When you are self-employed or run your own business, taking maternity leave is a very different thing than when you are employed by someone else and can put your feet up all day. Hahahaha.
I got so tired of that joke. Anyway, even if you are in a position to let others take control and take off formal maternity leave, the worry doesn’t go away when the business is your other baby!
More so than ever before, many mothers are finding ways to earn money working from home. Women entrepreneurs and mum entrepreneurs (or rather 'mumpreneurs' as we must now be called because entrepreneurs can't be mums too, hmm) are on the rise. I started my business before I had kids, but now I have them, am I now a 'mumpreneur?' Anyway, getting distracted.
Whether you are taking off 6 months or a year, or no time at all, if you’re a one-woman band or have a team of people to support you; these tips will help you as you try to juggle business and family life.
Contractions and packing orders don't mix - my story
I was still in full-time paid employment when I was pregnant with my second and would pack orders into the night to get everything done. Although I was technically able to take maternity leave, I knew that I would still be working on my business throughout that time, and things wouldn’t move forward without me. I was very lucky to have my sister, Abby on hand to help out in those first few weeks after Ollie was born, but now I look back it does seem kinda crazy that when I went into labour, my first thought, was ‘oh no, I have orders to pack!’ Abby came over while I was still in early labour and helped pack orders with me. I would stop, have a contraction every 7 minutes, Abby would tell me I needed to chill out and sit down and she’s got this, then the contraction would be over and I’d carry on. Why, I really don't know. Maybe it was a distraction from the pain.
Ollie was born in the middle of January sales, so I wanted to keep going, and I was lucky in that working from home allowed me to run the business around a newborn. I was also lucky because unlike my first child (I know you’re not meant to compare them but hey) this one seemed totally chill for those first few months (boy did he fool me.) With Michael at home for three weeks and a stream of visitors, I just roped in everyone to help. Looking back, though, I wish I had just spent a few quiet weeks with my baby. Come March, I needed a break and took most of the month off from the business to spend time with the kiddies. So I'll share some of my own tips.
Tips for working mums to balance business and baby
1. Take time off
If you can, take off a few weeks at least to enjoy those precious moments with your baby; or not as the case may be, because sore boobs, no sleep and expelling a small human from your body is damn hard. Sometimes it feels like you should be enjoying it more, and that’s OK too, don’t be too hard on yourself, you grew a human, you’re awesome. Either way, though, rest is what you need. If you’re worried about the money you could lose out on, think about how much that time is worth to you. What price would you place on that extra time?
If you’re right in the middle of a busy time and can’t manage it right away, then make sure you take a proper break as soon as you can. Get someone else to answer emails and enquiries from customers, and extend any delivery times for products. Set an out of office for your emails and get back to non-urgent emails at a later date.
2. Routine is everything
This one goes against every fibre of my being. I am not naturally a routine Mum at all, and when Zach was a newborn my business was only just taking off, so I didn’t really need one as much. Insert new baby, a potty-training 2-year-old and a busy business. I needed to know when I would have time to reply to emails, make phone calls and pack orders in peace. I had about three months of coordinated nap times for the boys and it was bliss until someone decided they hated naps. Sometimes just forget about the stuff that needs doing and sit down with a cup of tea, it's essential for your own sanity! If you’re struggling, just start by trying to make meal times, nap times and bedtimes the same each day, and a routine will start to form.
3. Prioritise and organise
If there is anything that will teach you about efficiency, it is having to decide what is most important to get done during nap time. Think about what things are the hardest to do when baby is awake. Is it packing orders, is it writing blog posts or emails, or a cleaning job? I found what helped me the most was making a list at the beginning of the day (I still do this now) with what I had to do that day and then from that list, write my three most important tasks (or MIT’s) and then within that, put a little star next to the ones that had to be done during nap time. That way, the minute they’re asleep, you know exactly what you need to do. The most important thing for me when Ollie was under 6 months was my creative design time or taking photographs because I just couldn’t focus later when I was tired or when the kids were awake. Now that he’s older and gets into everything, if I have orders to pack, I have to do that in nap time as if he is awake in my office because he just trashes it!
If you get a spare moment, I recommend this book to everyone. It is one of the most helpful books I've ever read and helped me to get organised above anything else. I have read it several times.
(That was an affiliate link, I have to tell you that, but seriously, great book)
If you are struggling to get into the flow, and the pressure of using nap time wisely is too stressful, I would really recommend a little routine to get you into the right frame of mind for working. This was a tip I picked up in the aforementioned book. I developed a 5-minute routine, that told my brain, 'right, it's time to work.' It was a simple three steps:
- I put the kettle on in my office and made a cup of peppermint tea.
- I wrote down my three MIT's (most important tasks) on this little sticky note pad from xoxostationery.co.uk.
- I did a 3-minute breathing meditation exercise from gabrielletreanor.com, which you can access here if you sign up to newsletters.
Afterwards, you feel totally energised and focused.
From top left clockwise: 1. The best book to help you be more productive. 2. Co-ordinated naps are the best thing ever. 3. Plan your day and identify your 3 most important tasks. 4.On the move = nothing is safe!
4. Buy the essentials
A rocking chair, a bouncy chair, a crib, a cot, a play mat, a walker, a bumbo, a high chair, the list goes on. There are soo many things you can buy for your baby to sit in, but you don’t need everything. They grow so fast that you will just end up with lots of things you only used for a few weeks. You could find friends and swap and share, or you can just buy the essentials. I would recommend:
- a crib or moses basket when they’re under 6 months, buy a spare if you need it for your office or studio, or borrow one from a friend.
- a high chair for 6 months plus - a box of toys to keep handing them to play with, some raisins when they’re a bit older and you have yourself some hands-free packing time.
- a sling - without a doubt the best piece of kit you will own! This is such a broad topic, that a lovely working mum friend of mine Louise has gone into more detail below.
5. Take it easy
There are some days where all this will not work. It just won’t, and that’s OK. If all you do all day is keep a human alive, then that’s OK. If your laundry is piling up and the house is a mess, and you feel like you’re failing? Don’t stress, you can’t fail here, you’re doing the best you can.
Your mental health is more important than work.
I spent weeks waking up at 4am or 5am to clean the house before the kids woke up and getting orders packed because I thought those things mattered. I can see now how unhealthy that was.
So, take it easy, because I know you don’t feel like it, but you are basically superwoman.
You can download our free print with that saying here, and put it up where you can see it!
Mums in business who are totally rocking it!
I’m very excited to also have some incredible successful women entrepreneurs share their advice.
Laura Clempson | www.claraandmacy.com
First up is Laura, a talented illustrator who runs the beautiful business Clara and Macy, which sells gifts that add a little bit of magic to family life; from date idea jars to new baby prints. She lives in Altrincham with her husband Tom and three children, Matilda, Theo and Martha.
MY TOP TIPS
- Invest in a comfortable sling. Trust me, it will be your favourite thing ever! Having two hands free while your baby sleeps on you is a brilliant way to get things done in the early days.
- A crib/carrycot in your office is a great help. Our third slept in her carrycot under my desk at the studio for the first couple of months, and then graduated into a little wooden crib we had set-up in the main room after that. It was perfect :)
- Keeping a full set of clothes/muslins/nappies etc in your studio makes life tons easier.
- Adjust your working hours. Try not to worry about fitting work into 9-5 hours like you used to. Now it's all about pockets of time as and when you can. It will still get done, it might just be a little slower. But that really is okay.
- Remember to eat lunch, and drink water. It's so easy to forget when you're working and looking after a baby.
- Accept help. As much help as you can get. If someone can pack those cards while you feed the baby, great. If someone can rock the baby while you answer those emails, double great. And if someone can make you a cup of tea while you juggle all the things, that's brilliant! It will really help. I promise.
- Make the most of running a business with a baby because before you know it she'll be a toddler pulling everything off your beautifully organised shelves, and that's when things get really tricky!!
Verity Sparks-Girardin | www.sparksclothing.co.uk
Next is Verity from Sparks Clothing, where they sell a lovely range of personalised aprons (I have an adorable set for Michael and Zach) bags and clothing and a variety of truly original gift ideas for all of the family. She lives in Taunton with her husband Lex and daughter Matilda.
Life with a baby at sparks clothing
When you have your own business taking maternity leave isn't always easy. I went back to work two weeks after giving birth to Matilda. People asked me why I went back so quickly but having given birth in May the next busy season for us is Father's Day in June. I missed the studio and I didn't want the team to suffer without my help. So I strapped Tilly into our trusty stretchy wrap and she slept while I packed all of the orders. Me, Tilly and her Daddy all went to work together 5 days a week for 6 months. Luckily Matilda was a very good sleeper at night so that helped with our energy levels. But I think we were mostly running on adrenaline for the first few months. For me, having the business is what kept me going. I would struggle to be a stay at home mum because the business is my baby too.
However, when Matilda hit 6 months she refused to sleep in anything but her cot at home. So then we decided that we would job share. Me, lex and my mum who runs the business with me all take in turns to look after Matilda throughout the week. This works really well for us and it means that I get quality time at home with my girl and time to focus on the business too!
Louise Verity | www.bookishly.co.uk
Finally, we have Louise who runs the fabulous Bookishly, which sells a whole host of literary gifts for book lovers. Framed book page prints to coffee and book subscriptions, there are gifts for the whole family. She lives in Kettering with her husband Dom and two children, Eli and Jeannie .
Your secret weapon - the slingI am a massive sling fan, and using them has enabled me to work on my business and attend events with Jeannie right by my side.
There are three main types of sling I use:
- a woven wrap, I have Kokadi Old School one and a Yaro Four Winds
- a ring sling, I have a Yaro one and a Kokoro Mon Cheri one
- a soft structured carrier with buckles, I have this Rose and Rebellion one
A stretchy wrap is also useful, especially for a newborn. My working day starts with the school run. I use buckles in the winter, ring sling in the summer. I fit buckles under my coat more comfortably than a ring sling and when dashing out the car and up the school drive I need to be quick. I use a ring sling in the summer purely because it's pretty and I like it!
At work, I used a ring sling if Jeannie needed to fall asleep. It meant she wasn't right in front of me, I carried her off to the side. I would stand up with my laptop on a bookshelf in front of me so that I could rock back and forth for her while working. Sometimes I would manage to transfer her from the ring sling to a baby chair, and other times I would just leave her where she was. I could sit down once she fell asleep!
Once she got a bit bigger I got better at carrying her on my back. I still haven't mastered wrapping a woven wrap on my back so I use the buckled carrier. She has been strapped to my back while I pack subscription parcels. She thought it was hilarious.
Jeannie has also been to Top Drawer, The packaging show at the NEC, Notonthehighstreet events in London and the SBS event. I generally used woven wraps for this. These are really comfy for long trips and are useful through the day. I've also made nests for sleeping babies with wraps in booth seating at restaurants before! The only time I didn't use a wrap for a long trip was when I went to an event in London in the height of summer. It was sooo hot I couldn't justify having all that material around us both, so I used the buckled carrier.
If I was only going to have one sling, it would be my Rose and Rebellion buckle carrier. It's as comfy as the woven wraps and so quick and easy to use. I can use it on my back and front, and Dom is happy to use it too.
I love the woven wraps because they are beautiful. The ring slings are also beautiful and really useful for getting Jeannie in and out quickly. They are as quick as the buckles but prettier. The only thing with them is that I can't use them for extended periods of time because the weight distribution is one-sided.
If you want something that won't hold you back from getting everything done that you need to in your working day, a sling is the best investment you can make!
Thank you so much to these wonderful working mums who have contributed to this post!
If you want to read something humorous, you might like our post on 3 Myths About Running A Business With a New Baby
I hope you found this article helpful; do you have any other clever tips to add?