How to Plan for Maternity Leave as an Entrepreneur

Business Tips, Personal

Nov 7, 2018

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I’ve long dreamed about the day I’d been putting these maternity leave plans into action. In fact, during our season of infertility & waiting for a sweet babe, I often would reference extra work I was doing & dollars earned as being a “nest.” I’d stock pile a bit for the hope that one day I’d be able to put it to use celebrating an addition to the family.

I’ve shifted my business greatly over the past 2 years. I’ve said yes to extra work to allow for the income to budget for time away from my business. But more recently, I’ve said no to extra work to prepare our hearts and home for a baby… and my business for some time away from my biz baby. (And honestly… I NEVER EVER thought it would be possible to take time away… I’m not that kind of girl… yet HERE I AM.)

And much to my disbelief that the time has actually come, and joy to celebrate it all, I officially will be checking out in just under 2 weeks for an extended period of time as Baby C joins our crew!

Maternity Leave is a bit of an interesting topic in the entrepreneurial world. See, taking time away from the business essentially means saying no to income for a chunk of time. There is no “paid time off” as a creative entrepreneur. No boss that allows you extended time away to care for a tiny babe, with guarantee your job will be there waiting for you. And in fact, often entrepreneurs don’t even have the luxury to take any kind of maternity leave due to financial needs, how far ahead we plan our years, or other constraints.

Everyone is different, but if there is one thing that is consistent… taking any length of time out of your business is tough & requires a hefty dose of planning – whether it’s a weeklong vacation, a month-long sabbatical, or many months for maternity leave or time off.

During prep, I listened to a podcast from Michael Hyatt (that I found on Nancy Ray’s blog!) and one line really struck me.

“Taking a sabbatical – and this is true whether you take one day a week off or one month off a year – it’s an act of faith.” – Michael Hyatt

It’s so true.

Taking any time away from our businesses is an act of faith – a belief that business will still run without you… and truly for me… a belief that business will still be there when I get back. “I don’t want to become obsolete. I don’t want people to forget about me while I am away and have no business when I return.” I said that a lot at the start of pregnancy. I was truly worried about it. And it was all out of silly fear & concern for “enough” & lack of belief that He will provide exactly what we need, when we need it.

And things have shifted a bit in the last 8 months…

As a result, when the time officially came, and that tiny heartbeat was pounding inside my belly, I had a choice to make.

Would I believe & take that act of faith? Pursuing what I’d been hoping for for so long?

or

Would I resort to my natural tendency of choosing control & overworking… out of fear for what stepping away for a bit might mean?

It was hard to wrestle with in the beginning. And I felt totally guilty for it. But I was fearful of what it meant to take time off… and not just like… a week… but like… months.

Why would I NOT want to take an extended period of time away from my business? Shouldn’t I want to spend all the time for the rest of eternity with my future child? (*cue what I imagine is future mamapreneur guilt…*)

But also, why would I want to leave my business high & dry?! I love this business.

There’s a happy medium in between those lines of thought, friends.

After much prayer, conversation with Chip, & consideration, I made the decision. In fact, one conversation with my biz bestie, Megan Martin, solidified it for me. She said: “Not everyone has the opportunity to do what you’re talking about. What a shame it would be if you didn’t take a maternity leave.” Truth. I’d been planning & budgeting & prepping for this long before there were 2 lines on that pregnancy test, and now was the time to put my money where my mouth is.

So then, the prep began… & now, here I am 2 weeks before it starts and feeling so darn thankful (and pretty amazed) that it’s coming together!

maternity leave prep for solopreneur

If you’re planning for maternity leave or to take any kind of extended period of time away from your business, here are some tips!

1. Set your dates

Before we got pregnant, I envisioned planning the perfect time to have a baby. Then… after a year of no baby & hoping & praying, I really would take a baby at any point in time! 😉 However, I will say, I’m pretty excited about having a little one arrive in December, just before cozy snuggles by the Christmas tree with apple cider in hand. Sounds like a dream. However, holidays (and this fall in particular with my sister’s wedding last weekend!) are crazy around Casa de Carnes. So I knew I needed to take that into account!

When you’re planning for your time away, start by assessing what important dates, holidays, or even seasons/launches are happening in your world. Pick your maternity leave start date a bit before your due date, in case babe arrives early, but per the recommendation of my dear friend Kat Schmoyer, don’t start too early or you might get antsy. Based on hosting Thanksgiving, I decided my official maternity leave would kick off November 19 – just before Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday!) – so I can be fully present with family & not feel rushed trying to do too many things at once. I have a few non-essential “wish list” items I’d love to do after that for fun (and to keep me occupied), but if they don’t happen, no harm no foul!

And your end date…

As far as an end date, this was tough for me. While I felt guilty for being excited about work, I also felt guilty about wanting to be with my baby and away from business. (Literally, I’ve worked fairly consistently since junior year of college… that’s nearly 10 years without a break… so a break might not be so bad after all – ha!) After assessing important dates in the spring & thinking through what our family’s life will look like (Chip’s final months of residency & studying for boards, packing our house to move, etc.), I decided April 1 would be the official “back to work” date… with a bit of pre-scheduled things in late-February/March… and once April 1 came, I’d still ease myself back in – especially knowing we have our move in June, travel in July, and Chip starting his career in August. All this is said knowing that I may change my mind completely (see #10) and WANT to do some work. And I love that I have that flexibility to say YES if and when I am ready!

Because we’ll only be in Augusta until June 1, we won’t be pursuing any kind of consistent childcare for April/May, so I am aiming to be realistic with what my work schedule will be. Yes, I could start churning out work & bringing in the $$$ quicker, but I keep reminding myself that I have budgeted for this… and it’d be a shame to not take advantage of it (thanks, Megan!).

Plus my mantra has been: “Paying off loans a few months quicker isn’t worth sacrificing the first few months of my first born’s life.” It just isn’t. Loans (or whatever you’re working toward) can wait. Your little one can’t.

2. Budget in advance

This one begins far before you even find out you’re having a babe. During the year leading up to when we knew we’d love to have kids, I was intentional about setting aside additional income to pay myself steadily if/when the time came for a maternity leave. Expenses don’t go anywhere – and so I knew my salary couldn’t either. As my own boss, I had to plan for my own “paid leave.” Yes I worked my butt off… but I took on extra work here & there to add money to the nest. For example: if you typically take on 15 weddings in a year, consider taking on 17, and allocating the profit from the extra 2 weddings specifically to your maternity leave salary. It’s extra work, yes, but will afford you time away when you need it.

Also, work with a financial coach to determine your best way to allocate funds in preparation & during your leave – I did a coaching session with Brooke Olsen Consulting at the beginning of pregnancy (which was already scheduled before we knew I was pregnant… and ended up being such a fun surprise to share with her!) that was an absolute gamechanger for mindset & financial prep! Now, while it’s scary to know the “nest” in my bank account will dwindle, it’s amazing to know exactly where the funds will go & how they will support our family during this time.

3. Talk to other mamas

In addition to the blog posts I’ll link throughout, I did plenty of research in planning about how other people prepped. Reach out to mamapreneurs you trust & get their thoughts on what worked for them, what they’d change, and if they have any recommendations. Talk to other mamas who have been there, done that, and then apply their experiences to you & your life. Know that not everything is going to work for everyone, but gaining insight & wisdom from a select few people is key. Aka: sometimes opinions from the MASS of peanut gallery members is more overwhelming than helpful. As with all content consumption, tailor the voices in your ear.

One last thing that was hugely helpful for me, was getting on a Zoom call with Ginny Krauss – mama of 2, awesome business woman, and expat living in Germany. Her insights on maternity leave & the difference in American mentality on work & motherhood and European mentality helped immensely… and gave me the final push & permission I needed to make decisions based on our needs, rather than what our society deems “normal.”

planning for maternity leave as a small business owner

4. Communicate with current & future clients

Communication is key – early & often! This is a season people want to & will celebrate with you, but it also can bring some anxiety for current & future clients if they find out through the grapevine that you’ll be out of commission for them. Make a list of any ongoing clients who might be impacted by your time away, as well as any clients whose wedding dates/launch dates/etc. are right around your due date. Depending on your timing, you may have to have conversations to ensure everyone is set up well to eliminate stress in case you can’t be present to serve how you anticipated… but solving the problem before it’s a problem is key here! Come up with alternatives & present them to your clients who you may need to change plans on!

Additionally, make a list of future wedding clients who you’ll want to keep in the know so they don’t wonder where you’ve gone during your months away. Even in conversations with potential couples for 2019, I’ve let them know that I’ll be away for the first few months of the year so they don’t feel as though they miss out on access to their photographer during wedding planning. (However, all of those clients don’t actually need me until it’s time for their timeline planning, which is later in spring regardless!) More than anything, keep all clients in the know & you’ll save yourself extra heartache & headache!

5. Talk about it publicly

Talk about your maternity leave prep & planning on social media. The goal here is to do a couple things: 1. Remind people you won’t be so available so it’s less of a surprise when the time comes. 2. Move people to action who have been waiting around to sign on for your services or book you. 3. Get people on a wait list for when you return! For example: my coaching calendar has been booked out for the summer/fall for months with some amazing clients… so any time I’ve received inquires, I’ve added potential clients to my wait list for if I opened up additional time prior to maternity leave, and if not, for immediately when I return! That way, I am able to reach out prior to maternity leave ending & kick off again when I return. Plus, it’s my goal that talking about maternity leave in my business will help “normalize” it a bit and give other mamas permission to take the time off they need!

PS: if you’d like to get on my wait list for communications coaching or photography sessions, email me at lauren @ laurencarnes.com & we’ll get you squared away to be the first to know!

6. Prep content ahead of time

How many months are you planning on taking off? Begin prepping content that many months in advance. Example: I’m planning on taking about 4 months off from being actively in the day-to-day of business. With maternity leave starting at the end of November, I began planning & creating content in July. I’ll share more about how create 4 months worth of content in advance next week, but until then, you can pen in your calendar your content prep start date right now! 😉 And if you’re behind… don’t worry – we’ll get you situated! 😉

7. Don’t be afraid to hire help

What are the things that you absolutely must do “live” in your business? Make a list of those items, and then categorize them into what can be prepped ahead of time (then revisit #5) and what must be done live. Then, consider hiring help for those items! I’m still finalizing all those little details, but I’ve gotten my “do live” things down to so very few items to make it easier for anyone to come in and help!

For example: I love to do a double check on my content before it officially goes out each week. Read through, make edits or updates as needed, and even add additional graphics or photos. That’s easy for someone to tend to if I need the help! Additionally, while some people delete every email during their time away (like Lauren of Elle & Co), I knew I wanted to at least check through my inbox to sort emails based on need & be available to respond to urgent ones for current clients or inquiries for post-maternity leave. I’ve also unsubscribed from nearly every email list to eliminate the temptation to get in my inbox and read all the extra emails (or eliminate the need to pay a VA to do so!). More than anything, assess based on your particular situation if hiring VA to help could help you be more present & ensure that all the t’s are crossed and i’s dotted while you’re away!

8. Update your e-mail signature

Once you’ve officially decided your dates, go ahead and update your e-mail signature with your plans to start preparing people – as time goes on, you’ll want to include an e-mail auto-responder to let people know that you’ll be out of office, and what their next steps are to get connected with you further. I include a portion in my signature of: Upcoming Events & Travel 100% of the time, so this is a perfect spot to add it on in advance.

Here’s what mine looks like at the time of writing this post. You’ll see it includes work events, personal life events, & travel in general. I’ve actually booked photoshoots & meetings from people seeing my upcoming travel schedule! And it’s helped a lot of the “back & forth” for various other scheduling. Win/win!:

9. Put up that out of office autoresponder

Once your start date is officially here, draft up your away message & put that out of office autoresponder live! And then… remove your business e-mail from your phone if you can’t stay out of it!

Here’s an example of my autoresponder – feel free to tweak to your needs!

Maternity Leave Autoresponder

Hi there!

Hope you’re having an amazing day! Thank you so much for reaching out! I am currently on maternity leave through April 1, 2019, and beyond thrilled for this time welcoming Baby Carnes into our family. In order to be fully present, we will not be actively in email every day and so appreciate your understanding. However, I’d love to invite you to follow along on our adventures into parenthood on Instagram at @LaurenLCarnes!
What to expect…
 
Current & Potential Photography & Communications Clients: If you’re a current client or inquiring about a photoshoot, wedding photography, or communications coaching, you’ll hear back from my team (or me as I’m able!) ASAP. Thank you so much for your patience as we adjust to this new season of life to come!
 
All other emails: While I won’t be actively in my inbox each day while on Maternity Leave, my team & I plan to pop in here and there to tend to messages based on urgency. We apologize in advance for delays in responses, and appreciate your understanding that we may not be able to respond to every email!
If you’d like to connect with me personally, I encourage you to send me an email again in April! In the mean time, if you’d like direct access to me, you can find me on Instagram at @LaurenLCarnes where I will do my best to respond to Direct Messages over the course of my leave!
 
Connect with me & get free content: I will be sharing the best of communications, marketing, & photography content peppered with foodie fun & mamapreneur updates via my newsletter each Thursday.
 
That’s also where I will share about when I am opening up slots for photography sessions and communications coaching again during the course of my maternity leave. 
 
 
Otherwise, thank you for your understanding and encouragement in this season! Can’t wait for you to see what we have planned for the next few months in the LCP world, both professionally & personally!
 
All the best,
Lauren

10. Give yourself freedom & flexibility TO work

I like working. I always have… and appreciated the reminder from my sweet friend Rhiannon Bosse that there might be a time in maternity leave that I want to do a bit of work. However, also in her post, I’m reminded of keeping my expectations low for what this season will look like and not officially scheduling work & tons of deadlines to accomplish. (With the exception of a few things… and a rescheduled Mastermind Retreat in February due to a hurricane!)

Instead, keeping flexibility & freedom to get into business for a couple hours is key. For someone who genuinely enjoys engaging with people on social media, I intend to have my Instagram remain more “live” than pre-scheduled… ensuring that I can share when I want to without worry, but also knowing that it’s a bit more flexible in this season… and if I don’t feel like sharing, my business is not going to die! 😉

Finally, I think having a bit of outside contact through IG Stories & DMs (my fav!) will be a nice refresher while away from the day-to-day calendar & deadlines. More than anything, I am giving myself margin and grace, but also taking everything one day at a time!

11. Set post-maternity leave goals

Just like you needed to plan content in advance… think about what you’d like to plan for post-maternity leave. Write down some deadlines & plans for after ML. This will help you determine what kind of childcare you’ll need to hire or if you should be looking for daycares now (many have wait lists!).

Still planning to shoot 25 weddings per year? Start seeking weekend help now.

Ready to launch a new course 3 months after you return? Ensure you’re prepping launch content & your team now.

I imagine setting long term goals will make the back to work “culture shock” a bit more manageable. And of course, you know I’ll report back post ML on how all of this prep worked out in reality… and if long term goal setting really helped! I’m already planning some exciting things for when I return & envisioning what’s to come upon our move to Athens for Chip’s new job with Baby C in tow!

Celebrating you!

Finally, friends, I hope this is so helpful for you as you’re preparing for your maternity leave, sabbatical, or extended period of time out of the office. All of those things are so exciting, and I am praying that you’d feel confident & prepared! And if you’re about to become a mama or welcome another little into the world, a giant congrats and all my love to you! I know this is all so thrilling and a bit overwhelming, but know you’re doing it all right! 😉 Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions you have!

how to plan for maternity leave as a creative entrepreneur

PS: If you’d like to hear more Personal Baby C updates as they come along, you can find our pregnancy announcement here, our journey to getting pregnant & infertility story here, and so much more here!

  1. Lindsay Bishop

    December 4th, 2018 at 11:24 am

    Thank you so much for writing this, Lauren! As I work to prep for my own maternity leave coming up next month, all of your tips (and especially your out of office email!) are so super helpful!

  2. Lauren Carnes

    December 5th, 2018 at 7:26 pm

    I’m so glad it was so helpful!! So excited for you and your upcoming babe and maternity leave to get all the snuggles! Let me know if you have any questions at all!

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