As the owner of my own Ella Baché Franchise Salon, I’m happy to admit I am a bit of a control freak. I want to know what’s going on at all times, and spend as much time as I can working in the salon alongside my fantastic team of therapists. I never really stopped to think what would happen if I couldn’t be there every day.
Nearly nine months ago however, I got some wonderful news that forced me to face this prospect as a soon to be reality. For the first time in nearly a decade, I am going to have to take an extended period off work, leaving responsibility in someone else’s hands. After my initial freak out, I took stock and looked hard at my business to work out what I would need to do to essentially replace myself for a period of time.
Now that news of my little one is public, there are two questions that I am often asked by the people who know how attached I am to my business.
The first is, ‘How on earth are you going to leave your beloved business for so long?’
The best thing about pregnancy is that you get nine months to prepare for it.
So, when I found out I was expecting, I was able to immediately begin getting everything organised and processed to run smoothly while I took some time out.
Having my own business actually made this a lot easier, allowing me the flexibility and freedom to work around my pregnancy in the way that I wanted to. This would have been far more challenging in a corporate environment.
Firstly, I focused on putting together a fantastic team of staff, ensuring that each of them would be an asset in my absence. A dedicated and passionate team of staff is a business owner’s biggest strength, and a general evaluation of your staff is never a waste of time. You have to be confident you have the right people you can trust in your business.
Next, I did an in depth evaluation of my own role. I listed every single element of my position, from the big, important jobs all the way down to the small, everyday ones. Then I delegated these roles to existing members of my team, ensuring that the person would be capable and have the time to complete the job in my absence.
The worst thing a business owner going on sabbatical can do is to leave their business understaffed or under resourced, so if you know your team will need extra help while you are away, hire extra help.
I made contact with the incredibly supportive Ella Baché head office, who helped me reassess all of our day to day business processes to ensure that they were all running efficiently, minimising the risk of hiccups while I was away.
In the unlikely event something should go wrong, my staff know that head office are only a phone call away and can offer advice, assistance and support. A benefit only franchising offers a small business owner.
Finally, my sister, who is also my business partner, is under strict instructions to stay across all of the day to day happenings of the salon and to keep me in the loop with a constant stream of updates. Easier said than done, as she normally works in the behind the scenes parts of the business and isn’t used to being a total control freak.
To help with this, I put together a weekly report template, which she and the team can fill in and send through to me week by week, that will ensure I am kept up to date with the key performance indicators I need to know to assess the state of the business at any given time.
The second question I get asked is, ‘When do you think you’ll go back to work, and when you do, how are you going to juggle being a Mum and a business owner?”
At this stage I’m trying to not get ahead of myself, although there are definitely times I feel like I might be stopping off on my way home from the hospital, new baby in arms, just to check in and make sure everything is going ok.
I have been told by many wise people that the new little person in my life is going to change everything, and so have given a tentative, maybe if I feel up to it, return to part time work date of about six months away.
Of course, should I get to that time and the prospect of leaving my little bundle of joy is too unbearable, I have faith that the processes, reporting and management structure that I have worked to put into place in my absence will continue to ensure the success of my business. I would recommend leaving your ‘return to work’ date as flexible as possible.You have worked hard to give yourself a level of freedom during this precious time, again, this is a lot easier as a small business owner than it would be in the corporate world.
While the prospect of leaving my ‘first baby’ is daunting, the process I have gone through to prepare has made my business more efficient and stronger, and baby or not examining ways to make your business better should be part of a review every year.
Sometimes you need an extra special motivator to put the wheels in motion though.
Katie’s Top 5 Tips for taking maternity leave from your business:
- Get organised. Don’t leave your planning until you’ve got a month left until you pop. Once you know it’s for real, get moving. The more time to you have to prepare the better.
- Re-assess your staff. A general evaluation of your staff is never a waste of time, and you want to ensure that each staff member will be an asset in your absence. It’s not a time to be carrying ‘OK’ staff, you only want the best.
- Prepare a list of your core responsibilities, and begin to think of whom among your team might be best suited to take on each role in your absence. You may need to hire extra staff, which can involve extra work in the short term, but will pay off long-term.
- Prepare a weekly report that your management team can fill in to keep you up to date on the key performance aspects of the business.
- Trust your staff. You chose them for a reason, and they will look after your business. Enjoy your time off with your new baby – it will be over all too quickly.
I would love to hear from other business owners who have taken time off to have babies, and how they have handled life post-maternity leave, so please feel free to leave a comment with your stories, advice and experiences!
Katie Mills is the owner of Ella Baché Pacific Fair, the number one operating salon in Australia. She has operated her own salon for the past six years.