When you own your own business, maternity leave sounds impossible. You have built something so important to you -- something intrinsic to your identity -- and you can’t imagine how it can run without you. But when you’re about to welcome a new baby into your life, finding a way to take this time is critical.
I started my business, eDrop-Off, as a graduate school project. We are an eBay fashion consignment retailer based in Chicago with 35 employees, running both a storefront and 3,000 square feet of working space to support our online business. We consign and ship internationally and have grown consistently since starting in 2004.
I’ve worked very hard to grow my business. Like many women, I spent my 20s focusing on my career. It wasn’t until my 30s that it felt like the right time to start growing my family as well.
Once pregnant, I faced the scary prospect of leaving my beloved company behind for months. Beyond a little vacation time, I had never had to leave every detail -- big and small -- in the hands of others before. It felt like my life was going to capsize.
However, moms are in luck in one big regard -- time. I had seven or eight months to plan for being away from the office. While some people feel like a super hero and return work very quickly after the baby is born, I think it's best to take around 12 weeks away from work.
As I began planning, I began delegating. Tasks that I never believed anyone else in my business could do were suddenly handed over to them. I delegated tasks that I realized should have been passed to employees long ago. As I trained my staff, I grew more confident in them, and I imagined my role differently for when I returned. I could focus on growth opportunities and new projects since I now knew the business could run itself without me being involved in every small decision.
One of the biggest things I thought about while planning my maternity leave was how life was going to work when I finally went back to the office. Running a business on eBay naturally gives you some flexibility -- working from home, running invoices at night -- but when you have a staff and a storefront, you need to feel comfortable leaving home as well.
The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” is especially true for a business owner. Getting a solid care plan in place, whether that be through family or through nannies, is critical. If you are at work worrying if your child is okay at home, you won’t be productive. When your child is in good care, you can do better work.
Having my daughter Zelda has not only been one of the greatest blessings my life, but also of my career. It has put so much into perspective. Preparing for maternity leave and seeing my team succeed instilled in me a greater trust and faith in my employees and what they can handle.
Experiencing the stress when my child is sick has made me a better manager and more compassionate towards outside forces impacting my staff. I can now fully understand someone needing to leave a bit early to handle a child’s hissy fit at preschool. I know they will work twice as hard if I allow more workplace flexibility.
You can have it all as an entrepreneur and mom. It just takes a little foresight and planning to have it all with confidence.