When I started my company, motherhood was the furthest thing from my mind. I knew it was in my future, but I only thought of it as a distant, faraway land I’d encounter after my business became a success. I was elated and scared when I found out I was pregnant, and I remember feeling so conflicted and stretched – pulled from end to end on the spectrum of emotions.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that becoming a mother was good for business, but it took a lot of work to make it happen. I was less than one year into starting my company at the time and eagerly collected learnings from the many people who came before me. Here are a few tips to set up your new business for success during family leave.
Take time off (really)
It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s critically important for you to take time off. This is when your team will become self-sufficient and fill any important gaps that come to light. The more you can separate yourself from the business, the better. If you’re responding to emails or popping in, you’ll confuse your team and slow down progress. If you own the business, it may be unrealistic for you to step away completely; however, you must be clear and resolute in confining your activity to a set schedule and isolating it to as few people as possible.
Unfortunately, paid family leave isn’t guaranteed in the US, so we encourage you to take any time off that you can. By the time you return from leave, your team will likely have developed new skills or gained experiences which also allow you to prioritize other important work upon your return. As your team rises to the occasion, your company will inevitably benefit from all that “leveling up” for months and years to come.
Be ruthless about prioritization
If you’ve ever come up with a to-do list only to categorize every task as a high priority, you’re doing it wrong. I’m not the best with prioritization. I naturally want to do everything and all at the same time. But over time, I’ve learned to let go and focus on the things that matter. Quarterly and annual OKRs (objectives and key results) are helpful in determining what needs to happen now and what can wait. For example, if your OKR is achieving 50% sales growth this quarter, prioritizing sales training over a company rebranding is likely the way to go.
Before my maternity leave, I led an annual strategy and planning session that produced a crystal clear set of OKRs, with revenue growth at the top of the list. The team was able to coalesce around a handful of objectives and key results, making it much easier to go after each one with limited oversight or guidance. While our team meetings have always been full of great discussion and new ideas, we’re now also regularly talking about what we can deprioritize and how to isolate experiments to just 1 or 2 people rather than the whole team. By taking time off, I was forced to weave ruthless prioritization into our culture which continues to permeate the business today.
Focus on the finances
Family leave is the best time to set up or strengthen a framework that supports the financial health of your business. Financial projections, P&L statements, and general cash management can be daunting with the endless numbers involved, but take the time to build tools and process that can scale with your business, including:
- Customized reporting templates and graphs that automatically update (even better if your accounting software does this for you)
- Easy-to-use financial models to project revenues and expenses that anyone can update
- A checks and balances system for all capital and operating expenses
- A resource center for anything related to accounting and finance (for example, a detailed expense categorization reference guide so the P&L isn’t a mess when you return)
In the early days of any business, managing your business finances can be a very manual process with ad hoc requirements coming up everyday. Whatever your situation is, make sure there’s a responsible person that can step in for you, leveraging the tools and processes you’ve established to assess your company’s financial health. And whether you have all of the above already, or none of it, your business will benefit from a financial “makeover,” so think about family leave as the kick in the butt you needed.
Looking back, I’m thankful I had the choice to decide when to have a baby. I’m also thankful to my team and investors for their unwavering support before, during, and after pregnancy. Your team is everything, so make sure they’re taken care of and let them fly. And remember, the work required to prepare for maternity or paternity leave is the same work your business needs to thrive in the long run, just condensed into a few months. It may be a stressful process, but I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.