Maternity leave when you run your own business? Heather Baker shares her story

Gal Godot makes an excellent Wonder Woman – she fights injustice, swings her shield, falls in love and saves the day. She might just be a comic book character brought to life on the big screen, but her ambitious to-do list resonates with many women today.

That said, embracing your inner Wonder Woman doesn’t come easily. Successfully managing a hefty life-load requires a change in priorities and most importantly – asking for help. As a small business owner and former workaholic who gave birth to my first child in September last year, I get it. I now know that in order to have it all, you can’t do it all. Here’s what I focused on to ensure that giving birth didn’t knock my business sideways.

Get your whole team involved

Having a baby is both exciting and disruptive – a bit like on-boarding a new client. With that in mind, I approached maternity leave like a kick off meeting with a new client: I did a lot of research, set tasks and got the whole TopLine team involved.

I used to struggle with delegating tasks. As maternity leave loomed though, I knew I had to train my employees thoroughly and hand over as much responsibility as possible. It’s hard for a committed workaholic to relinquish control, but you have to train your employees to make sure they feel prepared and confident in your absence.

Take the time to help boost their skills. Gearing your team up to take on more management work will require your guidance and advice. Set up a weekly meeting to brief them on clients and projects, and to check in on their progress. Encourage feedback and ask them where they see any potential problems arising.

Ensuring a smooth transition

The devil is in the detail. When it comes to ensuring business continuity, no task is too small. Make a list of every operational thing that needs to be done on a regular basis and then delegate responsibility so that nothing falls between the cracks while you’re away. By creating an extensive list, you can easily plan for, and most importantly, prevent all eventualities.

For example, who will sign-off on payroll? Should the website go down, whose job is it to sort out? Make sure those responsible have the usernames and passwords they need to get the job done. And should they face something seemingly insurmountable, put in place an emergency process to keep downtime to a minimum.

Stay in touch 

Maternity leave may feel like another planet, but there’s no need to disappear completely. Create a communication plan so your whole team knows when and how to get in touch with you. You don’t want to be swamped with emails and calls at all times of the day so appoint one or two employees as your communication touch points. A weekly roundup email also helps relieve stress – both yours and the team’s.

Be strict though, and limit yourself to only respond to the most critical business decisions such as company finances. Don’t lose track of your business’ cashflow for one second: I put systems in place that kept me updated and automatically tuned in.

Let the clients know

In addition to preparing your team and assigning operational admin, you need to let your clients know a few months in advance. They won’t appreciate finding out at the 11th hour – you need to give them time to get used to the idea that you won’t be available for a while. Allowing for plenty of time gives clients an opportunity to check-in with you in person and trouble-shoot any concerns they may have. It also gives you plenty of time to introduce them to their new senior contact and help develop that relationship.

Rather than panic at the thought of being out-of-the-loop, embrace the distance. Use your maternity leave to reflect upon the overall mission and direction of your business. Taking a step back can be extremely helpful: it allows you to discover what needs attention and understand where and why the company is doing well.

I’ve been back at the helm now for ten months. The business survived without me! There were no fires to put out, old clients are happy and new ones are knocking. Of course, life changes significantly with a baby in the mix. I’m managing to balance motherhood with work thanks to a lot of help from my team. Remember, not even Wonder Woman saved the world on her own.

Heather Baker is founder and CEO of TopLine Comms, a b2b PR agency obsessed with generating leads for their clients. She’s also mum to an 18-month old human and London’s coolest office dog.

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