Tips for Accountants for Planning a Successful Maternity Leave
Two big, bright blue eyes gazed up from hospital-provided receiving blankets. For those with kids, you know the ones I mean – the faded blue and pink striped numbers that you use until you are safely ensconced in your own hospital room and can wrap your little wee one up in something a more personal from your own bag.
This second go-round in parenthood was markedly different from the last time. With my daughter, Abby, I was still working part-time as a controller for a local business, and had some leeway when taking time off. When we learned we were expecting Derrick, I was into the third year of owning my own business; the idea of balancing a new baby with business ownership was slightly daunting, to say the least.
But, this girl has always loved a challenge! Like any project, I broke the process into some manageable steps. However, even with a few hiccups, maternity leave did not impact the business the way it could have, and I got to enjoy some great family time with our son.
Here are the steps:
Step 1: I planned for someone to take over my workload and gave them time to train
Around the fourth month of my pregnancy, I started recruiting help. In my case, I was lucky and ran into a fellow consultant, Sarah. I am a control freak (can any of my fellow accountants relate?), so finding Sarah really pushed me to let go of a lot of tasks I had previously really fought letting go of.
Note to the wise: Could I have found someone with little business management experience to help me? Yes, but I felt a lot better knowing I had someone who knew exactly what shoes I was walking in, and now, if I want to take a vacation, I’m not tied to a smartphone the whole time. This step was not only great for parenthood, but also for building some work-life balance in general. An additional benefit? I built confidence in growing my small business and saw firsthand the power a good hire has for a company. Today, even with me back to work, Sarah is still a crucial part of the team.
Step 2: I trained Sarah
I gave Sarah and some other new team members a mix of the projects I work on, and l moved from the primary role with my clients to a secondary position. This piece was scary (let’s revisit control freak), but in moving to a non-lead role, I was able to give the staff time to acclimate, as well as work on projects that I had been unable to work on before. The business actually grew quite a bit during this time.
Step 3: I built an infrastructure.
Toward the end of my pregnancy, I knew Sarah and our other team members needed help, as well as structure. Every small business has this happen, where individuals go from wearing many hats to specializing in fewer ones. I wanted to make sure that things would go smoothly without me for a short time.
I brought in an office assistant to help keep the team cohesive, as well as two technical specialists, one for our QuickBooks POS clients and one for accounting clients. That left Sarah as the second in command, with backup in case things became too busy. I also kept a short list of additional resources in case we needed more help. I hate to use the word “turnkey,” but we had to make sure that 90% of the business was just that.
Another tip? I planned ahead for a few slow months while I was gone. Having a baby in the middle of busy season was going to impact us no matter what preparations we put into play, and I knew that the baby was more important than work, so I worked to make sure we planned ahead.
Step 4: I stepped away.
About two weeks before my due date, I stepped completely away. I even let a few calls go to voicemail. I let the team know that I was available in an emergency, but that I needed some family time and trusted them to keep moving. I limited involvement to major issues and tried to stay focused on getting ready for our new arrival.
Now, back to the big day.
I was blessed to know that when I looked into those baby blues, work was taken care of and I didn’t have to immediately stress about returning. I switched software for baby bottles, and worked schedules for sleepless nights and round the clock feedings. Now, two and a half months after Derrick’s arrival, I’ve been back in the office and ramping back up for a few weeks.
I actually had my first full night of sleep last night (yay, Derrick!), so I’m feeling pretty good and ready to take on the world. From my standpoint, motherhood and business ownership are not exclusive of one another. In learning to manage both parts of my life in recognition of the other, and in setting priorities, I’m getting to build a business that my children can one day be a part of – if they choose! Two decades from now, what will life be like for them when it’s time for maternity leave?