Monday and by Wednesday they’re sending out emails and scheduling calls. Whether due to financial restraints or feeling pressured to constantly be available when you’re the queen bee, I knew it was not the route I wanted to take if I could avoid it.
This brought up a crazy slew of questions *insert Googling frenzy*
Can women small business owners take maternity leave? What does that look like?
How much should I be saving for maternity leave?
How long is the average maternity leave for small business owners?
How to run a small business and be a stay at home mom?
Does disability insurance cover maternity leave?
Who will answer emails while I’m out on maternity leave?
What happens if I get a new client before the baby is due?
While these questions bounced around in my brain and in the Google search bar, my husband Tre’ was a voice of reason, “It will continue without you, and it will be just fine.”
After all these years of hard work, where I felt the pressure solely on my shoulders, it couldn’t be that easy for it to just “continue”, could it? But I truly think it can be! The best thing you can do is trust yourself and the business you created. Trust that the community will continue to support the company and the staff will help pick up the pieces in the meantime.
You can’t expect your business to thrive if your health and well-being are not being prioritized. Take the time you need to recover, adjust to your new role as a mother and the rest will come naturally.
Decide Your Maternity Leave as a Small Business Owner or Solopreneur
6 months+ before your due date
Step 1: Assess the impact on your business
Once the panic of pregnancy wears off and before you begin to fully plan for your maternity leave, start by assessing the impact your absence will have on your business:
- How long do you plan to take off? Or rather, how long would you like to take off? This was a tough question to answer for me personally, especially in the US where paid maternity leave is very short-lived if given at all. And with more than 30% of mothers not taking any leave, this certainly doesn’t make answering the question any easier. But on average, federal law requires at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Ultimately, it’s up to you and your partner or support system to decide what is realistic and makes the most sense for your family.
- Will you be able to delegate your responsibilities to someone else? A full-time staff member? A part-time contractor? Or even a willing friend!
- How will your absence impact your revenue or client relationships? Will you accept new projects while you’re out? Will you pause everything or off-board any clients?
Once you have a clear understanding of the impact your absence will have on your business, you can begin to plan accordingly.
Step 2: Financial considerations and budget
Maternity leave can be expensive for anyone —self-employed or not — but particularly as a small business owner if you’re the one footing the bill for your own leave nest egg things start to add up. As a small business owner, it’s a good idea to budget for your time off and plan for any unexpected expenses.
Consider the following financial considerations:
- How much time can you afford to take off? Try to consider not only covering your expenses and staff but also to continue paying yourself of course! Are there things you can pause to help conserve cash flow like advertising or unnecessary expenses?
- Will you need to hire someone to cover your responsibilities while you’re away? Be sure to include this in your budget!
- Do you have short-term disability insurance or other benefits that will help cover your expenses? Most short-term disability policies do not cover pregnancy as a qualifying life event but hey, you could be lucky! Check in with your partner as well to discuss their leave options.
- Have you set aside a maternity leave fund to cover any unexpected expenses? If not, are there other options available that you could explore like a business or personal loan to help.
- Consider childcare options now. This doesn’t have to be set in stone, but think about what flexibility (or not) you might have or want to have with childcare postpartum and once you’re ready to dive back into business again. Maybe look into the cost or availability of daycares, nannies, or ask relatives in advance to give you an idea of what to expect in the future.
Step 3: Establish a timeline and set expectations
Think of it like holiday shopping. Most e-commerce businesses give you a “final call” for placing orders that will arrive in time for Christmas. Similarly, once you’ve assessed the impact on your business and financial situation, get out your handy-dandy calendar to create a timeline for your maternity leave and set expectations with your team:
- Work backwards from your due date: Do you want to work up to your due date? Or allow for a bit of a buffer period before baby arrives?
- When will the final cut-off be to accept new clients or close down aspects of your business like product shipping, etc.?
- Are there big deadlines before that need to be finished up or handed off to other members of your team?
- How long do you plan to be away? Keep in mind if you’ve got a team AND clients, will you open the doors of communication internally first or to everyone all at once?
Consider the following deadlines:
- Notification deadline for FMLA or other parental leave benefits (for you or your partner)
- Deadline for delegating responsibilities and assigning temporary roles
- Deadline for cross-training employees and documenting processes
- Deadline for communicating with your clients, employees, and stakeholders
- Deadline for reviewing your health insurance coverage
A Legal Note: Navigating Legal and Employment Policies
Familiarizing yourself with applicable laws and regulations
As a small business owner, it’s important to be familiar with the laws and regulations that apply to maternity leave. Depending on your business structure and location, there may be federal or state laws that require you to provide certain benefits or accommodations to pregnant employees such as the following:
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- State-specific maternity leave laws
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
Reviewing your company policies (or partner’s policy) and handbook (if you’re not the primary business owner)
In addition to familiarizing yourself with applicable laws and regulations, it’s important to review your company policies and handbook to ensure they comply with these laws and provide adequate support for pregnant employees.
Consider the following policies:
- Maternity leave policy
- Short-term disability policy
- Accommodation policy for pregnant employees
- Family-friendly policies, such as flexible scheduling or telecommuting options
Evaluating short-term disability insurance
Short-term disability insurance can be a valuable resource for small business owners planning for maternity leave. This type of insurance provides income replacement for a limited period while you’re unable to work due to a covered disability, such as pregnancy or childbirth. Again, in my research there aren’t a ton of policies that consider pregnancy a type of disability but explore your options with an insurance professional nonetheless!
Consider the following factors when evaluating short-term disability insurance:
- Coverage period
- Benefit amount
- Waiting period
Reviewing health insurance coverage
You likely already looked into this as soon as you found out, but it’s important to review your health insurance coverage before your maternity leave to ensure that you have adequate coverage for your medical expenses and baby’s. Factors to consider include:
- Deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses
- Coverage for prenatal care, childbirth, and postpartum care
- Coverage for your baby’s medical expenses
Seeking legal counsel, if necessary
If you have questions or concerns about your legal obligations as a small business owner, it’s always good to seek legal counsel. A lawyer can help you navigate the complex legal landscape of maternity leave and ensure that you comply with all applicable laws and regulations. Let’s be honest, it can be super confusing and very jargon-heavy!
Prepare Your Small Business for Your Absence
3 months before your due date
Step 1: Delegate responsibilities and assign temporary roles
One of the first steps as you get closer to your due date is to delegate responsibilities and assign temporary roles to your employees or contractors. This of course helps with actually getting sh*t done but will provide a sense of relief while you’re out knowing things are under control!
Consider the following strategies:
- Identify key responsibilities that need to be covered while you’re away. This can of course include client or project-specific tasks but also internal operations like ongoing email newsletters or social media presences. Make a document for this that is accessible for everyone!
- Assign temporary roles to your employees or contractors. Interim director? Temporary project manager? Let everyone know what they can expect.
- Provide training or cross-training to ensure that everyone is prepared for their new responsibilities.
- Develop a plan for handling urgent matters or unexpected issues that may arise. When should they notify you, if at all?
- Document your processes and procedures so that your employees can refer to them while you’re away.
- Develop a system for tracking progress and monitoring performance while you’re away.
Step 2: Communicate with clients, employees, and stakeholders
You don’t want to be up in the middle of the night feeding baby wondering who answered what email so be sure to create a communication plan for a successful maternity leave. Although the plan was in progress well before, we opted for a 90 days out approach from my due date when announcing to our clients. Be sure to take care of the following:
- Schedule regular check-ins with your employees and contractors to ensure that everything is running smoothly. This can be before you leave but also as you start to re-introduce work back into your post-parenting schedule (more on that later).
- Develop a system for handling urgent matters or unexpected issues that may arise.
- Decide if you want to set an out of office email or CC a teammate to handle contact.
- Schedule meetings with your clients to discuss your plans and set expectations for your absence.
- Meet with your employees or contractors to delegate responsibilities and establish a plan for your absence and introduce them to clients as needed.
- Remind your clients when their final day for contact or projects might be so you’re not worried about ongoing tasks while you’re out.
Step 3: Create a comprehensive honey-do list
Now that you’ve got a plan in place for the basics, create a comprehensive to-do list (for internal and external operations) in preparation for your actual maternity leave:
Consider the following tasks:
- Document your systems and processes
- Communicate with your clients, employees, and stakeholders via email, meeting, or call
- Delegate responsibilities and assign temporary roles
- Cross-train employees and document processes
- Make necessary team introductions to your clients
- Implement a communication plan
- Schedule out content like social media posts or email newsletters if needed
Step 4: Document important information for your absence
“What’s the login for MailChimp?” is NOT a Slack message you want to tend to while tending to baby. To ensure a smooth transition during your absence, you’ll want to make sure you document important information for your employees and contractors such as:
- Contact information for your clients and stakeholders
- Passwords and login information for important accounts
- Standard operating procedures and processes
- Key deadlines and milestones
Taking Care of Yourself During Maternity Leave
Step 1: Prioritize self-care and mental health
Maternity leave is a time to prioritize your own health and wellbeing, as well as your baby’s, just as you would give that same tender love and care to your growing business! Take the time you need to recover from childbirth and adjust to your new role as a mother by practicing these self-care strategies:
- Lean into your support system and ask for help
- Get plenty of rest and sleep! I read somewhere to abide by the 5-5-5 rule for birth recovery—5 days in bed, 5 days on the bed, 5 days near the bed to allow ample time for rest.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Take a bath
- Stay hydrated
- Engage in light exercise, such as walking or yoga
- Practice stress-reduction techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing, or journaling
Step 2: Establish boundaries and managing expectations
As a small business owner, it can be difficult to disconnect from your business during your maternity leave. However, it’s advantageous to establish boundaries and manage expectations to ensure that you’re able to focus on your own health and wellbeing. This also means not just with your email!
Consider the following strategies:
- Set clear boundaries for your availability
- Distance yourself from social media, particularly from your business social accounts
- Remove notifications from your devices for emails, social media, and any other PINGS you might get that could send you in a business blundering spiral (Slack, Google, etc)
Step 3: Stay connected with your business without overwhelming yourself (IF YOU WANT!)
While it’s recommended to disconnect from your business during your maternity leave, I also know that personally this is going to be really hard and a lot easier said than done. I’m allowing myself some grace and trying to go with the flow. If I feel more stressed about going zero dark thirty on my business and it’s causing me to feel distracted from baby, I’m allowing a check in here and there to stay somewhat loosely connected to ensure a smooth transition back but mostly to ease nerves. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Schedule regular check-ins with your employees and contractors to stay informed of any updates or changes (without opening the client floodgates!)
- Check your emails once a week (or even once every two weeks depending on the time you take off)
- Skip social media one day and replace it with industry news or a podcast related to your field
- If you would prefer to feel more productive while out, prior to going out on leave, set 2-3 SMALL goals that you might want to achieve that will help your business during your maternity leave.
- For example, if you want to attract 5 new clients by the end of the calendar year, you can research new outreach tactics, create new cold-call email templates, etc. that can be used once you return from maternity leave. Basically, the things you never had time for while working in the business instead of on it!
Returning to Work and Transitioning Back
Step 1: Prepare for your return and reintegration
Returning to work after maternity leave can be challenging, especially if you’ve been away for an extended period of time. I mean hello, you just made a whole freakin’ baby and now you’ve gotta leave them?! For Honey, I’ll be checking in with just our operations manager 4-6 weeks postpartum via Slack once a week and increasing the frequency from there. In order to have a smooth reintegration, try the following:
- Schedule a meeting with your employees and contractors to discuss any updates or changes that occurred during your absence.
- Develop a plan for transitioning back to your responsibilities prior to going out on leave so you’re not left scrambling on the day you return
- Meet with your clients to discuss any updates or changes to their projects.
- Consider a gradual return to work schedule to ease the transition if possible! For example, start back 2 days a week and work your way up or even 2 hours per week at the beginning.
Step 2: Childcare and support
This will be hard. I know it and my baby is not even here! As business owners, we’re natural high achievers and think we can do it all but I know even now that I can not and do not want to try and balance a full-time business and being a full-time stay at home mom. I do not have an answer nor do I know what this will truly look or feel like but I’m trying to consider what feels good to me and my family while wanting to respect my business and baby.
Encouragement and support for small business owners
Maternity leave for small business owners isn’t typical. The brain never quite shuts off and a successful entrepreneur can’t just shutter her business. But honey, it is possible to nurture both babies at once with a little bit of planning, foresight and a team you trust and rely on!
Newborn days are beautiful, messy, chaotic, and fulfilling. But they are just that – days. If you keep your mind on the long game, you’ll get through it with a business that hopefully remains steady and a sweet baby you can’t take your eyes off of.
To the mamas and business owners who are crushing both roles – you’ve got this!