I’ve had a lot of people commenting how organised and planned I am about getting my business ready for maternity leave and how they are envious that I can actually take some time off without worrying the business will stall.
So I wanted to share what I have been doing over the last few months and provide my tips for a low stress maternity leave.
Many of these tips relate to hiring an assistant which will likely be a key part of your strategy. I could write a book on how to do this well and the mistakes I have made over time but I will try to keep it to a couple of quick tips however Chris Ducker has written a book and it is said to be brilliant.
So what are my top tips to get your business ready for maternity leave ?
1. Get clear on what you want your maternity leave to be
Almost as soon as you are pregnant start thinking about what your goals are post baby relating to your business. Do you want to go straight back to the business, reduce your hours, take 3, 6 or 12 months off or outsource your work long term to someone else ? Everything else you do really depends on what your goals are.
2. Get familiar with any provisions for taking governmental support
You need to know what financial support you are entitled to and you also want to make sure you understand the conditions. The last thing you want to happen is to be audited and end up having to pay the money back + a fine. In Australia we currently have a paid parental leave scheme that applies to people running their own business. You have to stop working for the period of time you take the payments (up to 18 weeks).
3. Have a plan and schedule work before the baby
So once again almost as soon as you know you are pregnant take a look at your business plans and schedule for the next 12 months.
- Are there any commitments you now can’t make due to travel or time off?
- If you run eCourses or group programs like me are there any that need to be rescheduled to fit in with your timeframes?
- Can you adjust your schedules to do more work before the baby arrives?
I have had a crazy 3 months promoting two of my own programs and one affiliate program but that was necessary if I wanted to take time off. I have also written a heap of content upfront for a program that will run whilst I am on maternity leave.
A calm maternity leave often means a crazy six months leading up to it!
4. Develop some passive income
Often we can’t take time off from our business for financial reasons. One of the best ways that you can set yourself up to have this time with your baby is to develop some passive income that will bring in income whilst you are not working. So get prepared ahead of time and develop an eBook, enroll anytime eCourses or have some affiliate links (to trusted products) or your site and have some automated systems to sell these to people such as a pre-recorded webinar and facebook ads to automatically attract and promote to new leads.
5. Give clients plenty of notice
This will depend on your business and what you plan to do with it post baby but being a coaching business I gave both my existing clients and potential clients plenty of notice about my time off with baby. I made sure that all my existing coaching commitments were met before I went on leave and that people realised I was not taking on any more clients for the rest of 2014.
6. Bring in some support ahead of time
Especially if you plan to take the paid parental leave you will likely need some level of support to keep your business going whilst you are not meant to be (and don’t want to be) working.
The most effective way to do this is through a virtual assistant as in many cases you are not obligated to meet any minimum hours and you can use them as you need them allocating all sorts of work during your leave. In my opinion this will also help you if you were audited by the government down the track.
I sourced a fantastic VA in Australia via the service Virtually Yours but if you are looking for a high number of hours (think 20 hours a week) at a lower price Virtual Elves or Virtual Staff Finder offer a great offshore sourcing service that interviews and matches you with skilled assistants offshore.
You want to bring in someone ahead of time to give yourself plenty of time to get used to delegating (us entrepreneurs tend to want to do it all!), train them, set up effective systems and get your customers or clients used to dealing with an assistant rather than you. Also you won’t always find the right fit the first time so you want to give yourself enough time in case your assistant does not work out for whatever reason.
7. Write Procedures & record training or instructions
It is really important to invest time in training your assistant – hopefully not how to use a particular system or tool as you will have hopefully sourced someone with the technical skills – but to train them how YOU like things done. They are not mind readers.
I highly recommend developing written procedures, screen shots or video recordings of the work you want them to do.
This makes on-boarding them much quicker but it also means if they don’t work out or quit you have these to quickly and easily train up the next person.
Yes it might take 10 minutes of your time to do each instruction – but then you are technically free of that task forever.
I also recommend a help desk email system such as Zendesk or Help Scout where you can allocate emails to your assistant via your iphone or ipad (whilst breastfeeding…) and then track their response without worrying about constant cc’ing into emails and remembering whether you asked them to respond or not.
8. Plan and schedule your social media and blogs
You might be really planned and disciplined about this already but (particularly if you are not) I recommend pre-writing at least 3 months worth of social media updates that you can then delegate to your assistant to schedule.
Think about updates that will keep your audience engaged such as inspiring quotes, useful articles, relevant tips, great tools or whatever it is that suits your business. I highly recommend writing these yourself so that it is in your authentic voice and brand but then having your assistant schedule them. One thing I did was collected quotes I loved on a pinterest board and then had my assistant turn some of them into branded quotes on Canva (another task you can do really easily from an iphone or ipad whilst holding baby).
Again with blogs try to set aside time to write 10-12 blogs that can be scheduled over the first few months after baby. If you don’t have time for this in the months leading up to your maternity leave seek guest blogs from relevant experts to schedule. This at least keeps your website regularly updated (good for SEO) and provides good content for your existing audience. Again I highly recommend training an assistant to upload and schedule these blogs for you.
9. Set up an autoresponder sequence
An autoresponder sequence is a series of emails that people get after subscribing to your list. This is a great thing to have generally in business but especially if you are on maternity leave and will be blogging and emailing your list less often.
An autoresponder sequence should comprise 4-6 emails that people receive over time that provide value and let them get to know your business. Many people use them purely to sell which is a recipe for mass unsubscribes or they send them too frequently which tends to have the same effect. Unless the information is helping solve a specific problem your subscriber has I recommend sending no more than 2/week and I really prefer once a week.
Think about including things such as a list of useful resources, links to 2-3 of your most popular blogs, a case study of someone who has worked with you, a funny story that helps people get to know you and perhaps 1-2 links to passive income products.
You can read more about a good autoresponder sequence here.
10. Set up an email reply
Many smart entrepreneurs are taking control of their email at all times by having an auto-response to emails received. These autoresponders set boundaries and expectations and direct people to relevant resources or answers to their questions.
Whilst on maternity leave I recommend an automated email reply that covers things such as:
- details of your time off and when you will start taking clients or running programs again
- the regularity you will be checking emails
- the email your assistant can be contacted on for urgent enquiries
- links to a resources page or FAQ page
- boundaries around anything you will not do or respond to (such as interviews, media, promotional emails etc…)
The point is to set some boundaries and make it clear there will be a delay in responding and where possible direct people to a FAQ page or your assistant.
You probably receive these sorts of email replies regularly from other entrepreneurs – keep an eye out to get inspired about your own one.
11. Review expenses
Now is a really good time to review all your recurring expenses from last month and see if there are any that you don’t need or use any more or any that may not be relevant whilst you are on leave. For example you might normally use a webinar service but don’t plan to run any for 3 months – save yourself some money and cancel or put it on hold for a while.
12. Have some optional creative projects
Now if you are anything like me it is highly unlikely your brain will just magically switch off and you will turn into a mother goddess who thinks only of your baby for the next 3,6,12 months and beyond. You will likely get ideas at the craziest times like 3am while feeding your baby so keep a notebook close at hand!
It is likely (and natural and healthy) for you to want to have a project or two to work on.
The key is they shouldn’t be projects with people relying on you or tight time frames. They should be creative and fun projects you can chip away at during days and weeks when you are getting enough sleep and your baby is happy and healthy.
Maternity leave is the perfect time to get a bit introspective and think about where you want the business to head in the future. For this reason, you might want to source some business planning tools to slowly work on when inspiration strikes.
13. Shit happens
OK so I am not saying this is going to be easy….in fact it might be the hardest thing you ever do. But if you follow some of these tips you can make it a more planned, calm and organised time and give yourself a real chance of taking some time to bond with your baby. I’ll keep you posted on how I go…..